Short Photo Report – MiGs in the Mist

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

In light of my recent run of law enforcement themes, for this next, short bit I’d decided to draft in the military as well and give their flying forces a bit of screen time too 🙂 . While the Croatian Air Force’s rotary units are featured here on occasion – operating, as they do, from Lučko – most of its fixed-wing assets are generally kept out of sight in the country’s two main air bases, one of which can be found tucked away behind the terminal of Pleso Airport (LDZA).

Even though the AF boasts a number of different airplane types – including the Air Tractor AT-802, Antonov An-32B, Pilatus PC-9 and the Zlin Z-242L – the most interesting of them all have always been the MiG-21s; old, worn and tired beasts that are still the elite of the entire force. The rock stars of the local aviation world, they don’t have much in the way of raw military capability – with all of them already in their late 30s – but their iconic looks, distinctive camouflage schemes and (not least of all) their deep, throaty roar never fail to excite the inner nine-year-old 🙂 . Put simply, they’re like the Rolling Stones: years of hard graft and abuse have taken their toll, and in purely technical terms they’re somewhat past their expiry date… but when you see and hear them in person, you’re as sold as you would have been when they were in their prime!

122 spooling up and preparing to light the reheat for a practice scramble. Along with its sister ship 116, 122 is part of the so called QRA pair - short for Quick Reaction Alert - on permanent standby to take off in minutes and intercept any aircraft in Croatian airspace

122 spooling up and preparing to light the reheat for a practice scramble. Along with its sister ship 116, 122 is part of the so-called QRA pair – short for Quick Reaction Alert – on permanent standby to take off within minutes and intercept any stray aircraft within Croatian airspace

However, while their evocative rumble on take-off can often be heard all the way to town, seeing them up close is quite a different story. While I personally do get the odd chance to enjoy them from the apron – as in the shot above – for many the only shot at a close approach is at the (almost) annual Open Day at Pleso, held this year on 13 December. While this may seem an odd date to host an open-air exhibition – with visitors having had to contend with 100 meter visibility, -5 degrees Centigrade and pervasive freezing fog – the event is traditionally tied to the anniversary of the formation of the Air Force, officially created on 12 December 1991 🙂 .

Undaunted though by the increasingly pessimistic forecasts from the airport met office – and eager to test out my new 24-105 lens 😀 – I decided to brave the cold and fog and see just what kind of shot I could pull off this year… 🙂

Weathered and tired - but still timeless - 121 is seen quietly sitting around in the background of the official anniversary celebrations, held a day earlier on 11 December. Sadly, this is one of the last times we'll be able to enjoy the good old camo scheme, with the fleet being progressively repainted into a customized NATO-standard air superiority grey pattern...

Weathered and tired – but still infinitely charismatic – 121 is seen quietly sitting around in the background of the official anniversary celebrations, held a day earlier on 12 December. Sadly, this is one of the last times we’ll be able to enjoy the good old camo scheme, with the fleet being progressively repainted into a customized NATO-standard air superiority grey pattern…

Fading into white nothingness... while the weather did leave a lot to be desired, it did at least provide me with an quite the symbolic shot for what was once Europe's most widespread fighter...

Fading into white nothingness… while the weather did leave a lot to be desired, it did at least provide me with quite a symbolic shot for what was once Europe’s most widespread fighter. Operated throughout the East, the -21 is today clinging onto the Balkans for dear life, being still flown in front line service in Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania (and relegated to secondary duties in Serbia)

Sad and forlorn - but still not forgotten - old 102 defies the fog on a bitterly cold morning at Zagreb, Croatia's Pleso Air Base. Named "Osvetnik Dubrovnika" ("Avenger of Dubrovnik"), 102 is actually a distinguished combat veteran, having defected - along with three other examples - from the Yugoslav Air Force at the start of the 90s civil war. Comprising three bis interceptors and a lone recce R model, these four would eventually become the stuff of local legend, with several of them going on to form the first proper fighter wing fielded by the nascent Croatian Air Force.

Sad and forlorn – but still not forgotten – old 102 defies the fog at the head of the base’s small open-air museum. Named “Osvetnik Dubrovnika” (“Avenger of Dubrovnik”), this machine is actually a distinguished combat veteran, having defected – along with two other bis interceptors and alone recce R model – from the Yugoslav Air Force at the start of the 90s civil war. The three bises – including 101 and 103 (“Osvetnik Vukovara”) – would quickly go on to form the first proper fighter wing fielded by the Croatian Air Force; sadly, only 102 would survive till the end of the war, with the rest having been lost in action with their pilots in 1992 and 1993 respectively

2 thoughts on “Short Photo Report – MiGs in the Mist

  1. Pingback: Photo Report – Gotta Catch ‘Em All: A Croatian MiG-21 Collection | Achtung, Skyhawk!

  2. Pingback: Photo Intermission – Stormy Weather @ Lučko | Achtung, Skyhawk!

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