Airports – Lučko Demystified

By me
Photos as credited

With Lučko Airfield (LDZL) once again coming into vogue as a light aircraft base following thee years of legal uncertainty and on-off operations, it is inevitable that photo reports from its tarmac will soon start appearing here in their dozens :D. And while I do hope that my readers will consider this to be a positive development, I’m quite certain that for the vast majority the stories that accompany the photos will lack a certain “dimension” and “feel” – a turn of events that is to be expected considering how very few have actually seen and experienced the airfield in person :).

With guided tours out of the question on logistical grounds alone ( 😀 ), any attempt at rectifying this problem would invariably have to call on the aid of satellite photography. Thus, in the hope of “demystifying” the airfield and bringing it closer to my readers, I’ve decided to put Google Earth to use once again, and cobble together a colorful – and hopefully informative – guide as to what’s what at Lučko… 🙂

The Mighty Have Fallen

However, any mention of the field’s present state would be woefully incomplete without a brief run through its “potted history” :). Opened in 1937, Lučko was Zagreb’s second purpose-built civil airport, designed to accommodate the period’s increasingly larger and heavier passenger aircraft – aircraft that were already beginning to test the very limits of the town’s primary airport, the 1926 vintage Borongaj. Located on prime real estate next to nothing of any importance, Lučko had been blessed with ample space for future expansion, a development that was considered all but inevitable given the rapid growth of commercial air transport in the late 30s.

Sadly though, as with many similar infrastructural projects in Europe, Lučko’s development would instead soon become dictated by the terms of war. Despite pockets of sterling and vigorous resistance, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia had collapsed under the weight of the 1941 Axis invasion within just a few weeks, with Croatia itself ending up under the control of the Fascist Ustaše movement. Having been handed two fully operational airports on a platter, the new government had wasted no time in turning both to military uses, with Lučko becoming home to (most notably) the Messerschmitt Bf.109 fighter and the Dornier Do-17 light bomber (though I believe there was also a training and liaison squadron present, flying the Bf.108 Taifun). The airport’s new role would also see an expansion of its facilities, including the construction of two perpendicular runways for all-weather operations (at least one of which had sported a hard surface).

Following war’s end, in 1947 Lučko would revert to its original civil role, resuming its place as the default aerial gateway to Zagreb :). Kept more-or-less up-to-date with another upgrade of all facilities – but still retaining its original 30s grass runway – it would continue to hold onto this title until 1962, when all commercial operations were shifted to the newly refurbished (and re-purposed) Pleso Airport (LYZA). In what is a delightful twist of irony, the latter was actually built by the Wermarcht in 1943, and had up until the late 50s been used as one of Socialist Yugoslavia’s main air bases 😀 (a function it partly retains even in today’s independent Croatia).

A rare glimpse back into Lučko’s golden years. Nearest to the camera is an Antonov An-24, followed by a PZL-Mielec PZL-101 Gawron (a license-built version of the Yakovlev Yak-12A), an early Mil Mi-1 helicopter and the familiar shape of the An-2. I can’t make out the rest with any certainty, but they likely include at least a couple Yugoslav-designed Aero 2 and Aero 3 trainers. Photo from: http://www.dalje.com

While such a demotion would, in today’s world, pretty much sound the death knoll for any airport, Lučko’s move from commercial operations had actually done it a whole world of good :). Set aside as a sport, recreational and training facility, the field would see an unprecedented golden age, during which it would firmly ingrain itself into the country’s collective aviation consciousness – and for several years play tit-for-tat with Pleso in terms of the number of daily aircraft operations. More than a few “oldtimers” had even told me that in the 70s and 80s the concentration of light aircraft was so high that there were times you couldn’t get a word in edgewise on the frequency… 🙂

Unfortunately though, all of this would be undone by yet another war, this time sparked by the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991. While Lučko had ended up mostly out of harm’s way – the Yugoslav National Army having been stopped a few dozen kilometers short of Zagreb – the economic crisis that succeeded the war never really gave the GA scene the breathing space it needed to recover. While the late 90s and early 2000s saw what seemed to be a return to old form – with the apron so full you couldn’t even park a housefly – this brief upsurge had been nothing more than an Indian summer, a last, brief gasp before Lučko settled into a slow, but steady, downward spiral.

The spiral had seemed to come to its final turn in 2011, when Lučko lost its operational certificate and was forced to suspend everything but fixed-wing private and sport (and rotary government and military) flights. The operational equivalent of rock bottom, this turn of events had been caused by more factors than I can count – but paramount of which was the deadly cocktail of a disintegrating economy, mismanagement, ineptitude and outright theft. The resulting pitched see-saw battle between Lučko’s bloated management and an indifferent CAA had seen the field’s complete closure on the cards more than once, with on-off moratoriums on all fixed-wing flying becoming – essentially – de rigeur.

More of a GHOSTfield than an AIRfield. A photo that pretty much sums up developments at Luč

More of a GHOSTfield than an AIRfield… a scene that was par for the course up until recently – and one that perhaps best illustrates the mess the previous management had gotten the whole field into (photo by: me, copyrighted)

The Landing Light At The End Of The Tunnel

However, as clichéd as it might be, that old “motivational poster special” – it’s always darkest just before dawn – had in Lučko’s case nevertheless proved its worth :). Thanks to the patience, persistence – and outright pigheadedness 😀 – of several key enthusiasts, the field had managed to overcome most of its bigger ills, returning thus recently to a (so far) stable operational status. While by no means perfect, things are nevertheless moving in a positive direction, with our little birds slowly returning home, commercial operations getting back on track – and the new management gradually ironing out the remaining problems… all of which brings us neatly back to the original premise of this article: what’s what and where at our little slice of airfield! 🙂

d

All the important bits and bobs of Lučko. The areas in green are those that are still used in their original capacity; the ones in yellow are those that serve for something other than initially intended – while the reds are no longer in service for any purpose. The several highlighted areas represent the places on which most of the photos featured on Achtung, Skyhawk! had been taken.

Some readers will no doubt have already noticed a few of the common terms I often use in my Lučko articles… “helicopter start gates”, “AK Zagreb hangar”, “police helicopter hangar” and the like :). What is new – and not seen before – is the second of the two WW 2 runways, running roughly north-northeast. Very little concrete information on it had survived the years, but we do know that its southern end was located on the grounds of the police helipad :). However, length, width, surface type – and even the exact orientation – still remain a mystery… though I hope that a thorough dig through the AK Zagreb archives might yield some additional information sometime in the future!

The other runway – whose remains are easily visible – can also be seen in a previous post, complete with a handy low-altitude aerial photo showing far more juicy detail 🙂 (and covering the entire apron and old terminal).

EDIT: I have recently been informed by people in the know that the above is actually a former TAXIWAY, not the main runway. The latter was more-or-less located in the same place as the one used today.

S

A more “official” view, complete with additional numerical detail (from: Croatia Control Ltd. VFR Manual)

2 thoughts on “Airports – Lučko Demystified

  1. That’s a great history! I’m glad you’re recording such things – small airfields tend to eventually grow, or like here in California eventually get “eaten” by land development as flat, buildable land becomes scarce… http://www.airfields-freeman.com/CA/Airfields_CA_SanDiego_S.htm I’ve only been to Lučko once, for my wife to skydive, but I saw many interesting things mostly just out of reach of the lens… The military section made me a little worried about doing too much exploring and getting unpopular with any security people… 🙂

    • This is just the short version; I eventually plan to expand it into a proper article, but that requires getting into the AK Zagreb archives first 🙂 (no mean feat). This having been Yugoslavia, a lot of the details about airport ops, numbers, statistics and so on had been classified – and subsequently lost in the chaos of the early 90s, so we have to collate information from various sources. But I’m hopeful I’ll eventually manage it!

      Yes, if you walk onto the apron uninvited, you’ll have company within a few minutes :). But generally the security there doesn’t cause much trouble when you stay on the civilian side…

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