Having always been on Team Gulfstream when it came to range-topping business jets – and living in a touristy country where the rich and famous (used to) come to let off some steam – I naturally had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the many fine forms of the Big Gulf. Down at the coast the G-IV, G-V and latterly the mighty G650 were as common as trees, and there was virtually no seaside airport without at least half a dozen of them at any one time.
However, the “older gentlemen” of the family – the original G-II and G-III – had continually eluded me, and several years came by and went until I finally managed to snap one. Making the same mistake as before, I kept thinking “well, that’s it, I’ve seen one now and never again”… right up until they started appearing in measurable numbers all over the place, including – very conveniently – at my base airport, Zagreb Intl (ZAG/LDZA)…
Gulfstream Aerospace G-1159A Gulfstream III • N32MJ
The first one off the bat is a mint 1982 G-III with the serial 460, owned by the basketball world’s own Magic Johnson. Since I do not watch sports, I cannot comment on Mr. Johnson’s professional career; but he is very obviously a man of culture, since – despite everything – he chooses to own an “oldtimer” that’s so loud it has to be silenced by law!
While these large cabin jets tend to lead comparatively simple and quiet lives, N32MJ has a history that can rival any MD-80: by my count, it had carried 10 separate registrations and passed through the hands of 12 different owners! (the full list can be found at Plane Logger) What is interesting for us here and now is that in 2005 it would pass from jet legend Clay Lacy to court legend Magic Johnson, with the intervening 15 years representing by far its longest stint with a single operator…
So, while this particular airplane probably has quite a few stories to tell, the G-III as a whole has a good one too. While it sometimes takes a keen eye to tell it apart from other members of its extended family, the III is probably the definitive landmark Gulfstream, since it was the one to set the stage – in terms of performance, comfort and style – for all the models that came subsequently. To make it even better, its glorious shape – delicate, elegant, powerful and brutish all at once – actually has its roots in a – turboprop 😀 .
And while the very mention of the P Word may raise a few eyebrows, the machine in question is probably one of the most beautiful t-props of them all: the dashing and elegant G-159 Gulfstream. Grumman’s attempt to offer the business market something better than a converted WW2 light/medium bomber, the G-159 was on its debut in 1958 one of the world’s first purpose-built large executive aircraft, sporting a comfortable and pressurized cabin for 8-24 passengers* (w/ the type’s famous oval windows), an advanced flight deck, transcontinental range and a pair of very loud – but also very tough and reliable – Rolls-Royce Darts rated at 2,190 HP each.
* according to many of the sources I found, the voluminous cabin allowed for numerous configurations with large differences in total capacity. The most luxurious setup seated only eight; the Sardine Can Special could squeeze 24; while the most common variant had space for 10-12. There was even a version called the G-159C (five of which were built), aimed at the regional airline market; a 3.25 meter fuselage stretch brought the total capacity to 37, roughly equal to the much later DHC-8-100
By the mid 60s though, the rise of the business jet could not be ignored anymore; names such as Lockheed JetStar, Rockwell Sabreliner, Dassault Falcon and Hawker-Siddeley HS.125 had grown into a credible threat, which meant that the G-159 could not hope to compete for much longer solely on its superior capacity, fuel economy and airfield performance. To stay in the game, Grumman decided to build on the 159’s success and turn it once more into the ultimate business transport. To that end, in 1966 they took its entire cabin and forward section (including the nose gear), stuck on a bespoke swept wing w/ increased fuel capacity, a rakish T-tail, and a pair of howling Rolls-Royce Spey low-bypass turbofans in the back (still a quieter fit than the Darts!), thus creating the daddy: the G-1159 Gulfstream II**, the first jet Gulf.
** on its introduction, the G-159 – which would remain in production for two more years – would be renamed into Gulfstream I
While a quantum leap in performance over the G-I – being the first bizjet to cross the Atlantic non-stop – by the mid 70s the G-II was itself becoming a bit dated, and would soon start to face some worrying competition from (among others) the upstart Canadair Challenger – the first modern large cabin jet designed from the ground up for the business role. In reply, Grumman would in 1979 take the G-II and:
stretch the fuselage by 0.6 meters
re-contour the entire radome and windscreen
redesign the wing to incorporate 1.8 meters more span and a more efficient leading edge
add striking 1.5 meter winglets (inspired by those on the Learjet 28 Longhorn, the first bizjet to carry them)
up the luxury to 11
revamp the cockpit to include more glass and automation
and christen the result the G-1159A Gulfstream III. Despite having sold only a modest 202 examples, the G-III was such a conceptual hit that it immediately set the standards for what a proper Gulfstream should be (despite its inefficient and gas-guzzling engines).
Indeed, the hugely successful 1985G-IV – more than 900 sold over multiple versions – is actually a lengthened G-III with a tweaked wing, a full glass cockpit and power provided by modern Rolls-Royce Tay high-bypass turbofans. Even the G-V of 1995 shares the same DNA, being a longer, fully re-winged G-IV powered the brand new Rolls-Royce/BMW BR710. Only with the coming of the clean sheet G650 did the old G-II/III finally decide to lay down and die…
Just as the G-III’s advancement carried forward onto the G-IV, they also filtered backwards onto the old G-II. In 1981 – a year after its production ended – Gulfstream offered the G-1159B Gulfstream II-B upgrade, which would see the III’s wing and cockpit setup mated to existing G-IIs (the only other factory variant of the II was the G-II-TT, fitted with tip tanks; only 18 are known to have been so equipped). Offered until 1987, 44 machines had been converted to this standard – including our example, the non-hush-kitted N4NR.
Completed in 1978 under the serial 255, this odd bird had started out in life as N442A of the Aramco Steel Corporation. In 1984, it would pass into the hands of Rockwell International, where it would soon become N4NR – and, presumably, be converted to the II-B standard. It would stay with Rockwell’s various incarnations all the way until 2001, after which it would pass through the hands of several venture capital corporations (list also at Plane Logger), finally ending up with the somewhat cryptic Global Mission LLC in 2008.
That all was not going well in its world became obvious in November 2018, when its first (and last) arrival into Zagreb was met with a pre-planned sting operation ran by the Croatian Police, acting on information provided by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Though some of the details are still not entirely clear, official press releases stated that the crew of two were flying in from Mali with a kilo of very pure cocaine, a sample of the payment to local arms dealers for a shipment of Soviet-era man-portable anti-aircraft systems, assault rifles, ammunition and other military gear – all stuff that was scheduled to be passed onto a Malian Islamist terror group.
Immediately impounded as evidence, it sat sealed for a few years in the corner of the GA apron, awaiting the end of the investigation and some future auction where it would be sold off to whoever cares. Informed opinion at the time (eventually to be proved pretty accurate) suggested that it would never fly again, since it is in pretty poor condition*** – and the costs of returning it to airworthy state and bringing it up to code are not encouraging…
*** indeed, it has been mentioned informally that is had started out for Zagreb three previous times before returning back to Mali with technical issues
Even though I’ve been a fixed wing driver from Day One (private and training helicopters being so rare in Croatia), I’ve nevertheless always maintained a fancy for all things rotary. Indeed, my first ever flight – back when I was just a toddler – had been on a Yugoslav Air Force Mi-8, followed up later in adulthood with hops on the Bell 429 demonstrator, and with Red Bull’s own Rainer Wilke on the fully aerobatic Bo-105 (an experience I’m not likely to forget!). From then on however, my contact with the helicopter world had been reduced to being on the working end of the camera viewfinder – a situation that would dramatically change for the better in the summer of 2019 🙂 .
Having been aware of my long-standing desire to photograph a piston engine Kamov up close, a friend from neighboring Hungary – himself an avid helicopter spotter – had managed to do me one better, arranging not only a “free hand” photo session… but also a short semi-aerobatic flight. The only string attached was that I get my arse to Budapest on my own accord – a condition I was more than happy to accept! 😀
The HA Ka
The rather colorful bird that would be my ride for the day goes under the name HA-MPB, and sports the serial 77 061 09 – a typical Soviet sausage that tells you (almost) everything you need to know:
77 … manufactured in 1977
061 … as part the 61st batch made (out of 65 in total)
09 … and the ninth example in the batch
This puts it among the youngest examples of the 848 made in total between 1969 and 1978 – and one of at least 149 that would eventually serve in Hungary (either straight from the factory, or through resales). Unlike the vast majority of its brethren however, MPB is still very much active, and spends most of its uptime dusting crops up and down the country. Indeed, on this day it had popped into Budaörs Airfield (LHBS, not a stranger to me) solely to participate in the upcoming Budaörs Airshow, following which it would quickly depart back into the southern fields and resume normal operations 🙂 .
While my roster at work had prevented me from staying the show’s full three days, I had nevertheless had ample time to pour over MPB in much detail. Though many of the design’s finer nuances will inevitably be lost on me – Fixed Wing Guy, remember* – there is nevertheless still enough eye candy here to arouse the interest of even the most basic aviation enthusiast!
* any corrections from whirlybird drivers would be most welcome!
And finally, a bit of video from the inside… admittedly, not the best quality (the lighting was marginal all throughout the day), but hopefully the action will make up for it! Also not the piercing turbine-like noise in both clips; those are the aforementioned cooling fans spinning their heads off 😀 .
Bonus content: Hiller UH-12D • HA-MIG
Drooling all over the Ka-26 is fine and well – but when you get to fly in a duet with a vintage Hiller, you should at least try to make an effort to snap it as well! 😀 Returning back to the apron after our run, I was lucky enough to stumble upon said helicopter and its owner, who kindly allowed me to snoop around and bit and soak up the beauty of one of the world’s earliest mass produced light helicopters…
Traditionally, I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to all the people – ground and air crews alike – that had made this photo shoot possible, particularly Gergely C.!
I’ve always said that only good things can happen when you use your off time from flying airplanes to – photograph airplanes. For me, this was very much the case recently when my itchy photo finger led me into neighboring Hungary in search of interesting indigenous and Eastern Block flying machinery. And while almost every airfield there is a gold mine in one way or another, my travels that day had taken me straight to Budaörs Airfield (LHBS) just outside Budapest, a well-known GA center in its own right – but doubly more interesting as the home of the Goldtimer Foundation. An eclectic group of enthusiast dedicated to preserving the country’s rich aviation heritage, it is most famous for its flagship, the world’s sole airworthy Lisunov Li-2 – a Soviet license built version of the early C-47 that had needed so many alternations (1400+ by some counts) to survive life in the Union that it pretty much became a standalone type.
But while the Big Li has always been the foundation’s party piece, the rest of its six-strong fleet also boasts much to write home about – in particular my target for the day, the home-grown (and extremely rare) Rubik R-18c Kánya STOL utility aircraft… 🙂
Last of the Mohicans
While it may lack the pedigree and heritage of similar designs East or West, the R-18 nevertheless ticks many Achtung, Skyhawk! boxes right from the start – not least of all for its interesting origins. Designed in 1944, the R-18 was penned by Ernő Rubik (father of the same Ernő Rubik who would much later design the eponymous cube) and was intended to fill the niche for a cheap-and-cheerful STOL utility aircraft that could also double as an effective glider tug. Despite nowadays being known solely due to Junior’s successes, Rubik Senior was at the time already a prolific aircraft designer*, and was thus intimately familiar with the challenges of producing a rugged and dependable working aircraft on a tight budget. Though the R-18 was never a direct copy (being much smaller for starters), to make it work Rubik had from the outset used the superlative Fieseler Fi-156 Storch as inspiration, adopting its solutions such as large fixed slots along the wing leading edge, wide-span drooping ailerons, a mixed wood/metal construction to save on strategic materials – and a tall landing gear that could both cope with the realities of rough field operations and provide sufficient drag to allow for steep approaches. Unlike its idol however, the R-18 would not have folding wings, a powerful engine with a constant speed propeller, provisions for light armament or quite the same insane level of STOL performance – all compromises made to simplify design and construction and keep production costs manageable.
* what’s more, Rubik Sr. would continue at it even after the war, turning his attention now to gliders (on which he had actually made his name before the war). The most successful of these new designs was the R-26 Góbé of 1961, a simple all-metal two-seater with a moderate 14 meter wingspan. Though production had ended in the late 60s after 115 examples were made, the design would come back to favor again in the late 80s, when a modernized version – the R-26SU Góbé 82 – was put into production by a Hungarian automobile plant. Despite this unorthodox return and the availability of the Let L-13 Blanik, a further 78 examples would be completed and sold, a large proportion of which continue to happily fly to this day.
In spite of its down-to-earth design goals, the R-18 – now named Kánya (“kite”, a species of hawk) – would not see the light of day until the end of the war. The German occupation in May of 1944 and the arrival of the Red Army in September had had a catastrophic effect on the country’s aviation industry, which made producing even such a simple and basic no-frills aircraft a very tall order indeed. In the event, the first Kánya – the R-18a, carrying the serial E-524** and military ID 1-002 – would be completed only in 1948, flying for the first time on 18 May 1949.
** like many Hungarian light aircraft, the R-18 family was produced by the state-owned Sportáru Termelő Nemzeti Vállalatnál aircraft factory at Esztergom (now LHEM) in northern Hungary. This was reflected in their serials: E-524 may sound exotic, but it simply meant 1-002 was the 524th aircraft produced at Esztergom so far.
In its original guise, the R-18a was a pretty clean three-seater (two in the front, one in the back), powered by a Czechoslovak Walter Major 4-I engine which developed a modest 130 HP from four inline cylinders, and spun an unremarkable two-blade fixed pitch propeller. Interestingly, Rubik had envisioned the Kánya to be powered by a British-made inline engine (such as the 135-150 HP Blackburn Cirrus Major), but the post-war political situation in Hungary had quickly sent that idea down the tubes.
Originally pitched to the reformed Hungarian Air Force, 1-002 would quickly be made redundant by large numbers of readily available aircraft coming from the USSR (most notably the Polikarpov Po-2), which left Rubik with only one option – to go civilian. To this end, 1-002 would be transferred to the civil register, becoming HA-RUA the same year. Unfortunately, not long afterwards it would be involved in the type’s very first accident, when it stalled at low altitude and sideslipped into the ground during a glider tow demonstration. Even though the damage was repairable, the aircraft was not rebuilt and was instead re-purposed as a training aid for apprentice mechanics.
Based on experiences from military test flights and civilian trials, Rubik then developed the slightly improved R-18b, whose primary claim to fame was a redesigned fuselage around the rear seat, allowing the second passenger a bit more breathing room. As was the case with the A, only one B model would be made, wearing the serial E-552 and registered HA-RUB. Like its predecessor, it would meet its end during a glider tow exercise on 25 September 1954, ending up severely damaged in a corn field after running out of fuel.
Having been convinced all along that there was more to come out of the basic design, at the very beginning of the 50s Rubik began work on a more extensive update, which would debut in 1952 as the R-18c. Compared to the B model, the C – in the form of the “prototype” HA-RUC (s/n E-761) – packed a more powerful six cylinder Walter Minor 6-III developing 160 HP, as well as a cut down and extensively glazed rear fuselage. The new powerplant was initially delivered with a two-blade Avia V410 variable pitch metal propeller – but unspecified problems with its reliability had quickly seen the switch back to a classic fixed pitch wooden unit manufactured right at Esztergom. Having caught some flak due to comfort issues with the A and B models’ rear seat, Rubik would soon dump it completely and replace it with a 120 l fuel tank to augment the two standard 60 l tanks located in each wing root.
In this tweaked form – which one source calls R-18c/1 – the C would become the first, and last, R-18 to enter any form of series production, with just six further examples completed between 1952 and 1953 (registered HA-RUD through HA-RUI). The reasons for such a short production run vary from one source to the other; but staff at Budaörs had told me that the R-18 was simply a casualty of Eastern Block politics of the time, which prioritized the import of aircraft from large factories abroad over small-scale indigenous production. Thus, like the original A model, the Kánya as a whole was simply swept away by a tidal wave of Polikarpovs, Yakovlevs and Zlins rolling in in their hundreds.
To add insult to injury, the Minor engines would prove to be quite problematic and failure prone in Hungarian service, leading to a disproportionate number of incidents and write-offs; indeed, some sources claim that by 1966 – when the type was withdrawn from service – only two aircraft had remained intact. This rate of attrition had between 1955 and 1958 prompted a fleet-wide re-engine program, in which the Minor was thrown out in favor of the Shvetsov M-11 five cylinder radial used on the Po-2 (and manufactured by WSK-Kalisz in Poland), developing either 125 HP in the D model – or a more substantial 160 HP in the FR variant. Unlike the home-grown props used with the Minor, both M-11 variants would be bundled with the “factory default” WD-450, also made by WSK.
Interestingly, there was only one other structural mod attempted – and that was fitting skis to HA-RUE (s/n E-763). The aircraft was subsequently based at Budaörs, but I had been unable to find any photos of it in this configuration.
One of the two lucky ones to survive into their old age, the foundation’s example goes by the name HA-RUF, and was the first Kánya to be produced in 1953 (wearing the serial E-778). A standard R-18c (or R-18c/1 according to some), it sports the more powerful M-11FR engine, and had flown for the first time (again) on 1 October 2012, following an on-off restoration that took more than 20 years. Painted in accurate period colors that really make it stand out on the apron, it would immediately after enter the Goldtimer fleet, where it would happily open its doors to wandering aircraft geeks… 😀
And finally, a bit of video… a poor attempt I admit, but I’m not one with moving pictures and the air that day was a bit turbulent. But you can still hear the Singer in the nose doing its thing – and that’s worth a thousand pro videos! 😀
Customarily, I would like to thank everyone at the Goldtimer Foundation for a beautiful flight, especially my pilot, Mr. Gabor Szakacs!
Appendix – R-18 production list:
• crashed 1949 (location unknown)
• crashed 1954 near Székesfehérvár
• crashed 1962 near Gödöllő
• crashed 1956 near Szentes
• fitted with skis; wfu 1966 and scrapped
• wfu 1966; made airworthy in 2012
• wfu 1966; in a museum until 2016
• crashed 1957 near Kaposvár
• wfu 1966 and scrapped
* HA-RUG was the sole surviving Minor-engined example; was displayed in a museum in Budapest until 2016, can’t find trace of it afterwards
It seems to be a rule of nature that every former Yugoslav airbase still in use today has a few hidden gems with which to tempt the photo finger – even among the locals who were used to seeing them on a regular basis. Croatia’s Zagreb (ZAG/LDZA) has its large MiG-21/Mi-24 graveyard; Serbia’s Batajnica (LYBT) has a bewildering mix of Soviet and indigenous combat and transport machinery that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world; while Macedonia’s Skopje (SKP/LWSK) can boast what are likely Europe’s last non-preserved Su-25s – and very definitely its only Israeli-modified Mi-24s. And Bosnia’s Sarajevo? Well, that has a Rajlovac Helicopter Base and one of the rarest series-produced helicopters on the planet – Mil’s diminutive Mi-34.
While at first glance it looks just as “60s Soviet” as nearly everything else in its family tree, the 34 is nevertheless a pretty special little whirlybird – not just for being the last all-new helicopter type launched in the USSR, but also for being Mil’s final clean sheer design until the Mi-38 of the early 2000s. All of this had naturally ticked the lot of my Achtung, Skyhawk! boxes, so I recently decided to give the Bosnian MoD a ring and see if I could pop down to the country’s capital and tour one of Russia’s more charismatic (and least lucky) rotary designs… 🙂
My first Gazelle
As the early 80s dawned, the helicopter industry of the USSR was slowly – but surely – beginning to feel the adverse effects of the Soviet leadership’s single-minded preoccupation with heavy machinery. With 20/20 hindsight, it is not really hard to see why: the exploits of the Mi-24 during the First Afghan War had clearly shown the value of the helicopter gunship, while the stalwart Mi-8 was proving – day in, day out – its ability to reach even the more distant backwoods of the Union. Then there were the impressive Mi-6 and Mi-10 for when you needed to move stuff, and Kamov’s ungainly – but supremely capable – Ka-25 and 27 families to keep the fleets safe from Yankee subs. Everywhere you looked, there was a shiny and mighty medium/heavy helicopter doing its bit to keep the system going and its citizens safe & (somewhat) content.
At the same time, the people who would go on to fly these things were being trained on archaic machinery such as the 50s Mi-1, which – while solid and dependable – were relics of the early days of Soviet helicopter design, and could in no way prepare pilots for the rigors of operating out on the front lines. As was also the case in the fixed-wing sector, learning to fly a helicopter in those days was essentially like stepping out of a Mach 0.1 Po-2 biplane and straight into a Mach 2.0 MiG-21 – with depressingly predictable results.
Having realized at two minutes to midnight that this problem needed to be addressed ASAP, the powers that be eventually ordered Mil to get itself into gear and start developing an all-new multipurpose light helicopter that could be used equally well for training, competition, transport and liaison – as well as potentially exported internationally even outside the traditional Soviet customer base. The definition of this new machine was also influenced by the successes of the Aerospatiale Gazelle and MBB Bo.105, since one of the key requirements was a proper, no-nonsense aerobatic capability – and not just a willingness to be thrown about inherent to most other training helicopters. At the same time, it also had to have a benign and forgiving nature, informative and precise controls – and flight characteristics that would enable students to get the most out of the experience without scaring them half to death.
But, while the Mil works certainly did have the expertise and industrial capability to pull this off and pull it off cleanly, by the point they’d finally gotten round to it, time was no longer on their side. By the mid 80s – when detailed design got under way – the signs of the USSR’s impending collapse were becoming more and more apparent, and the financing pipelines from Moscow more and more constricted. Faced with a tightening purse, the government’s own procrastination and the Soviet aerospace sector’s general R&D inertia, Mil had suddenly found itself under mounting pressure to do the new helicopter as cheaply and cheerfully as possible while still satisfying what is even today a demanding set of specs – and then getting the thing into the air with a minimum of fuss.
The resulting machine – christened the Mi-34 by its makers and Hermit by NATO’s Air Standardization Coordinating Committee – ended up being a pretty conventional affair, from some angles hard to tell apart from the similarly sized MD500. Flying for the first time on 17 November 1986, the Mi-34 would be presented to the world just seven months later at the 1987 Paris Air Show – a rush that says a lot about Mil’s burning desire to grab export orders and bring in fresh cash to finance further development and production. This need was so pressing in fact that Mil would in 1988 actually send one of the two prototypes to the States in the hope of drumming up some interest there – right in Bell’s own back yard and even before the Cold War had fully thawed out. Indeed, some sources report that Mil officials had been hoping for a 1,000 unit production run to start already in 1990 – a number equal to roughly 60% of all Gazelle production and ambitious even by the standards of Western manufacturers. Unsurprisingly given the situation it was born into, the Mi-34 would eventually enter production three years late in 1993, with a “token run” that would peter out at just 2.2% of its initial target…
One turning, zero burning
As it stood at the dawn of the 90s, the basic four-seat Mi-34 did however have some things going for it. Despite being Mil’s smallest helicopter design since the Mi-1, the 34 did manage to punch some way above its weight, sporting an advanced glass-fiber-reinforced rotor system dominated by a very capable four-blade semi-articulated main rotor (actuated mechanically, without powered boost). This setup had allowed for outstanding agility with maneuvers such as loops and rolls, flight at +3/-0.5 G (impressive figures for a helicopter), a yaw rate of 120º per second (head-turning even today), as well as the ability to reach 140 km/h flying backwards – all of which were firsts for any helicopter ever made in the USSR. Aside from its outright dynamic capabilities, the 34 was still a proper Mil – so it was as tough as nails – and its projected price was low enough to offset (at least for a while) most of its aerodynamic or mechanical inefficiencies, as well as its rather crude finish and lack of refinement inside.
But, while all of the bits on the outside were where you’d expect to find them, under the skin things were a bit less straightforward. Alongside its antiquated avionics setup – the eternal Achilles’ heel of all Soviet designs – the 34 was immediately let down by the only engine it had readily available, the 330 HP Vedeneyev (VMP) M14V-12V nine cylinder radial. While a superlative powerplant known in song and story for its bulletproof reliability, the M14* was nevertheless a heavier, thirstier, more maintenance-intensive and far less efficient solution than even the flat six of the 34’s closest rival – the 1991 Robinson R-44 – let alone the mighty turbines of the Gazelle, Bo.105 and JetRanger (which, admittedly, cost up to for times as much as an entire Mi-34: USD 2 mil for the JetRanger’s Allison 250 vs 500,000 – in today’s money – for a complete Hermit). Coupled with a 600 hour Time Between Overhauls (TBO) that fell woefully short of the 1,500-2,000 hour figures seen westwards, these issues seemed set to limit the Mi-34 appeal long before it even flew.
* while very much a 1950s product – an old school, supercharged, carburetted, 10 liter mass of Russian metal – the M14 did have some plus points however… but only in a specific corner of the Mi-34’s envelope. Its lack of refinement and cruising efficiency was more than made up for by its capabilities during aerobatics, delivering high torque, world-renowned durability when being pushed hard, and a lightning-fast throttle response that no turbine before or since could match. Critically, its shape allowed it to be mounted upright in the fuselage, which in turn made it possible to set it right onto the 34’s CG sweet spot. This in particular did wonders for maneuverability, since it all but eliminated the adverse moments experienced when the engine has to be mounted away from the center of lift – as well as reduced stress on the airframe during high G flight by minimizing the engine’s moment arm.
The engineers at Mil were, naturally, well aware of this straight from the outset, so even before test flying of the prototypes had ended in the late 80s they began looking into other – if less easily obtainable – engine options. Their first choice (and the most cost-effective from a design standpoint) was the Lycoming TIO-540-J six cylinder boxer unit, whose turbocharger and fuel injection were good for 360 HP at takeoff. Dubbed the Mi-34L, this model would have brought the Hermit more on par with the later R-44 – but was, sadly, torpedoed before getting off the drawing board by the dissolution of the USSR. And while import of these engines would have been possible even then, the increased costs for the end user – as well as the lack of support infrastructure within the (ex) Union – represented a pretty strong set of nails in the L’s coffin.
Meanwhile, the loss of the first prototype during a test flight on 27 February 1989 – attributed to deficiencies in its rotor system – had forced Mil into a quick-and-dirty redesign, the result of which was the Mi-34S, the type’s first production-standard model. As well as the necessary improvements to the main rotor, the S would also receive a redesigned (and more extensively glazed) nose, as well as avionics and equipment upgrades that made it possible to certify it to Russia’s new AP-27 standard in May 1995. Broadly similar to the FAA’s FAR-27 governing Normal Category Rotorcraft, a fully satisfied AP-27 had soon opened the legal doors to further international certification, worldwide export and widespread commercial use – the stuff of dreams for Mil’s by-then-exasperated sales team.
Back on the engine front, it would take the company’s next attempt – made in 1993 – to show just how desperate the engineering team was to replace (or at least supplement) the big M14. Called the Mi-34VAZ (or Mi-234 in some sources), this model was to be powered by twin rotary/WankelVAZ-430 engines running on standard automotive gasoline and developing 230 HP each along the way. A modification of the VAZ-4132 unit used in police versions of the Lada Riva and Samara, the 430s gave a significant payload (and noticeable performance) boost – but their low TBO, expensive maintenance and prodigious fuel and oil consumption quickly turned the -34VAZ into just another paper helicopter. A noteworthy tweak intended for this variant was also an all-new carbon fiber rotor head, which would have improved on the (already improved) fully composite setup of the standard S – but there are, however, no indications whether it was ever carried forward onto any future versions.
Their third crack at it – the more down-to-earth Mi-34A – would be made just two years later in 1995, and had, at the time, promised to finally unleash the full potential of the design by switching to turbine power. However, since there were no indigenous engines of sufficiently low a power and small enough a size available, the A would be based on the same 450 HP Allison 250-C20R as the JetRanger III, fed now from an enlarged 340 liter fuel tank (up from the standard 176) necessary to cater for the turbine’s higher thirst. Sporting an upmarket interior now aimed more at Russia’s growing upper class than traditional flight schools, the A would never make it beyond the mock-up stage, having ended up as another casualty of Russia’s very fragile post-Union financials (not to mention the increasing influx of more user-friendly helicopters from the West).
Interestingly, a second turbine attempt would be made more than a decade later in 2008 with the Mi-34S2 Sapsan (later marketed as the Mi-34AS), powered by the 515 HP Turbomeca Arrius 2F** used on Europe’s best-selling EC-135 and A.109 families – as well as Russia’s own Ka-226T (in the form of the Arrius 2G1). Unlike the old Mi-34A, the S2 had come into being during a much milder economic climate, so it had even made it to the flying prototype stage before nosediving into the dirt. While it had shown a lot of promise as a cheap high-performance utility machine (with 56% more power – and shedloads more torque – than the basic S), the Sapsan would be shot down by none other than Mil’s parent company Russian Helicopters, which had in the early 2010s partnered with AgustaWestland for work on a brand new – and much improved – design of the two-ton class.
** some sources state that Mil had also planned to offer the S2/AS with the option of the Ukrainian Ivchenko-Progress AI-450 unit developing 465 HP – a move that would have likely made the Mi-34 hugely appealing on the (very large) CIS market. However, recent… “political developments” down there mean that this idea is very firmly in toilet for the foreseeable future.
Of further interest, the AI-450 was developed during the mid 90s (’94 onwards to be exact) to power the original Ka-226 – and was in fact the first small, relatively modern gas turbine designed in the former USSR. The only other “baby turboprop” fielded anywhere in the ex-Eastern Bloc was Czechoslovakia’s Walter M601 of the mid 70s – which was never considered for the Mi-34, since even its lowest 710 HP output far exceeded all of the Hermit’s needs.
With the turbine 34 now down for the count, the only way to salvage the time and effort invested was to keep beavering away at the piston model. Mil’s first (stillborn) attempt at it was the Mi-34SM, a simple upgrade of the basic S that would have seen its M14V-12V replaced by the 380 HP M14V-26V, fitted now with fuel and oil systems for inverted flight and boasting a TBO increase to nearly 2,500 hours. The rising popularity of the R-44 in Russia – and the SM’s predicted inferiority in many respects – had however soon forced Mil to shelve this idea and concentrate instead on the much-improved Mi-34S1, powered by the far more potent 365 HP VMP M9FV***. The new powerplant also came packaged with a redesigned main rotor and an all-new gearbox, both of which had proved to be recurring problem areas on the standard S (despite their 1989 post-crash rework).
The S1 would also become the first Mi-34 to feature hydraulically operated flight controls (with the actuating systems supplied by Goodrich of the USA), since the non-boosted controls of the classic S had shown themselves to be pretty tiring during prolonged aerobatics or long-range flight. The list of new features would also include a revised internal structure to prolong service life, and would be topped off by an avionics upgrade that had even included some digital avionics – though it is not clear from available sources whether the setup would be indigenous or sourced from the West.
*** the first significant update of the M14 since its introduction, the M9F was designed by the Voronezh Mechanical Plant (VMP) – the people who actually built the M14 – and was intended to power the stillborn Su-49 primary trainer. A development of the bog-standard Su-29, the 49 would have used hydraulics for actuating the landing gear rather than the traditional Soviet pneumatic setup, the result of which was the addition of a hydraulic pump to the back of the engine case. Other smaller upgrades had included a redesign supercharger for a bit of extra power, three powerful magnetos for better ignition – and in fixed-wing uses (such as on the few Su-26M3s actually made) new propeller mounts to accommodate the German-made MTV-3 and -9 units instead of the standard V-530 shipped with the M14. Interestingly, the Su-49 design had stipulated a power requirement of around 450 HP, which was be achieved by switching to fuel injection, creating the M9FS. However, no Russian-made fuel injection system had been available then, forcing the idea to be scrapped – since the 49’s primary customer, the Russian Air Force, wanted to keep things in-country as much as possible.
Of further interest, the V suffix appended to both the M14 and M9 is short for “vertolet” – or helicopter in Russian – and indicates models adapted to rotary use in which there is no gearbox integral to the engine (as on the fixed-wing versions), but where power is sent to the main rotor gearbox directly using a transmission system.
Flying for the first time in prototype form on 4 August 2011, the Mi-34S1 had quickly shown the potential of being a reasonable R-44 alternative within Russia – but, sadly, still fell far short of being its rival everywhere else. The performance figures had once again highlighted the deficiencies of the radial engine, for despite commanding 120 HP more than the R-44 (365 vs 245 at maximum take-off power), the Mi-34 could cruise only 12 km/h faster (220 vs 202) and fly only a tiny bit higher (14,700 ft vs 14,000). At the same time, it was significantly fatter than the Raven (1,150 kg empty vs 683), carried 33% less payload (330 kg vs 450), hovered outside the ground effect at under half the altitude (3,500 ft vs 7,500) – and could fly 100 km less (450 km vs 550) despite being able to carry 60% more fuel (176 l vs 111). The fuel flow figures too were not that great, with figures of 18-19 GPH being reported in the cruise – noticeably higher than the 15-16 of the R-44.
And then there was its family curse. Right at about that time, the Russian Air Force had decided to pass up the Su-49 in favor of the less complicated Yak-152, which would have retained the traditional M14 and pneumatic installation of its predecessor, the Yak-52. This had, at a stroke, made the M9F redundant, leading VMP to rehash its production plans and abandon the design in favor of further tweaking the M14. The Mi-34 had thus, once again, been left up the creek and without an engine.
As the Mil works scrambled once more towards the West in search of a replacement engine, the 34’s fortunes continued to turn for the worse, since its continual delays, the inability to enter any form of meaningful series production and a lack of international certification (despite the promise of the AP-27) began to wear quite thin with potential customers – both civilian and military. Though UTAir (one of Russia’s largest helicopter operators) and Omsk Aviation Training (one of its bigger helicopter schools) placed orders for 10 each in the early 2010s, the decisive blow would once again come from the Russian AF, which had – having grown tired with waiting for the “domestic solution” to be ready – awarded its highly coveted 100-strong training helicopter contract to Eurocopter and its turbine AS.350 single and AS.355 twin.
The results were inevitable: by 2012, the development of the S1 – and with it practically the whole Mi-34 line – would be suspended indefinitely after just two flying prototypes had been completed. The total tally for the entire Hermit family would thus come to a stop at just 25 – the three original prototypes and 22 production examples…
The Mils Down in Africa
The 34’s constant engine woes and resulting failure to break into the marketplace had inevitably forced Mil to keep tinkering with the design (whatever its powerplant) in the hope of one day finally striking some gold. To this end, a number of specialist versions had been pitched from Day 1****, the only one to enter service being the Mi-34P of 1994. A dedicated aerial surveillance and monitoring variant for the Moscow Police (reportedly only two or three of which were made), the P was developed from the original Mi-34, and was fitted with dual controls, spotlight, IR camera and a riot-control speaker system mounted under the rear fuselage; interestingly, some sources report that the latter was actually of little use, since the roar of the M14 tended to drown out most of what was being said…
Another version that had almost made it big was the Mi-34UT, a different, S-based dual control variant pitched to the Russian AF for its first 100-strong training helicopter tender in 2001. Like the unnamed S1-based model that had sealed the Hermit’s fate, the UT would also come up short compared to the competition – in this instance Kazan Helicopter’s Ansat turbine single, designed by the very factory that produced most of Mil’s transport helicopters.
**** some sources indicate that there may have been other versions under consideration, such as the Mi-44, powered by the OMKB TV-O-100 turboshaft originally developed for the first Ka-226 – and the Mi-34M, a twin-engine six-seat development similar to the AS.355. However, both of these are mentioned only in two places and nowhere else – so given the absence of concrete evidence of their existence, I have excluded them from further consideration.
To add insult to injury, the government’s cold shoulder (twice over) would turn out to be just the tip of an iceberg. Despite its undoubted qualities (especially in the aerobatic role), the 34 would in service suffer from chronic “sovietness”, with a low service life, questionable dispatch reliability and appalling after-sales support that quickly undid any good impressions it made. The largest single operator of the type – the Nigerian Air Force – would be left with a particularly sour taste in its mouth, with all of its nine S models (all delivered from Mil stocks in 2002) suffering rotor gearbox failures soon after passing the 300 hour mark – despite the manufacturer’s claimed 1,500 hour TBO. Being uneconomical to run – let alone repair – the fleet would be permanently grounded and stored after just a few years, their only movement being the 2013 sale of six examples to a private buyer from New Zealand (where five have been reported cannibalized in an attempt to return No. 6 to airworthy state).
From that point on, the bad luck just kept on piling. The aforementioned “lifeline” orders from UTAir and Omsk came to naught due to the downturn of the whole program, while the few other operators who flew them – mostly governmental – began retiring their small fleets soon after due to difficulties in obtaining spares and support. While various production lists are either incomplete or give inconsistent information about the 34’s current and past operators, all point to the fact that Mil’s long-hoped-for sales break westwards ran out of steam already on the Balkans, with three examples sold to Romania and one (featured here) to Bosnia – a total of just four machines shifted in non-Soviet Europe.
All of this had made for a pretty depressing production run: disregarding the three prototypes, just four examples would be completed in 1993, followed by none in 1994, one in 1995, two in 1996, seven in 1997, five in 1998, again none in 1999 and 2000, one in 2001 – and a final two in 2002 when all new production ground to a halt (though some sources state that five more examples were in various stages of assembly, but ultimately never completed). Unfortunately, despite their low numbers, the paucity of records means that it is nigh on impossible to ascertain their current states and how many examples are actually still airworthy…
The Balkan connection
Despite its dismal failure to break into the international market (even within the Soviet sphere of influence), the Mi-34 is actually not really a stranger to the Balkans. Its first contact with the region would come in 1996, when Mil pitched it to the Croatian Air Force – a long-time Mi-8 and 24 user through its origins in the Yugoslav Air Force – which was at the time looking for a training machine with which to equip its newly formed helicopter training squadron. To that end, one Mi-34S was actually sent to the ZTZ maintenance facility adjacent to Zagreb Airport to fly demo flights for the military; but, despite having left a solid impression, the type would stumble here as well, losing out to the more-well-rounded (and better supported) JetRanger III (still in use today).
It was in neighboring Bosnia that the Hermit scored its first – albeit negligible – local success. The sole example that had entered (very limited) service in the training role is, however, mired in some confusion and much mystery – and since I’ve been told that its history is a bit colorful (and not in a good, Achtung, Skyhawk! way), I will leave it be and concentrate instead on its objective nerdy bits 🙂 . Its full serial drags out to 97830001501004, a typical Soviet sausage that – when read properly – say all you need to know about that particular airframe. While there still are some uncertainties in its interpretation, the most plausible version reads as follows:
978: the code for the Progress factory in the city of Arseneyev where all Mi-34s were built
300: Mil’s internal product code for the Hermit
01: produced in the first quarter of the year
5: the year being 1995
01: part of the first tranche (though it doesn’t elaborate on the scope of the tranche)
004: fourth example of the tranche
If correct, this would make it an original (pre-S) model – and only the fifth 34 ever produced (not counting the prototypes). This interpretation appears to be backed up by info I’d received at Rajlovac, stating that this machine is part of the type’s “null series” – in local parlance the name of any post-prototype, pre-series production batch.
What is known for certain is that it had arrived to Bosnia in 1998, becoming VF-3601 soon after. Its history before and during that time remains unknown; indeed, the only Achtung, Skyhawk!-y info that’s fit to be printed is that it was retired with just around 100 hours on the clock – and that it’s M14 is retrofitted with magnetos from the newer M9F, indicating some work had been done on it prior to sale…
Bonus:having posted photos of VF-3601 in several places online, it did not take long for viewers from the region to start sending their materials… such as this video taken at Ćoralići Airfield near the Bosnian town of Cazin:
As always I would like to extend my very sincere thanks to the PR department of the Bosnian Ministry of Defense for its assistance in organizing this visit – and especially all the staff at Rajlovac Helicopter Base in Sarajevo for their hospitality!
Author’s note: the information presented above is the result of my own research into multiple sources (listed below), each of which had presented only part of the Mi-34 story – with possible inaccuracies and urban myths as a result. I have tried, to the best of my abilities, to filter and stitch them into a meaningful and representative whole – but given the type’s small production run and lack of much concrete info from primary sources (such as Mil themselves, who I had contacted without reply), I cannot vouch that this work is the whole truth and nothing but the truth… so if any of my readers have more info – or spot an error – I would be more than happy to hear from them!
Having noticed recently that my last post here was dated August 2017 (!) – and that my backlog of topics stalled for lack of information has been growing steadily larger – I decided it would be high time for me to dig through my collection of fresh photos and finally get a move on with my posting. Unfortunately though, not much had actually happened since August 2017, meaning that my GA inbox was pretty much empty. However, having spent quite a bit of time in the air lately, I did realize that I have a bunch of interesting aerial shots available – which could be turned into a perfect (and visually pleasant) distraction until something in my post queue actually started moving forward… 🙂
Bonus content: even though the GA season has (so far) been a complete and total bust – not an interesting lighty to be seen in six months – there nevertheless still are a few silver linings to this dark cloud. Having been all over the place during the winter, I had found myself with plenty of opportunity to snap some large turbine machinery, among which were several fine examples for my “boy did you take a wrong turn somewhere” file… 😀
While the very mention of its name often invokes fond nostalgia and strong apprehension in equal measure, there’s no denying that the pudgy little UTVA 75 remains one of the most famous, significant – and perhaps maligned – aircraft ever produced by the Yugoslav aviation industry. One of a number of piston props conceived, designed and built solely in-country, it had left a lasting mark on the local aeronautical landscape, having over the years seen off generation after generation of young pilots, service in a bewildering number of roles in every nook and cranny of the land – and the occasional appearance in the odd accident column…
But for all its past ubiquity, the type has become somewhat of a rare sight today, with most of the airworthy civilian examples nowadays confined to flying clubs in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia. Outside military dumps, finding one elsewhere requires a bit of luck – so much so that even the locals (many of which had flown them extensively in the 80s and 90s) raise an eyebrow when one happens to rumble by.
So imagine my surprise when – having so far only five examples under my camera’s belt – I became aware of a beautifully curious four-seat example parked just 70 km away at Novo Mesto Airfield (LJNM) in southeastern Slovenia. Having only seen such a “quad” in one 80s photo, I was through the roof even before I found out it was the only such example in existence – a fact that (as if any further persuasion was necessary!) had seen me grab my car keys and set off across the border to see what’s what… 🙂
Wings of the nation
But, before we cover this prime example of Achtung, Skyhawk! material, a bit of history to introduce this compact little type to readers who may have never seen one in the metal 🙂 . Flying for the first time on 19 May 1976, the UTVA 75 – known under the factory designation U-75 – was designed to be a simple, straightforward basic trainer* that could be efficiently used both in civilian and military roles. Even though the Yugoslav aviation industry had always put much stock in this segment, its offering of such aircraft was next to abysmal at the time, with the late 40s Ikarus Aero 2 and mid-50s Aero 3 being the only machines widely available for the role. Despite having given wings to post-WW2 Yugoslavia, they were both very much outdated designs, sporting wood & fabric structures, tandem cockpits, narrow-track tailwheel landing gear, basic instrument fits – and flight characteristics that often did not inspire much confidence in the student.
* interestingly, the project had originally envisaged a whole family of aircraft stemming from one basic design, including a four-cylinder two-seat utility machine dubbed the M-10, and – most interesting for us 🙂 – a six-cylinder touring four-seater called the M-11. Eventually though, financial difficulties (which had also seen the temporary inclusion of Polish aircraft manufacturers in the design between 1973 and 1975) had left the M-10 as the sole survivor, paving the way for its development into the U-75.
Designed around more modern principles, the U-75 had a lot going for it in the trainer role: it was robust, simple, easy to maintain and had just enough power to pull a few basic aerobatic maneuvers – but not enough to allow the student to correct every mistake with liberal application of the throttle. Additionally, it had a side-by-side seat configuration, a large instrument panel suitable for more advanced avionics (including blind-flying gear) – and, most importantly, was built entirely of metal (prolonging its service life in the aerobatic role) and used a wide-track tricycle gear with low pressure tires that made it safe and relaxing to operate even on poor airstrips. Other features had included a tailhook for towing gliders or banners, while the military could be content with a removable pylon under each wing, which could accommodate jettisonable fuel tanks, cargo drop containers (carrying 100 kg (220 lbs) each), light bombs of 50 kg (110 lbs) – and even unguided 12-tube 57 mm rocket packs and twin 7.62 mm machine gun pods.
Designed from Day 1 to meet the requirements of the FAA’s FAR Part 23 regulations concerning UTILITY category aircraft, the U-75 can also boast a +6/-3 load limit – and was found in actual operations to be rather crash-worthy, since its wing and wing box were strengthened to cope with the rigors of “external cargo” 🙂 . Despite hailing from “the East”, under the hood the U-75 sports quite a bit of Western hardware, including a four-cylinder, fuel-injected 180 HP Lycoming IO-360-B1F whirling a Hartzell HC-C2YK-1 BF/F 7666A two-blade constant speed propeller.
With a MTOM of 960 kg, this package is responsible for a maximum level-flight speed of 215 km/h (116 kts), a maximum ceiling of 4,000 m (13,100 ft) and – combined with a wing profile suitable for low speed maneuvering – take-off and landing runs of only 125 m (410 ft) and 100 m (328 ft) respectively. The efficiency of the constant speed prop also means that the U-75 can be relatively frugal in a stable cruise, registering a range of 800 km (432 NM) on 150 liters (40 USG) of internal fuel. When fitted with two 100 liter (26 USG) drop tanks however, the U-75 was supposed to be able to reach an impressive 2,000 km (1,080 NM) – though this was a theoretical calculation only, since the aircraft had never been test flown to this extreme (the tanks themselves were never used in actual training operations).
Equipment-wise, the standard 75 was provided with the usual VFR instrument setup, including everything from the Basic 6 with the addition of an ADF receiver (all of which were powered from a simple and unremarkable 14 V electrical system). The armed versions used by the Air Force would also be provided with a simple optical aiming sight on the left side, while all models could be additionally equipped for night VFR operations. Interestingly, the instruments used were an unusual East-West mix, with the artificial horizon, turn and bank indicator, ADF, manifold pressure/fuel flow gauge and the tachometer all sourced from the US, with the rest of the instrumentation either indigenous or acquired from other European states that had used the metric system.
In service, the U-75 was always much blighted by a popular reputation for violent spinning (sometimes fatally), which bred some distrust in the design. However, while it could indeed be thrown into a serious spin if the pilot was determined enough, most of the type’s spinning accidents were due to it being flown contrary to manufacturer recommendation. Even before it had entered series production in 1978, official flight tests had concluded that the U-75 had no abnormal tendencies to spin if flown by the book – a fact also testified to by numerous operators who had never had any such problems, despite regularly putting their machines through various aerobatic and near-aerobatic routines**.
** one of the main causes of the 75’s willingness to spin if pushed was the location of the (rather heavy) battery. Initially, it was to be located immediately behind the cabin; however, it was calculated that this would shift the CG too far forward, making the aircraft too stable and docile for its intended training role. To combat this issue, the battery was relocated to the extreme of the aircraft – the tail cone – thus moving the CG backwards and making the aircraft less stable and more maneuverable (but still well within accepted limits).
Interestingly, the U-75’s public perception parallels another love-hate civil aircraft, the sporty Mitsubishi MU-2 twin turboprop. From a purely statistical viewpoint one of the unsafest designs around, the MU-2 had gained its unenviable reputation mostly due its users’ inexperience with turboprop hot ships, coupled with poor and insufficient training (especially in the US). Once these issues are surmounted, owners swear on them to no end, with numerous examples having clocked up accident-free flight time that runs well beyond 15,000 hours.
By the time production had ended in 1985, the U-75 had become one of the most produced indigenous Yugoslav designs, with 138 examples made (including the prototypes) – though not coming close to the country’s other notable aviation product, the Soko G-2 Galeb jet trainer, of which 248 were made 🙂 . Being a wee little piston prop had also meant that the U-75 was very usable outside military and training circles, with a good number eventually making it into various civilian flying clubs and to various private owners following Yugoslavia’s collapse. Despite 20 years of attrition still a common sight in Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia and (very occasionally) Slovenia, the type is – as noted previously – sadly absent from Croatian skies, with the only examples operated after 1991 having flown with the Croatian Air Force. Used initially for limited combat operations during the war, the type would continue to soldier on in the basic training role until 2007, when it was withdrawn and replaced by the Zlin Z-242L…
The story of the four-seat U-75 would, however, begin not long after the first of the standard machines had started rolling off the production line. For all the variety produced by the Yugoslav aviation industry, no manufacturer of the time had a modern touring machine on offer, with most of their light aircraft output catering to utility and training needs – leaving various imported Cessnas and Pipers to fill the gap. Having been the newest indigenous design available when the industry had finally turned more of its attention to this segment – not to mention its connection to the stillborn M-11 – the U-75 had seemed to be a good place to start, its basic design offering a low-risk opportunity to quickly (and cheaply) produce a suitable aircraft for the role. From the very outset, the design goal had been to create something of a home-grown PA-28 that could be used both for personal flying and IFR training – as well as potentially exported abroad***.
*** even though the international public’s unfavorable perception of Yugoslavia’s engineering capability (in part well earned) might have put off people from buying its hardware, several of its aircraft were in fact highly regarded in Western aeronautical circles. Most notably, in a USAF fly-off competition in the 80s, the Soko G-4 Super Galeb jet trainer was judged superior in a number of respects to the visually similar BAe Hawk – however, the implications of a major Western power buying military hardware from a Socialist state (never mind its alliance) had sealed the aircraft’s international sales prospects well before it had even been flown.
However, since the whole project had had “cheap and cheerful” as its premise, the changes necessary to turn the standard 75 into a four-seater had to be kept minimal (in part to also reduce disruption on the production line). To this end, the design team had taken the type’s fourth prototype – registered YU-DRJ and sporting serial 53004 – and reconfigured its capacious cargo bay to give a bit more room, slotted in two additional seats – and then fitted a longer, extensively-glazed two-piece canopy to make entry into the back easier.
Dubbed the U-78, the new aircraft had in other respects remained identical to the stock 75**** (retaining even the towing hook under the tail). Even though it had also retained the original’s spartan mil-spec cockpit, production models were envisaged to sport a comprehensive IFR suite, sourced in full from Bendix-King and including the:
KI 525A HSI (slaved to a remote gyrocompass and with full ILS capability) + ADI
KI 229 RMI
KNS 81 RNAV system (a fascinating piece of kit used for early area navigation, covered in more detail here)
KN 62A DME
KT 79 transponder
and the system’s associated navigation and communication radios
**** there were indications in some sources that flush-headed rivets were used in lieu of the dome rivets of the standard model; available photo evidence however shows dome rivets on the fuselage, though it is not possible to discern their type on the wing. Informed opinion from a UTVA engineer is that it is highly unlikely (on a cost/benefit basis alone) that flush rivets were used anywhere on the aircraft.
However, back in the actual world, many of the finer details of both the design and DRJ’s service life remain a mystery; according to people in the know, the production documentation for the U-78 had always been scant at best, and what little was widely known was further lost during Yugoslavia’s violent dissolution in the early 90s. Furthermore, the aircraft had never been formally tested by the Vazduhoplovni opitni centar, or VOC – the state flight test center which was required to sign off each indigenous design – so no accurate or official performance numbers exists. Pretty much not even the people who had worked on the basic U-75 at the time have a complete and definitive picture of its capabilities…
What is known for certain is that DRJ – as the U-78 – had flown for the first time on 23 March 1979. Following standard factory testing, it would be transferred to the VOC at Batajnica Airbase (LYBT) just outside Belgrade, where it would continue to fly informally until 14 August 1981, when it had suffered an unspecified accident and was written off.
The loss of the only prototype – and the continued desire to press ahead with the project – had meant that the UTVA works would eventually need to produce a replacement. Interestingly, this would occur only in 1986, a year after production of the standard 75 had come to an end. This had meant that the new aircraft would not be manufactured outright in the classical sense, but rather assembled from the ground up using replacement parts (manufactured in advance to support the fleet in the future) and DRJ’s vertical stabilizer (which had survived the accident). Given serial 53263 – denoting it as the first of the post-production modifications – this new aircraft would officially be designated the U-75A-41 (though always shortened to just U-75A), and would initially carry the reg YU-XAC. Despite the different name though, XAC would not differ from DRJ (apart from dome rivets definitely being used throughout 🙂 ).
Flying for the first time on 14 May 1986, XAC would also initially pass to the VOC – again informally – before ending up with UTVA’s own flying club (AK UTVA Pančevo) as YU-BRJ. Sadly though, it would be completely destroyed on 24 March 1999 when the factory and its facilities were severely damaged in a NATO air strike.
I’m leaving on a container ship…
Even though XAC would – as proof of the design – go on to fly for a good number of years, forewarning of Yugoslavia’s 1991 implosion had quickly dashed many hopes of continuing development beyond the prototype stage. However, just before the country’s whole aviation industry would grind to a halt, the UTVA works had managed to cobble together one final aircraft, the lucky No. 3 that would lure me to Slovenia 🙂 .
Like XAC, this new machine could only come about in an unusual manner. Despite not having produced any new aircraft since 1985, the factory was still busy repairing, overhauling and scrapping in-service 75s – activities that would continue right up until the start of hostilities. At one point in the very late 80s, the company had come into possession of YU-DJO – a stock 75 manufactured in 1983 with the serial 53230 – which had been written off following an accident. Seeing their last chance at keeping at least something of the four-seater dream alive, the factory had decided to take what remained of the aircraft and rebuild it into an XAC-like model using any available spares and parts of other demobbed 75s.
What happens next, however, requires a short digression. The consensus among online sources and forums dedicated to Yugoslav aviation is that the aircraft had never actually been completed prior to the war, and that only an empty shell had been produced. Much doubt is also cast on the extent to which it would have conformed to the U-78/75A standard, especially since it was a rebuild of an existing 75 (using its basic fuselage), rather than a bespoke four-seat model.
These sources also state that the aircraft had remained at the factory until 2003, when it was sold – along with a regular 75 – to a buyer in the US. However, the buyer was said to have been unable to register the four-seater due to issues with its paperwork, with specific reasons given including missing/discarded documents, the aircraft being a composite of several different serial numbers and “unassigned parts” – as well as available documentation pertaining only to the bits belonging to DJO. Having thus sat around for a while, it was said to have returned to Serbia in 2008, to be restored, re-certified and sold on to a buyer in Slovenia shortly afterwards.
But, having had the great opportunity to personally interview the buyer in question, the story I was made aware of was quite different. It transpires that the aircraft had actually been fully completed and outfitted by spring of 1991 – and that its paperwork was, in fact, clean and in good order. Possibly intended for export right from the outset*****, the machine would soon be dismantled, crated up and – in the company of the aforementioned two-seater – shipped by sea to Mr. John Wallace of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, who had recently become the official distributor for UTVA aircraft in the US.
***** whether this export was just a fluke or planned from day one is not known with certainty. Given the ad-hoc nature of the build – with Yugoslavia already disintegrating – the project documentation was not diligently kept, so even UTVA employees are in the dark on this issue.
Interestingly, Mr. Wallace had specifically requested both versions of the aircraft, since he was interested in marketing both its military and civilian potential (that is, having a single design fulfill the training, light attack and touring roles). However, to be able to actively offer them on the market, Mr. Wallace had first needed to make some changes to comply with FAA regulations, most notably swapping the existing Yugoslav instruments and avionics for a US-spec cockpit suite sporting imperial measurements (in another point of contention, there is some doubt that US instruments had already been fitted in Yugoslavia – though this is believed to be incorrect).
But, by the time the changes had been made and the aircraft were ready for re-assembly, open hostilities in now ex-Yugoslavia had already started, leading to the introduction of a wide-ranging UN embargo against all of its former states. For Mr. Wallace this had meant that he could no longer import any new aircraft from Serbia, making both of his current examples – worthless.
Faced now with a whole new set of financial problems, he had immediately decided to sell the engines of both aircraft in order to try and recoup at least some of the funds invested in setting up the dealership and shipping the machines across the Pond. This had made the already unwanted machines even more useless, with both examples eventually consigned to languish around in Mr. Wallace’s garage, still packed up in their original shipping crates. Having absolutely no use for two engine-less jigsaw puzzles whose market value had been steadily decreasing, he had in 2007 decided to put the aircraft up for sale, going so far as listing them on – eBay 🙂 .
As it is often stated online, “if it looks stupid and it works, it’s not stupid” – which fully applied here, since the aircraft were quickly spotted on that very site by Mr. Leon Pogelšek of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Having recently completed his PPL, he had expressed a desire for his first aircraft to be indigenous, with the four-seater seeming like the perfect ticket for the job. However, since both aircraft were being sold as a single item, there was no other option but to buy the lot and possibly use the two-seater for spares.
With the sale finalized, the aircraft – complete with all papers and US instruments, as provided by Mr. Wallace – were once again loaded up into a container and shipped to Slovenia’s main port in the city of Koper. However, once they had arrived, they would immediately be launched into a world of legal issues, which even today – nine years on – conspire to keep the four-seater grounded. Despite the U-75 having been as common as trees in ex-Yugoslavia, no certified mechanics or service centers had remained in Slovenia by 2007, making the aircraft impossible to assemble and fly within the country’s existing regulatory framework (being a one-of uncertified example didn’t help the four-seater either).
Pretty soon though, a workable solution was found, whereby the assembly and overhaul of the quad would be contracted out to a company based at Lisičji jarak Airfield (LYBJ) in Serbia – and headed by a former UTVA executive and engineer – with the two-seater used as payment for the work done (being a low-timer with prime potential for resale)******.
****** unfortunately, the identity of this aircraft is virtually impossible to determine today, since its documentation had been handed over during overhaul. However, it is known that it was one of reportedly six examples sent to Sudan around 2008/2009, where they had resurfaced under the designation SAFAT 03. Interestingly, that designation had initially been used for an upgraded, Sudan-built version of the U-75, which had failed to gain any meaningful orders and progress beyond the prototype stage…
In the event however, the work would drag on for four years – having even been handed over to a third party at one point – during which only the wings would be attached and a new engine and propeller from another U-75 fitted (both of which with only eight hours on the clock). Dissatisfied with the pace of the work so far, Mr. Pogelšek would in early 2013 ship the aircraft over to an official UTVA service center in Sremska Mitrovica – a road trip of 80 km that had, once again, seen the aircraft disassembled into its original state.
Here, the aircraft would be fully completed, outfitted with the type’s original instrumentation and test flown, making it finally suitable for delivery and operation. Wary of the legal requirements that had prevented it from being assembled in Slovenia, Mr. Pogelšek had originally wanted to register it in Serbia – but was informed by the Slovenian CAA that it was also possible to have it on the Slovenian register. Being a unique, uncertified example, it was initially allocated to the country’s experimental register, becoming S5-MZT the same year (M – experimental/homebuilt). However, it was soon decided that – given its commonality to the stock U-75 – the aircraft could even be added to the standard register (prefixed with D like in all former Yugoslav states), becoming S5-DZT in the process. Under this registration, it would be flown to Slovenia sometime in June 2013 (the exact date eluding Mr. Pogelšek’s recollection), making this the longest time it had been airborne in its entire life – for a grand total of just 7 hours and 13 minutes accumulated by the airframe.
The future is now
Unfortunately, soon after its arrival at Novo Mesto, the Slovenian CAA had withdrawn its approval for registration, effectively grounding the aircraft then and there (the exact reasons for this change of heart appear to fall into a domain I wish to steer clear of 🙂 ). Given that the issue was still not resolved at the time of writing, the aircraft had remained immobile for the next three years, though Mr. Pogelšek has made overtones to eventually register it in Hungary and potentially return it to airworthy state. Being employed in the art world, Mr. Podelšek plans on eventually turning the aircraft into a “mobile canvas” (more precisely, an “aero art” flying installation), and repainting it with stylized images of themes from Yugoslavia’s industry – thus paying homage to both the cultural and technical aspects for former Yugoslavia.
In the mean time, it remains the perfect “poster aircraft” for Achtung, Skyhawk! – and provides an almost unparalleled glimpse into a bit of left-field aeronautical thinking that I hope my readers will enjoy! 🙂
Customarily, I would once again like to extend my sincerest thanks for their time and assistance to:
It is perhaps the nature of aviation photography – or a consequence of living off the beaten airways – to assign a sense of “finality” to those rare (and invariably old) machines that occasionally pop into Croatian airports. Back in 2012, Zagreb was briefly host to a beautiful JT3D-powered DC-8-60 freighter from Ghana, a type that was an unusual sight here even at the best of times. As it left, many had felt that that was that, we’d seen a DC-8 and would likely never see one again… until a CFM56 DC-8-70 freighter decided to rock up less than a year later 😀 .
Since history has a habit of repeating itself, the feeling was much the same in 2014, when we got wind of a gold-painted 727-200 bizjet thundering in from Azerbaijan. For me the first live sighting (and hearing) of a 727 since 1989, this was an event on par with the visit of the An-225, likely the final opportunity to enjoy what was – in Europe at least – a rapidly disappearing breed.
It took two years this time round, but – invariably – we would once again be proven wrong :). What’s more, Murphy would throw in some bonus content as well, presenting us with a fantastic opportunity to simultaneously indulge in triholers from both sides of the Iron Curtain…
Boeing 727-21, VP-BAP
Unlike the Azerbaijani machine that had opened this entry, VP-BAP is a nowadays rare(er) “short body” 100* series, the 727’s first production version. A tad over six meters shorter than the more common 200, the 100 would enjoy an excellent production run even by modern standards, totaling out to roughly 500 examples completed between 1964 (the type’s entry into service) and 1972 (10 years prior to the end of all 727 manufacture).
* for the sake of accuracy (and aviation nerdiness), the “100” designation warrants a bit of discussion. Before the introduction of the 200 in 1967, the 727 did not carry a series number, only a two-digit customer code (a Boeing practice that is in use even today). After the former’s entry into service, the “short body” machines were re-designated as the 727-100; under this regime, the 727-21 (for example) would officially become the 727-121. However, while Boeing still uses this nomenclature internally, most sources on the net have reverted to the pre-200 system – so much so that even 100s manufactured after the 200 appeared are designated with two digits only.
VP-BAP itself would turn out to be a mid-production example, having left the assembly line in 1967 wearing the serial 19260 and line number 412. Its 21 code denotes it as originally being a Pan Am example, where it became known as N358PA and christened Clipper David Crockett.
Its service with what is still considered to be history’s most prestigious (if deeply flawed) airline would continue for the next 14 years, during which it would go through a raft of name changes – including Clipper Berlin, Clipper Wuchtbrumme (which actually means “foxy lady” in German!) and Clipper Flotte Motte. All of these indicate that it had spent most of its time with Pan Am in Germany, operating the carrier’s Internal German Services (IGS) between major West German cities and West Berlin.
By 1981, its time with Pan Am had come to an end, and in September that year it would be sold on to International Executive Aircraft, becoming N727SG in the process (the reg N358PA would later be reused by Pan Am for another 727, albeit a 200 Advanced). At this point in time, it appears that the aircraft had received an executive interior and a new paintjob – though available evidence suggests little else was done.
In early 1984, the aircraft would pass into ownership of another business operator – Fun Air – where it would continue flying as N727LA until some indeterminate time in the early 2000s.
As 2004 came about though, its life would suddenly become a bit more interesting :). Now already 37 years old, it would be picked up by the Malibu Consulting Corporation, taking on yet another new identity, N727GP. However, the purchase was marked with problems and disputes, with Malibu’s maintenance contractors being refused a thorough inspection of the entire aircraft (which was at the time stored in Tel Aviv). Going ahead with the buy nonetheless, Malibu would soon discover that the aircraft was in a far worse shape than advertised, necessitating extensive – and thoroughly expensive – work before it could be flown again.
Though the exact timeline is not entirely clear, it appears that Malibu had decided to try and make the best of the situation, sending the aircraft – following court proceedings against Fun Air – not just for repair, but also a thorough overhaul and modernization. Completed in 2006, the work had included the usual refit of the interior – but also the installation of winglets, removal of two overwing exits and Boeing’s trademark “eyebrow” cockpit windows to save weight… and the addressing of performance issues with the Super 27** engine upgrade.
** having changed more hands than the average MD-80 – conceived by Valsan Partners, sold by Goodrich, and now supported by Quiet Wing Technologies – the popular Super 27 mod entails the replacement of the 727’s outboard JT8D-1s with more economical, quieter and significantly more powerful JT8D-217C or -219 units, allowing the aircraft to now meet Stage III noise regulations and somewhat saner fuel consumption figures.
Interestingly, the No. 2 (center) engine is not changed, since there is simply not enough room in the fuselage to accommodate the larger -200 series core. To lessen the -1’s noise footprint, it is fitted with an advanced exhaust mixer and noise-insulated exhaust cone, both of which require the removal of its thrust reverser. Other changes also include strengthened engine mounts to cope with the -200’s higher weight and thrust.
Turned now into nearly the ultimate head-turner (beaten in style only by the 737-200), N727GP would in 2007 be transferred to the Virgin Islands register, becoming VP-BAP – but still reported as owned by Malibu. No stranger to Croatia – having also visited Dubrovnik (DBV/LDDU) several years back – it had on this occasion hopped across the pond from Ottawa on unknown business, staying just long enough for its Soviet companion to arrive… 😀
Yakovlev Yak-42D, RA-42423
Even though it too is no stranger to Croatia – nor my camera – the imposing Yak-42 nevertheless still manages to attract much attention – even when parked next to a 727 :). While most of its allure comes from its Soviet origins and rock-solid looks, the -42 also has an air of significance, and can easily be considered as one of Russia’s most important regional airliners. While it had not introduced anything really new or groundbreaking when it premiered in 1975, it did signal a small – but important – shift in Russian design philosophy, for the first time bringing together the swept wing, an advanced two-man flight deck and modern turbofan engines in one “cheap and cheerful” short-haul design. Even more so, despite its firm stance, the -42 has been designed without rough-field capability, a consequence of improved infrastructure available across the USSR and an increasing drive for efficiency at the expense of ultimate versatility.
This combination had proved to be a local hit, with 180 or so examples produced between 1979 and 2003. While this doesn’t sound at all impressive – considering that similar Western designs are pushing four digits – it has to be viewed in the context of the time, with the Yak-42 catching its production stride just as the stage for the colapse of the Union had been set. But, while the fragmentation of Aeroflot and the disappearance of state funding in 1991 had dealt a serious blow to the design’s ambitions, the -42’s low price and suitability for use on some of Russia’s most vital routes – to and from Moscow – had meant that it was able to avoid the sad fate of similarly modern, but more grandiose, projects from the 80s (such as the Ilyushin Il-96).
Indeed, the example featured here was part of a large batch of -42s produced in the years immediately following 1991, leaving the shop flow in 1993 as a Yak-42D*** with the serial 4520424216606. Christened RA-42423 right from the outset, it would remain with Yakovlev as a company shuttle and/or demonstrator all the way until 2006 – though photo evidence suggests it had briefly flown with airline City Star 100 in 2000.
*** having replaced the standard model on the production line in 1988, the D’s principal claim to fame is increased range (D – dalniy, long range), providing for an extra 400 km at maximum payload – and up to 700 with more usual in-service loads. Other tweaks included 500 kg added to the Maximum Take Off Mass – now at 57,500 kg – as well as improvements in both ceiling (31,500 ft vs 30,000 ft) and hot-and-high performance (with Yakovlev claiming the D could successfully operate from elevations of 8,000 ft at ambient temperatures of 45° Centigrade).
Following its departure from home, RA-42423 would join the fleet of regional carrier Centre-Avia, where it would remain until 2008. As was the case with N358PA on becoming N727SG, it would at this point sail into executive waters, passing to bizjet operator S-Air.
Again mirroring the story of the 727, it is likely – though unclear from available info – that it had been outfitted with a VIP interior at this time (in Russian nomenclature often called salon). Whatever the case, in 2009 it would be acquired by another executive outfit – Rus Air – in whose fleet it would remain until mid 2016. Though many sources still list it as a Rus Air machine, Sirius-Aero (billed as Russia’s largest bizjet operator) now calls it its own.
Be that as it may, on this occasion it had popped into town direct from Bratislava (BTS/LZIB) as part of an increasing flow of hockey charter streaming into Zagreb these past few years… 🙂
Even though summer is in full swing – with matching weather to boot – the airshow season in Croatia has nevertheless been uncharacteristically subdued of late. While there still are many small local shows around, large events are few and far in between, with even some long-standing and popular gatherings failing to make an appearance in 2016. The hopes of the nation had therefore been invested in this year’s Croatian International Airshow Varaždin (CIAV), which had – listing everything from ultralights to multiple combat jets – promised to be one of the country’s biggest and most exciting shows of the decade.
While the full guest list had indeed made for a mouth-watering read, the attendees that had caught my eye the most were (naturally!) rare lighties from the East, including the L-200 Morava (one of which had previously been featured here), Europe’s sole airworthy Aero Ae-145, a rare Yak-11, an even rarer Soko J-20 Kraguj counter-insurgency piston single – as well as two Soko G-2 Galeb jet trainers.
Unfortunately though, various issues beyond the organizers’ control had eventually whittled the list down considerably, with my anticipated oldies being particularly hard hit. The Morava and Aero had been unable to attend due to other commitments and a bit of unfavorable weather enroute from the Czech Republic, while one G-2 and the J-20 had to throw in the towel when mechanical problems prevented them leaving their bases in Serbia. This had only left the other G-2 and Yak-11, the latter of which had quickly become the main target of my visit. While not the first of its type for my camera, the attending example was nevertheless the first one I could get close up to – allowing me an opportunity to put together enough material for a short (but interesting) photo report… 🙂
The Moose Is Loose
A design that is not really easy on the eye, the Yak-11 can trace its roots back to 1944 and the exploits of the diminutive – but superlative – Yak-3 fighter. A lightweight development of Alexander Yakovlev’s first military design – the Yak-1 – the -3 had gained an enviable reputation for crisp, precise and forgiving handling, as well as low altitude maneuverability that few (if any) contemporary fighters could match. The main key to its success was its low weight and high power, with its 1,300 HP Klimov VK-105 V12 having to pull just 2,700 kg all-up – which makes for roughly one horse per every two kilos of loaded mass*.
* however, as impressive as it is, this figure only tells half the story. Among the Yak-3’s European short-range interceptor contemporaries, the Spitfire XIV – still regarded as one of the best of the Griffon-powered Spits – could boast 2,200 HP spread over 3,810 kg, giving an even more astounding 1.7 kg/HP; however, this numerical advantage was – in terms of outright maneuverability – somewhat blunted by an extra ton in mass, giving the Yak a slight edge especially in the dense air at lower altitudes.
Interestingly, the -3’s main rival, the Bf.109G, was almost equal on paper, with 3,400 kg and 1,455 HP for 2.3 kg/HP. But, like the Spitfire, its added bulk did not help its case – nor did the type’s characteristic high wing loading, which made it an inferior performer in the type of prolonged low-altitude turning fight in which the Yak-3 excelled.
Unsurprisingly, its successful record in duels with the Luftwaffe had pretty quickly led to attempts of increasing its kinetic performance even further, in the hope it could even take on the Me-262 with relative ease. Unfortunately, the only suitably powerful Vee engines available at the time were the problematic VK-107 and 108, both of which were pushing the limits of the Union’s development capabilities – and suffering from frequent overheating, failures and fires as a consequence. In an effort to get around this problem, Yakovlev had decided to swap the existing VK-105 for a tried-and-tested radial engine, hoping its simplicity, availability and greater power – not to mention a shorter time-to-service – would offset the increased drag and redesign effort necessary**.
** going radial on a Vee engine airframe was not really a new idea per se. The UK in particular had undertaken several similar efforts during the war – though for different reasons – most notably on the Avro Lancaster bomber in 1941 (creating the Bristol Hercules-powered Lancaster B.II) and the Hawker Tempest fighter in 1943 (taking the form of the Tempest F.II with a Bristol Centaurus unit).
The engine that was chosen in the end was the 1,850 HP Shvetsov ASh-82FN 14 cylinder twin-row unit, at the time one of the USSR’s most common large radials – and, interestingly, also a thorough development of the equally famous Wright R-1820 Cyclone. The installation of a shorter, but heavier engine had also required a tweak of the wing, which had gained a small increase in span and was moved slightly forward to compensate for the new mass distribution.
So equipped, the first (and only) prototype would begin flight testing in early May 1945, quickly demonstrating a 34 km/h / 17 knot increase in speed, as well as markedly improved climb and high-altitude performance – all due to the extra torque generated by the two additional cylinders and 6 liters / 366 cu in more cubic capacity.
However, while this modification was becoming all it was hoped to be, it had arrived too late to make any impact on the war. By the time the prototype had taken off for its first flight – 29 April 1945 – most of Berlin was already in Soviet hands, and the Luftwaffe had long ago ceased to be a functioning force. And while history would show that piston fighters could and would remain in service well into the 50s, the promise of the jet engine had instantly hammered a major nail into the coffin of the radial Yak-3 as a front-line fighter.
Fortunately though, the development effort had not gone to waste. At the time, the vast majority of Soviet flight training was performed on the Polikarpov Po-2 biplane, which – while a sterling design in itself – could in no possible way prepare students for the rigors and requirements of the modern combat-proven high-performance fighter. While there were various two-seat training modifications of such machines available already in 1944 (such as the Yak-9B and La-7UTI), they were few and far in between – and since they took away from the combat strength of the units involved in the actual fighting, only a handful of flight schools could ever get their hands on them.
What was needed here was a relatively modern aircraft, low wing, with a closed canopy, retractable landing gear, flaps, constant speed propeller and all the goodies (and most of the weaponry) that could be found on actual in-service aircraft. It also had to be able to adequately teach students about high-performance flight – while still remaining docile and predictable enough to stop them killing themselves. And lastly, it needed a robust and simple engine that would be more tolerant to student misuse than the sophisticated V12s of front-line machines.
Ticking pretty much all of the boxes, the radial Yak-3 had promised to be a natural for this role. All that was needed to turn it into a trainer was the addition of a second cockpit for the instructor – and swapping the too powerful ASh-82 for the seven cylinder 700 HP ASh-21 (itself essentially a single-row version of the former) whirling a VISH-IIIB-15 or VISH-IIIB-20 two-blade constant speed prop. Flying for the first time in 1946, the new aircraft would soon be given the designation Yak-11, becoming known as Moose in NATO parlance.
In flight testing, the -11 had soon proved that its Yak-3 DNA still ran strong, with the only major design criticisms being levied at the low power available. While 700 HP may sound like a lot for a two-seater, it still had to haul 2,400 kg of mass, making for a chunky 3.4 kg/HP. Even though this was actually slightly better than on similar trainers elsewhere – the T-6 Texan, for example, commanding 600 HP for 2,550 kg of mass – it had nevertheless meant that the Yak-11 was quite sluggish in the climb, and had quickly become known for its lengthy take-off roll. One particular problem, often mentioned, was that during a go around in full landing configuration, the aircraft would barely climb – while a reduction in flap angle in an attempt to clean up the airframe would produce an alarming drop in altitude until the speed built up (once in level flight however, its Yak-3 legacy had meant it was one of the faster trainers out there). Some reports also mentioned a lack of longitudinal stability in production aircraft as compared to the prototype; this – and the lack of power – had meant that the -11 often flew without its full fuel load, with 150 kg being the standard versus the 270 it was actually able to carry.
There were other issues as well; in common with many Soviet light aircraft built in the years following WW 2, the production quality of the Yak-11 had left a lot to be desired. A major source of bother were the effects of long-term exposure to the elements, with wood and fabric components – and particularly the paint – requiring constant intensive care and frequent replacement. Reports also mention cracks in the fuselage structure and control surface mountings – as well as leaking fuel tanks – but most of these problems would eventually be resolved with various production line fixes and general improvements in build quality.
Despite these issues, the Yak-11 would quickly become the mainstay of the USSR’s post-war training fleet – arguably not just because of its handling qualities, but because it was the only suitable and proven aircraft available at short notice and in quantity. By the time production had ended in 1956, 3859 examples had been made, 3152 at the No. 272 and No. 292 Aviation Plants at Leningrad and Saratov respectively – and 707, under the designation C-11, at the Let works in Kunovice, Czechoslovakia between 1953 and 1956.
Regardless of their factory of origin, all Yak-11s had shared the same flight characteristics, and could be employed in a number of different training scenarios, including intermediate flight, gunnery and reconnaissance training. While its on board equipment would vary considerably throughout its production run, the Yak-11’s armament options had pretty much stayed the same, consisting of a single Berezin UBS 12.7 mm synchronized machine gun firing through the propeller arc (swapped in 1955 for an Afanasyev A-type gun of the same caliber at the request of Czechoslovakia) and two hardpoints for 50 kg of bombs located just outboard of the main landing gear.
Unsurprisingly, its capabilities, production numbers – and the fact that it had the market mostly to itself – had meant that the -11 had found widespread use even outside the Warsaw Pact. Thus, examples could be found even in Albania, Algeria, Angola, China, Egypt, Iraq, Mongolia, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Vietnam and Yemen. However, the most interesting operator was – hands down – Austria, which had between 1956 and 1965 flown four C-11s (and four Yak-18s) left behind – still in their crates! – by the withdrawing Soviet forces in 1955.
Our particular example can, however, also boast an interesting story 🙂 . Part of a batch of 40 or so Yak-11s intended for Egypt during the early 50s arms buildup, D-FJII was completed in 1952 – likely at the No. 272 works in Leningrad – sporting the serial Y-5434***.
*** some online sources state that all examples delivered to the Egyptian AF were in fact C-11s; however, D-FJII’s current owners state it had been manufactured in Russia one year prior to the start of Czechoslovak production. Additionally, while quoted in all the sources I found, the serial is at odds with those of most other Yak-11s/C-11s, which come in a seven-digit numeral-only format. The reason for this difference is unknown.
However, the tense political and military situation prevailing in Egypt at the time – exacerbated by the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and later even more so by the Suez Crisis – meant that finding accurate, unbiased and uncensored information about military aircraft dispositions was near impossible, making D-FJII’s history in Egyptian service very hard to trace. Various incomplete production lists suggest that the ordered aircraft may have been delivered in several batches – which would, on account of its production year, make D-FJII part of the first. Other bits and pieces of information suggest that it had likely been based at Bilbeis Air Base in the Nile Delta – the location of the Egyptian AF’s main flight academy even today – remaining in service for less than a decade before the entire fleet was withdrawn from use in 1970.
What is known for certain is that in 1982, aviation restorer Alain Capel had discovered the hulks of 41 examples stored – in a pretty appalling state – at an Egyptian AF dump at Al Akhaa Air Base****. Over the course of the following year, Raymond Capel, as well as Jacques Bourret and Jean Salis of the famous aircraft collection Amicale Jean Baptiste Salis, had managed to persuade the Egyptian government to allow them to buy the entire batch, eventually transporting the lot by container ship to the French port of Marseille in 1985.
**** many sources state that the aircraft had been interred at the “El Aakha” Air Base. However, no such place actually exists; the name is likely a transmutation – through numerous rewrites – of Al Akhaa, a real place with a real air base located almost within spitting distance of the Yaks’ former home of Bilbeis.
Arriving soon afterwards at the mecca of French historical aviation – the airfield of La Ferté-Alais (LFFQ) near Paris – many of the aircraft would be taken under the wing of a dedicated restoration team, who had been tasked with the painstaking process of sorting through the entire mess, hand-picking good parts, reconditioning what could be saved and cannibalizing what could not. Nearly a decade of their perseverance would eventually pay off – and pay off in full – since the dozen or so examples to come out of the process nowadays represent the vast majority of the world’s remaining airworthy Yak-11s/C-11s 🙂 (some having even been converted to single-seat models resembling the original radial Yak-3 prototype).
What would become D-FJII had, however, followed a slightly different path. Soon after arriving at Le Ferté-Alais, it would be sold to a buyer in Switzerland, being transported – as is – to the border town of Lausanne for restoration by aircraft engine specialist Philipe Joyet. Having been rebuilt and cleaned up to a fault, it would fly for the first time – again – on 8 July 1995, becoming F-AZIO soon afterwards. For the next decade, it would be based at Lons-le-Saunier Airfield (LFGL) on the other side of the Franco-Swiss border, sporting a two-tone gray scheme once carried by the Yak-3s and Yak-9s of the Normadie-Niemen, a highly-decorated squadron of Free French pilots flying with the Soviet Air Force during WW 2.
In 2005, it would be sold to Meier Motors of Germany, becoming D-FJII and operating out of Bremgarten Airport (EDTG) near Freiburg – located, you guessed it, just off the French border 😀 . Its stint there would be comparatively short lived though; in a pleasing bit of circularity, it would return to its spiritual home of Le Ferté-Alais in 2011, rejoining the Salis collection while retaining its German reg. Interestingly, in 2012 it would receive its current paint scheme, with the darker gray tone replaced by olive – and the underside repainted cyan from its original light gray (also one of the schemes used on Normadie-Niemen aircraft).
An Egyptian-French-German Russian in Croatia
Meanwhile at CIAV, D-FJII would – sadly – manage to fly only a five minute display due to time constraints… but its ample time on the ground and a very friendly crew had nevertheless allowed me opportunity to peek around and briefly document this charismatic and beautifully ugly machine… 🙂
It has always been a tradition at smaller airfields in the region – the kind where everybody knows everybody – to stick around after your daily flying is done and spend some time exchanging stories, banter and aviation gossip with whomever might be there. For many, this has always been the perfect time to sit back and enjoy the beauty of light aviation to the fullest, free from the nagging needs of planning, weather, paperwork, finance and other elements that sometimes conspire to take the joy out of flying…
In my case though, this has always been the ideal opportunity to snoop around the airfield a bit, wander into hangars, peek into cockpits – and, naturally, attempt to snap an interesting photo or two :D. A method that had served me well in compiling most of the material previously featured here, it had come through once again on 30 September, providing an effective cure for my recent photographic dry spell – the beautiful Sud Alouette II 9A-HAT, nowadays the oldest helicopter in Croatia… 🙂
The cat in the HAT
One of the most groundbreaking designs to have been borne by the French helicopter industry – despite looking like it had been cobbled together in a shed – the SE-3130 Alouette II can trace its roots back to the early 50s and the lessons learned with the similarly named (but mechanically only distantly related) SNCASE* SE-3120 Alouette of 1951. An open framework two-seater powered by a homegrown 200 HP piston engine, the Alouette was in essence the first properly usable French helicopter, combining a light, but strong airframe, good performance – and, for the first time, less than harrowing handling characteristics :). However, while it did well up in the air (even capturing the closed-circuit distance record for helicopters at 1,250 km / 675 NM), it was a nightmare to maintain and service, resulting in a rather limited production run of just two prototypes…
* apart from its long history of innovation, the French aviation industry is also known for its rather complicated family trees. The original Alouette was, as noted, produced by SNCASE, short for “Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Sud-Est”, or “The National Society for Aeronautical Constructions of the South-East (of France)”. Mercifully, by the time the Alouette II went into production, this was shortened to the much more agreeable Sud Aviation. However, during the massive industry consolidation of 1970, Sud became part of a new, powerful conglomerate called Aerospatiale, which would pretty much dominate the continent’s helicopter industry until its 1999 merger with German equivalent MBB to form Eurocopter. Having been under the auspices of Airbus since its early days, this famous name would in early 2014 also head for the history books, to be replaced by the slightly sterile and bland Airbus Helicopters…
Thankfully though, the Alouette II itself was spared much rechristening, having only ever been known under two names, the SE-3130 prior to 1967, and SA-313B after.
But, the Alouette’s demonstrated strengths were enough for the bright men of (now) Sud to keep beavering away at the design in an attempt to make it more appealing to both civilian and military customers. Well aware that the complexity and weight of the piston engine – not to mention its associated clutch – was the source of most of their troubles, the program’s chief engineer, Charles Marchetti, had soon decided that the only way forward was to go with the newly available turboprop engine. Even though this was still 1954, the idea was not really new in itself; helicopter visionary Charles Kaman had already gone down this road back in 1951, equipping one of his K-225 intermeshing rotor machines with a Boeing 502-2 turboshaft engine** developing 175 HP, thus creating the world’s first proper¹ turbine-powered helicopter :).
** Kaman, being the genius that he was, would three years later also create the world’s first twin-engine turbine helicopter, swapping the R-1340 nine-cylinder radial of the HTK-1 (later to become the HH-43 Huskie) for two of the same 502-2s…
However, while the modified K-225 did manage to fly successfully – achieving a dramatic performance increase despite a 45 HP deficit over its previous 220 HP O-435 piston engine – it was still a very far cry from even a remotely operational turbine helicopter. Reports indicated that the engine, when used in a helicopter installation, was quite prone to compressor surge and power loss, rendering the single-engine K-225 pretty much unusable for any real-world application. The root cause was, understandably, the “early days syndrome”, brought on by the technology’s lack of maturity and parallel use in a novel application. Since there really were no physical barriers to the idea working, getting an operational helicopter onto the shelves had quickly turned into a simple race at who’d iron out all the bugs first :).
As 1955 had dawned, Sud was edging ever so closer to claiming the trophy. Its partnership with another French institution – the engine maker Turbomeca – had produced quite the positive result, with one of the company’s Artouste II turboshafts already being mated to the new SE-3130 Alouette II. A clean sheet design only vaguely based on the configuration of the original Alouette, the II still fell some distance short of the model we know today, sporting a cabin for only two (the rest of the space being occupied by the fuel tank) and commanding a modest 450 thermodynamic HP, de-rated in normal operations to just 350.
Flying for the first time on 12 March the same year, the prototype would soon begin to evolve towards a definitive production standard, gaining an elongated cabin seating five, a larger fuel tank located directly below the engine for an improved center of gravity – and a more powerful Artouste IIc engine developing 530 HP on full beans and 460 de-rated. In this guise, it would enter production in April 1956 – nearly three years ahead of the runner-up, the Bell XH-40, which would enter service in 1959 as the legendary UH-1 – thus winning the title of the world’s first series-produced turbine helicopter :).
However, the Alouette II’s list of firsts did not end there. The lesser of the rest was the distinction of being the first helicopter type to carry munitions, specifically the Nord SS.11s wire-guided anti-tank missile; however, the big one was the lead role in the first recognized helicopter air rescue, when test pilots Jean Boulet and Henri Petit airlifted a heart attack victim from the Valliot refuge on the slopes of Mont Blanc on 3 July 1956, flying in at an altitude of 4,362 meters / 14,311 ft – just 448 m / 1,470 ft shy of the top of Europe :). A similar feat was again repeated on 3 January 1957, when two Alouette IIs rescued the entire crew of a downed Sikorsky S-58 searching for young mountaineers Jean Vincendon and François Henry (who had sadly perished after 10 days on the snow).
The magic HAT
9A-HAT’s life on the other hand was decidedly less heroic, even though it did get the chance to see a fair bit of Europe! An original Alouette II of the same make and breed as the early production examples outlined above, HAT was completed in 1963 with the serial 1841/475C. Intended outright for military service, it had briefly carried the test reg F-WJDD (reused on several machines during acceptance test), before passing to the Heersflieger – German Army Aviation – as PO139. Throughout its service in Germany it appears to have changed several squadrons and identities, including PY211 and 7696. Following the type’s withdrawal from German service, it was sold on to Portugal, where it continued flying with the Guardia Nacional Republicana – the country’s gendarmerie – as 9208.
Leaving the military for good in 1993, it was then taken up by French operator Héli-Loc as F-GNEA, where it flew unspecified missions on behalf of the country’s electrical power and gas administration until its sale to operator Aéro 34 in 1997. The dawn of the 21st century would see it transferred to operator Avia-Flap in Italy under the reg I-DLSP, from where it would pass to its current home in 2002 :). Flying since that time for operator Eudora Let (based in the popular coastal town of Vodice), HAT is listed on the company’s Air Operator Certificate (AOC) as being used for air work and utility duties – including aerial photography and cinematography, roles which had on 30 September brought it to Lučko… 🙂
I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to the owner (Mr. Zoran Matić) for allowing me to snoop around for a good half hour!
A bonus story:
¹ in reality, the first application – of any sort – of a gas turbine engine to a helicopter predates the K-225 by a few months, tracing its roots to the workshops of Sud’s sister company SNCASO (“Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Sud-Ouest”, “The National Society for Aeronautical Constructions of the South-West (of France)”). As early as 1946, the company’s engineers had been working on designs using so called “jet blades”, blades with outlets at their tips through which compressed air (provided by the engine) would be blown at high speed, creating a propelling reaction in the same way as a jet engine – and thus turning the entire rotor without the need for a heavy and complicated transmission system. The company’s first two models – the SO-1100 Ariel I and SO-1110 Ariel II – were powered by piston engines, a particularly unsuitable type of powerplant given the need to power a big, heavy compressor that is not native to the engine. When the Turbomeca Artouste I prototype appeared in 1951, the company quickly seized the opportunity and stuck it into the Ariel II, creating the SO-1120 Ariel III. But while the gas turbine’s large mass flow did wonders for performance, the whole setup was still far too thirsty and inefficient compared with a traditional configuration, leading SNCASO to pull the plug on the Ariel family and focus on turning the III into an autogyro… (the SO-1310)
While for the most part Zagreb Airport is your stock, average – and flat out uninteresting – regional gateway, every once in awhile it does have a few bright moments 🙂 . As reported previously on several occasions, these usually include visits by rare and interesting cargo and passenger charters, which make use of the airport’s proximity to the country’s capital, its low traffic volume (something the airport management is none too happy about! 😀 ) and generally its favorable strategic position at the entrance to the Balkans.
However, the rulebook on what is interesting had been completely re-written between 8 and 10 November, when Zagreb was host to the world’s most impressive aircraft (bar the Concorde): the fantastic – and fantastically huge! – Antonov An-225 Mriya 🙂 .
The aviation event of the year – which had drawn in over 10,000 visitors according to Police statistics – the 225’s 8 Nov arrival had marked the type’s first visit to Croatian soil, naturally sending the locals into a frenzy 😀 . Making headlines even in the normally-unimpressed mainstream media, the Mriya was in town to pick up a locally-made 140 ton electrical transformer urgently needed on the Philippine island of Cebu. Ironically, at “just” EUR 1.5 million, the transformer itself is significantly cheaper than the EUR 2.2 million bill for flying it there – which says a lot about the urgency of its delivery! (destined for the San Lorenzo powerplant, it is due to replace a previous unit – also made in Croatia – which had been heavily damaged in a flood and then, for that little extra something, struck by lightning)
While news of this fantastic export success did wonders for national morale – and rightfully heaped praise on the engineers of Končar Power Transformers Ltd. who’d built the thing in less than two months – this particular Croat was somewhat more interested in the actual delivery truck 😀 . Thanks to a one-in-a-million stroke of luck, I’d managed to secure free run of the entire aircraft – thanks to its Captain, Dmitry Antonov, as well as fellow aviation photographers Petar M. of Croatia and Tamas M. of Hungary – giving me an amazing insight into the workings of this awe-inspiring machine… 🙂
While the notion of fitting a civilian piston single with retractable gear isn’t exactly new – having been around as long as the retractable gear itself – in the “certified world” it still lends itself mostly just to large and luxurious long-distance tourers, aircraft whose intended performance bracket (and price tag) warrant the addition of another heavy, complicated, expensive and potentially failure-prone system. Aircraft such as the stunning Beech Staggerwing (which had pretty much kicked the whole idea off) and its spiritual successor, the Bonanza, as well as Piper’s PA-46 Malibu line and Cessna’s widespread Centurions… all top-of-the-line cruisers where clean lines and low drag are not just a sales gimmick, but a real performance necessity 🙂 .
Despite this however, every once in awhile some manufacturers – notably those of The Big Three – get into the habit of sticking an RG system into one of their small, cheap-and-cheerful models, creating weighty, complex and not very fast aircraft that seem to make very little operational – and almost no financial – sense. And while there is some method to their madness, the aircraft themselves invariably fail to perform “properly” on the market, eventually ending up relegated to the obscure pages of history…
But, even though they are few in number today, I’d nevertheless managed – with no direct intent on my part 😀 – to spot two of Cessna’s attempts in just one week, aircraft so deliciously rare and interesting that they’d immediately warranted a post on here… 🙂
I’ve Not The Power: the Cutlass RG
The first off the line is the rarer of the two, the nowadays (unjustly) forgotten 172RG Cutlass RG 🙂 . Also the more confusing of the pair, the Cutlass was – for all (sales) intents and purposes – a retractable version of the stock 172, which had the added misfortune of debuting in 1980, just a few years before piston single production at Cessna would go into a decade-long remission…
However, while it did say “Cessna 172” on the back, the Cutlass RG was some way removed from a stock Skyhawk with new legs. Like all high performance 172s – including the Reims Rocket, the Hawk XP and the military T-41 Mescalero – the Cutlass was actually derived from the old 175 Skylark, a posh, high-end version of the late 50s 172A. Powered by a geared GO-300 producing 175 HP (versus the 145 of the 172A) and fitted with a full suite of cockpit and cabin amenities, the Skylark had enjoyed only a brief sales career, having been plagued every step of the way by its frequent engine failures (later determined to have been caused by its owners’ lack of familiarity with the finer nuances of operating geared engines). To try and salvage the situation – not to mention the effort invested – Cessna had eventually decided to drop the Skylark and instead use its platform as a springboard for future high performance aircraft to be marketed under the 172 name 🙂 (to add to the confusion, the name “Cutlass” would also be applied to the 172Q, essentially a 172P re-engined with a 180 HP engine and intended to invoke the (perceived) allure of the RG).
Even though many visual cues of this heritage were blurred out by the time of its debut, the 172RG had nevertheless easily stuck out among the regular Skyhawks, sporting a longer nose that had – in addition to the nose gear when retracted – housed a 180 HP Lycoming O-360 spinning a constant speed prop (usually two-blade). There were changes up in the wing as well, where the fuel capacity was increased from 43 to 66 US gallons, nearly doubling the range to 770 NM from the 172P’s 440.
But, all was not so sunny elsewhere – for despite its cleaner lines, additional power and the efficiency of that prop, the RG could pull out only a 15 knot lead over the 172P. Additionally, the takeoff and landing performance had suffered as well, with the Cutlass needing up to 200 feet more space to lift off or roll to a stop. The main culprit for all of this was the added bulk of the RG system, which had increased the aircraft’s empty weight to 740 kg – 80 up from the 172P. While this was counteracted by the RG’s 110 kg MTOW increase, all that extra mass had eroded most of the advantages of the new engine and prop, resulting in only a marginally faster – but far more expensive – aircraft.
Viewed then as an upscale Skyhawk, the 172RG was pretty much a crock (especially considering the cheaper, 210 HP Reims Rocket could comfortably keep up with it in the cruise), with just 1200-ish examples made before production ended in 1985. But, once outright speed was taken out of the equation, the Cutlass had quickly gained favor in the demanding – and often very specific – world of flight training 🙂 . For many years one of the cheapest retractable singles on the market, the 172RG became a favorite for Commerical Pilot License (CPL) courses, which require some time to be logged on a complex aircraft – any single made complicated enough by the addition flaps, a constant speed prop and retractable gear 😀 . Its humble, proven origins and only four cylinders had made it significantly cheaper to run than a larger “conventional” retractable single, ensuring it has retained its place in the training fleet even to this day… 🙂
By contrast, the second of the two titular aircraft had lead a reasonably quiet life throughout its career, having come about through a straightforward and positively dull design process that had exhibited none of the delightful chaos of the Cutlass 😀 . The machine in question is of course the R182 Skylane RG, one of the lesser known – but also most capable – members of the enduring Skylane family 🙂 .
A simple, straight, no-nonsense conversion of the regular 182, the Skylane RG was intended to provide some of the allure and performance of the more exclusive Centurion, but packed into a smaller and cheaper package – a train of thought not unlike that which had borne the Cutlass. However, unlike the latter, the basic Skylane was a much better platform to start from, in part due to its remarkable payload – but mostly due to its capacity to handle a whopping big engine needed to shift the added bulk around 🙂 .
At first glance though, Cessna had seemingly squandered that capability right at the outset, for the RG had only 235 HP on tap – a pitiful five more than the 182Qs of the period. The resulting cruise speeds were a bigger disappointment than those of the Cutlass, with the R182 managing to touch just 14 knots more than the simpler and cheaper Q…
However, while the power figures were a bit of a letdown, the torque figures were not, since those 235 HP came from a huge Lycoming O-540, sporting 80 cubic inches more capacity that the O-470 of the regular model 🙂 . Coupled with an empty weight increase of just 38 kg (and the same MTOW), this additional grunt had meant the RG could comfortably outpace the regular model in the climb, all while retaining nearly identical takeoff and landing performance and stall and approach speeds.
The apex of the R182 would however come in 1978 with the introduction of the turbocharged RT182, which will eventually become the dominant Skylane RG model. While its sea level power had remained the same as that of the R182, its massive compressor had made it available to a far higher altitude, consequently increasing the cruise speed to a juicy 173 knots – 31 more than the regular 182Q and 16 more than its (very rare) turbocharged cousin, the T182Q.
Coupled with a 585 kg payload – enough to take on four adults and sufficient fuel even for a longer flight – this had made the RT182 an attractive choice for pilots living at higher altitudes, with most of Europe’s fleets nowadays concentrated in countries with a lot of Alps 🙂 .
While the 172RG and R182 were the main focus of this post, one cannot discuss Cessna’s small retractables without at least mentioning the elegant – and slightly outrageous – 177RG Cardinal RG 🙂 . A rare moment of madness from Cessna, the 177 family as a whole sticks out of the lineup like Lancair at an Antonov meet, making it fully worthy of the final chapter of this post 🙂 .
Named for the bird rather than the church official, the fixed-gear 177 was originally devised as a mid-60s replacement for the 172, introducing features that were supposed to make the Skyhawk look “sooo yesterday” 😀 . By far and away the biggest of these was the beautiful Centurion-style wing, which finally did away with those pesky bracing struts (an absolute nightmare for inflight photography!). Once past the wings, the eye would immediately be drawn to the broad and airy cabin, flanked on either side by large, wide-opening doors that made entry almost completely hassle free – and, perhaps most important of all, far more dignified than on the 172 😀 . There were some finer, less obvious touches as well, including an “all-flying” Piper-like horizontal stabilizer – quite the novelty for a Cessna single and I believe still unique in the company’s piston lineup.
But despite the new wing (which required more internal structure to maintain rigidity) and the roomier cabin, the 177 was only a feather away from the 172s of the period, weighing in at just 640 kg empty and 1066 kg fully loaded – just 45 and 23 more than the 172K. Powered by the same 150 HP engine, the Cardinal had also exhibited very similar performance, with differences generally down to just two to three knots.
However, while it did indeed sound like a worthy replacement, the 177’s bells and whistles had also made it significantly more expensive to buy than the 172, instantly diminishing its customer appeal and threatening to turn it into another Skylark – expensive to develop, but nearly impossible to sell in the necessary numbers.
But the lessons learned with the 175 would eventually turn out to be the keys to the Cardinal’s survival 🙂 . Realizing that, despite all intents, the 177 is “more aircraft” than the 172 (but still far less than the 182), Cessna had decided to simply slot in a more powerful engine, creating a proper “Skyhawk Deluxe”. The resulting 177A was thus powered by a 180 HP engine driving a fixed-pitch prop, which had managed to increase the cruise speed by just a modest three knots – but had at the same time kicked the MTOW up to 1133 kg (with just an 11 kg empty weight increase), allowing the aircraft to now carry full tanks AND four (period) adults with some meaningful baggage.
In this form – which would later evolve into the 177B fitted with a constant speed prop – the Cardinal had finally found its niche in life, becoming what the Skylark was supposed to have been all along: an aircraft that could boast some of the carrying capabilities of the Skylane mated with operating costs much nearer to those of the Skyhawk. However, this had immediately brought it into firing range of Beech’s model 24 Sierra and Piper’s PA-28R Arrow, both of which could boast the additional (real and perceived) benefits of retractable gear. Cessna’s answer was not long in coming, taking the form of the 1971 177RG Cardinal RG 🙂 .
Powered now by a 200 HP engine – like the Sierra and Arrow – the Cardinal RG could boast a cruise speed of 149 knots, 19 more than the 177B and up to 10 more than either of its rivals. Interestingly, unlike the 172RG, the Cardinal had retained its impressive carrying capability despite the added weight of the RG system, standing at 800 kg empty and 1270 full – actually increasing the payload by 80 kg over the 177B along the way.
But, despite these favorable numbers, Cardinals are (like the 172RG and R182) quite rare today, a turn of events that has – in combination with their sweeping looks and comfort – made them as close as they can be to collector’s classics… 🙂
NOTE TO MY READERS: given that I’ve never had the privilege of flying on any of these aircraft – just marveling at them from the outside – any comments, impressions, stories and trivia from readers with time on them would be most appreciated and a swell way to round their stories up! 🙂
With “my” airplane now more-or-less permanently based at Zagreb’s Pleso Airport (LDZA), I’ve by necessity ended up spending as much time there as I did at Lučko back in its heyday. And while I’m not really a fan of the restricted (but understandably necessary) operating policy of larger airports, my relocation is not necessarily a bad thing… for despite the ton of paperwork, lots of security measures and more waiting for the big birds to clear, there’s a bewildering array of interesting aircraft to be seen, at times far eclipsing in size and scope anything possible at a small field 🙂 .
Even though Pleso itself is not a big facility by the standards of the world – most European countries would classify it as a regional airport – it does have a lot of things going for it that are conductive to aviation photography. The first (and foremost) is its status as the main gateway to the country’s capital, which by default implies bizjets and bizprops by the dozen. The other thing in its favor – though the airport management would struggle to agree with me on this 😀 – is its relatively low traffic volume, which lends itself to those aircraft that can’t be bothered to wait in queues or tend to take up too much time and space. Lastly, being the only port of entry in the area – as well as the largest airbase in Croatia – it tends to attract everything from ultralights to combat jets, so you’re never left wanting for something unusual 🙂 .
Since my last post on the topic, the tempo has picked up quite a bit – it being summer and all – so here’s what we’ve been graced with in the past few months… 🙂