Photo File – Moving House: New Pax Terminal @ LDZA

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

While the start of spring of 2017 had brought quite a few developments in Croatian aviation, the main talk of the town has consistently been the long-awaited opening of Zagreb Airport’s (ZAG/LDZA) bespoke new passenger terminal – and its associated bespoke new apron – on 28 March. Much had already been said in the media about its design and furnishing, advancements and failings, costs and politics – so for my part I’d decided to skip over all of that and devote some space to the one bit that people rarely see first hand: life airside.

Having had the opportunity to experience its workings for its first two days of operations – inevitably with camera in hand – I’d quickly found myself with enough interesting material to put together a short “early days” photo story. Biased a bit (OK, a lot 😀 ) towards the Q400, these shots are not intended to be a tour of the terminal/apron nor a serious documentary piece – but merely a “first look” at the place our airliners will now call home… 🙂

For handy reference, the official airport chart (in PDF format) is available here.

CTN Squadron (or rather a quarter of it) set and ready for its first day of operations from what is colloquially known as “NPT” (short for “novi putnički terminal”, New Passenger Terminal). Notably smaller than the old apron – which had up to 22 stands – this new one only has 12 (E1 through E11, with E8 able to be split into E8L and E8R as conditions dictate), eight of which have jetbridges.

Welcome aboard! Even though they cannot use these jetbridges due to the design of the bridge floor pan, Q400s can nevertheless normally use these gates, with E4 – in the middle of the terminal – seen here.

One of the bigger sources of complaint is the FMT Airpark Visual Guidance Docking System (VGDS), which is... well, rudimentary at best. Unlike more advanced (i.e. partially or fully digital) systems elsewhere, this one is completely analogue and somewhat crude in guidance.

One of the bigger sources of complaint is the FMT Airpark Visual Guidance Docking System (VGDS), which is… well, rudimentary at best. Unlike more advanced (i.e. partially or fully digital) systems elsewhere, this one is completely analogue and somewhat crude in guidance – since it relies on a human operator rather than an integrated laser system.

A wheel + towbar + little truck = pushback. Even though Zagreb had always had a push capability (including a pretty powerful tug sufficient even for the heavies), the “taxi-out” nature of the old apron had meant that it was very, very rarely used. However, since all stands at the NPT require pushing to get out of, this had necessitated a lot of dry practice runs by the ground crews…

Given that most of the visitors at ZAG are of the turboprop or medium jet variety, pushing is generally done in the manner shown. However, if need be, the airport has a heavy duty tug that lifts the entire nose wheel and is used to move the heavier stuff.

I wonder what the fines are for parking in other people’s spots… trying one of the standard non-bridge stands – E10 – on for size. Even though there are three such positions, their configuration and usability depend on the occupancy of E8, the only jetbridge stand able to accept a widebody.

The calm before the evening rush hour. Even though it seems large here, the apron is actually quite tight; indeed, a major criticism from flight crews and operators alike is the lack of maneuvering space and the existence of only one taxilane. This oversight became most acute during the day’s three major rush hours, when multiple aircraft arriving, departing and pushing at the same time led to long delays and unnecessary congestion – particularly problematic for flights time-restricted by slots at their destination.

And finally, a bit of video from a push out of stand E4 on the Day #1… with a nice view of the entire terminal:

Update – Day 5: showing off the airport’s ambitions…

Aiming high? Nose gear position markings for the 777-300, A340-500 and 777-200 at stand E8. While all of these types had visited Zagreb before (some multiple times), not one had as of yet made a habit of it – though Emirates had recently announced it was planning to change that with a daily year-round 777-300 service to Dubai.

Markings for the 777-300, 747-400 and 777-200 at stand E10R. The prevalence of 777-capable positions reflect the type’s status as one of the most popular widebodies in town, particularly frequent during the summer on twice-weekly tourist charters from Korea.

Update – 21 May: it took me until Day #53, but I’d finally managed to capture the operation (of lack thereof) of the FMT Airpark VDGS. As is (hopefully) visible, lateral guidance is provided by simple optical systems that change shape with viewing direction – while distance is regulated by ground personnel through the (rather crude) semaphore.

History – An Apron’s Story

By me
Photos me too, copyrighted

My regular readers will no doubt recall me often going on about the rich and textured history of Lučko Airfield, a small and unassuming grass strip on the edge of town that had over the years produced a good chunk of the country’s pilots – myself included :). Nowadays a quiet place that can send you to sleep within minutes, Lučko nevertheless has a varied and interesting past, having been everything from a commercial airport, to a WW II airbase, to today’s joint sport field/helicopter base since its beginnings back in the mid 30s. But while this roller coaster development had made for some excellent Achtung, Skyhawk! material, most of the time it was wasted on my ground-level perspective, offering only limited ways in which to chronicle and evoke the finer details of the field’s history.

A few weeks ago however I had the great fortune to be taken up for a short hop in an ultralight trike (a fascinating experience I must say!), finally allowing me a proper bird’s eye view, free from the constrains of windows, doors and that incessant necessity of having to continually look where I’m flying :D. So, for a short historical interlude, here’s Lučko’s history as read from the air :).

Only an aerial view can show the hodge-podge of historical influences that make Lučko what it is today...
Only an aerial view can show the hodgepodge of historical influences that make Lučko what it is today…

So, starting from the lower left corner we have:

  • the old WW II runway, whose remains today make up most of the main apron. Used in some form of military capacity ever since its opening, Lučko was initially home to a squadron of Messerschmitt Bf.108 Taifun liaison aircraft operated by the air force of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Following the German invasion of 1941, the airfield was – not unsurprisingly – reformed into a fighter base, becoming home to Bf.109s, Dornier Do-17s and Fiat G.50s of the Ustaše, the Fascist puppet government that came to power in the wake of the invasion. Though it’s hard to be entirely sure – many documents from the period having been either destroyed or classified – this runway was one of two used by these aircraft, stretching roughly in a 31-13 direction over a distance of at least 500 meters…
  • the current control tower in the top left corner (with the green roof), a cheap-and-cheerful affair that more than adequately serves the field’s needs 🙂 (as well as my own photographic ones when I want an elevated view 😀 )
  • slightly to the right is the field’s newest hangar, completed only a year or so ago and home to a nice selection of (rather rare) motorgliders
  • further right and sporting a grey roof is the old WW II hangar, one of two that had originally been located at Borongaj airfield, but moved to Lučko sometime in the 50s when Borongaj had ceased operations. Home to the small fleet of the AK Zagreb flying club, this hangar is pretty much the only piece of 40s aviation infrastructure still in use at the airfield, though its tattered insides and leaky panels definitely show its prime has passed…
  • dominating the scene next to it is the HZNS hangar, owned by my former University and home to its five-strong air wing (that had seen me through my CPL training 🙂 ). The largest and most modern single facility at the field, it boasts proper all-round heating (!), simulator facilities, offices and a handy classroom for preflight preparation (and post flight bantering). Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the closest thing we have to a proper training facility in the area…
  • on the extreme right though is one of the most overlooked buildings at Lučko, its original passenger terminal and control tower :). A leftover from the field’s commercial heyday in the late 40s and 50s, it is nowadays abandoned and pretty much forgotten, having become just another obstacle to bypass when pulling into the parking lot. Up until a few years ago, it had also been home to Aerotel, a sorely missed “watering hole”, and had even included rudimentary sleeping facilities for out-of-town crews wishing to overnight for not much money. While there were several recent attempts to clean the building up, nothing much had come out of them, with the entire building condemned to slow decay..
  • and finally, at the bottom of the shot is the field’s de facto main operations building, which houses a briefing room, auditorium, offices for the various local flying clubs – and the inevitable storage facilities for everything from parachutes to gliders :). Another oldtimer, this building has been part of Lučko’s cultural identity ever since sport flying kicked off in the 60s, having been the site of pretty much every social event, meeting and award ceremony at the field for half a century… 🙂

Airport Report – Gubaševo Glider Airfield

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted, w/assistance from Google Earth

The sudden arrival of the county prefect, no less, had signaled an anticipated change in tempo. All morning journalists and TV crews – some even from national TV – were milling around the open field, filming and interviewing whomever important they could find. A brass band was playing gently in the background. Well before the start of the festivities, the caterers had broken out local wines and beer, and everything had taken on a jolly tone. Now, eyes and cameras pointing skyward, the hundred or so people attending turned toward the drone of an incoming aircraft, tracking it intently as it landed at the far end of the runway. Taxiing up to the crowd, the plane shut off its engine and moments later, an unfazed prefect stepped out to greet the press…

What could definitely pass for a grand opening of a major international airport was, in fact, just the official opening of Croatia’s newest sport airfield near the village of Gubaševo :D. Marked with quite a bit of (perhaps unwarranted) pomp and circumstance, Gubaševo is the first proper, permanent airfield in the area, and a source of much local pride :). Located in the rolling hills of the region of Zagorje, just a dozen miles north of Zagreb, the field is intended primarily for use by gliders, capitalizing on the area’s frequent and strong thermals, occasional mountain waves – and an almost a complete lack of strict altitude and airspace restrictions. Away from any major airports and well below their approach paths, the field features a single grass runway measuring 650 x 30 meters, and stretching in a 36-18 direction at an elevation of 450 ft AMSL.

Still just an open field in this dated image on Google Earth, Gubaševo is conventiently located near one of the country's main highways (visible bottom right) and easily and quickly accessible - the drive from my house to the field had taken just a tad over 40 minutes along local cheapskate-avoid-toll roads, while along the highway it takes as little as 25 minutes...

Interestingly enough, and despite the fact that it had been officially opened this day (24 September 2011), the field is not yet fully certified, and landings there are still treated as off-field operations (though with the blessing of the CAA). For the same reason, Gubaševo still hasn’t got an ICAO location indicator, but it is hoped that one will be allocated in the future :).

However, none of this had dampened the spirits at the ceremony itself, which, after the formalities had been handled, had kicked off to a mass gliding session by pilots of Aeroklub Zagreb and Zagorski aeroklub :)…

The first powered aircraft ever to land at Gubaševo - and incidentally the aircraft on which I'd logged the most flight hours 🙂 - Triple Delta is seen taxiing towards the waiting crowd, with the prefect of the Krapinsko-zagorska županija (county) on board. Officially named Krapinsko-zagorski aerodrom Gubaševo (roughly translated as "Krapina's and Zagorje's airport Gubaševo"), the airfield was quite a big thing that day :).

AK Zagreb's C150 lined up on RWY 18, posing for a perfect postcard shot with typical Zagorje scenery in the back - low cut grass, corn/maize fields, wooded rolling hills, the inevitable church (every town has one)... and, normally, gazebos with plenty of local wine :D.

One of the day's many aerotows climbing up slowly - but surely - from RWY 18. The glider in tow is a Polish-designed and built PZL-Bielsko SZD-41A Jantar Standard - the only one of its type in the country - registered 9A-GJA.

Caught in an almost perfect profile shot while landing on RWY 36 :). Though 650 meters may seem a bit short, identical aerotow operations from Lučko - with the same gliders and the same towplane, at roughly the same elevation (404 ft vs 450) - need pretty much the same runway length.

Eat my dust? Kicking up clouds of loose cut grass on the takeoff run, far from an ideal operating environment for an aerotow. Apart from reducing visibility in the cockpit of the glider - Zagorski aeroklub's Ka-7 in this instance - this also increases the pair's takeoff run by increasing surface friction.

Freshly refurbished, 9A-GZA is seen returning from a joyride. Coming from an airfield where airspace and altitude restrictions rarely allow flights of more than 20-30 minutes in duration, pilots from Lučko were having a ball here, with individual flights having had to be curtailed to one hour in length to allow others to have a go :D. The gliding situation was so good in fact that I've seen - for the first time with my own two eyes - four gliders circling in the same thermal :).

Launching out of RWY 18 for an hour-long joyride. The mountain in the background is Medvednica, at whose opposite base lies the city of Zagreb... and a bit to the right, out of shot, Lučko :).

Post Update 2 – Borongaj (ex-)airfield history

By me

Despite the fact having slipped by me for 11 and half months now, 2009. is a very important year for Croatian aviation – not only is the Croatian Air Force 18 years old this month (does that mean that it’s aircraft can now fly alone? :D), but this year also marks almost 100 years of aviation in Croatia, all the way from its modest start in 1910. and the first airplane built by Slavoljub Penkala, a noted Croatian inventor of  Polish-Dutch origin (and coincidentally also the inventor of the mechanical pencil and fountain pen). To commemorate both of these occasions, the Croatian Military Museum had decided to put together a large photo exhibition, displaying publicly for the first time almost all available Croatian military aviation photos, from the first biplanes to the latest jets. [brag] I myself was also honored by having one photo on display, a first for me and proof that hauling all my photo gear around airshows the past few years does indeed pay off! [/brag] 🙂

The exhibition, opened on 15 December, was naturally split into several periods, of which the Interwar period (1918. to 1941.) and WW2 caught my attention the most. Two of the largest and most impressive sections – with almost 150 photos in total – they represented a very colorful part of aviation in Croatia, showing the smorgasbord of aircraft of all shapes and sizes that had been operated by the Air Force of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and its “successor” forces, the Facist Ustaška Eskadrila and the socialist Partisan Air Force (and its Allied supporter, the Royal Air Force’s Balkan Air Force).

Naturally, these periods being the highlight of Borongaj’s history, I immediately combed through the collection, searching for aircraft that had been out of that airfield. The end list – by no means complete, there were a lot of photos to go through! – is impressive and encompasses over a dozen types from all corners of Europe.

1. From Czech Mate to the French Connection:

Given the shifting political and economic situation between the two World Wars, these aircraft ended up coming from all over Europe, from the UK to former Czechoslovakia (interestingly, the only major country with a significant aeronautical industry missing is Poland – though the Royal Yugoslav Air Force and its successors did operate Polish designs from other bases). It should be noted also that these only represent a fraction of the types operated by the various air forces of Yugoslavia and that the whole list would be significantly longer…

  • AVIA FL.3 – a small Italian side-by-side two-seater. Used by the Ustaška Eskadrila primarily for pilot training (later in the war some were also based at Lučko I believe)

A restored FL.3 in what I believe to be very accurate colors of the Ustaška Eskadrila (source: Wikipedia, photo by Malcolm Clarke)

  • Avia BH.33E – a biplane fighter with – interestingly – a shorter span upper wing than the lower (usually it’s the other way around, in which case the aircraft is a “sesquiplane”). Produced in a different Avia, this one from former Czechoslovakia

Rare shot of a RYAF BH.33E somewhere in the wilds of former Yu (photo from: http://www.afwing.com)

  • Breguet 19 – a biplane (and a real sesquiplane this time) light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft produced by Breguet of France

A line up of RYAF biplanes. The nearest, coded 11, is a Brequet 19, while I think the third one out may be a Potez 25... (photo from: oaker.sweb.cz/Maketorama)

  • Dornier Do-17 (K and Z models) – the famous German high-speed light bomber from the early WW2 years

A Finnish Do-17Z, pretty much the same as flown by the Ustaška Eskadrila (photo from: Wikipedia)

  • Dornier Do-Y – a very, very rare three-engined bomber designed by Claude Dornier (his second) back in the 30s. Few in number, I’m not sure if they had survived till the war…

An unidentified Do-Y in flight, though the rudder colors do look incredibly like the ones used by the RYAF... (photo from: airwar.ru)

  • Fiat G-50bis – a late 30’s Italian monoplane fighter, operated by both the RYAF (which had bought them pre-war) and the Ustaška Eskadrila (which had also received some new examples). Reportedly, only one survives to this day, kept in the basement of the Aeronautical Museum at Belgrade Airport, Serbia

The distinctively humped G.50, a fuselage design common - and unique - to Italy during the 40s (photo from: Wikipedia)

  • Fieseler Fi-156C-1 Storch – the legendary German get-in-anywhere-anytime utility aircraft 🙂

The shape that had inspired dozens of subsequent STOL aircraft 🙂 (photo from: museum.af.mil)

  • Fiesler Fi-167A-0 – most probably the biggest oddity and rarity on this list, this carrier-borne torpedo bomber was transferred Croatia once it became apparent that Germany’s projected carrier, the Graf Zeppelin (for which the Fi-167 was designed) was going nowhere. Never seeing serial production, the models used by the Ustaška Eskadrila were all A-0 pre-production versions

A rare shot of a Fi-167 inflight. Some sources identify this as the fifth pre-production model, which means it could have ended up serving down here (photo from: Wikipedia)

  • Focke-Wulf FW.44B – a very well known German biplane training aircraft, much used before and during WW2. Unlike all other models which were powered by a Siemens radial, the B model unusually sported an Argus As 8 four-cyl inverted-V engine of 120 HP. Unfortunately, while the FW.44 as a type was quite common, the B models were rare, so pictures are hard to find…
  • Fokker F.IX (Avia F.39) – of similar class as the Do-Y, the Fokker F.IX started life in the 20s as a three-engined airliner. Though failing to gain a significant market as such, it did get some lease of life as a bomber, produced under license in Czechoslovakia as the Avia F.39. Like the Do-Y, they were operated by the RYAF and probably withdrawn from service before WW2

A F.39 in the colors of the Czechoslovak Air Force. Looks like a Ford Tri-motor this... (photo from: http://www.dutch-aviation.nl)

  • Hawker Fury Mk.IA and Mk.II – this very clean and fast British biplane fighter, a conceptual descendant of Hawker’s Hart bomber (an aircraft that in its day could outrun all existing fighters), was manufactured under license in Yugoslavia, hence it’s widespread use in the RYAF

A pre-war Yugoslav Fury Mk.I, showing off its very elegant lines for a biplane... elegant for any plane too... (photo from: http://www.aviation-history.com)

  • Hawker Hurricane Mk.I – does this even need an introduction or a photo? 🙂
  • Ikarus IK-2 – another rarity on the list is a home-grown monoplane fighter, the not-at-all bad looking IK-2. Resembling a number of Polish high-wing monoplane and parasol fighters, this 1934 aircraft was used by both the RYAF and the Ustaška Eskadrila, and though a good dogfighter, it was no match for modern Axis and Allied fighters and was retired in 1944.

Looking somewhat like a cross between a Fury, a Storch and a PZL P.11, the IK-2 was developed as measure to reduce the RYAF's reliance on foreign aircraft (photo from: Wikimedia)

  • Messerschmitt Bf.109G-6 – like the Hurricane, this one’s pretty straightforward 🙂
  • Potez 25 ‘Jupiter’ – though this one isn’t. Used among other thing to start the first mail service from Borongaj to Belgrade, this French biplane/sesquiplane fighter-bomber saw widespread use in various air forces, including those of the Soviet Union, USA and Poland. The ‘Jupiter’, Yugoslavia’s license-built version, was powered by the Gnome-Rhone 9ac Jupiter radial

A stock Potez 25 with what may be one of the Jupiters behind it. Though, given that the aircraft's engine mount could take a very wide variety of engines, who knows what they've mounted on the one in the photo... (photo from: http://www.e-pics.ethz.ch)

  • Rogožarski R-100 – another indigenous design, the R-100 was an intermediate trainer, the last step before the prospective student pilot was bolted into something armed and fast. Used initially by the RYAF, later in the war they were armed by the Ustaška Eskadrila with 80 and 100 kg bombs and used as ad-hoc divebombers

One thing springs to mind here (about the aircraft 😀 )... the prop pitch is enormous... (photo from: http://www.ww2aircraft.net)

  • SIM X – something unknown that has the same name as Microsoft’s Flight Sim X, significantly complicating my search effort 😀

Airport Report – Korenica glider airfield

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted as well

Now here’s something new from me – an airfield report! 🙂 And even better, a brand-new airfield report! Heard from a friend a few days ago that a new airfield was supposed to open Sunday (25th) out there in the hills of mid-Croatia. Desperately in need of some refreshing subjects to photograph – and not having much else to do – I sat in the car and went to see what’s what :).

1. Korenica – Bijelo polje (also known as “Zvonimir Rain”):

A bit about the airfield first: situated about 130 km south of Zagreb as the crow flies – or about 2 hours and 160 km by road – Bijelo polje was built on the site of a previous glider field, which had been closed some time ago (for reasons I’ve not been able to find out). The area itself has traditionally been very popular with glider pilots since the local terrain gives rise to some fantastic gliding conditions (primarily ridge lift), with almost all Croatian gliding records having been set here – including endurance and altitude records.

The airfield itself is located in the middle of Bijelo polje (directly translated as “White field”), which, at 2000 ft AMSL, is pretty much the lowest point of the surrounding terrain (as you’ll be able to see from the photos). The single grass runway stretches in a 02-20 direction – right into the prevailing bora wind – and is 500 meters long and a guesstimated 20 meters wide, more than enough for a Super Cub towplane :). Despite the high elevation and short runway – and hills on either end – beneficiary factors include relatively low temperatures and favorable winds, so it’s not as tight as it seems.

A Google Earth view of Bijelo polje. The location of the runway is "pinned down", though nothing will be visible in this dated shot :)
A Google Earth view of Bijelo polje. The location of the runway is "pinned down", though none of it will be visible in this dated shot 🙂

A wider view. Note the field's proximity to Bosina and Herzegovina - it's literally on the other side of the hill :)
A wider view. Note the field's proximity to Bosina and Herzegovina - it's literally on the other side of the hill 🙂

Since the field is small and still new, it had not yet received its ICAO Location Indicator nor a dedicated radio frequency, with all communications being done on the standard 123.500 MHz.

2. The opening:

Ideally, the way to make an entrance at an airfield opening ceremony is to dive in and screech to a halt in a Cessna :). However, the worsening autumn weather in this part of Croatia meant low ceilings, obscured mountain tops, high winds and moderate to strong turbulence – not really fun in a light Cessna, so the only option remaining was the car. It had proved to be a good choice when, halfway to the field and climbing through 1,100 meters, I entered cloud – on the road! – and stayed in it up till just 10-something km before Bijelo polje…

Once back in VMC past the town of Korenica, my next problem was to somehow get to the airfield itself. Though easily visible from the main regional road – seen snaking near the top of the GE image above – driving up to it proved to be not as straightforward, and eventually degenerated into an offroad session along random cobbled paths crossing the field :).

My only complaint about the whole field was the offroad driving needed to reach it :)
My only complaint about the whole field was the offroad driving needed to reach it :). Even my GPS was stumped...

Nailing the right path on my second try – with the help of some people also headed in my direction – I’ve finally arrived at the airfield, with my car’s lifespan considerably shortened :).

Now, the original plan had called for some glider ops to break the field in, but the aforementioned weather meant that a tiny, but significant component of that plan – the towplane – had failed to arrive. 9A-DBU, previously seen here and flying from Lučko, didn’t even bother taking off, while backup aircraft from neighboring Livno in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rijeka in the northern Adriatic couldn’t break through the clouds and had to return. Of the three gliders present, this left only one capable of doing anything about it, a motorized L-13SE Vivat which ended up being the centerpiece of this report :).

With some beautiful scenery in the back, 9A-DSI is seen waiting for the wind to subdue a bit. The other two gliders, a standard L-13 and a Pirat, didn't even bother getting off their trailers :)
With some beautiful scenery in the back, 9A-DSI is seen waiting for the strong, 20 knot wind to subdue. The other two gliders, a standard L-13 and a Pirat, didn't even bother getting off their trailers 🙂

An oblique view down RWY 02 shows the hole this airfield is in - literally :). However, the surrounding hills and mountains give some excellent ridge lift
An oblique view down RWY 02 shows the hole this airfield is in - literally. However, the surrounding hills and mountains give some excellent ridge lift, with 4 hour flights not being all that uncommon

Looking straight down the full 500 meters of the runway. The first 150 meters were made soft, presumably to ease the stress of landing
Looking straight down the full 500 meters of the runway. The first 150 meters were made soft, presumably to ease airframe stress during landing. The nearness of the terrain here means that if you decide to fly in with something sporting an engine, it had better be STOL 🙂

Another oblique view of the RWY 02 threshold, look west-southwest. The hills and mountains all around are part of the Dinaridi chain, which is in itself a lower and gentler extension of the Alps
Another oblique view of the RWY 02 threshold, look west-southwest. The hills and mountains all around are part of the Dinaridi chain, which is in itself a lower and gentler extension of the Alps

Up close with 9A-DSI, my first L-13SE Vivat :). A powered and side-by-side version of the popular L-13 Blanik, the Vivat was (aftermarket) designed to circumnavigate the need for a towplane - something very useful that day...
Up close with 9A-DSI, my first L-13SE Vivat. A side-by-side modification of the popular L-13 Blanik, the Vivat was also equipped with a Mikron M III AE inverted four-cyl engine to circumnavigate the need for a towplane - something very useful on this day...

Ready to fly :). The location is quite scenic, you'd have thought this was taken somewhere in North America
Ready to fly! The beautiful scenery is quite a change from the boring dullness and flatness of Lučko

A rare motorglider, a pine forest in the back, hills and low cloud - what more could you ask for an interesting photo? :)
A rare motorglider, a pine forest in the back, hills and low cloud - what more could you ask for an interesting photo? To me this looks more like it was taken in North America than in Mediterranean Croatia

A view toward the north-west, with some gentler terrain in the distance
A view toward the northwest, with gentler terrain in the distance

The Vivat aside, the infrastructure of the field is basically nil – but with the onset of winter and almost certain snow, in addition to the undemanding nature of gliders, one doesn’t need really need a lot of equipment hanging around, exposed to the elements. Even this unambitious opening was a one-time affair, since right after it the airfield had shut its doors till the spring gliding season. Maybe when the weather clears, I’ll be able to post a proper, airborne report on the it… 🙂

Post Update – Borongaj (ex-)airfield

By Boran Pivčić
All photos author

Photo update time! And I’m very happy to be able to bring you this one, as this is something I had wanted to do ever since I snooped around what was left of Borongaj airfield back in March :). And thanks to a free 9A-DDD, some beautiful (pre-storm) weather and my trusty fellow pilot Šime Plepelić I now bring you – Borongaj from the air!

A detail I neglected to mention the last time is that the field lies practically along the standard panorama route – and I’ve been flying by it for the past seven years without noticing (the problem was that before I actually hit upon the idea of using Google Earth, I thought the field was in the center of the Borongaj district, round a tram terminus). Now its location was blindingly obvious, so on yesterday’s flight with the guys, I decided we could just as well do a small detour… 🙂

Passing by as we would normally do, just a bit closer. As you can see, Google Earth doesn't lie :)
Passing by as we would normally do, just a bit closer. As you can see, Google Earth doesn't lie 🙂

Turning round by 180 degrees brought us alongside the main apron, heading north, for some photoreconnaissance of our own :). Deviating a bit from the norm, I was taking the photos from the left seat through the open window, while Šime was flying briefly from the right
Turning round by 180 degrees brought us alongside the main apron, heading north for some photoreconnaissance of our own :). Deviating a bit from the norm, I was taking the photos from the left seat through the open window, while Šime was flying briefly from the right

A wider view of the main apron. From this vantage point, you can appreciate the difficulty of finding the runway...
A wider view of the main apron. From this vantage point, you can appreciate the difficulty of finding the runway...

The northern end. The large building at the bottom is what I believe the hangar from WW2 (the one from the G.50 shot)
The northern end. The large building at the bottom is what I believe the hangar from WW2 (the one from the G.50 shot)

Quarterview showing (almost) the entire taxiway complex. I had first entered the field via the access path visible at the bottom of the shot, right by the blocky apron
Quarterview showing (almost) the entire taxiway complex. I had first entered the field via the access path visible at the bottom of the shot, right by the blocky apron

IMO the best shot of the day :). Turning back to our route, we passed the north of the field, allowing for a full-view shot
IMO the best shot of the day :). Turning back to our route, we passed the north of the field, allowing for a full-view shot

History – Borongaj (ex-)airfield, Zagreb

By Boran Pivčić
All photos author, with assistance from Google Earth

In a slight departure from the usual General Aviation theme, I thought I’d try my hand at some aviation history for a change. Trying to avoid the usual bland history lessons, I chose instead to quickly profile the first “real” airport in Zagreb – Borongaj airfield – and spice it up with some pictures of what’s left of it today (which isn’t much). I had wanted to include some historical imagery, but that either doesn’t exist in the form that I need, or is copyrighted… so you’ll have to extrapolate from my contemporary photos :).

1. Beginnings:

Though not the first airfield in town, Borongaj airfield – located in the Borongaj district to the (then) east of town – was the first purpose-built airport in Zagreb, that is, the first airport meant to serve passengers and what was then emerging to be “scheduled air services” (the first airfield, built in 1910. in Črnomerec on the opposite side of the city, was deemed inadequate and was – as far as I’ve been able to dig up – closed soon afterward).

Opened in 1926., little exact information remains about Borongaj’s specifics. But eyeballing from its heyday in the early 40s, the airport had a single grass runway of a maximum 800 meters in length, stretching on a heading of approximately 020-200 degrees – almost right into the bora, the prevailing wind in Zagreb (which leads to believe that RWY 02 was in use most of the time). Facilities were apparently rather minimal, but enough to open the first scheduled service to Belgrade, Serbia, later the same year using a Potez 25.

A Google Earth image of modern Zagreb, with Borongaj - and the other three Zagreb aerodromes - "pinned down" (the position of Črnomerec being approximate). Six kilometers away from the city center, Borongaj was once well outside of town...
A Google Earth image of modern Zagreb, with Borongaj – and the other three Zagreb aerodromes – “pinned down” (the position of Črnomerec being approximate). Six kilometers away from the city center, Borongaj was once well outside of town… also note that – in the order they were built – Zagreb aerodromes seem to follow a zig-zag pattern :). Črnomerec -> Borongaj -> Lučko -> Pleso

Apart from a visit by Charles Lindbergh after his transatlantic crossing in 1927., the airport remained unremarkable throughout the 30s. More services were added, including those to Dubrovnik and Split (Croatia), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Sarajevo (Bosnia), as well as international destinations such as Graz, Klagenfurt and Vienna in Austria, Prague in today’s Czech Republic, Budapest in Hungary and Milan and Trieste in Italy. Apart from the mentioned Potez 25, little information remains about the types operated out of the field.

Undated photograph from Borongaj’s past, showing some hangars at the field’s southern end

2. World War II:

As with many airfields in Europe, Borongaj’s history would shift into high gear during WW2. Following a spirited, but futile two week resistance, Yugoslavia fell to German and Hungarian forces in April 1941 – though not before making aviation headlines by being the only time in history that Messerschmitt Bf.109s faced Bf.109s in combat, when pilots of the Royal Yugoslav Airforce engaged the Luftwaffe with aircraft bought in 1937-8 (in exchange for strategic resources like metals). The occupation of Croatia – and its subsequent re-emergence as the Independent State of Croatia – effectively meant the end of Borongaj as a civil airfield, though it would prove to be a major influence on the birth of local aviation as we know it today.

Borongaj’s major role now became that of a military airbase, housing some of aircraft of the Ustaška Eskadrila, a squadron named after the nationalist Ustaše movement that controlled the country at the time. In addition to Borongaj, the Wermarcht and the Ustaše developed another airfield, an aerodrome we all know and love today: Lučko :). A larger airport developed just before the war in the late 30s (1937 I think, but don’t quote me on that), Lučko was intended to be able to support newer passenger aircraft up to a weight of 15 tons (meaning some pretty large stuff back then). During occupation, it gained a paved runway for all-weather military operations, the remains of which can still be seen at the field today – even though the actual runway had been shifted about 500 meters to the south decades ago.

In addition to these two existing fields, in 1943. the Wermarcht also built a completely new paved airfield to the south-east of town, what would eventually become – Pleso. Today the country’s main international gateway, Pleso has an interesting anecdote connected with it. Those familiar with the airport of today know of the problems its dense and long-lasting winter fogs – with visibilities not rising above 100 meters for weeks on end – cause to flight operations (indeed, the reason why Pleso was one of the first – if not the first – airport in this part of Europe to introduce a CAT IIIb ILS system for sub-50 meter visibilities). In a testament to German engineering, the WW2 airfield was built in this location specifically to hide it in the fog from Allied bombers… and 65 years on, it’s still regularly hidden :).

Equipped with a wild mix of Axis types, the main offensive fleet of the Ustaška Eskadrila consisted of Fiat G.50s, Messerschmitt Bf.109Fs and Dornier Do-17 light bombers, supplemented by various liason, communication and transport aircraft of all makes and models – French, Italian, Hungarian, Polish, German, you name it. They were split between the three bases, with – as far as I’ve been able to piece together – Bf.109s and Do-17s based at Lučko and G.50s, with the odd 109, based at Borongaj.

A Fiat G.50bis of the Ustaška Eskadrila in front of a hangar at Borongaj (still standing today). Credit for the photo goes out to... whoever photographed it back then :)
A famous picture of a Fiat G.50bis of the Ustaška Eskadrila in front of a hangar at Borongaj (still standing today at its northern end). Credit for the photo goes out to… whoever photographed it back then 🙂

By 1944. and the Allied advance through Italy, these airfields were slowly coming into range of Allied bombers, including fighter-bombers of the Yugoslav Partisans (who, starting as a guerrilla force in 1941., grew into a regular army by the end of the war). Needless to say Borongaj – and a rail yard at its northern end – were extensively bombed, evidence of which can still be seen at the field today (even more so, WW2 bombs are dug up every now and then in that area, now mostly residential).

Allied reconnaissance photos of the Borongaj area. The field is just out of shot to the south, with only part of the main apron visible

3. WW2 to the 21st century:

In the immediate aftermath of the war, Borongaj increasingly lost its importance as an airbase. The more modern, better equipped and larger Lučko and Pleso were sufficient for both military and – soon to be restarted – civil needs, leaving Borongaj redundant. Soon afterward, the airbase was closed, the runway left to overgrow and what was left of the facilities was converted to an army base and barracks. Interestingly enough, despite the barracks growing into one of the largest in the area – where many young men, including my dad, served their military service – and expanding into a large and elaborate compound, the area around the former runway, as well as the taxiways and aprons, remained mostly untouched.

4. Borongaj today:

About 2-3 years ago, the military decided to leave the Borongaj complex for a better and more suitable location – and given that the rate of Zagreb’s expansion meant that they were now in the middle of a residential district, I can hardly blame them. Rather than level and rezone the massively expensive and vast complex, it was given to the city to turn into an über-campus, able to accomodate all of Zagreb’s scattered universities and dormitories (the total number of which is about 20). Several buildings were being renovated even as the military was moving out, so it wasn’t uncommon to drive to classes past tanks, anti-aircraft artillery and howitzers :).

The success of the project aside (only two universities have so far moved in, including mine), this opened up the possibility of finally exploring what was left of the airfield in peace, without the military police breathing down my neck. The area available is large, since the four-five university buildings occupy around a mere 10% of the entire complex away from the actual field. So, on an oddly suitable gloomy and rainy day, I set out to see what’s what…

Another Google Earth shot, clearly showing the complex of taxiways and aprons from the WW2 era. The bit sticking out in the reconaissance photograph is the northernmost point of the field (where that taxiway sticks out into the forest), while the hangars in front of which the G.50 was pictured were on the apron immediately to the south. The hangars from the first photo were most probably around the biggest apron in the middle of the field
Another Google Earth shot, clearly showing the complex of taxiways and aprons from the WW2 era. The bit sticking out in the reconnaissance photograph is the northernmost point of the field (where that taxiway sticks out into the forest), while the hangars in front of which the G.50 was pictured were on the apron immediately to the south. The hangars from the first photo were most probably around the biggest apron in the middle of the field

As you can see from the photo, the runway was to the left of the complex. Long overgrown, it is now a miniature forest, making it nigh impossible to actually find any traces of where it began and ended. There are a number of buildings still standing, though some of the more contemporary ones – built during the 60s and later – are being torn down.

A view south from one of the paths leading to the apron. The pavement is apparently original from WW2 (or even before) though the buildings to the left and in the distance appear to be 70s vintage
A view south from one of the paths leading to the apron. The pavement is apparently original from WW2 (or even before) though the buildings to the left and in the distance appear to be 60-70s vintage

Another view south from the main taxiway. To think that 60+ years ago Bf.109s and G.50 - and even Lindbergh before - taxied down here...
Another view south from the main taxiway. To think that 60+ years ago Bf.109s and G.50 – and even Lindbergh before – taxied down here…

Evidence of the field's WW2 history. A sealed in crater, which informed speculation suggest might be from a bomb in the 150 kg range that had failed to explode
Evidence of the field’s WW2 history. A sealed-in crater, which informed speculation suggest might be from a bomb in the 150 kg range that had failed to explode

As you can see, the field is not in the best of shapes, but it had been neglected for several decades. Upon closer inspection, most, if not all, of the buildings here were meant for vehicles – garages with mechanic pits and signs like “Vehicle Depot #2” being the most obvious signs – which indicates that the field was periodically used right up until the military moved out. The state of the pavement was probably considered a non-issue to tough military vehicles, so was left to fall into disrepair.

The view from another access path. The weather was perfectly suited to the general feel of abandonment...
The view from another access path. The weather was perfectly suited to the general feel of abandonment…

A view north. The yellow building in the distance is one of the very hangars that G.50 was photographed in front of. Beyond it is the disused rail yard - though trains regularly pass through it without stopping - seen in the reconaissance photo, as well as the field's own sideline
A view north. The yellow building in the distance is one of the very hangars that G.50 was photographed in front of. Beyond it is the disused rail yard – though trains regularly pass through it without stopping – seen in the reconnaissance photo, as well as the field’s own sideline

The southern apron. If my sense of direction is correct, this is round about the place where the hangars from the first link posted were located. Quite possibly this area was the "main terminal", though the pavement is a later feature
The southern apron. If my sense of direction is correct, this is round about the place where the hangars from the first link were located. Quite possibly this area was the “main terminal”, though the pavement is a later feature

Given that it was a rather cold and rainy day (and I was without a jacket in March), I didn’t spend much time outdoors, instead choosing to look around some of the open buildings (mostly empty. I won’t post any photos since there’s not much to see and they wouldn’t be aviation-related anyway). Unfortunately, I only found out several days later that the northern hangars were indeed WW2 vintage and that I had wrongly dismissed them as something more modern – so I didn’t go and photograph them (an additional issue was that there were some MP cars packed nearby, so I didn’t want to push my luck 🙂 ).

The rain, a biting northern wind, low cloudbase and Medvednica in the distance covered with snow really did leave a bleak, cold and dark feeling when standing there...
The rain, a biting northern wind, low cloudbase and Medvednica in the distance covered in snow really did leave a bleak, cold and dark feeling when standing there…

A part of Borongaj lives on... an overview of the main apron at Lučko reveals some little-known historical tidbits: the hangar to the left is actually a WW2 Borongaj veteran, dismantled and transported to Lučko when the airbase was closed. A gem few people know about, it is kept company by the remains - the dark stripe running across the apron - of Lučko's WW2 runway, also used by Bf.109s and Do-17s...
A part of Borongaj lives on… an overview of the main apron at Lučko reveals some little-known historical tidbits: the hangar to the left is actually a WW2 Borongaj veteran, dismantled and transported to Lučko when the airbase was closed. A gem few people know about, it is kept company by the remains of Lučko’s WW2 runway (the dark stripe running across the apron), also used by Bf.109s and Do-17s…

One of my "Aviation Legends" photos, picturing famous aircraft types - all two I ever found parked in front of the hangar :) - against the most distinctive fixture of Lučko. Shot before I even knew that this hangar predates even the first versions of the planes shot :)
One of my “Aviation Legends” photos, picturing famous aircraft types – all two I ever found parked in front of the hangar 🙂 – against the most distinctive fixture of Lučko. Shot before I even knew that this hangar predates even the first versions of the planes shot 🙂

Another atmospheric shot in some excellent lighting. The "Aeroklub" refers to Aeroklub Zagreb, the oldest flying club in Croatia founded way back in 1924. and managing Lučko since 1958. when passenger operations switched to Pleso
Another atmospheric shot in some excellent lighting. The “Aeroklub” refers to Aeroklub Zagreb, the oldest flying club in Croatia founded way back in 1924. and managing Lučko since 1958. when passenger operations switched to Pleso

Future plans for the airfield are unknown, but given the university’s current rate of expansion, it’ll be safe for a good 10 years :). Hopefully, somebody at some point will place it on a protected monument list, as it is a large open area of prime real estate – very tempting for the increasingly crowded city (witness Tempelhof in Berlin). One can only fantasize of it being turned into an active airfield, where you can park your generic Skyhawk on the same spot once occupied by a Messerschmitt :)…