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.
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…
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.
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 :).
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… 🙂
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.
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 :)…
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)
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
Breguet 19 – a biplane (and a real sesquiplane this time) light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft produced by Breguet of France
Dornier Do-17 (K and Z models) – the famous German high-speed light bomber from the early WW2 years
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…
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
Fieseler Fi-156C-1 Storch – the legendary German get-in-anywhere-anytime utility aircraft 🙂
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
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
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
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.
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
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
SIM X – something unknown that has the same name as Microsoft’s Flight Sim X, significantly complicating my search effort 😀
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.
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 :).
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 :).
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… 🙂
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… 🙂
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 :).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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…
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.
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.
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 🙂 ).
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 :)…