Photo File – Story Time

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extreme Makeover, Aviation Edition – Restoring a poor Cessna Skyhawk to some of its former glory

By me
All photos me too
Cleaning, complaning and cursing me and Dean T.

Deciding to be useful for once, I offered Dean T. – who’s always been my man for the job for access round Lučko – to come one day over the weekend and help out with the various odd jobs that inevitably pile up around the field. And sure enough, I had just arrived at 10 AM one Saturday when I saw him pulling an old, neglected Skyhawk out of the tall grass. An odd look and a couple of questions later, it had transpired that the aircraft – on the ground for the past 6+ years – was probably going up for sale and needed to be spruced up as much as possible…

Shot about two months earlier, 9A-BDR - a Reims F172M or N - was a forlorn sight, tucked away in the corner of the apron. With a Certificate of Airworthiness expired in 2003., this poor thing hadn't moved from this spot in ages
Shot about two months earlier, 9A-BDR - a Reims F172M or N - was a forlorn sight, tucked away in the corner of the apron. With a Certificate of Airworthiness that had expired in 2003., this poor thing hadn't moved from this spot in ages

It was a warm and humid day and, in need of refreshment and fun, we threw ourselves into it.  However, a quick survey of equipment showed our total inventory at just three sponges, some detergent and a special wiping cloth. Not much to go on, given the magnitude of the task…

The typical BEFORE shot :). Rolled forward for the first time in years, the first thing on the list was to pump up the tires to make maneuvering on the ground easier
The typical BEFORE shot :). Rolled forward for the first time in years, the first thing on the list was to pump up the tires to make maneuvering on the ground easier. That didn't help much as apparently one of the brakes had locked on

Next, we had to remove the covers... which we regretted a moment later. They apparently haven't been lifted once in the past six years and in the heat all of the dust and dirt under them "baked" onto the fuselage. The wings - thankfully uncovered - were just plain dirty :)
Next, we had to remove the covers... something we regretted a moment later. They apparently hadn't been lifted once in the past six years and in the heat all of the dust and dirt under them "baked" onto the fuselage. The wings - thankfully uncovered - were just plain dirty 🙂

Exposed to the elements for as long as it was, we were surprised that this was the only paint peeling off
Exposed to the elements for as long as it was, we were surprised that this was the only paint peeling off

We were curiously optimistic about the task, as it soon transpired that much of the dirt on the wings and fuselage was quite easy to wipe off. A bit of an oddity really, but it made our life considerably easier :). The only problem was that we couldn’t get at all the tiny places and openings normally found around the controls – and lacking a high-pressure water source, we couldn’t even try and wash them out with by brute force…

Contrast; a definition :). While Dean started on the left wing, I got to grips with the cowl and soon got it glowing
Contrast; a definition :). While Dean started on the left wing, I got to grips with the cowl and soon got it glowing

The scale of the problem on top. In the end the covers did more damage in the long run than the elements...
The scale of the problem on top. In the long run the covers did more damage than the elements...

Cleaning out the control surfaces. Despite appearances, everything down here came off easily in just one pass, as seen on the elevator
Cleaning out the control surfaces. Despite appearances, everything down here came off easily in just one pass

The major constraint was that this was basically a cosmetic, outside makeover – which ruled out any possibility of opening a panel or two to check out the structure and control lines underneath. I has also wanted to crank the engine to give it some air and clean out the cylinders, but a quick yank on the prop – which had gone round surprisingly easy despite the magneto switch being off – scratched that as well. Upon further questioning and investigation, I had found out that, aside from a full oil tank, the engine had no alternator, starter, magnetos or battery. While we could have done without the alternator – and even the magnetos – we’d need the starter and battery (an external power supply wouldn’t have helped, as it has to go through the battery itself).

And, if the more eagle-eyed readers noticed, we had to change the position and orientation of the aircraft every once in awhile due to a very short water hose :). Having to manhandle it around the tail and landing gear, we though it simpler just to re-orient the whole aircraft.

A lunch break gave me an opportunity to peek inside while we let the upholstery breathe a bit. The panel is surprisingly nice, well equipped and with only the ADF radio missing. I had dearly wanted to test out the instruments - most of them having run out of service life - but before being "stored", the battery, started and generator were removed, so zilch on that
A lunch break gave me an opportunity to peek inside while we let the upholstery breathe a bit. The panel was in a surprisingly good state, well equipped and with only the ADF radio and indicator missing. Though this is all academic, the instruments having certainly ran out of service life after having been neglected for six years

Getting there bit by bit... :)
Getting there bit by bit... 🙂 You can still see the remnants of the aircraft's old registration under the current one: YU-BDR. After the breakup of Yugoslavia back in 1991., all aircraft registered in Croatia were re-registered with the country's new prefix, 9A (with a temporary RC prefix in the meantime). On many aircraft this change was hastily done by simply painting the YU over and applying 9A

Now this looks more like it :). Cleverly choosing a point which hid the paint damage, I could have been fooled into (briefly) thinking this aircraft was actually well maintained :)
Now this looks more like it :). Cleverly choosing a point of view that hid the paint damage, I could have been fooled into (briefly) thinking this aircraft was actually well maintained 🙂

And five hours, one pizza and two liters of coke later, we reckoned we’d done it! Though the faded paint job was a distraction, we felt it came out beautifully in the end – cleaner at any rate than some of aircraft that fly every day :).  And by a twist of irony, half an hour later it was back in the same place it spent the past six years, still waiting for a buyer…

And the AFTER shot :). Pretty good, no?
And the AFTER shot :). Pretty good, no?