Photo File – Desert Rose: Antonov An-132D UR-EXK

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

When aviation people mention Paris and its bi-annual air show, the first things that come to mind are often striking Boeings and fancy Airbuses, huge orders and major exclusives, big names and game-changing events. For the show’s 2017 iteration however, the Paris that had grabbed my attention the most was a bit more… utilitarian, with a wish list dominated by freighters, regional jets, light aircraft (duh) – and the Western premiere of the An-132D, Antonov’s freshly reborn An-32 tactical transporter 🙂 .

Though I had been most fortunate to see and hear the Croatian Air Force’s twin An-32Bs on a regular basis (even in retirement the only ones of their type in Europe outside the CIS), I was nevertheless through the roof to finally be able to view this long-awaited update up close. So, braving the week’s scorching heat wave, I decided to employ the little conversational Russian I know and head over to the Antonov stand to see what’s what…

A profile only Mama Antonov could love. Even though it was always a supremely capable aircraft, the original 32 was never really a looker. With its mismatched Ukrainian airframe, Chinese-style nose and Commonwealth powerplant, the 132 continues the trend in style!

Top of the world, ma!

A tough, no-nonsense airlifter of the old school, the original An-32 was developed in the mid-70s from the much more common An-26, and intended primarily for operation in hot-and-high environments – particularly Himalayan India, at whose behest it was created in the first place. Whereas the regular cold-and-low An-26 did just fine with its twin 2,820 HP Ivčenko AI-24VT engines, the greatly reduced air density at altitude (and the consequent loss of power) had necessitated a bit of a rethink, resulting in the decision to use the older – but significantly more powerful – AI-20M unit out of the An-12, developing a juicy 4,250 HP at sea level*.

* even though it would end up doing just that, the idea behind this power increase was not to make the 32 outperform the 26 in normal operation – but to make it perform within reasonable expectations out of airfields at elevations as high as 15,000 ft. At these sorts of altitudes, the air density would drop to such levels that the AI-20 would only be able to generate the same sort of power as the AI-24 did at lower levels – making the 32, in theory, behave somewhat like an overloaded 26 would at its optimal altitude. Even more demanding was the Indian request that the aircraft be able to maintain 20,000 ft on one engine fully loaded – a requirement that no aircraft of that type had until then been able to achieve.

Since propeller/engine combinations are not really open to (too much) experimentation, the selection of the AI-20M had automatically included its AV-62I propeller, at 4.5 meters in span noticeably bigger than the 3.9 meter AV-72T bundled with the AI-24. Apart from the obvious problem of reduced propeller ground clearance when operating “off road”, the size of the 62 had also dangerously reduced the gap between the prop tips and the fuselage, leading to the expeditious solution of simply relocating the engines to the upper surface of the wing – thus giving the 32 its distinctive (and somewhat unwieldy) look.

The (now demobbed) fleet of the Croatian AF rolling in after a formation flight. As can be seen, the primary goal of moving the engines higher up was to create extra space for the props due to the curve of the upper fuselage, thus avoiding the structural and aerodynamic headaches of having to move the engines further out – as well as efficiency shortfalls should propeller span be significantly reduced.

However, while all of this looked peachy on paper – and flew nicely in the Ukrainian lowlands – up in the mountains serious problems had quickly started to emerge. Even though the AI-20M represented a 51% increase in sea-level power for a comparatively small increase in weight, early test runs in the Himalayas had shown it to be woefully inadequate, with the prototype almost coming to harm during a high-weight, high-altitude take off in windy conditions. To keep the Indian Government – the 32’s only customer – on side, Antonov had decided to up the power after just a few flights, opting for the 5,180 HP** AI-20DM and 5.1 meter AV-68DM prop used on the An-8. The latter had created yet more bother for the engineering team, since the additional span had once again reduced fuselage clearance to uncomfortable numbers, requiring the propeller to be trimmed by 40 cm down to a span of 4.7 m.

** it is important to note that the 32’s oft-quoted 5,180 HP was available only as emergency power – and not used in daily driving. In fact, for most of its early life the AI-20DM was in reality a 4,500 HP engine, a restriction imposed to extend, as much as possible, its incredibly limited 1,000 hour Time Between Overhauls (TBO) – and a pitiful total service life of just 2,000 hours. But, as Ivčenko engineers beavered away at the design, its longevity began to increase dramatically, allowing that extra power to be occasionally used even in normal operation. Indeed, by the early 2000s, the AI-20D Series 5M used by the improved An-32B-100 could develop 4,750 HP for a TBO of 4,000 hours – and a total service life of a respectable 20,000 hours.

The first turboprop to come out of the Ivčenko works, the AI-20 was first run in the mid 1950s – and can likely trace its roots back to German jet engine research in the closing days of WW2. As such, it has always been a powerful – but very crude – unit, well known for its tendency to smoke like mad at higher throttle settings. Honestly, I don’t understand why the Croatian AF had even bothered painting them in low-visibility grey… you could spot them miles out without trying.

Apart from the added grunt (twice over), production standard machines would eventually feature a host of other changes to make them wear their new performance better, including:

  • an increased fuel capacity from 6,800 to 7,100 liters to cater for the AI-20’s higher thirst
  • larger wheels and brakes, a 33% increase in brake pressure, and a strengthened wing to cope with a three ton higher Maximum Take Off Weight (MTOW) and a 1.5 ton higher maximum payload
  • automatic slats along the leading edge of the wing, as well as triple-slotted flaps outboard and twin-slotted inboard of the engine nacelles to reduce its minimum landing speed
  • a revised horizontal stabilizer with a pronounced dihedral to keep it clear of the engine exhaust, as well as a largervertical stabilizer to compensate for the increased yawing moment in an engine failure situation (with up to 5,180 HP instead of 2,820 now pushing hard on one side)
  • a slightly taller cabin, achieved by relocating the An-26’s top-mounted air conditioning systems to the side of the fuselage
  • a redesigned ceiling above the rear ramp to provide an easier way out for cargo and paratroopers
  • rollers on the floor for easier loading and unloading of palletised cargo
  • a smaller – but more powerful – APU slash starter to enable static engine start at elevations of up to 15,000 ft
  • and revised electrical installations and systems to cope with the increased propeller vibration***

*** soon after the 32 entered service, it was discovered that the vibrations could be so strong they tended to loosen bolts and cause cracking in fuselage frames in the area of the propellers. The problem was so acute that, from the 32nd example onward, the affected sections had to be specially strengthened right on the production line.

Going south

Having finally reached its ultimate form by the early 80s, the An-32 would soon begin to encounter a world of unexpected issues. As the first Soviet aircraft designed for export right from the outset, it was in Antonov’s best interest to pitch it to as many foreign customers as it could, especially since the USSR – despite having bankrolled its development – expressed no intention of actually buying them.

However, having been tailored to meet the needs of only one customer – India – had meant that the 32 entered into a market fight it was in no way equipped to win. For despite having done everything Antonov had claimed it would do (so much so that it remained the only classic An to stay in production into the 2010s), it was simply too much aircraft – and too specialized – for the vast majority of the world’s operators. Stacked against it were also its tendency to drink like burning oil refinery, while the AI-20 / AV-68 combo was overly loud even by Soviet standards. Then there was the general lack of sophistication in the nose, with the factory-delivered cockpit virtually unchanged from the An-26 – and all of this at a time when glass cockpits in the West were already making their way into light aircraft. And finally, there was the stigma of its origin – and the feeling of dread whenever somebody uttered the words “Soviet after-sales support”. As a consequence, only around 360 would be completed by 2017 – significantly less than the 1,400 An-26s that were on file when its production ended in 1986, despite Antonov’s aggressive marketing both before and after the collapse of the Union.

That the inefficient engines and museum-grade equipment were some of the type’s main stumbling blocks had not gone over the heads of the engineers at Antonov, who had – following the end of the USSR – soon began looking into ways of refreshing the 32. Being strapped for cash though – the funding pipelines from Moscow having long gone – had meant that they could only address some of the aircraft’s cheaper issues, starting first of all with the flight deck. Their first crack at it had produced the An-32B-110, equipped with a more modern, two-man cockpit of CIS manufacture – while the follow-on An-32B-120 and An-32B-200 were more of the same, but with a number of Western avionics systems and an integrated electronic communication network to link (most of) them into a unified whole. While this was a very welcome development, the rest of the aircraft was still stuck back in the 70s, which – combined with the Ukraine’s wobbly economic and political situation – meant that there were still no foreign takers to be found.

With the need to replace the AI-20s becoming ever more pressing, Antonov had in the mid-2000s decided to go for broke, revealing plans for what had promised to be solution to all of the 32’s ills – the An-32B-300. What would in the event remain very much just a paper airplane, the 300 had envisioned mating a 200 series fuselage and systems with tried-and-tested 4,600 HP Allison AE2100D engines and Dowty R391 propellers – the same powerplant solution used on the C-27J Spartan and C-130J Hercules (whose earlier versions were, in a twist of irony, the performance benchmarks for the An-32). As before though, a chronic lack of funding to pull this mod off and certify it to Western standards had immediately hammered all the nails necessary into the project’s coffin…

Unable thus to go at it alone, Antonov had eventually started looking for an external partner that could reliably finance a future upgrade project. Even this was fraught with difficulty, partly due to the country’s instability, partly due to the company’s outdated Soviet system of design, manufacture and support – but mostly because the market was already dominated by competing aircraft such as the C-295 and C-27J, nearly as capable up high, but far easier to live with on a day-to-day basis.

In the end, it would take several years for an investor to be found – and it would turn out to be one few observers were expecting. Keen to boost its own fledging aeronautical industry, Saudi Arabia had emerged as the willing party, agreeing to provide Antonov with a healthy flow of cash in exchange for participation in the design work and priority on the delivery of the finished machines. Starting in early 2016 and composed of Antonov, the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology (KACST) and Taqnia Aronautics, this partnership would produce its first results already on 31 March 2017 when UR-EXK –  the first An-132 prototype – took to the skies on its maiden flight… 🙂

Antonov, eh

Shown to the West for the first time right at Paris, UR-EXK – wearing serial 001 and still the only one of its type in existence – had attracted quite a bit of attention, despite the presence of much eye candy all around. A new-build airframe (as opposed to a conversion of an existing An-32), UR-EXK is scheduled to be used solely for certification purposes – which naturally means that it is not 100% representative inside or out of the aircraft people will actually be able to buy.

As it stands now, the 132 is a fascinating smorgasbord of influences from both sides of the former Iron Curtain, making it really hard for the eye to focus on any one thing. For those of us used to the characteristic shape of the legacy An-32, perhaps the biggest “offenders” are the engines, twin Pratt & Whitney Canada PW150A**** units out of the Dash 8 Q400, firing 5,071 HP for take-off – and up to 6,200 HP on firewall power – at their six-blade, 4.1 meter Dowty R408 propellers.

**** another nerdy tidbit is that the mighty PW150A is actually a close relation of the tried-and-tested PW100 family out of the ATR and early Dash 8. Originally called the PT7A, the three-spool PW100 uses two centrifugal compressors mounted in series, that on the most common 120 series are good for approximately 2,500 HP. Given that the Q400’s design cruising speeds required quite a bit more poke, P&WC simply took the 120, swapped the front (low pressure) compressor for a more powerful axial model, beefed up the internal structure where needed – and voila, the 5,000+ HP PW150 was born.

Apart from now providing a true “everyday” 5,000 HP capability, the new powerplant had also solved one of the 32’s bigger user-friendliness issues, noise and vibration. Like on the Q400, the props now spin at speeds of an idling piston engine, with 1,020 RPM used for take off, 900 for the climb – and just 850 in cruise. Being fully composite (glass fiber reinforced plastic + carbon on the outside, lightweight foam on the inside) each R408 weighs just 252 kg with all the works – while the PW150 itself tips the scales at just 720 kg dry… a significant 360 kg saving per engine over the 1,080 kg of the modern day AI-20K (for comparison, 360 kg in fuel is what each PW150 burns in 40 minutes at Q400 speeds!). The powerplant package is further rounded up by the UTC Aerospace (formerly Hamilton Sundstrand) APS 1000 APU – at 135 kg also significantly lighter than the 180 kg TG-16 starter used on the old 32.

However, while the reduction in noise and taming of the 32’s Jet A alcoholism are all very welcome news, the PW150 installation does have one notable drawback – like on the Q400, the maximum allowable altitude for take-off and landing is reduced to 10,000 ft, 5,000 short of what the AI-20s could manage.

With a roughly 50 cm shorter span than the AV-68 (and only 20 cm longer than the AV-72 of the An-26), the R408 had allowed the engine to be moved back down below the leading edge of the wing for improved aerodynamics. The exhaust is now vented to the side and downward, eliminating the interference with the horizontal stabilizer that had briefly plagued the 32.

Another detail that fails to escape notice is the new “platypus” nose, a design not unlike that of the company’s An-72/74… and more than one Chinese transport come to think of it. While it is hardly flattering to the robust and purposeful lines of the An-32, it is there to accommodate the 132’s brand new weather radar and avionics setup, the latter in the form of a custom-tailored version of Honeywell’s Primus Epic suite – the same system used on the Dassault Falcon 7X, all top-of-the-line Gulfstreams, as well as Embraer’s E2 series of regional jets.

Not a bad look I must say! Noticeably less cluttered than the original setup, the Primus Epic installation contains everything you need to fly in modern, congested airspace – and in sophistication and capability rivals pretty much anything found in a modern airliner. Interesting details are the two trackball controllers on either side of the throttle quadrant – used to control most of the system’s function via an on-screen cursor – and the presence of a long-range HF radio as standard, an indication that the 132 is still meant to be flown “off the beaten path”.

… all of which compares favorably – from an operational perspective at least – to the original three-man setup. One of the key issues of the 32’s flight deck was its closed architecture, making it costly and complicated to integrate many non-Soviet systems (especially on smaller, cost-sensitive aircraft such as this). For operators outside the Eastern Bloc, changes to the cockpit were thus limited only to the absolute necessities needed to operate in Western airspace, such as a modern Mode C/S transponder, TCAS system and the occasional basic GPS unit (like here).

The new setup also includes digital representations of just about any system installed on board; the only analogue indicators on the main panel were an old style AOA indicator and G meter, installed mainly for flight test purposes. The MFDs can also display interactive airport maps, further simplifying operations on complicated and busy airports – thus allowing the 132 easier access to places few 32s could visit on a regular basis.

An overhead panel that was once hard to imagine in a Soviet aircraft. Like all modern layouts, this one also follows the so-called “dark cockpit” concept, in which normal system operation is indicated by the ABSENCE of any switchlight illumination. While this makes the cockpit duller from a photographer’s perspective, it reaps huge benefits in actual operations, since the crew can now quickly scan the panel for any issues without having to verify the status of each group of switches – if nothing is illuminated, you’re good to go!

As well as making life in the pointy end far easier, the new avionics setup also has a couple of additional beneficial side effects by way of removing the navigator and his/her bulky work station. The lesser of these is the new entry door on the left side (w/ proper integrated stairs); but the more useful one is a bit more space in the hold, which now measures 13.45 m from the front bulkhead to the cargo door and equates to a floor surface of 32.3 m2 – up from the 32’s 12.48 m and 30 m2 respectively. While this increase doesn’t sound like something to write home about, when operating with critical cargo and/or in critical conditions, it can make all the difference in the world!

Unlike the 32 – which in Soviet times was always sold pretty much solely in a single multi-purpose configuration – the 132 offers several interior and equipment options for specific missions. These range from common bulk transport + paratroop and medical layouts to the more exotic maritime patrol, surveillance, jamming and even firefighting and gunship***** configurations.

***** while using the An-132 as a firefighting aircraft may sound outlandish, the precedent had already been set by the An-32P Firekiller, the only variant of the original 32 to remain in production into the 21st century (as mentioned previously). First flown in 1995, the P carries up to eight tons of fire retardant in two conformal tanks on either side of the fuselage, the same setup as employed on firefighting versions of the British Aerospace 146 – as well as the Q400 firebomber used by the French Sécurité Civile.

Turning a medium transport into a low-cost gun platform is also not a novel idea. Forgetting for a moment the very first proper transport gunship – the Vietnam-era AC-47 Spooky – this concept had already been revived several years ago by the MC-27J, a standard C-27J modified with a modular cargo loading system that can accept a remotely operated GAU-23 Bushmaster II 30 mm cannon firing through the left rear door.

Of course, all of the above would be quite moot if the 132 did not also come with a brand new set of performance figures. As displayed at Paris, UR-EXK is actually a D model (dalniy, long range) that boasts a 3,600 km range with a six ton payload – a lot up from Grandpa 32’s 1,600 km with a five ton load (though most of this difference is down to a drop in fuel consumption rather than a large increase in fuel capacity). This newly found carrying capability is also reflected in absolute numbers, with Antonov quoting 9.2 tons for maximum payload – a 37% increase over the 32’s 6.7 tons. The extra power and efficiency of the PW150 / R408 combo is evident elsewhere as well, for despite being 4.5 tons “fatter” than the 32 – 31.5 vs 27 tons at MTOW – the 132 has pretty much the same ceiling, 27,000 ft against the original’s 26,500.

But perhaps the most important step up is in the way the 132 is built and maintained. Like many Soviet aircraft and systems of the period (cough… AI-20DM… cough), the 32’s service life was… unimpressive at best, standing at just 16,000 flight hours and 8,000 landings – the very reason why many, including those of the Croatian Air Force, had been nowadays withdrawn from service. Antonov had clearly taken note of this issue, since the 132 is now cleared for a respectable 50,000 flight hours and 30,000 landings – or 50 calendar years, whichever comes first. Maintenance schedules are now also much closer to the sort of numbers seen in the West, with the so-called “C check” – one below a complete disassembly of the aircraft – scheduled every 6,000 flight hours, compared to 8,000 for the equivalently sized Q400. More frequent checks – such as the “A check” – are still not that great, with 400 flight hours quoted versus the Q400’s 800.

Brand new day

At the end of the day however, it still remains to be seen whether all of the above will be enough for non-CIS customers to finally turn to Antonov as a viable manufacturer. As of July 2017, the aircraft had still not nabbed any orders from outside the Ukraine and Saudi Arabia, though things may change once EASA certification – the key to the European market – is in the bag. Until then though, the stress is still very much at 11 in downtown Kiev…

Will this be the 132’s only mode of locomotion? Time will tell…


Photo File – Story Time

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

While the imminent arrival of fine(r) flying weather has been met with much enthusiasm here at Achtung, Skyhawk!, it will nevertheless take awhile for operations to return to levels sufficient to provide a continuous stream of quality material. In the mean time, I have once again been able to put together a small feature from photos taken over the autumn and winter, enough to (hopefully) set the stage for the fresh stuff coming in with the spring 🙂 .

Since most of the machines I’d picked for this piece have a bit of history behind them in one way or another, their stories have had a tendency to become long-winded – even more so than usual 😀 – resulting in a post that had quickly outgrown its intended role as filler… hopefully to the satisfaction of my readers!

Fog, low cloud, rain – all daily realities of autumn in Zagreb. But when everything disperses, clears and dries up, what remains is beautiful sunshine, crisp air and a full palette of fall colors… perfect conditions for a bit of photography at your local airfield! A relative newcomer to the Croatian register, 9A-KVY – formerly OE-KYV of Austria – is normally based at Pisarovina Airfield south of town, Croatia’s only truly private airstrip.

A bit of color on a dreary, rainy day at Sarajevo (SJJ/LQSA). Even though it is not really interesting per se compared with other aircraft of its class, the little Hawker perfectly epitomizes the complicated family tree common to many British aircraft. Starting out in life as the de Havilland DH.125 Jet Dragon of the early 60s, it would enter production as the Hawker Siddeley HS.125, after this mighty conglomerate – itself formed by the merger of Hawker and half a dozen other companies – took de Havilland under its wing. This turn of affairs would last until 1977, when HS would be nationalized and melted into an even larger entity, British Aerospace – in the course of which the HS.125 would be renamed into the BAe-125. To keep people on their toes, BAe would in 1993 sell off their bizjet division to Raytheon, which had already back in 1980 bought Beechcraft. To make managing these two companies easier, Raytheon had formed a separate company called Hawker Beechcraft, where the BAe-125 would become known as the Hawker Family. Of course, this is not the end of the story; HB would go bankrupt in 2012, leading to the formation of the Beechcraft Corporation out of its ashes. This would in turn be bought in 2014 by Textron – who already had Cessna in its portfolio. Thankfully, the heirs of the Jet Dragon (including the Hawker 800) had gone out of production in 2013, signalling the end of the Mexican soap opera that was its production life!

A bit of winter wonderland at Sarajevo as JIP and its “shadow” await their evening freight run to Ljubljana (LJU/LJLJ). One of several Metroliners operated by Spanish carrier Flightline, JIP is a mid-production example, being an improved version of the original Metro – itself a commuter stretch of the short-body SA-26 Merlin bizprop (which in turn is a radical modification of the Beech Queen Air piston twin).

A tight fit as Croatia’s only G-2 takes shelter from the rain incoming to Čakovec Airfield (LDVC). In many ways the defining product of ex-Yugoslavia’s aeronautical industry, the Galeb (“seagull”) intermediate trainer is nowadays a popular warbird, with almost a dozen – out of the 248 produced – flying in civilian hands. Even though its looks and absolute performance leave something to be desired, the G-2 boasts very pleasant, predictable and enjoyable handling, and is still well regarded locally for its robust and durable airframe and nearly-bulletproof systems (if maintained properly). Of interest, the type also features removable tiptanks – stowed along the hangar wall on the left – almost always carried in normal operations, but occasionally removed to save on hangar space during long-term storage.

A lack of symmetry that immediately attracts the eye… another indigenous Yugoslav design, the Soko 522 was one of the country’s first post-war mass-produced military types, intended primarily for the advanced training/light attack roles. Quite an ugly machine from most angles – one only a mother could love – the 522 would cling on in service until the late 70s, when it would be replaced (along with a slew of other 50s designs) by the UTVA U-75, which would go on to become Yugoslavia’s second most produced design. This particular example – coded 60206 – had been re-purposed as a gate guard following its withdrawal from use, located from the outset at Čakovec Airfield. One of the bases of the nascent Croatian Air Force during the 90s civil war, it would in the summer of 1991 be subjected to several air strikes by Yugoslav MiG-21s, with 60206 ending up on the receiving end. Recently taken down off its pylon for partial restoration, it will soon get a rebuilt wing from another 522, hopefully an overture into a complete rework… interestingly, the damage had also revealed an unusual feature of the 522, its folding wings. A simple affair reminiscent of early carrier aircraft, the folding mechanism is located just outboard of the main gear – but had likely been little used in actual service.

An all too common sight at Lučko in winter: a bare apron, an empty circuit – and a gorgeous fiery sunset behind the Žumberak Hills as yet another storm system approaches from the north, blown in by a bitterly cold and piercing wind…

A suitably sombre shot as the sun sets once again on poor old BDR. One of the oldest light aircraft in Croatia (manufactured back in 1967), BDR has quite a local history, having been attached throughout its life to the AK Zagreb flying club – one of Croatia’s oldest and (once) most respected aviation institutions. Having seen off generations and generations of young pilots – many of which had become the backbone of Yugoslavia’s national carrier JAT – BDR had since become collateral damage of the club’s financial woes and general infighting of the early 2000s, flying for the last time in 2003. Moved about from time to time (mostly when it gets in the way), it had been left neglected ever since, having been washed and TLC’d only once in 2009 by your’s truly. Most of the time it has been left to die by weather, useful now only as a prop in an apocalyptic movie…

The newest resident of Lučko catching some air under its wing on this pretty windy and gloomy day. If I’m not mistaken the first Rolladen-Schneider glider in Croatia, D-0138 was manufactured in 1980, and still looks crisp despite the 37 years of flying behind it. When sporting a 15-meter wingspan (as is the case here), the LS3 has a lot of similarities to the home-grown 15-meter Vuk-T (featured previously): both are tough, robust and long-lived machines whose designers had sacrificed some of the performance seen in competing models for more pleasant handling and more predictable characteristics. Another interesting tidbit is that the LS3 is considered to be the first glider to introduce wingtip extensions (to 18 meters), which had allowed it to be used in several competition classes without much (factory) effort – an approach used today by almost all European manufacturers.

One of two AIS Airlines machines on service in Croatia soaking up the last light of day shortly after its arrival from Osijek (OSI/LDOS). Developed at the beginning of the 80s from the very similar Handley-Page HP.137 (itself designed in the 60s), the Jetstream is one of the UK’s bestselling airliners, and can even today be found in service all over Europe and the Americas. Despite its deficiencies (a high interior noise level and a lack of sophistication in the nose), the Jetstream had proven itself in service with its flight performance, durability – and the fact that it had been designed to demanding airline specs right from the outset (which could not be said of its main rivals, the Swearingen Metro and Beech 1900, both developed from smaller corporate twins). Even though it has been withdrawn from intensive line operations, it can still be found in the fleets of smaller operators – while in the States it had latterly found a new lease of life as a large bizprop. An interesting detail on almost all Jetstreams – apart from the fact that most have no autopilot – is the so called “baggage pod”, a removable streamlined compartment under the fuselage that can accommodate approximately 200 kg of bags. Even though early Jetstreams (like the HP.137) had a dedicated space for luggage in the aft fuselage, on later models it had been taken up by the toilet, requiring a bit of improvisation with a solution most often seen on Cessna singles. Another feature – seen on almost all multi-engine turboprops – is the additional plating behind the cockpit, intended to protect the fuselage from ice being thrown off the propellers.

The allure of Pacific adventure – and another sad reminder of the fickle airline fortunes on the Balkans. Today already part of the landscape of Skopje Airport (SKP/LWSK), Z3-AAM had been the only aircraft of MAT Airways, formed in 2009 by Kon Tiki Travel – one of neighboring Serbia’s biggest tour operators. Intended to both bring foreign tourists into Macedonia and create something of a national airline serving key cities abroad (a field where many had failed previously), the company had never managed to reach profitability in its two years of existence, in some parts due to local politicking, in others due to a lack of experience – but mostly because a simple lack of demand abroad, financially capable travelers among the small 2.1 million population at home, and constant competition from foreign airlines. Exacerbated by the imminent need to change the number 2 engine due to its dwindling service life – and pressure from foreign banks and investment funds that had financed the aircraft – the company had declared bankruptcy in 2011, bringing to an end another chapter in post-Yugoslav air transport history. Z3-AAM itself – manufactured in 1991 for the equally extinct Sabena – had thus ended up parked in front of Skopje’s disused old terminal. Previously known as Z3-AAH (also with MAT), this machine doesn’t have the rich history of other 737 Classics, having mostly been handed down from one investment fund to another following its departure from Belgian service. However, as a type, the 500 series was always something of an oddball in the 737 line, a shrunk 737-400 intended to appeal to operators of the equally-sized 737-200. Small and light – but sporting the same wing, engines and fuel capacity of the much larger 400 – the 500 was always a stellar performer in both climb and range, characteristics that had eventually led to its demise. Like today’s A318, the 500 was always too heavy for its passenger capacity (its structure being optimized for a larger aircraft), making it more expensive to operate. This had come to a head when fuel prices picked up by the mid 2000s, forcing many operators to ditch them en masse. Interestingly, their large numbers and low prices on the used market had attracted a lot of interest from the CIS, where operators scooped them up in handfuls to replace their aging and similarly-sized Tupolev Tu-134s. Indeed, if you want to see a 500 without waiting too long, Russia is the place to go!

Photo File – Turboprop World

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

With happenings on the Croatian GA scene once again grinding to a halt as the winter fogs set in – and several in-progress articles remaining stalled for a stubborn lack of information – I had once again decided to dip into my airliner photo bag and pull out a small Photo File to make Achtung, Skyhawk! seem actually alive 😀 . Thankfully, my travels of late had frequently taken me among the region’s turboprops both small and large, many of which tended to have a couple of interesting stories behind them. Naturally, with my camera being a permanent traveling companion, very few of these had managed to go escape being documented, allowing for enough material to take a quick trip through Turboprop World… 🙂

Doing its best not to go amphibian, the first daily flight to Osijek (OSI/LDOS) – operated by AIS Airlines on behalf of local carrier Trade Air – trudges through the rain towards Zagreb’s RWY 05. Nowadays quite a rare sight – even though it is one of the more successful British passenger designs – the Jetstream family can trace its roots back to the 1960s Handley-Page HP.137, a light (but loud!) 18-seater that had made its name with a long and distinguished career with the Royal Navy. Equipped with Garrett TPE331 engines instead of the visually- and aurally-distinctive Turbomeca Astzaous of the original, the Jetstream is a real hot-rod, and can even keep pace the odd large transport turboprop. An interesting detail is the baggage pod; while the original design had included enough space for a reasonable amount of baggage (stowed in the rear fuselage), the addition of a toilet later in the production run had drastically reduced that capacity – requiring a solution most often seen on piston and turboprop singles…

A peek into the nose of DCI’s sister ship, NCI. Quite an anachronism in an age when even the smallest piston single has digital avionics, the cockpit of the Jetstream leaves little doubt that this is a 60s design. Alongside a somewhat unusual instrument layout on the center console, interesting details include a lone, basic IFR GPS, and the absence of even a cursory autopilot – a feature that some pilots despise, while others laud for the nowadays rare chance of experiencing “manual” airline operations. A big thank you for this shot goes to the crew Ed and J.J., who had – with typical Dutch openness – warmly greeted me and answered a ton of my Achtung, Skyhawk-y questions!

A welcome (pun intended) splash of color at Zagreb as one of Welcome Air’s Dorniers lights up for departure following an unscheduled stop. Apart from its unusual elegance, the Do-328 can also boast an advanced wing design, which – when coupled with the type’s abundance of power – places it among the fastest passenger turboprops in the air today. With typical “high speed” cruise figures of around 620 km/h, only the Q400 (650 km/h) and the SAAB 2000 (670 km/h) are able show it their tails in level flight…

Even though it is – rarity-wise – the aviation equivalent of the light delivery van, the King Air nevertheless rarely fails to attract attention out on the ramp. Looking mighty and regal in the crisp afternoon sun of Munich Airport (MUC/EDDM), D-IICE was manufactured back in 1977 (not that you can tell from the outside!), and despite being a native of the airport can often be found all over Europe.

An eye-catching train of ATR-42-300s waiting out their fate on Zagreb’s maintenance apron. Latterly owned by South American carrier Aviateca – operating mostly out of Honduras and Guatemala – all three have over the months become well-known residents of the airport, though the leading machine will soon become the first to fly the nest. Originally known as HR-AXN, it had recently been re-registered G-ISLJ and will – if the Internet is to be believed – imminently join the fleet of UK operator Blue Islands. Somewhat more worse for wear, HR-AUX and TG-TRB in trail have a more uncertain future ahead however… but, they at least have a past to compensate, having previously been two of the three 42s operated by Croatia Airlines in the 90s and 2000s, known as 9A-CTU and 9A-CTT respectively.

Somewhat of a stereotypical way of knowing you’re at a former East German airport… one of the many remains of Interflug scattered all the way from the North Sea down to the Czech border, DDR-STG is not the only preserved Il-18 out there; but it likely is the only one still fulfilling a useful function. Produced back in 1962 (and originally known as DM-STG), it would serve with Interflug all the way into 1988, when it would be withdrawn from service and stored at Erfurt Airport (ERF/EDDE). In modern times however, it would take on the role of an airport personnel training aid – as a consequence of which it does get some occasional care, and can even be towed around for pushback practice…

The two schools of commuter turboprop design: the slow, unpressurized, but tough and STOL-capable Turbolet – and the fast, refined, delicate and complicated Metroliner. Worlds apart, both serve as a fascinating glimpse into what made the Eastern and Western markets so different in the 60s and 70s – and why have their designs survived as long as they did. Ironically, both are now more commonly found shuffling freight than people…

A little show of force at Zurich Airport (ZRH/LSZH). Even though these stands are usually dominated by Austrian Airlines’ Q400s, today’s rendezvous of Croatia Airlines flights from Dubrovnik (DBV/LDDU) and Zagreb (ZAG/LDZA) had slightly tipped the scales on the apron…

And finally, Quebec Alpha revving up for an evening departure out of a rainy and gloomy Zagreb. A visually curious aircraft from any angle, the Q400’s long fuselage makes it look relatively compact – even though it is quite a large and heavy aircraft. Those seemingly-normal R408 propellers are in fact 4.11 meters in diameter – a couple of centimeters more than the huge prop of the Vought F4U Corsair!

Photo File – The Right View

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Back during Achtung, Skyhawk!‘s early days in the years around 2010, I had every once in awhile tried to liven things up by posting short collections of in-flight photos taken from a variety of light aircraft above northern Croatia (and occasionally beyond). Dubbed, somewhat unimaginatively, “The View From Up Here”, the three-strong set (Parts 1, 2 & 3) had been quite well received by readers, prompting me to – belatedly – put together a new & improved batch to keeps things rolling 🙂 .

However, since the time of 1, 2 & 3, most of my flying had taken me onto bigger machinery, having landed a job in the right seat of the Dash 8 Q400 a little over a year ago. While the “straight & level” nature of airline operations might suggest that interesting, unusual and attractive shots – as possible in GA – would be few and far in between, the realities of life aboard a turboprop – operating at lower levels, day & night and often in the weather – had meant that I had pretty quickly managed to amass quite a nice heap of interesting material.

Sprinkled additionally with a handful of ground shots that had taken my fancy, I am thus glad to be able to present – for more-or-less the first time – “the view from the right”… 🙂

An unusual perspective of QC as it soaks up the last sunlight of this beautiful summer day at Munich Airport (MUC/EDDM). The day must had also been interesting for the four handlers sitting in a pushback truck behind me, wondering why was this guy with a big camera clambering all over a baggage trolley…

An old aviation book I have – printed back in the late 70s – states that “a fascinating range of vehicles can be seen at any airport”… somehow I doubt they had had this in mind!

You know you’re at Zagreb (ZAG/LDZA) in the winter when the tail of a 30 meter long aircraft starts disappearing into the fog… the bane of the Balkans, the winter fog is often more than a passing nuisance, and can persist – with little variation – for days on end.

When you don’t have a tripod on you, you have to use whatever you have at hand – even a main gear tire! CQA is seen waiting about for one of its last flights of the day as company traffic further out prepares to taxi out for a short hop north.

The colorful cockpit of the Q400. The yellow panel floods, white switch backlighting and green sidewall map lights really give a lot to play with when you have a camera on you!

A snap I’d borrowed from a previous post – but one I just couldn’t leave out. Saluting the setting sun on another beautiful, calm and crisp summer evening. Traversing southbound above the Northern Adriatic Sea – just off Pula Airport (PUY/LDPL) – we were treated to this fantastic view by a large high pressure area that had been parked over the region for several days…

Waking up at the crack of dawn does have its advantages! A telltale sign of the approach of winter on the Balkans, thick morning fog and layer upon layer of stratus cloud often conspire to make aeronautical operations rather… interesting. At least while we’re up here – in this instance just above northeastern Albania – we do get a nice consolation prize!

The importance of being at the right place and right time… soaking up the stunning view outside as we enter a high-level cloud bank somewhere over eastern Belgium.

Blue skies, dark clouds, a fiery sunset above the silhouettes of the Alps – and Innsbruck, Austria in the distance… not a band end to another anti-cyclonic day above Europe!

When one little cloud is all that stands between calm heaven above and fiery hell below. Enjoying a smooth ride (for now) above southern Germany as far above an A380 races past to points west…

Having covered everything from the Baltic to the Adriatic in one day – flying across eight countries in two legs – we prepare to bid the final day of 2015 goodbye as we race the sun on our way back to base… of interest, many will note that in most shots taken from the cockpit the wipers will be parked in the upright position. While their normal “resting stance” is horizontal and outside the field of view of the crew, in that position they cause quite a bit of wind noise – up to 5 dB according to unofficial measurements – leading most crews to park them vertically during cruise.

Breaking through the cloud deck at speed as we cross Croatia’s Velebit mountains on another early morning run. Even though summer may be far more enjoyable down on the ground, the odd winter weather patterns of the Western Balkans sure make for better views aloft!

A momentary escape from the rain and grayness below as we speed homewards at 25,000 ft above the eastern edges of the Alps.

Yet more cloud hopping above the Alps as we skip along this pristine altostratus in the company of our shadow and the resident halo effect…

History – Turbomess: The L-410 Turbolet Family Tree

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

In one of those instances in life where innocent scrolling through aircraft photos leads to several hours’ worth of research, I am once again able to present one of my (unplanned 😀 ) historical works, borrowing now on a theme set by my previous PC-6 engine piece. The unsuspecting party this time is the pudgy Let L-410 Turbolet, one of the Czech Republic’s most notable and successful aircraft – and a machine that many in Eastern and Southeastern Europe associate with durability, practicality and robust versatility (alongside the An-2 naturally).

The train of thought that had derailed this time was the realization of the sheer number of L-410 variants out there – 39 by my count so far! – all identified by cryptic and complex shorthand such as “UVP”, “E-17”, “E-S”, “AB” and so on. Coming to terms that I’m (at best) a bit hazy on what they all actually mean, I’ve decided I might as well dig a little deeper and see if this mass of numbers and letters can be forced to make some sense… 🙂

All aboard! One of the several Turbolets to have visited Lučko over the years, OM-PGD is by far the rarest, being a member of the “early” L-410M family – nowadays quite an unusual sight.

Despite its apparent complexity though, the classic L-410 line can actually be split into only eight easily-manageable families. Given that various online sources give various specs and details for each generation, I’ve decided to go back to the absolute basics, and concentrate solely on the one definitive source – the Turbolet’s Type Certification Data Sheet (or TCDS), available both from the Czech Civil Aviation Authority and EASA.

But, since fiddling with the sort of detailed specs that can be found in such a document would defeat the purpose of a “clarification”, the aim of this article is simply to construct an overview of the general changes from family to family – and not a thorough analysis of all 39+ versions. To keep the comparison clean, tidy and understandable, only the bits that were changed between models are noted – with an exact side-by-side comparison of key performance specs and characteristics (also my own work) provided at the end.

So, starting from the top…

L-410 “originals” (6 aircraft): despite the Turbolet being most closely associated with the Walter M601 series engine, the type’s beginnings were actually tied to another turboprop great, the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A. While the L-410 had been designed from the outset with the M601 in mind, the engine was still not usable by the time the Turbolet was nearing the detail design stage in the mid-60s. In order not to hold up development, the Let works had soon decided to slot in a replacement engine, the PT6A-27, developing 680 SHP. Given that engine-propeller combinations are not really open to experimentation, the choice of a Western engine had necessitated the use of a Western propeller, in this case the Hamilton 23LF-343 three-blade unit with a 2.6 meter span.

Following flight and ground testing of the four XL-410 prototypes, the design was finally “frozen” at the beginning of the 70s, subsequently entering production in 1971 as the L-410. However, only six aircraft of this series were ever produced – with all having subsequently been converted to the L-410A standard.

An interesting detail – first seen on the final two prototypes – was the de-icing system, which had dispensed with standard pneumatic boots in favor of a TKS fluid system. Increasingly popular on today’s high-performance GA aircraft, this system works by bleeding a special glycol-based fluid through micro pores on the wing and tailplane leading edges, preventing the accumulation of ice. While the system is significantly more effective than classic boots, the protection provided is dependent on the quantity of fluid carried – a factor that had limited the aircraft’s exposure to icing conditions to only 40 minutes.

L-410A (25 aircraft): picking up where the original left off, the A model was introduced at the beginning of 1972, but had essentially differed only in the propeller fit – with the Hamiltons giving way to Hartzell HC-B3TN-3D units with the same three blades and 2.6 meter span. Interestingly, some sources state that this version had also introduced a Maximum Take Off Mass (MTOM) increase to 5,700 kg from the original’s 5,400 kg; however, the TCDS states that both the original and A models were certified for the higher mass.

Sub-versions include the L-410AB, L-410AF and L-410AS

L-410M (108 aircraft): by the mid-70s, the M601’s bugs had finally been ironed out, making it suitable for installation on the Turbolet. Debuting in 1975, the M would be fitted with the increased-diameter M601A unit, developing 740 SHP and whirling three-blade Avia V508 propellers with a 2.5 meter span. Despite the increased power, this new setup had actually had a slightly detrimental effect on performance, with cruise speed now reduced by 10 km/h / 5 kts to 350 km/h / 189 knots, and ceiling by 100 m / 300 ft to 6,000 m / 19,700 ft.

The switch to the M601 had also marked the end* of the TKS de-icing system and the return to standard pneumatic boots, resulting in the lifting of the 40 minute restriction for flight in icing conditions.

* however, I’ve been told that the TKS system was actually discontinued in 1974, so it may be possible that a handful of the final A models were also fitted with boots…

Sub-versions here include the L-410MA/MU (such as OM-PGD from the featured photo)

L-410UVP: as was the case with many Eastern European aircraft, the Turbolet’s main market was – by default – the USSR, especially in the hands of the state behemoth Aeroflot. Having originally instigated the development of the L-410 as a potential substitute for the vast fleets of An-2s still being used on commercial services, Aeroflot had naturally been interested in getting the most out of the design, having had some reservations about the M model’s ability to operate in the Soviet backwoods. Under the airline’s urging, Let had in 1979 introduced the improved UVP, whose primary claim to fame was full STOL performance (with UVP being short for ukorochennovo vzlyota i posadki, or “improved take-off and landing” in Russian).

While at a glance it looks just like its predecessors, this new model is in fact a somewhat larger machine, sporting a 0.8 meter fuselage stretch (for a total of 14.17 meters in length) – and, critically, a 2 meter increase in wingspan to 19.48 m. Fitted with a pair of ground spoilers to dump lift on landing, these changes were in theory all that was needed to achieve the required short-field performance.

However, all these mods had also resulted in a significant increase in empty weight, which – without an appropriate increase in MTOM – had led to a reduction in payload (despite the extra room on board). Further complicating matters was the revised powerplant, now taking the form of the 700 SHP M601B and its associated Avia V508B propeller – making for an 80 HP deficit at take-off. This problem would be mitigated somewhat in 1983 with the introduction of the 735 SHP M601D and Avia V508D – as well as Service Bulletins which, when implemented, allowed an MTOM increase from 5,500 to 5,800 kg for the M601B and 6,000 kg for the M601D.

Despite this, the added bulk (and re-certification to Soviet standards) had also resulted in a reduced ceiling of 4,250 m / 14,000 ft, and a reduction in passenger capacity from 19 to 15 (not even swapping the metal rudder for a fabric-covered one had helped bring the weight down).

The sub-versions of this family include the L-410FG and L-410T

L-410UVP-E: to cure the UVP’s ills, the Let works would in 1986 debut the further improved UVP-E (E for ekonomicheskiy, or “economic”), also known briefly under the tongue-twister L-410UVP-L-E. This would be fitted with the 760 SHP M601E or E-21 engine (the latter intended for hot-and-high conditions), spinning more substantial Avia V510 five-blade propellers with a 2.3 meter diameter and fully automatic autofeather system. Even though cruise speeds had remained the same as on the UVP, the new aircraft could boast significantly higher maximum weights, with an MTOM of 6,400 kg and a Maximum Landing Mass (MLM) of 6,200 kg.

Apart from regaining its 19 passenger capacity (in part due to the reconfiguration of the rear baggage compartment), this version had also introduced optional tip-tanks, which together added 315 kg of fuel to its basic 1,000 kg internal capacity. Other changes had also included a revised avionics setup, now fully compatible with both Western and Eastern ground navigation aids – as well as the reintroduction of limitations for icing conditions, with the E now restricted to low and moderate icing down to a minimum temperature of -20 degrees Centigrade. The reason for this turn of events is somewhat uncertain, but was suggested to be due to the design of the oil-to-fuel heat exchanged fitted to this model, which could lead to the overcooling of both the oil and fuel in extremely low temperatures.

Sub-versions were greater in number, including the L-410UVP-E1, E2, E3, E4, E6 and E8

L-410UVP-E9: a further update of the basic UVP-E, debuting in 1988. Generally identical, the E9 had only introduced MTOM and MLM increases to 6,600 and 6,400 kg respectively

Sub-versions include the L-410UVP-E9A, E9D, E13, E14, E15, E16, E17 and E19

L-410UVP-E20: what would eventually become the definitive classic Turbolet had appeared in 1990, sporting only a 40 cm fuselage shrink and a (once again) restored ability to continuously operate in icing conditions (likely due to the removal of the offending heat exchanger). While this had hardly set the world alight, the changes “on paper” were much more significant, with the E20 being the first of the family to be fully certified against both FAA FAR 23 and (today’s) EASA Part 23 regulations. Being “universally accepted” in the world had also meant that the E20 would remain in production until this day, with new builds still being delivered left and right at the time of writing.

Sub-versions include the L-410UVP-E20C, E20D, E20G and E27

L-410UVP-EPT (one aircraft): in what would become an interesting piece of circularity, 2016 would see the Turbolet’s return to PT6 power with the EPT, a third-party conversion penned by Aero Servis of the Czech Republic. Having become dissatisfied with General Electric’s handling of the M601 program – citing rising costs and dropping support quality – the company decided to replace the Walter with the more potent PT6A-42, flat rated to 800 HP and spinning a modern Avia AV-725 five-blade aluminium propeller. Though Aero Servis does not cite any performance figures, they do say that the installation reduces fuel consumption and noise, while increasing both hot-and-high performance and the maximum cruise speed.

As of SEP 2021 when this chapter was added, only one aircraft has so far been converted.

The Lone Ranger. Currently the world’s sole EPT, OK-LRA had started out in life as a regular UVP-E9, manufactured in 1989 and sporting the serial 892216. It would be converted to Pratt Power in 2017, making its first flight on 1 September the same year. For the past 12 or so months, it had been operating domestic Croatian PSO flights on behalf of local carrier Trade Air, replacing the previous L-410 OK-LAZ

L-420 (one aircraft): the last of the Turbolet classics, the L-420 also had the dubious distinction of creating confusion far greater than its “production run”. Introduced in 1998, the 420 was often labelled as just a re-branded E20; however, in reality, the model was actually another refresh of the E line, intended for certification and export to the US market. Sporting 790 HP M601F engines driving the same V510s, the 410 could boast a top speed of 375 km/h / 202 knots and an “A level” ceiling of 6,100 m / 19,700 ft. Interestingly, the aforementioned FAR regulations had necessitated a number of unusual changes to the basic design, including the removal of the engines’ Integrated Electronic Limiter Unit (IELU) – which would reduce engine power in case any of its parameters were exceeded – the addition of a passenger door on the right side of the fuselage (identical to the one on the left) and reinforced flight control linkage.

Despite the increased performance and the additional changes, the design had not fared well against Western competition, with reportedly only one aircraft made – and a test conversion from a stock E20 at that (though it is now normally flying in commercial operations).

L-410NG – the new kid on the block: even though this one doesn’t count towards the classic family tree, I’d decided it would be unfair to skip over it – especially since it picks up the baton of the L-420. Having flown for the first time in 2015, the NG is essentially a thoroughly updated current-production E20, marketed (ironically) primarily to operators in the former USSR. The highlights of its transformation include a three-screen Garmin G3000 glass cockpit, composite materials in non-critical areas (such as doors), an elongated nose for increased baggage space – and a significant power boost in the form of the 850 SHP General Electric H85-200 unit and its associated five-blade Avia AV-725 prop. While the latter sounds like quite the change, the engine in question is actually a modernized M601, born during GE’s purchase of Walter.

The extra grunt naturally promises increased performance and capability, with an MTOM of 7,000 kg, MLM of 6,800 kg – and cruise speeds now in the 420 km/h / 227 knot range. Interestingly, the update also includes a significant boost in fuel capacity, with 2,340 kg now available with tip tanks, versus 1,315 for an equivalent E20.

Another visiting Turbolet – but this time a basic UVP that had mistakenly ended up on the military helipad and had to be pushed back… manually

The Devil Is In The Details

Given that the above pretty much covers 75% of the Turbolet’s family tree, I thought it a shame not to list – at least in passing – some of the aforementioned sub-versions. However, as they are not contained or listed in the TCDS, this review is based on various human and online sources and includes just a short snipped of what made the version special or different… 🙂

  • L-410AB: the L-410A fitted with Hartzell HC-B4TN-3 four-blade propellers
  • L-410AF: a one-of aerial photography and cartography version with a glazed nose and fixed nose wheel
  • L-410AS: ten examples built for the Soviet market, with upgraded navigation and communication equipment. Used to test the design’s suitability for use in the USSR
  • L-410MA: a standard L-410M refitted with the UVP’s M601B engine and V508B propeller
  • L-410MU: an alternate designation for the L-410MA
  • L-410FG: identical in function and configuration to the L-410AF, but based on the first UVP; seven produced. Interestingly, to enable the camera operator to reach his station in the nose, the copilots control column had to be removed; despite this, the aircraft had remained a two-pilot machine. It is unknown however (though likely) that the AF had also “suffered” from the same issue
  • L-410T: a standard UVP modified to be able to better handle freight, with a larger cargo door and cabin modifications to be able to accommodate pallets, stretchers and bulky cargo
  • L-410UVP-E1: two aircraft for Bulgaria, reportedly for a mixed photography/transport role
  • L-410UVP-E2: a modified version for the Polish Maritime Office
  • L-410UVP-E3: version optimized for skydive operations
  • L-410UVP-E6: navaid calibration version
  • L-410UVP-E-S: a “salon” VIP version with integrated steps and plush interior
  • L-410UVP-E4 & E8: exact details unknown
  • L-410UVP-E9A: a version for the Swedish marked fitted with Bendix/King avionics
  • L-410UVP-E9D: a sole example modified with a Bendix/King EFIS cockpit system
  • L-410UVP-E14: another model with Bendix/King avionics, intended for the transport of military dignitaries
  • L-410UVP-E17: a version for the Polish market
  • L-410UVP-E13, E15, E16 & E19: exact details unknown
  • L-410UVP-E20C: a version for South Africa
  • L-410UVP-E20D: VIP version for government use
  • L-410UVP-E20G: a version for the Tunisian Armed Forces
  • L-410UVP-E27: four machines for use in high-altitude conditions in India
  • L-410UVP-EPT: third-party PT6A-42 re-engine conversion

As always, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to former L-410 F/O Enes Handžar, who had shed a lot of light on the Turbolet’s history and quirks!

Additional files:


Change log and revisions:

  • 08 SEP 2021: added the L-410UVP-EPT
  • 19 FEB 2016: added new details to the L-420; added additional notes to the L-410FG

Photo Report – Spring at Pleso

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Even though this year’s flying season has already started to pick up at Lučko – albeit slowly – there’s still not all that much going on to provide for a steady stream of quality photo material. Having been invigorated by several days of straight sunshine and 20-odd Centigrade temperatures, I was, however, desperately itching to photograph something with wings, be it big, small,  fast or slow. Not unexpectedly, this desire had in the end taken me to Pleso (LDZA), which – while a bit weak on the GA front – nevertheless has a number of other gems at its disposal… 🙂

One of several MiG-21 flights of the day, “Knight 96” is seen recovering into RWY 23 after a training flight. The morning had also seen sorties by the Croatian AF’s AT-802 and Mi-171Š, making for a thoroughly impressive spectacle!

A little visitor from Germany that will eventually become the newest resident of the Croatian register. A type that’s not all that common in around here – its population standing at just two examples – the Arrow is one of Piper’s most popular newer-generation singles, and combines retractable gear, a constant speed prop and (in the Turbo version) a turbocharger into one relatively cheap package. D-EPAP seems to be one of the better examples, having been manufactured in 1982 and equipped with a full IFR suite, Garmin GNS430 moving map GPS, stormscope and digital CHT/EGT gauges.

Another very interesting visitor caught taxiing towards RWY 05 for departure to Munich under callsign “RAFAIR 7160”. While not the first Chinook to visit Zagreb, ZA704 is definitely one of the more interesting ones, being in fact a “composite” airframe sporting the rear rotor boom of CH-47D ZH257. The latter is a nugget as well, having originally flown with the Argentinian military as AE-520 – and captured by the British on the Falklands in 1982. Going on to serve as an instructional airframe, it would donate its behind to ZA704 following the latter’s tail rotor strike in Oman in 1999.

A far more dynamic scene than in real life as ZA704 accelerates after lift off from RWY 05. Like all other RAF Chinooks, it is based at RAF Odiham in central England, a straight-line distance of 1,400 km from Zagreb… meaning ZA704 has quite a bit more to fly yet!

Pick your turboprop! From the big and fast to the small and slow, we have it all! Representing 75% of the companies engaged in commercial passenger transport in Croatia, this lineup consists of Dash 8 Q400 9A-CQB (flown by Croatia Airlines), ATR-42-300 OY-CHT (owned by Fly Denim, but operated on behalf of Air Croatia) and Embraer EMB-120 HA-FAL (flown for local carrier Trade Air).

While not really a rare aircraft in itself, Air Croatia’s sole ATR-42 nevertheless deserves some mention – if anything because of the operational mash-up behind its existence. While it does say “Croatia” on the tin, Air Croatia is actually a Swedish-owned company – and is in fact not an airline, but a tour operator just selling tickets. The flights themselves are operated by Fly Denim of the Netherlands (with its own Air Operator Certificate), using an aircraft registered in Denmark and flown by a cockpit crew provided by Spanish company Aeronova…

Photo Report – The Simulated Experience

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Even though I have stated time and again that I generally do not deal with “large aviation” topics here at Achtung, Skyhawk!, I was nevertheless always glad to deviate from this rule if the material I’d come across was unusual or interesting enough. Somewhat predictably given the above, I am about to do so once again, having recently gotten the opportunity to dive into one aspect of modern aviation that few enthusiasts (sadly) get to see: the fascinating world of “proper” flight simulators 🙂 .

The last link in the commercial aviation training chain – and just one short step away from the actual cockpit – these devices are often subject to a great deal of naming confusion, so I thought it best to clear the air first before proceeding on. Even though pretty much any replica of an aircraft (or its systems) intended for training is generically labelled a “simulator”, the word is technically reserved only for those devices that provide:

  • an accurate physical representation of the cockpit with working controls throughout
  • fully simulate in detail all of the aircraft’s systems (including those not in the cockpit itself)
  • emulate the aircraft’s flying characteristics to a very high degree of accuracy (90+ %)
  • provide the pilots with a seamless wide field of view outside the cockpit
  • and, most important of all, provide a sense of motion around all three axes to complete the immersion

When all of the above is ticked, the device in question becomes a “proper” simulator, known more accurately as either a Full Flight Simulator (FFS) or a Level D Simulator (the latter being more informal and taken from the name of the standard defining the requirements for civilian units). Devices which do not simulate motion – no matter how advanced they may be in other respects – are called Flight, Navigation and Procedures Trainers (FNPT), often shortened to just “procedural trainers”. However, both forms of the latter have shown themselves to be unwieldy to use in casual conversation, leading to their replacement – by popular choice – with the plain old “simulator” 🙂 .

The device I’ve had the chance to use is a Full Flight Simulator for the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, owned and operated by the world-renowned Flight Safety International training organization, and located in the equally-famous UK town of Farnborough. A very sophisticated piece of kit that can cost upwards of EUR 10,000,000 – almost half a real Q400 in its most basic form 🙂 – this particular FFS is approved for use for both recurrent and initial (type rating) training, and is I believe one of only three or four Q400 units located in Europe. Given the number of Dash 8 operators gravitating towards the region, this had naturally meant that its schedule was quite busy at times, leaving little to no breathing space between successive runs; nevertheless, my camera and myself were undeterred, using whatever breaks we had to have a look around… 🙂

A view of just part of ONE OF the simulator halls at the FSI training center, located at the northern end of Farnborough Airport. With space for five units, this hall contains devices for the King Air B200 (where a party is currently in progress), Hawker 400XP and the Dash 8 Q400, with a Gulfstream 450/550 located behind me. There’s also a separate hall reserved solely for various Citation models – and another which contains, among others, units for the Sikorsky S-92 Helibus and the C-17 Globemaster.

A look at what hides inside the white cube of the Full Flight Simulator. Pretty spacious and comfortable (often more so than the actual aircraft!), higher-grade FFSs contain an inch-perfect replica of the real cockpit, complete with fully-simulated systems – as well as a control panel for the instructor, which allows control over all aspects of the simulation.

A close-up of the instructor’s panel. Even though it doesn’t look like much at first glance, the control and recording system behind it is very sophisticated, and when paired with networked computers in on-site classrooms, allows detailed analyses of the exercise from all aspects. Interestingly, the “soft” simulation parameters – position, traffic, weather, system failures and so on – are controlled via touchscreens, while elements such as the crew interphone and interior cockpit lighting by hard switches on the right sidewall.

Having a bit of creative fun between two training sessions. Since Bombardier offers several avionics options for the Dash 8 – including one or two FMS units, different flight director visual styles and imperial or metric weight measurements – the FFS can also be configured to simulate all possible setups, which are then tailored to the needs of specific operators using the sim.

And for reference to the above, a similar (but not quite there) daylight shot from an actual Q400 sporting the same avionics and equipment setup.

An important part of every simulator and FNPT is the visual system, which is responsible for the view outside. The Vital 9 unit used for the Dash 8 FFS provides a field of view of 180 degrees horizontally and 40 degrees vertically, with the picture provided by three cross-mounted projectors located on the top of the cab. And while the graphics quality may be inferior even to PC-based games, for training purposes it is more than enough, since most of the time the crew need look out only on take-off, approach and landing (where the runway and its lighting systems are the most important cues).

Along with the aircraft simulation, one of the most important parts of the FFS is the motion system, seen here pitching down on the aforementioned Gulfstream 450/550 unit (which is broadly identical to the one on the Q400). Intended to simulate a number of forces felt aboard the actual aircraft, this system is actually far more clever than it initially appears to be, and uses the fact that the occupants have no visual reference to the simulator hall to trick their senses into believing the aircraft is continually accelerating, braking or maneuvering. As most modern systems, this one is electrically powered, as indicated by the motors on each suspension leg.

NOTE: some of the shots may not be up to my usual standard – however, the lighting situation in both the FFS and the simulator hall itself was (as can be noticed) not ideal, and due to “baggage weight saving measures” I was forced to work without a tripod…

Photo Intermission – Goldfinger’s Golden… 727

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The recent – and long overdue – return of sunny skies, summer temperatures and generally fine flying weather has naturally had a dramatic effect on the local GA scene, with operations shifting overnight into a gear completely at odds with the country’s current economic state 🙂 . Lured out by the first truly stable weather in months, our fleet of light aircraft has been all over the place these past two weeks, with airshows, training, skydive and cross-country flights becoming virtually daily occurrences.

All of this had naturally given me a lot to do, the consequence of which was a chronic lack of time for putting together proper quality content for Achtung, Skyhawk!. Help, however, had come to hand on 18 May, when Zagreb Intl (LDZA) became the three-day host to one of the more of history’s more charismatic passenger jets, Boeing’s legendary “tri-holer”… 🙂

A sight for sore eyes – and a sound for sore ears – as 4K-8888 roars into RWY 23. Flying direct from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, this “727 bizjet” had brought in a trade delegation to discuss various high-yielding business deals with the locals. More importantly (for Achtung, Skyhawk! anyway), 4K-8888 had completed our legacy Boeing set, with the 707, 717, 727, 737, 747, 757, 767 and 777 all visiting over the past few years…

Looking as fresh as the day it had rolled off the production line, 4K-8888 had actually been completed in 1981, making it one of the last 727s produced. As with many of its siblings still flying today, it had received an aerodynamic upgrade in the form of winglets – as well as several bits of modern avionics needed for safe operation in today’s congested airspace.

Photo Report – All You Can Photograph @ Ljubljana (LJLJ)

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Even though both Lučko and Pleso have their fair share of rare and interesting aircraft for me to snap to my delight, a change of scenery never fails to do wonders for my photography :). Through operational necessity (mostly ferrying the Skyhawk for servicing), this change nearly always involves Brnik Airport, a “Pleso-like” single runway airport that serves the city of Ljubljana in neighboring Slovenia. And while its traffic picture is mostly similar to that of Zagreb, it always redeems itself with its GA apron, service centers and – not least of all – its small but interesting “corrosion corner”. Located conveniently all in one place, these are unavoidable stops on any flight to LJLJ – naturally with predictable results on my part… 😀

Quite far from their (former) base in Russia, these three Altant-Soyuz Brasilias wait out their uncertain future.
Quite far from their (former) base in Russia, these three Atlant-Soyuz Brasilias wait out their uncertain future. Stripped of interior fittings, avionics, systems – and, in the case of RA-02856, even engines – they appear to be sentenced to a slow death by decay as Ljubljana’s sub-Alpine weather takes its toll…

Hiding between the Globals, Galebs and abandoned Embraers was this beautiful Citation 500, the official aircraft of the Republika Sprska and one of the very few surviving original Citations. Clean and tidy, this little thing will likely soon become another addition to the Croatian register .
Another rare find was this beautiful Citation I, one of the very few original production Citations still flying in Europe. Clean and tidy (though reportedly mx-intensive), E7-SBA is operated by the government of the Republika Srpska (one of the two entities that make up Bosnia and Herzegovina), and will soon likely become the newest addition to the Croatian GA register

Despite the Isle of Man registration prefix, it is not all that hard to figure out the origin of this imposing Global parked on Ljubljana Airport's GA Apron . Just when a man thinks that he'd seen his fair share of bizjet paint schemes, the Russians go and surprise him :)).
Despite the Isle of Man registration prefix, it’s not that hard to figure out where this imposing Global is from! Increasingly popular in the GA world, the Manx register is the world’s only aviation registry open exclusively to business aircraft, offering easy paperwork, low taxes – and many possibilities for creating witty registrations!

There’s definitely no shortage of CRJs here! An interesting scene as this Turkish VIP-configured CRJ-200ER barely manages to share the hangar with German regional operator Eurowings’ CRJ-900 D-ACNC

A selection for all tastes: a pair of Galebs for fun, a Global 6000 for travel... and a former Malev CRJ registered in Sudan and dumped at Ljubljana as a conversation piece in the bar at night
A selection for all tastes: a pair of Galebs for fun, a Global 6000 to fly home in… and a former Malev CRJ registered in Sudan and dumped at Ljubljana as a conversation piece in the bar at night. Fully airworthy, the two Galebs belong to local operator Aquila Air Adventures, and will eventually be used for joyrides and promo flights (retaining US regs to avoid the bureaucratic hassles European aviation is known for)

Rare Aircraft – Tupolev Tu-144D, CCCP-77115

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Had anybody ever observed me leaving for any European airshow, he/she would have probably noticed that every time I’d cast a glance over my shoulder in the direction of Moscow, with an expression that begs to be captioned “Soon” :D. For a full decade, ever since it had first started, the Mezhdunarodnyj aviacionno-kosmicheskij salon – MAKS – held near Moscow had, for me, been the Holy Grail of airshows on the European mainland. Each time I’d wanted to go, but each time I’d been held back by either university obligations or economic reality, leaving me with little choice but to attend some of the more predictable airshows in the West (not that I’m complaining).

However, thanks to a good friend who’d managed to organize some inexpensive accommodation in (and transport to) the city, last August I was able to set my/Aeroflot’s sights on Moscow and finally head for nirvana at MAKS 2011! 🙂

Even the car park was amazing – and came in the form of the old Bykovo Airport (UUBB) :). Closed in 2009 due to the approaching urban development seen in the back, Bykovo is still littered with the carcases of Antonovs, Ilyushins, Tupolevs and Yakovlevs – like this Yak-42D – that had made it to the airport, but no further

While the full list – and particularly the peculiarities – of the aircraft on display could fill several volumes, one particular aircraft had immediately stolen the show for me – and all it did was have itself towed around the apron… 🙂

Freshly repainted in period colors – and with a period registration – CCCP-77115 was an instant head-turner. Despite all the interesting aircraft at the show – including the first visit by the A380 – the police had to intervene to keep the crowd away when this was towed to the static park 🙂

1. The tortoise and the hare:

Still a sensation even in its old age, the Tu-144 was always a curious aircraft. Often nicknamed “Concordeski” due to its high degree of similarity to the Concorde (the jury’s still out on how big a part had industrial espionage played in its design), it made global headlines on 31 December 1968 when it became the first supersonic airliner type to fly – beating the Concorde to the punch by a tad over two months. It made headlines again, for completely the wrong reasons, at Paris in 1973, when its highly-publicized (and still partially unexplained) crash started its long decline into obscurity and infamy. Relegated in its last years to plying mail routes around the USSR, by any objective measure the Tu-144 could today be judged a commercial failure – a hare that had sprinted for first place, but had quickly been overtaken by the more refined Anglo-French tortoise.

And yet, despite this, the Tu-144 has – dare I say it? – even more charisma and character than the already opulent Concorde. Like the Concorde, it was a brilliant, but flawed design, a design that combined cutting-edge, out-of-the-box thinking with inept government bureaucracy and under-the-table political scheming. And like the Concorde, one cannot help but think of it as a person, a pioneer held back against its will, and not just as a machine doing a job :).

Back to the Future. A shape so futuristic that it’s old…

The main reasons of the -144s “flawedness” lie – as they often do – under the wings. The aircraft’s eternal Achilles’ Heel, the -144’s engines have always lagged behind the times in terms of performance, and are arguably the single biggest contributor to the type’s demise.

The soap opera to-be first started with the prototype’s Kuznetsov NK-144 reheated turbofans, grouped together under the rear fuselage. A design specifically intended for the Tu-144 – hence the designation – the NK-144 on the face of it seemed to be a winner; while the Yanks, Nigels and Frogs were wasting their time with turbojets, the Tu-144 would be whisked along by futuristic turbofans of the type seen on today’s fast military jets. However, while this sounded fine in theory, behind the scenes the engine had some serious issues. Despite its futuristic layout, the core of the engine was of a dated and unsophisticated design, which had, all on its own, nullified the advantages of the front fan. A far bigger problem was that the engine could not sustain supersonic speeds without the use of reheat, unlike the more refined Rolls-Royce Olympus turbojets used by the Concorde. The end result was an incredibly noisy engine, whose ambition was matched only by its fuel consumption. At Concorde speeds, the NK-144 drank up to three times the fuel of the Olympus, reducing the Tu-144’s range – always a premium on supersonic aircraft – to unsustainable levels of just 2,900 km; an astounding 4,300 km short of its Western counterpart.

The only way was up, so Kuznetsov engineers set to work on an upgraded model called the NK-144A, to be used on the production-standard Tu-144S. Slightly more powerful than the Olympus, the new engine went some way to increasing the aircraft’s range, which was now pegged at 3,600 km with a reduced payload – still woefully behind the Concorde. With a full cabin the news were even more demoralizing, with the total range boost amounting to just – 200 km.

With a radical rethink deemed the only solution before the -144’s fuel bills ate up half the Union’s budget, the NK-144 was ditched in favor of the Kolesov RD-36-51, creating the second-series Tu-144D (D for dalniyy, or “long range”) – a series that had also included CCCP-77115. A turbojet this time, the RD-36-51 was a modification of the engine used on several Soviet supersonic bomber prototypes, including the stillborn Su-100.

Both the Tu-144D and its RD-36 engines are easily differentiated from other marks by the pronounced engine exhaust cones. These helped accelerate the exhaust gasses as they left the jetpipe, but did little for noise attenuation 🙂

And while the RD-36-51 was a quantum leap over the old NK-144, problems nevertheless remained. Supersonic flight was still not available without continuous use of reheat, though the range hit was slightly lower this time – with a reduced payload the aircraft could manage up to 6,200 km, dropping to about 5,300 when full. Still in the Concorde’s wake, but in another league compared to the NK-144 :). Plans to address this even further – though by removing the symptoms rather than curing the disease – were made in the late 80s, whereby the RD-36-51’s 15% higher thrust than the NK-144 would be used to haul more fuel in the tanks, increasing the range up to a theoretical 7,500 km. Christened the Tu-144DA, this project had – like the Tu-144 itself – nosedived into the dirt during the collapse of the USSR.

Raw power, pure and simple. The grouping of the engines changed significantly from the first prototype, with the engines now grouped into two pairs to reduce the heat strain on the rear fuselage. Interestingly – and again unlike the Concorde – no Tu-144 version was equipped with thrust reversers; though plans were in place to fit them to the outer engine on each wing, the aircraft had ended up using an old-fashion braking parachute

The -144’s final engine change was the most impressive though – but it had come a decade too late to save the old jet. Faced with the need for a large platform on which to test solutions for future trans- and supersonic airliners (a nod to the Sonic Cruiser there), NASA and Boeing had in 1996 teamed with Tupolev to bring one mothballed Tu-144 back into airworthy state (the type having been withdrawn from use more than eight years prior). As part of its refit, the chosen aircraft – RA-77114, the last -144 completed – had been re-engined with the Kuznetsov NK-321 turbofan carried by the Tu-160 supersonic bomber. Producing 25% more thrust than the Tu-144D – and a fantastic 45% more than the original Tu-144S – the Tu-144LL (letuschaya laboratoriya, or “flying laboratory”) had managed to achieve and maintain an incredible Mach 2.35; that’s faster than the F-22, on par with the F-14 and Su-27 and lot much less than the F-15, one of the fastest jets in the sky :).

Having flown 26 test flights in total, RA-77114 made its final landing – and marked the final flight of the Tu-144 – on 14 April 1999. Like CCCP-77115, today it is resident of Zhukovsky Air Base (the venue for MAKS) but is languishing in a poor state at a remote apron… out of reach of my camera 😦 (but not out of reach of this one: link).

2. The precision pile driver:

While all this talk of engines and reheat and range may leave the impression that the Tu-144 was little more than a crude Soviet pile driver, the truth is much more complicated – and is actually what gives the type its distinctive charm :). From nose to tail, the Tu-144 has none of the uniformity of sophistication that we’re used to seeing on the Concorde; instead it seems to be a hodge-podge of old 50s technology and 60s forward thinking. And nowhere is this more evident than in its aerodynamics…

Out back, the angular double-delta wing comes from the same family tree as the Concorde’s more elegant ogival delta – but is simpler, cheaper and easier to produce and maintain. However, at the front, to compensate for the wing’s inferior performance at lower speeds, the Tu-144 has an elaborate set of retractable canards whose aerodynamic sophistication exceeds any similar systems in the West.

Canards that are more sophisticated than the wing of a Skyhawk :D. As well as trailing edge flaps, the canards are also equipped with two sets of leading edge slots, which channel air onto and down the airfoil at high Angle of Attack. This helps the air stick to the surface, delaying any potential stall. The canards themselves were fully automatic and retracted into recesses in the fuselage (faintly visible on top) above a certain speed (usually 450 km/h). Despite the simpler wing, the Tu-144 had a 30 km/h lower landing speed than the Concorde, and its maximum landing weight – in part limited by approach speeds – was 9 tons higher

The drooping nose too was a “cheap & cheerful” setup. Whereas the Concorde had a split nose and visor, the Tu-144 had combined them into a single element. The immediately apparent disadvantage was the poor forward visibility at subsonic speed, when the nose has to be raised, but the speed is not high enough to warrant use of the visor. However, this was not thought to be an issue, since unlike the Concorde – which was limited by flight over densely populated areas – the Tu-144 could immediately accelerate to supersonic speeds. The angle of droop was also higher, 17° vs 12.5° for the Concorde

This trend had continued in a similar vein inside the fuselage. The passenger cabin was the typical, simple and unsophisticated affair found on many Soviet airliners of the time – but with one key difference: unlike virtually all other passenger aircraft of the Union, the Tu-144 had featured a two-class layout, with a five-abreast economy section in the rear of the cabin, and a four-abreast business section up front. Due to the “sardine can” conditions out back, the Tu-144 could also squeeze in more passengers, 140 vs. a maximum 120 for the Concorde.

At the pointy end though, the Tu-144 was – by some accounts – on par with the Concorde, though many of the aircraft’s cockpit systems remain obscure even to this day. Apart from the unorthodox instrument layout, traditional aquamarine panel (proven to relieve stress) – and the irreplaceable cooling fans 😀 – the cockpit was very much of the period, sporting a three-man crew and the latest in (indigenous) automatic flight control systems and various navigation devices.

The performance – fuel consumption aside – was surprising as well. Despite the crude engines and simple wing, the Tu-144 had a 65,000 ft ceiling, about 5,000 higher than the Concorde. Maximum speeds were unexpected too, with the original S model capable of Mach 2.3 and the D of 2.17 or thereabouts – both significantly faster than the M2.02 that the Concorde could do at full chat. This turn of speed was achieved despite inefficient engine intakes that were far inferior to the electronically-controlled ones designed, from the ground up, for the Concorde.

The intakes themselves had also given rise to another unique feature – the aircraft’s distinctive landing gear. In order to compensate for the lack of digital intake controls (which were required to slow the air down to subsonic speeds before it reached the compressor), the designers at Tupolev lengthened the intakes (which, roughly, achieved the same effect). However, the length required meant that there was space for them only under the fuselage and – as seen on production models – at the very root of the wing. This left no room for traditional landing gear, with its few, but large, wheels. The solution involved a complex system of eight smaller wheels on each leg that would, as the gear retracted, rotate through 90 degrees to the side and slot themselves vertically into recesses between the two engines.

Unsurprisingly, this wheel arrangement had also allowed the weight of the aircraft to be distributed over a larger area, thus reducing the load on the surface; which, combined with the large-diameter gear legs, made the Tu-144 fully rough-field-capable – as was actually demonstrated by one example during flight tests :).

3. Fly fast, die young:

Sadly though, the opportunities to use these capabilities in actual service had proved to be few and far in between. The sheer economic inefficiency of those engines – even by the standards of the Union – and the huge R&D costs the program had accrued had at the outset relegated the Tu-144 to a mostly ceremonial role, flying a few lonely domestic routes for prestige’s sake. In a final insult to its design, this pioneering aircraft, an aircraft that had so much unused potential and promise, had ended its commercial service flying mail between Moscow and Alma-Aty in Kazakhstan… 

A supersonic dream that had quickly turned into an economic nightmare. Apart from its exorbitant direct costs, in service the Tu-144 had also suffered from several significant operational problems. The lesser was that – faced with the vast spaces of the Union – the aircraft never really had the legs to get to any distant destination in one hop. More serious was that its range had severely limited its choice of alternate destinations if the primary had to be abandoned for any reason (like weather) – in a country where large airports are rarely close by

Even more saddening (though understandable) is that by the time its commercial service had ended in the late 80s, the Tu-144 fleet – at that point made up of D models built at the beginning of the decade – had clocked up what could only be described as a pitiful amount of flight hours. Indeed, I was quite surprised when I found out that “our” CCCP-77115 (the penultimate aircraft completed) was retired with just 38 hours and 34 minutes on the clock!

Interestingly, none of that time was logged in Aeroflot service, despite the full Aeroflot paint scheme the aircraft had worn throughout its lifetime. With the wind-down of supersonic commercial services in the USSR all but complete, this aircraft – pretty much fresh from the factory – had been sidetracked into the expanding Buran orbiter program. The closest an aircraft could be to an actual orbiter, CCCP-77115 had been used to train the program’s future pilots, until both were dragged under overnight by the dissolution of the Union.

The spectre of what could have been… slightly larger – and infinitely more imposing – than the Concorde, the Tu-144 is an eye-catcher from any angle

Summing then the Tu-144 up is hard. In parts a brilliant design, it had been stifled by the USSR’s need to be there first, to get up the West’s nose. A design that could have matured nicely given some more development time, it’d been pushed into failure by politics rather than its shortcomings as a machine. And, as I said at the beginning of this post, somehow that makes it just a bit more human… 🙂

Concorde or Tu-144? 🙂 A shape from the future that on its own tells the story of two of aviation’s great icons, aircraft that were just that bit ahead of their time…

Short Photo Report – My First Ever DC-8

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Though I’ve had my fair share of off-topic airliner posts on here recently, I decided I might just as well get away with another one before normal GA service is resumed 😀 (and with a lengthy in-flight photo post at that). The reason for this latest deviation from the norm is another very rare visitor that had popped into Zagreb just the other day – one of the most beautiful classic jetliners to ever take to the skies, the inimitable Douglas DC-8 :).

Even though I was naturally thrilled to see my first ever Diesel 8, I was a bit disappointed that it was not one of the “full fat” older generation models, but an upgraded DC-8-71(F) freighter operated by National Airlines of the US. Factory-modified with CFM International CFM-56 high-bypass turbofan engines – and I believe even an EFIS cockpit 🙂 – the -71(F) lacks the charisma and presence of the older JT3 turbojet models; but it was a DC-8 nonetheless, so I was naturally set and ready with my camera when it decided to depart :D.

The flying pencil rocketing out of Zagreb’s RWY 05, bound for Luxembourg :). Apart from its eye-catching fuselage length, the DC-8 appears quite small when viewed head on or from the back… and also quite gorgeous in a gloss paint scheme

What it would have looked like back during the -8’s heyday in the 60s and 70s :). Note also the surprisingly flat takeoff attitude – flying empty and with little fuel, no dramatic rotation was necessary… I’m almost tempted to say that it takes off like a big An-2 – some noise, some movement and then it just starts going up 😀

Photo Intermission – A Short Hop On A Short Boeing

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On the face of it, 2011 hadn’t really gotten off to a flying start as far as local GA photography was concerned. Stuck in Limbo between an airfield that is closed and an airport that is – for all intents and photographic purposes – inaccessible, I was growing exasperated by the need to photograph something, anything, to satisfy my current bout of photography fever 😀 (like cabin fever, but more expensive!). However, a couple of weeks ago – as I was contemplating increasingly drastic measures for getting a few snaps in – I’d gotten some unexpected news: one of my best friends was getting married, and a couple of us from Zagreb were invited to his hometown of Warsaw, Poland for the wedding ceremony :). Apart from the fact that I’d finally see him after six long years, this had also implied a plane journey or two, which was just what the doctor had ordered! 😀

Much to my delight (and in a textbook case of misplaced priorities), I’d soon discovered that there were no direct flights between Zagreb and Warsaw during the winter, necessitating a stopover and plane change somewhere in Central Europe :D. What on any other occasion would have been a mild annoyance had this time become a chance to catch something rare and interesting among the dull and common ATRs and Airbii operated by ČSA, the Czech carrier we’ve chosen as our wings to the north :). And I was not disappointed: for waiting for us at the gate at Prague airport was a lovely little 737-500…

The last of the 737 “classics”, the 500 series is relatively a rare sight today, having never been much of a sales success in the first place – only 389 were ever made over a decade-long production run. Essentially a modernized 200 series (incidentally, the only other 737 variant I’d flown on 🙂 ), the 500 was upgraded with technologies seen on the preceding 300 and 400 series, most notably quieter and more efficient CFM-56 turbofans and a modern EFIS cockpit setup. Other improvements had also included increased fuel tankage for greater range and a few performance tweaks here and there, which had made it an altogether more capable – but not aurally as pleasing 😀 – aircraft than the basic 200 (the 500 would later also give rise to the 600, a further upgrade with goodies from the NG series – but that would suffer an even worse production fate).

However, while it had made sense during its debut in the late 80 and early 90s, the 500 would soon start to run up against increasingly stiff competition from the nascent regional jet. Carrying around 110 passengers (depending on configuration), the 737-500 was just too much of an aircraft for the capacity it had offered, rendering it uneconomical for all but a handful of operators who had the specific requirement for a low-capacity jet with extended range. The upgraded 600 – of which only 69 were built – had further underlined the variants’ newly-acquired “niche aircraft” status…

But the above was not the only thing that had made OK-XGD – “my” 737-55S that day 🙂 – interesting. As well as being among the first 735s flying in Europe (delivered in mid-1992), I believe it is also the second-to-last aircraft delivered to the old ČSA (Češkoslovenské Státní Aerolinie or Czechoslovak State Airlines), before the dissolution of former Czechoslovakia on 1 January 1993 – and is, along with Lufthansa’s examples, part of the the only 735 batch still flying with its original operator since delivery :)…


Leaving daylight behind as we cruise eastwards over Poland at 34,000 ft

Seated right in the last row (row 29) I had a commanding view of the cabin... which I naturally decided to put to good effect :D. And while the cabin itself is clean and tidy, its dated design - especially the overhead passenger lights and vents - gives away the aircraft's age

All calm and quiet as the cabin crew dim the lights for landing at Warsaw. I had dearly wanted to nag a visit to the cockpit, but the short duration of the flight - just a tad over 45 minutes - meant we just had time to climb, help ourselves to the drinks cart, and then prepare for arrival 🙂