Looking back on it (even though it still has a month and a bit left to run), this year has, aviation-wise, been almost a complete joke. One of the rainiest years since record keeping began in Croatia some two centuries ago, it has produced no less than three major floods, interspersed with unusually frequent (and surprisingly violent) cyclones and depressions that had – in some cases – dumped a year’s worth of rain in just a few weeks. Scenes such as this and this had kept most of our grass airfields closed and flooded for days on end, trapping all of our money-making aircraft and rendering them unable to flee to the paved safety of the country’s major airports…
Likewise, man-made disasters had conspired against us as well, with the country’s long-standing economic crisis now running into its seventh consecutive year – with very little light only dimly visible at the end of the tunnel. Apart from a general reduction in life standard, spanners thrown into Croatia’s GA works include soaring fuel prices, increased maintenance costs – and, not least of all, stepped-up efforts by several operators of popular paved airports to collect increasingly exorbitant fees and charges in order to alleviate their own financial difficulties.
An yet, despite all of this, the local GA scene is operating like there’s no tomorrow (likely because if the weather continues like this, there probably won’t be 😀 ), with a new bizjet, new skydive Cessna, new glider and towplane all having arrived in country within the past few months. Flying clubs are on a roll as well, with mine already having beaten its previous flight time high, set – ironically – in 2013 :). Skydive flights, airshow performances, panoramic flights, private rentals… all seem to be coming back on track despite the worsening living standard (with only flight training letting the side down).
Much of the same could have also been seen during the 24th Zagreb Cup precision landing championship, held at Lučko Airfield (LDZL) on Saturday 11 October :). A yearly small-town event whose sole purpose is to have some good-natured fun (and enjoy a good BBQ afterwards 😀 ), the competition had this year attracted an all-time record in aircraft and competitors, numbering at four Cessna 150s, three Cessna 172s and 24 competing pilots respectively. While this doesn’t sound like much compared to some of the larger and more formal competitions held elsewhere in Europe, it is still of one of the main aviation (social) events of the season, and had this year easily topped the 2013 competition, where we had a showing of only five aircraft and just 18 pilots.
As nearly every year so far, the competition had been blessed with beautiful summer-like anticyclonic weather, sporting clear blue skies, temperatures of around 25 degrees Centigrade – and lighting conditions to die for. The only thing missing compared to last year was a stiff 15 knot crosswind, replaced this time by a light, variable and refreshing breeze – quite welcome when standing in the sun for several hours 😀 .
Even though this meant we’d miss out on the visually attractive landings of 2013, my shutter finger was not left to stand idly by, with my role as assistant judge allowing me the occasional opportunity to play around a bit… 🙂
Even though most large airshows on the European continent seem little affected by the world’s economic woes, out here on the periphery things are not going so well. Despite 2012 marking the centenary of aviation in many countries of the Balkans (as did the preceding 2011), celebrations are by economic necessity curtailed, unimpressive and in many cases held just for form’s sake. Case in point in Croatia is the yearly Lučko Airshow, which will – by most accounts – be degraded this year to a “rump airshow”, held simply to avoid breaking its continuity :D.
However, one event that has always seemed more resilient is the Batajnica Airshow, held at Batajnica Airbase (LYBT) just outside Belgrade, Serbia. Like Hungary’s own Kecskemet Airshow – held just a hundred or so kilometers north – Batajnica is primarily a military affair, though civilian aircraft do make up a sizable amount of the static display. Having been deprived of any serious airshow all year – the last one being MAKS in August 2011 – I was naturally quick to plan a trip east and see what has the Serbian AF managed to cook up for its de facto 100th birthday… 🙂
MiGs at 6 o’clock!
In common with many air forces on the Balkans, the chief attraction of the Serbian AF is the rarity of its aircraft, most of which are of Soviet and Yugoslav make. Alongside various transports such as the An-26 – which can still be occasionally seen on cargo runs across Europe – the SerbAF also operates a handful of much rarer MiG-21 and MiG-29 fighters, types which are nowadays generally endemic to the Balkans. To drive the point – and attraction – home, in Europe airworthy (more-or-less :D) MiG-21s can only be found in Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, while the potent MiG-29 only in Serbia, Bulgaria and Poland. Locally-produced types from the heyday of Yugoslav aviation are hardly less attractive and feature some of the world’s last airworthy Soko G-2 Galeb (seagull) and G-4 Super Galeb trainers, and the Jaguar-lookalike J-22 Orao (eagle) strike aircraft.
However, while the above list sounds juicy even to the locals, accustomed to seeing these aircraft on a frequent basis, there is a catch attached: like their counterparts in other air forces of the region, SerbAF combat aircraft are quite old and near the ends of their service lives (a mounting problem faced by the Croatian MiG-21 fleet as well). Consequently, their crews have neither the available flight hours nor the mechanical security to take the aircraft to their limits, resulting mostly in tame and lackluster displays (as was most evident during the MiG-29 interception demo).
But, flight routines aside, the show is still an excellent opportunity to simply enjoy the sight, sound – and smell 😀 – of some good ol’ proper aircraft :). And while there were some obstructions to quality photography even with generous access – lots of visitors swarming around static aircraft and horrid heat haze out on the runway – the following gallery I believe captures the essence of the show and its aircraft quite nicely…
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 :)…
Whenever I happened to catch a Diamond Star rolling down Lučko’s rough, uneven runway, I’d always felt sorry for the little thing. Pitching and rolling and yawing like it was out of control, it had suddenly seemed fragile and very much out of its element – a sword at the proverbial gun fight, an aircraft that really should steer clear of all but the smoothest surfaces… in essence, and despite the type’s incredible underlying toughness and depth of engineering, almost an accident waiting to happen…
However, a casual stroll down the display line at the 2011 Paris Air Show would quickly prove my impressions wrong :). Sitting in the open away from the big jets and fighters was an oddly different, beefed-up, more purposeful looking Star – not quite like any I’d ever seen before. Its information board, largely ignored by passers-by, identified it simply as the DA-40 Tundra Star. Intrigued, I’d naturally stopped to take a look… 🙂
While the traditional Lučko Airshow had often enough ended up being little more than a “village airshow” – despite the good intentions of everyone involved – this year’s event, celebrating the centenary of aviation in Zagreb, was showing a lot more promise from the get-go :). The initial participant list alone was enough to get the blood flowing – and the photo finger itchy 😀 – with the likes of the DeHavilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide, and the extremely rare ex-Yu Ikarus Kurir, on the headlines; not to mention the first public flight of a lovingly built replica of the first aircraft designed in Croatia, way back in 1910 :).
Even though a few organizational issues, and the dreary and foul weather on 28 August (the original show day), had distilled that list somewhat – the Dragon Rapide and Kurir sadly dropping out – there still remained a number of very interesting aircraft to see and photograph :). So on 29 August, hoping for clear skies and good light – and with the assistance of Ms. Matea Makek, manning my old Canon 20D 🙂 – I set course for the field to see what’s what…
Like many Spitfire enthusiasts, over the years I had gone through all the “fan-boy” motions: I’ve watched the movies, read the books, saw the photos… collected a bit of memorabilia even, the lot. But, as is often the case with these things, my involvement with the Spit had always stopped short of actually seeing a real, flying example. Sure, I’ve seen one in a museum – an ex-Yugoslav Mk.Vb in Belgrade’s Aeronautical Museum – but static, toy-like and lifeless, its beautiful Merlin silent, it just didn’t cut it at all.
Determined for years to right that wrong, last Saturday (26 June) I sat in the car and set off for La Comina airfield in Northern Italy. Just a few miles south of Aviano airbase, this small grass field – one of the oldest in the country – was the venue for the La Comina 100 airshow, part of a series of shows across the width and breadth of Italy, celebrating its first century of (practical :D) aviation. On this occasion, the aircraft line-up had included a mouth-watering selection of precious warbirds, including my “target for the day”, my first ever flying Spitfire! 🙂
Owned by the Jacquard Collection of France, F-AZJS – a post-war photo-reconnaissance PR.19 – is perhaps not the most exotic Spitfire around, but it is among the very few surviving examples of what some call the most capable Spitfire mark of them all. The last of the land-based Spitfires – powered by the monstrous 2035 HP Rolls-Royce Griffon 65 borrowed from the 1944-vintage Mk.XIV – the light, unarmed PR.19 can zip along at a fantastic 740 km/h, along the way touching altitudes in excess of 50,000 ft; heights that put most modern civil jets to shame! 🙂
That day though, F-AZJS would (thankfully) be touching just – 500 ft :D. Already excited out of my skin – and set and ready to experience the grace, power and charisma of the immortal Spit – I had readied the camera and waited…
As an added bonus feature – and in the interest of serving a balanced dose of irony 😀 – I’ve also decided to include a few shots of the unique Fiat G.59-4B two-seater that had also appeared at the show, currently the only flying example in existence. Though it outwardly looks like a bastard cross between a Spitfire, Bf.109 and Yak-1, it is actually based on the curvy Fiat G.55 Centauro, hailed by many as the best Italian wartime fighter. Powered by a 1475 HP Fiat Tifone inverted V12 – a license-built version of the Daimler-Benz DB 605A-1 – it had proved to be a formidable opponent, taking on Spitfires and Mustangs without a second thought. Stunningly maneuverable – but slightly under-armed – the G.55 had some notable combat successes, but their low numbers meant that the type couldn’t make much of a dent in Allied air fleets.
An advanced design that was ahead of its time in a number of respects, the G.55 was – like the Bf.108 previously featured here – returned to production following the end of WW2. However, again like the Bf.108, it soon started facing a serious shortage of engines, with the stockpiles of WW2-vintage Tifones – and even imported DB 605s – dwindling fast. In a bid to keep the production lines open, the design team started looking for a replacement engine – but, unlike with the Bf.108, their choices were very limited. The only realistic option in the required power range was none other than – the RR Merlin :D.
Re-designated as the G.59, the new aircraft was comparatively successful, though was in the end built only in modest numbers (with almost half intended for Argentina and Syria, the type’s only foreign customers). Two versions were produced, the single-seat A models and the two seat Bs, to whose last batch our example – I-MRSV – belongs…
Finally succumbing to the mass of enthusiastic photos and texts about the RB Air Race, I decided to finally sit in the car and go see it – especially now that it was on it’s closest approach to Croatia, 350 km away in Budapest. Given that most facts about the whole event are well known – we all know the efficiency of Red Bull’s PR department – and the fact that I’ve been studying meteorology like mad for the past month and am not poetically inclined right now, I’ll just shut up and let the photos do the talking for now :).
Still under impressions from Paris, I kept viewing the yearly CIAV airshow as something of a “village show” – a small, unambitious country gathering compared to the grandeur of the world’s biggest and oldest airshow. However, sunny weather – and a need to get out of town – saw me attend the show on both of its days, in part also to practice my hand with my new bulky and heavy 100-400 mm lens. In the end, owing to runway-side access I had managed to secure on both days, the show – despite cursed with rickety organisation – turned out to be quite a nice and enjoyable event.
1. The 2009 event:
Despite the a-bit-too pretentious “international” epithet, this year’s show hosted more foreign visitors than before. Among the usual Slovenian and Hungarian participants, there was also a French Air Force AlphaJet trainer, which was – unfortunately – relegated to the static display, despite being scheduled to fly. The rest were oft-seen local aircraft, including half a dozen aerobatic ones.
The flight display itself was a mix of aircraft types, from flexwings and Extras all the way to Citations, Pilatus PC-9s and even an Antonov An-32 and MiG-21. So without further ado…
Note: given that I intend to post quite a few photos, I thought it best to split this report into two parts, with about the same number of photos. This part is – mostly – civil-oriented, while the second will contain the big bad mil stuff.
Time again for another update, one which proves I have “a couple of planks missing” as the saying goes – of all the Learjets, the Global Express, Avanti, Dassault Falcons… I was most excited to photograph a Cessna 140 and Luscombe 8! 🙂 Found them by accident when I took a shortcut past the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace to avoid the crowd on Saturday. Given I have a fancy for bare-metal GA oldies, I couldn’t not stop and take a photo :).
In addition, I managed to beg my way aboard the Avanti II again, this time with the avionics turned on :).
In another first for my blog, I bring you the “Paris Air Show GA” series – almost live :). Since I hauled my laptop along, I might as well use it and post some photo action from the show. Blessed with press access – and a number of very friendly representatives of several major bizjet manufacturers – I had the opportunity to sneak around the insides of some of the most modern bizjets in the sky. All of the photos in this specific post were taken on Thursday, June 18, the fourth and last trade day (the next three days is the open public part). So here goes…
Unfortunately, neither Gulfstream nor Cessna were in attendance, both dropping out due to the recession and the fact that they had appeared at the EBACE business aviation event in Geneva, Switzerland a couple of weeks back… which was a major letdown as I was looking forward to seeing the Citation X and any big Gulfstream…
Dassault’s Falcon division was also present at the show, but access to their aircraft was “Invitation only” – a marked difference to the “come in and look around” attitude of Piaggio and Bombardier (and Pilatus)…
JUNE 19th UPDATE: not to needlessly open another post, I’ll just continue in this one. Have two more GA cockpits to add today, some more glass :):
While not a “proper airshow” in itself, the “Susreti Za Rudija” (roughly translated as “Meetings for Rudi”) commemoration includes a strong air presence, which traditionally comprises a number of light aircraft, in addition to the airforce fast jets and helos. This year – after missing out last time – I finally managed to hitch a ride on two of our club airplanes that were scheduled to take part in the proceedings. Naturally, my camera never left my side so, with plenty of photographic evidence, here goes…
1. Background to the show
The “Susreti Za Rudija” event first started several years ago to commemorate Rudolf “Rudi” Perešin, our most famous military pilot. Born in the town of Gornja Stubica near Zagreb, he was one of the best MiG-21 pilots in the former Yugoslav Air Force, who in 1991. (at the start of the Yugoslav Civil Wars) defected to Croatia with his MiG-21R. Unfortunately, he couldn’t land at Zagreb’s Pleso airport, so low on fuel – when isn’t a MiG-21 low on that? – he proceeded, without any form of clarance, to Klagenfurt, Austria and landed there. His jet, coded 26112, was impounded, but Rudi was allowed to return to Croatia where he continued flying for the nascent Croatian Air Force.
He was killed on May 2, 1995. when his MiG-21bis was hit by AAA near the town of Stara Gradiška during Operation Flash. Flying close to the ground, he ejected at low altitude, but hit the surface of the Sava river before his chute opened.
The present day meet consists of a wide variety of activities, including the aforementioned air program, which was for this occasion to include flypasts by Air Force MiG-21s and Mi-8/171 helicopters, a police and military parachute team demo, aerobatic flights – and light aircraft flypasts, where we come in.
2. Showday – the aircraft
Despite the flying program scheduled to start at 15:00 – with our first takeoff around 16:00 PM – a friend and I arrived at the field early at 9:00, hoping to make ourselves useful in the mean time. The day for one of our airplanes – Cessna 172N 9A-DDD – was packed full in addition to appearing in the flypast, so we came early to prep the birds and start things off as soon as possible. All in all, three of our planes were due to take part in the show: 9A-DDD, 9A-DMJ and our Seneca III, 9A-DMO.
Registration: 9A-DDD (ECOS Pilot School) Type: Cessna 172N Skyhawk II Mfd.: 1980. Engine: Continental O-320, 4 cyl, normally aspirated @ 160 HP, driving a two-blade fixed pitch prop
Registration: 9A-DMO (ECOS Pilot School) Type: Piper PA-34-220T Seneca III Mfd.: 1981. Engines: 1x Continental TSIO-360, 6 cyl, turbocharged @ 220 HP, driving a three-blade constant speed prop & 1x Continental LTSIO-360 with the same specs but spinning in the opposite direction
And you’re already familiar with 9A-DMJ from a previous post :).
3. Showday – scenes from Lučko
Since most – if not all – aircraft involved in the meet would be launching from Lučko, I got the opportunity to catch several of them during either practice or departure. Though most of the types involved would be GA birds, I’ve decided to skip over them – for despite this being a GA blog, I’ll be the first to admit that prepping a C172 isn’t all that a thrilling experience. Much more interesting were the various military and police helicopters that decided they might just catch some air on this beautiful – though humid – spring day.
4. Showday – the first run
Normally, an airshow wouldn’t be an airshow if it ran flawlessly :). Due to the way the meet was organised, each participant would be performing solo – which meant that all three of our planes would fly their displays individually and at different times. DDD would be first with a flyover at 16:05, DMJ second at 16:40 and DMO last at 17:55 to close the show. Though it certainly appears a bit nonsensical – having 5-6 Skyhawks pass one at a time over a stadium that was sure to attract a significant number of people – the reason behind it was that the aircraft would get points for being on time over target, points that would be added to their scores in the upcoming precision landing championship to be held at Lučko in two weeks. In the end – as is usually the case – it all went awry quite early in the game :).
As previously mentioned, DDD had a full day in addition to this, with several panorama flights and a banner towing mission stacked end to end. Due to a breakdown in coordination, a skydive flight also appeared out of nowhere, necessitating the use of the more powerful DMJ – which then, by some mechanism that I didn’t quite get, threw the whole plan into disarray. In the end, DDD missed its display slot, but with a quick call to the organisers, we managed to squeeze it in along with DMJ in the latter’s slot. This in the end was fortunate for me, because apart from securing myself a seat on DDD, I’d get another chance for some air-to-air action :). And I desperately needed to get into the front seat of something, as I hadn’t flown for a couple of months and wanted to get my bearings back :).
The route we were to fly is pretty similar to the one we flew in the last Trip Report I posted, but significantly shorter. Gornja Bistra is just behind the Medvednica mountain, a pifling 10-15 minutes away as the Skyhawk flies. After passing Zaprešić – or November point, the exit out of Lučko CTR (I should really post a map here) – just turn right and keep low for the next 5 minutes… and you’re there.
Our departure was scheduled for around 16:20 and surprisingly we made it on time! Given the manageable difference in performance between DDD and DMJ, our formation takeoff was more successful than last time, with DMJ leading the way up until halfway to Zaprešić. There we switched roles and the slower DDD took up the lead.
Unfortunately, DMJ came up on our left, so I couldn’t get a clear shot of it – not through an open window as I had originally hoped. But the short flight time to Stubica – as well as continual communication and sequencing with a provisional ATC unit set up down there – meant we really didn’t have time for fooling around, so I had to make do with what I had.
The event itself was held at a sport stadium, which is quite difficult to find if you’ve never been there before. Even aerial photos with drawn approach and flyover routes aren’t of much help, but thankfully both pilots had been here a number of times before, so it was a relatively straightforward job of lining up for the run. The only problem is that apparently nobody notified the ATC that we’d be coming in formation, so there were a couple of on-frequency changes in lineup to be made.
As we lined up for our run, our formation – predictably I could say – broke up and we ended up chasing each other down toward the stadium, DDD first and DMJ about 100-200 meters behind us (as far as I could see over the tail). Don’t know how it looked like from the ground, but from up here the whole flypast – as well as the next two ones – looked a bit shabby.
Between snapping a few photos and constantly craining my neck and looking for DMJ, I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the display, but it involved normal flypasts at Warp Skyhawk – in other words, slow :). The presence of numerous hills on all sides of Gornja Stubica percluded anything more aggressive, especially in an relatively underpowered Skyhawk on a hot +25 C day. Our time slot of just 4 minutes didn’t help either, so after our three passes, we set back for Lučko.
5. Showday – the second run
After we landed, I harrassed my flight instructor – who was supposed to fly DMO – to hitch a ride on it as well, as the first run didn’t really live up to my expectations. Thankfully, little persuation was necessary, so I found myself in the front right cabin seat at our revised 18:10 launch (I wanted to be up front, but a Seneca-rated pilot from our club was flying the left seat, with my CFI on the right). With four of us aboard and about 3/4 fuel, the takeoff run was more lively than I expected and we were soon off the ground and keeping our heads low toward Zaprešić.
As the traffic around Gornja Bistra had already cleared, we proceeded pretty much straight in, with no holding or orbits – picking up speed along the way for a smashing high-speed low pass.
As is standard for every DMO display, the first pass was followed by a slower “dirty” flyover with flaps and gear extended, while the third – and last in this case – was a surprise low pass from a different direction.
After the third pass – and the impressive-ish climb after it – our work was done, so we set off back to Lučko for another 10 minutes of uneventful flying. The total flight time for this run – calculated from the photo timecodes – was about 35 minutes, bringing the overall time up to 1 hour 15 minutes.