All photos me too, copyrighted
With “my” airplane now more-or-less permanently based at Zagreb’s Pleso Airport (LDZA), I’ve by necessity ended up spending as much time there as I did at Lučko back in its heyday. And while I’m not really a fan of the restricted (but understandably necessary) operating policy of larger airports, my relocation is not necessarily a bad thing… for despite the ton of paperwork, lots of security measures and more waiting for the big birds to clear, there’s a bewildering array of interesting aircraft to be seen, at times far eclipsing in size and scope anything possible at a small field 🙂 .
Even though Pleso itself is not a big facility by the standards of the world – most European countries would classify it as a regional airport – it does have a lot of things going for it that are conductive to aviation photography. The first (and foremost) is its status as the main gateway to the country’s capital, which by default implies bizjets and bizprops by the dozen. The other thing in its favor – though the airport management would struggle to agree with me on this 😀 – is its relatively low traffic volume, which lends itself to those aircraft that can’t be bothered to wait in queues or tend to take up too much time and space. Lastly, being the only port of entry in the area – as well as the largest airbase in Croatia – it tends to attract everything from ultralights to combat jets, so you’re never left wanting for something unusual 🙂 .
Since my last post on the topic, the tempo has picked up quite a bit – it being summer and all – so here’s what we’ve been graced with in the past few months… 🙂
A beautiful classic Challenger snapped just a few minutes after landing. Today quite rare, the 601-3A represents the midpoint of the Challenger’s evolution and is considered to be the aircraft that had set the stage for today’s 604s and 605s. Compared to the original model 600, the 601 had introduced more powerful General Electric CF34 engines (replacing the old Lycoming ALF502), winglets, a higher MTOW – and, in the 3A version, an EFIS cockpit that taken the place of the old analogue avionics setup. The later 3R version would introduce larger fuel tanks, after which the design would evolve into the 604, sporting even more powerful engines, higher weights, yet more fuel and a full glass cockpit
As clean and tidy as if it had just rolled off the production line – and not way back in 1987 – the Google Jet is seen in the final moments of its approach to RWY 05. Even though it’s very nice to see a private 767, the aircraft is a bit disappointing… considering its owner, I was expecting it to be pasted full of ads for cameras, safety jackets and spotter days!
A machine that’s as close as it can be to the ideal business turboprop! The only fully certified (and Beech-endorsed) King Air modification, the Blackhawk series of conversions visually differ little from the standard models – but under the hood things are quite different. The top of line option for the model 90, the XP135A conversion seen here entails the replacement of the standard 550 HP PT6A-21s with more modern 750 HP PT6A-135As. In addition to the drastically increased torque – which does wonders in the climb – the new engines predictably also increase cruise speeds, boosting them from 217 to almost 271 knots…
Even though jets and turboprops are de rigeur at Pleso, every once in awhile the airport sees an interesting piston single like this one, usually on its way through immigration. One of the lesser-known members of the famous Aero Commander family, the 100 looks like the bastard child of a Mooney and Cessna 172 – and indeed was essentially designed to compete with the latter. Built in 1967 and powered by the same O-320 160 HP engine used on the Skyhawk, D-ENKU is one of the very few 100s still flying – and I believe one of only three or four in Europe…
However, some of Pleso’s biggest attractions – which never fail to brighten the day – often come in military form. Quite rare by any local measure, “Bartok 25” is seen slowing down to vacate RWY 23 via taxiway C. Flying in from Papa Airbase in Hungary, 08003 is part of the three-strong NATO Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) fleet, nominally based in Hungary and part of the Hungarian Air Force – but used on a wet lease basis by several countries in the region. A program started to allow small countries access to heavy lift capability without the need for buying their own aircraft, SAC has been quite a success, with even Croatia having its own yearly allotment of flying hours
A perfect profile shot as “Convoy 6161” taxis out for departure down RWY 05. One of the many Herc versions to have visited Zagreb over the years – including the KC-130 tanker and MC-130 “spook” – the T model represents the US Navy’s primary logistics and support aircraft, and serves in this role alongside another veteran, the DC-9-based C-9B Skytrain II. Unlike most Hercs – which simply sweep through the airport on training missions – 164762 had arrived for a cargo pickup and spent almost two and a half hours roasting nicely on the superhated apron
The wail of the classic Diesel 9 and a wave from the commander on a beautiful summer’s afternoon – what more could one ask for? Seeing as how I’d mentioned the C-9 in the previous photo, the US Navy had very kindly sent one example for our convenience, representing the second of the type I’ve seen in person. Using callsign “Convoy 6601”, 161529 is also seen taxiing towards RWY 05 – brought to you courtesy of my sprint across half the apron after landing and (badly) parking my Skyhawk!
Up, up and away! Always the party piece, two of the Croatian Air Force’s few remaining MiG-21s are seen rocketing out of RWY 23 in an unusually tight formation. A good but nowadays outdated design, the MiG-21 has remained in front-line service with just three other European operators – Serbia (on a very limited basis), Romania and Bulgaria – making it quite an attraction and regularly drawing in dozens of foreign photographers
More MiG action as “Knight 01” recovers home after a practice QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) scramble with sistership 116 “Knight 02”, trailing a mile or so behind. In full intercept config, both were armed with two AA-8 short-range heat seeking missiles, as well as the traditional centerline tank. Despite being almost 40 years old, CroAF MiGs still continue to ply the skies, and will soon undergo a life extension program that’ll keep them in front line service for up to 10 more years