Photo Report – Zlin Z-50M, S5-DET

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Aching to get away – at least for awhile – from the unchanging selection of aircraft at Lučko, I had immediately jumped at the chance to visit Murska Sobota airfield (LJMS) in neighboring Slovenia as part of a photo op for Aeronautika, the aviation mag I write for. Bearing in mind the richness and variation of general aviation aircraft in Slovenia, I was naturally expecting to find at least one interesting aircraft there – and despite the field’s small size, I was not disappointed :).

Thanks to the very friendly and welcoming local pilots, after our op was done (more on that in another post) I was allowed to snoop around the field’s hangars – which, by the way, house five times as many aerobatic aircraft than there are in the whole of Croatia (5 vs 1) :D. Much to my (childish) delight, I had immediately homed onto a very, very rare Zlin Z-50M – an aircraft I’d been told (some years ago) was lurking around this field…

As aerobatic aircraft go, the Z-50 family is not a particularly rare sight today, being one of the most popular intermediate single-seaters in Europe (and in some cases beyond). A very advanced little design from the mid-70s, it was one of the first light aircraft to benefit from computer-aided design and optimization – and was also the world’s first composite material aerobatic aircraft. Despite its apparently diminutive size (it does appear to be smaller than it actually is), it was and still is a stellar performer, thanks in part to the 260-300 HP (depending on the version) Lycoming AEIO-540 flat six.

However, all that power in an aircraft with a maximum take-off weight of just 650 kg meant that the Z-50L – L for Lycoming – was a bit of a handful for the novice pilot. This became a slight problem at the end of the 80s when the need appeared to replace the popular basic aerobatic Z-526s in their single-seat versions, more and more of which were being relegated to non-aerobatic duties because of age. With the Z-50 being the only modern aerobatic design available at Zlin at the time, it was decided to “water it down” a bit to try and fill this niche – if anything as a stop-gap measure until something more appropriate could be designed.

To this end, the new Z-50M was re-engined with a 180 HP Walter M-137AZ inverted straight four, driving a two-blade constant speed propeller – pretty much the same configuration as seen on the Z-526. While this may seem like a big step back, it had made a lot of sense back then: for the target market was already well versed with that engine and had a developed maintenance and overhaul system. On the other hand, acquiring parts and finding licensed mechanics for the Lycoming engine was an expensive affair, which had immediately put any alternative Western engine out of the reach of many existing aerobatic pilots.

For visual recognition: a "standard" Zlin Z-50LX, flown here by a member of the Flying Bulls aerobatic team. Note the three-blade prop and the broad, oval cowling of the comparatively wide AEIO-540...

In the event, only eight Z-50Ms were ever made and preciously few are still flying. “My” example, S5-DET – the only one outside the Czech Republic I think – is one of the lucky ones, still being cared for and regularly flown… 🙂

Instantly recognisable from a mile away :). Looking quite handsome in its retro lively, S5-DET - serial number 0079 - is seen here undergoing some maintenance. I was told that within a few weeks it should be back in the air!

With the long Walter - and its cooling grills - up front, the normally pleasing and curvy design of the Z-50 seems to me a bit - agricultural :). But narrow and streamlined, it does have a certain grace and purposefulness about it. Note also the crowned spinner characteristic to Czech designs (or more precisely their engines)

Apart from the pointy nose, the M version differs little externally from the rest of the family. Underneath there are some significant operational changes though, most notably regarding the G limits, which are reduced to +7/-5 from the L's +8/-6

Rearing up and willing to fly :). I also adore the polished prop and main gear legs, they just look right on this...

Almost looks like a model alongside the big An-2 in the background. Note also how the engine is canted to the left to offset its adverse effects when spinning

4 thoughts on “Photo Report – Zlin Z-50M, S5-DET

  1. Hi! I’m a big Achtung Skyhawk fan. This is just about the best GA portal in the area.In particular I love your fondness of rare and quite obscure birds.

    In this article I’ve found an error, probably a typo: Walter M-137 is a 6 cylinder engine, not 4.
    True, spinner on the Zlin is a very typical Czech thing, might say even exclusive, but it’s not that much engine dependant, it’s essential part of the Avia V-503 prop, which has automatic pitch change, it is very different from constant speed props usually found.

    Thanks for your good work!

    • Hello!

      Thanks for both the comments and the info! I will correct the text as soon as I get the chance, maybe even rework it completely… it’s due for a makeover anyway!

      Cheers and thanks again!

      • Wow! That was quick reply! I’m also glad you didn’t take it as some criticism. Yiu took it just as a comment, just as it was untended.
        I really appreciate your work, you don’t just copy-paste some basic facts, you do a very deep research on the subject, fact an aviation enthusiast like me can really appreciate. But one person can’t know everything, we all together know more. If we help each other, we can do anything.

        I have a question for you. As I understand you’re a member of AK Zagreb which owns THE Meteor. What’s it’s current status? Does it fly?
        Some my background: I’m an ex-pilot, also ex-glidre pilot who is still an aviation enthusiast, unfortunately financial situation prevents me from flying. And every self respecting glider pilot from this area has heard about THE Meteor. For me, that’s the original Unicorn, when it appeared, it was absolutely the best glider in the world. So, the unicorn from the tales can just be Unicorn 2.0.
        Maybe an in depth article about Meteor?

        Thanks and all the best!

      • One of my main objectives for this site has always been accuracy; and given that I – as you said – have not inherited the collective wisdom of the world, input from people in the know is always appreciated! (I’ll change the text, don’t worry – I’m a bit caught up in work right now, and want to do it properly… the job never ends with airline flying!)

        Indeed – I have a tone of photos of it, inside and out. It is nominally airworthy, but has not flown over the winter, since few pilots are allowed to fly it (given its rarity). Plus, the weather here is a bit poor at the moment, so flying days fit for soaring a very few and far in between…

        Actually, I’ve been trying to put together such a piece for a while now; however, the problem is that the Meteor program as a whole was a military project, conceived to test various construction and metallurgical solutions for Yugoslavia’s G-2 jet trainer. As such, much of their finer history is clouded in secrecy and much myth; even very knowledgeable aircraft historians and senior glider pilots (who were around when the Meteor was being made) are very hazy on the details. They too had attempted to make a proper factual work on both Meteors, but unfortunately only have bits and pieces of the whole story…

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