All photos me too, copyrighted
Even though sleepy rural airfields – the sort with just an odd Skyhawk or Super Cub about – do not really sound like exciting places to be (especially at -10 degrees Centigrade 😀 ), some careful exploration reveals that this is not always the case. Guided by this thought on one of my previous visits to Serbia, I’d decided to pop down to the Lisičji jarak (LYBJ) airfield just north of Belgrade and see if I could dig up something of interest. And sure enough, just 10 minutes into my self-guided tour, I turned a corner behind an isolated, out-of-the-way building and stumbled upon one of the rarest – and oddest – production piston singles built: the Aermacchi-Lockheed AL-60 :).
No country for new planes
Lockheed’s only foray into the light general aviation market, the AL-60 – originally known as the L-402 – was designed in the late 50s by the legendary Al Mooney, and intended to serve as a cheap and cheerful – but still tough and durable – backwater utility aircraft. Interestingly – and possibly uniquely at the time – it was fully tailored to the specifics and requirements of the growing South American market, and was never intended to be produced in the US (save for the prototype and eventual development aircraft).
Mass production was instead shifted south of the border (irony anyone? 🙂 ) to a brand new plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, operated by Lockheed’s subsidiary Lockheed-Azcarate SA, a company created specifically for the purpose. The move had also implied a change of name of the aircraft itself, which quickly became known as the LASA-60, derived from the initials of the subsidiary and the year in which the design was fully certified.
However, despite its robustness and quality of design, the aircraft had fared rather poorly when faced with designs from established GA manufacturers such as Cessna. Their proven 182 – and the incoming 185 and 206 – had all offered roughly similar performance, size and capability, but with a pedigree and support network that the one-of LASA-60 simply could not match. This disparity soon reached such proportions that after only a dozen or so examples built, Lockheed started looking for a way to offload the LASA-60 and salvage as much of the funds invested as possible.
In a fortunate turn of events – for both Lockheed and the design itself – Aermacchi of Italy was at that time looking around for a utility machine to add to its successful line of light tourers and trainers. Believing they’d found what they were looking for in the LASA-60, the company bought the type’s production license and tooling – which had churned out only 18 aircraft in total – and transferred them to Varese in Italy. Once set up there, the design became the AL-60 Santa Maria, named in honor of the town of Santa Maria in California that was home to Lockheed’s – and still is home to Lockheed Martin’s – headquarters :).
Never staying put for long, the design’s final – albeit only partial – move was to South Africa in 1974, by which time the production rights had probably covered more miles than the actual aircraft :D. Produced by Atlas – known for the Cheetah, a modification of the Dassault Mirage III, and the Impala, a license-built Aermacchi MB-326 – the aircraft became known as the C4M Kudu (named after a local antelope-like animal), and was the last version to roll of the assembly lines, Italian production having stopped in 1972.
While this constant changing of hands would have implied the existence of a host of different versions – as each new owner adapted the design to his markets’ requirements – the AL-60 had in reality borne only three major series: the original LASA-60 and the AL-60B and C families, the latter of which also includes South Africa’s Kudus.
Structurally mostly identical across all versions – the major difference being the C series’ taildragger configuration – the AL-60 could provide seating for 4-6 passengers, an equal number of skydivers, or space enough for two stretchers in an ambulance configuration. A versatile, well-thought-out Mooney design, the aircraft’s simple interior and its regular rectangular shape allowed for numerous other variations – including an aerial photography setup – which could be switched at will with the minimum amount of effort and time.
Like any good bush plane, the AL-60 could also be equipped with skis or floats (but no amphibian versions were offered), though it is highly questionable whether any aircraft were actually delivered in these configurations – or otherwise retained them to this day.
What did vary significantly between versions were the engines. The original LASA-60s and the first of the Santa Marias – the four-strong AL-60B-1 series – were powered by the naturally aspirated Continental IO-470 flat six, developing 250 HP. While the same engine was also used to great effect on early versions of the Cessna 185, its power output on the AL-60 was described as inadequate by a number of pilots, who used to joke (and still do) that the only reason the AL-60 ever got airborne was due to the curvature of the Earth (latterly often applied to certain versions of the Airbus A340) :).
To try and address this issue, the first major production version, the AL-60B-2 – which ended up being the most common of all AL-60s, numbering 81 built – was refitted with a turbocharged version of the same engine, the TSIO-470, now developing 260 HP. While its performance at altitude – and especially during takeoff from low density hot-and-high conditions – improved significantly, the pitiful 10 HP of additional power still made little difference in normal, everyday operations.
A significant increase in power first came with the taildragging C series, originally designed to meet an Italian Army requirement for a liaison aircraft with transport capability (a requirement that eventually fell through). The resulting AL-60C-4 was whisked along by a Lycoming GSO-480 supercharged and geared (for that little extra something :D) flat six, developing a more potent 340 HP. Produced mostly by Piaggio, this version later matured into the AL-60C-4M – also known as the AL-60C-5 Conestoga, and, erroneously, the Trojan – which would in 1974 become South Africa’s C4M Kudu (hence the designation).
Apparently, in some quarters it was felt that even this was too little power, so the design was further developed into the “standalone” AL-60F-5 Trojan (the real one this time). Offered in both tricycle and tailwheel configurations, the Trojan was powered by the brutishly impressive Lycoming IO-720 flat eight, essentially two IO-360 stuck together at the drive shaft and producing a hefty 400 HP (this engine would later rise to fame as the powerplant of the Piper PA-24-400 Cherokee 400 four seat tourer and the PA-36 Pawnee Brave cropduster). And while it lacked charging, it’s raw power – and more importantly, torque – had made the Trojan an excellent climber and hauler, which had lent it to good use in the humid, hot-and-high environment of Central and Southern Africa.
Back in the dry, low-and-cold environment of Central Serbia however, YU-BCZ was doing less well. Completely devoid of any markings and data plaques, its identity was only confirmed after an Internet search, which had also revealed that it belongs to the original B-2 series – which would put its birthday sometimes in the mid 60s. Other information floating around also suggests that it was one of four registered in former Yugoslavia, and had – prior to the country’s dissolution – been based at Čepin Airfield (now LDOC) in Eastern Croatia :).
As noted previously – and evident in the photos – in the present the aircraft has been almost completely stripped of all external components, some of which were crammed into the cabin. Between them, glimpses of the panel had also indicated that it had been cleaned out, but otherwise seemed in good shape. Word on the apron is that the aircraft is being slowly restored to flying status by a team of experts after spending a lengthy 22 years on the ground – and the precision, thoroughness and purposefulness of its dismantling (as well as the carefully stripped paint) would certainly seem to confirm this.
With its status as one of the very few remaining examples in Europe – and likely the only Yugoslav survivor – we can only hope to see it back in the skies soon… 🙂
AL-60B-2 Abbreviated Specs:
- empty weight: 998 kg
- MTOW: 1,746 kg
- length: 8.79 m
- height: 3.25 m
- wingspan: 11.84 m
- max. speed: 148 knots
- cruise speed: 111 knots (economy cruise)
- stall speed: 46 knots (dirty)
- range: 478 NM
- ceiling: 22,000 ft
- initial RoC: 840 ft/min