All photos me too, copyrighted
With the Croatian Air Force’s newly-arrived MiG-21s quickly becoming all the rage on the local aviation scene, it really was just a matter of time before their daily rituals became the dominant photo material on Achtung, Skyhawk! :D. Not wanting to let both my readers and myself down, I’ve naturally spent quite some time on and around Zagreb Airport these past few days, trying to get that one perfect shot that I’d be proud and happy to hang up on my wall for all to see…
And while this does sound a bit OCD, it goes a long way to showing just how engrained the MiG-21 is in the Croatian collective aviation consciousness :). Pretty much part of the local aeronautical identity, the CroAF fleet has always been considered the elite of the flying world, spawning a cult following not unlike that of the rock stars of the 70s and 80s. Making up in charisma everything they lack in actual capability, the MiGs are instant show-stoppers wherever they appear, with the five “new” jets bought in the Ukraine quickly becoming the most anticipated and talked-about aircraft of the year.
Thanks to colleagues in the know, I’ve once again found myself near the cutting edge of developments, the upshot of which is an ever-increasing collection of shots of all forms and colors :). So, to introduce some law & order to proceedings, I’ve decided to open a single topic that will cover the fleet’s test flights and early operations, adding photos as I snap them. With two day’s worth of material already processed and ready, I’m delighted to present (eventually) Messrs 131, 132, 133, 134 & 135!
Monday, 5 May
Looking quite good seconds from landing on RWY 05. While the switch to Air Superiority Grey was unavoidable due to NATO standards, the AF had at least tried to make the new scheme a bit more lively, primarily through addition of the Croatian coat of arms to the fin and both upper and lower leading edges of the wing. Another very welcome touch is the return of the knight’s helmet nose emblem, made locally famous during the 90s civil war.
Wednesday, 7 May
Returning back home to RWY 23 after its first high-altitude supersonic flight. Flown at 64,000 ft (19,500 m), this mission had required some special equipment, most important of which was a high-altitude pressure suit and its associated helmet (which, as can be seen in the shot, offers a very restricted field of view).
The morning’s sunny skies had also lured out 135, seen here ending its second post-assembly flight. Pretty stock except for a few bits of modern Western navigation equipment shoehorned in among ancient Soviet systems, both jets are nevertheless said to be a significant improvement of the existing fleet (though the latter will – the situation in the Ukraine permitting – soon undergo a thorough rejuvenation program).
Friday, 6 June
A bit of that familiar Tumansky whine to start the morning as “Knight 03” taxis towards RWY 05 for the first of the day’s training sorties. Nearly fully tested and released to service, 135 has spent most of the past week on training duties, giving the squadron pilots some welcome air time…
Letting the locals know – in no uncertain terms – that they live near an airbase, “Knight 03” is seen rocketing out for its 40 minute flight. In what is perhaps a fitting tribute to the breed, this decade marks 50 years of continuous MiG-21 operations at Zagreb, dating all the way back to the mid 60s and the Yugoslav Air Force’s original MiG-21F-13s. Now bolstered with these fresh examples, the current fleet is likely to push this up to 60, with plans to keep it in service for up to 10 more years…
Friday, 18 July
A welcome splash of color as an understated, conspicuous 165 grumbles in for landing after its second test flight. Pretty much the most recognizable of all the CroAF MiGs, “Kockica” – Croatian for “little square” – was part of the seven-strong batch of jets sent to the Ukraine for overhaul. So far, it is the only one to actually fly – and is currently the only operational twin-stick model in the fleet.
Monday, 4 August
Striking quite the photogenic pose, 165 recovers into RWY 23 after a training sortie. The lead ship of a three-jet formation – consisting also of 133 and 135 – Kockica had been on a practice flypast above the town of Knin in preparation for the Victory Day parade on 5 August.
Today’s outing had also allowed me to snap a good shot of the elusive 133. The first of the three to land, 133 was the newest single-seater to reach operational status.
Thursday, 18 December
Even though the horror stories of Zagreb’s fogs are known far and wide, sometimes they nevertheless have a silver lining. After the southern wind had blown the morning’s 200 meter visibility away, we’d ended up with an absolutely beautiful winter’s day, just perfect for flying. The CroAF was of the same opinion, sending out aircraft after aircraft all through the afternoon, including 166, Kockica, another single-seater and even a CL-415…
Wednesday, 14 January 2015
One of several CroAF flights of the day – which had eventually included two more MiGs, an AT-802 and Mi-171 – “Knight 96” is seen recovering home after another training flight. Interestingly, even though the fleet has been up to strength for some time now, this was one of 167’s few outings since refurbishment – indeed, this is the first shot of it have since its camo color days!
ADDENDUM: given that the new MiGs are still hot news here in Croatia (and abroad as well if this post’s view count is anything to go by!), I’ve decided to expand my little gallery with a short set of photos by Petar Mežnarek. A friend of mine and spotting colleague who works at (and lives near) Zagreb Intl., he has naturally had many more opportunities to observe the fleet in action – and given that he also sports a quality camera and lens setup is the perfect person to give this thread more substance :).
A sight that will likely never be seen again as 121 and 133 blast out of RWY 23 in a mismatched – but very attractive – formation. The final stage of 133’s acceptance tests, this mission would involve a radar system test on an actual aerial target, a role fulfilled by tired old 121…
The first instance of what will eventually become a common scene in Croatian skies – a grey-on-grey formation taking off for another local test flight (likely to tune the radar again).
Fresh out of the post-assembly test program, 135 leads 122 and 121 on a flypast down Lake Jarun during the 2014 Armed Forces Day. Then (1 June) still the acting QRA pair, 122 and 121 can be seen carrying the weapons pylons for their AA-8 heat-seeking missiles, as well as the MiG-21’s distinctive 800 liter centerline droptank.
And finally, one last goodbye for both the famous camo scheme and good old 122. Having borne the brunt of CroAF operations pending the arrival of 131 through 135, 122 was finally withdrawn from service about a month ago. Sadly though, 121 – trailing behind and the last “legacy” MiG-21 in service in July – will soon follow suit…
Fully kitted out to operational QRA specification, 131 and 135 blast out on one of their first practice scrambles. A sight we’ve been waiting to see for ages!
Even in rain, the -21 doesn’t fail to impress! 164 looking stunning as it returns home from a test flight during a brief shower…
Very few sounds at Pleso are as evocative as a MiG-21 at full chat. Even though the R-13 engine of the twin-stick UM is significantly less powerful than the meaty R-25 of the bis single-seater, it can still put up a show!
While flying past the smoke of a burning garbage heap may not be the most heroic of settings, it does however bring out some of the visceral appeal of the MiG-21. And despite its significant operational shortcomings (not to mention its general lack of sophistication in today’s terms), in the right hands the design can on occasion still put up a fight.