By me All photos me too, copyrighted
While I often rant here about Croatia’s summer weather – an eclectic mix of searing heat and violent thunderstorms – these past few months have seen thermometers run off their scales, with several airports reporting temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Centigrade… no small feat, since readings are taken two meters above grass and
in shade. Out on the tarmac, 55+ was nothing out of the ordinary, making life out in the open particularly unpleasant.
Thankfully though, the heat and humidity had not deterred the brave men and women of general aviation from their passion, with the region’s airports chocked full of everything from cheap-and-cheerful ultralights to high-flying, million+ Euro turbine singles. So having already come to terms that my summer would consist of flying from one oven to another, I’d decided to make the best of it and see what’s on offer on the country’s GA aprons… 🙂
Whenever I’m in a rut for not having snapped a light aircraft in awhile, I can always count on Dubrovnik Airport (DBV/LDDU) to come to the rescue! Even though both GA aprons had on this day been overflowing with various private and business aircraft, G-UAVA was the one that had instantly caught my eye – if anything for being one of the very few Twin Comanches still flying in Europe. Born in the early 60s, the PA-30 was an extensive twin-engine conversion of the earlier PA-24 Comanche, a “heavy cruiser” that had been the top of Piper’s single-engine offering all the way until the late 70s and the appearance of the PA-46 Malibu. Even though it is far from the most elegant twin out there, the Twin Comanche nevertheless has several aces up its sleeve – the biggest of which is a design penned by the legendary Ed Swearingen, a freelance engineer known for his passionate love of speed and low fuel consumption. Most famous as the father of the Merlin bizprop and Metro feederliner, Swearingen had used all of his talent in designing the PA-30, creating a 300 km/h aircraft powered by engines of only 160 HP that together drank just 17 USG per hour. While they do not sound like something to write home about, these numbers are identical to what the SINGLE engine Cessna 210N could manage on its 310 HP – and all the more amazing given the extra drag and weight penalties of the second engine. G-UAVA itself had been manufactured in 1967, and can additionally boast so called “turbonormalized” engines, a special variant of the classic turbocharged setup running at lower manifold pressures and cylinder temperatures – thus increasing engine life and durability with very little loss in performance. Another interesting detail is the slope of the apron and runway; my camera’s internal balance had said that this shot is perfectly level! Built on an undulating plain that is the only suitable piece of flat land for dozens of miles around, the airport is well known for its “uneven nature”, which can cause problems if you’re not prepared for it.
After Dubrovnik had served up its best offer, Split (SPU/LDSP) had also decided to deliver! Cessna’s first post-war twin, the 310 had remained in continuous production for 26 years, and spawned such a number of versions that they ate up half the alphabet. The Q model pictured here was the type’s last snub-nosed variant, with the subsequent 310R – the last series to go into production – receiving an elongated and aesthetically far more pleasing job that had included a lot of additional storage capacity. A fine example of a classic 70s Cessna paint scheme – proudly advertising the fact that the engines sport a fuel injection system and not the common man’s carburetor – D-IBMM had been manufactured in 1973, and can still be seen happily flying all over middle and southeastern Europe.
A cute little canary coming in to make an already fun day of flying and photography at Split Airport (SPU/LDSP) all the better. A pretty rare bird, the Do-328JET is – as it says on the tin – a turbofan variant of the 33-seat Do-328 turboprop, a sleek and sexy design that can still today be seen flying with smaller regional operators in and around the Alps. Even though it had always been a well designed, robust and quality product, the Do-328JET had one fatal flaw: it was the brainchild of two small companies (Fairchild and Dornier) that went head-to-head with the likes of the much more established ERJ-135 and CRJ-100/200 in a market that does not easily forgive design missteps. Dornier’s wobbly financials had further deepened the hole being dug under the design, the result of which are only 83 examples of the type ever made. Today however, it is enjoying a small Renaissance as a business jet – as well as a speedy and capable utility aircraft for both civilian (such as ADAC) and military operators (including the USAF).
The second oldest airworthy Skyhawk in Croatia – manufactured in 1966 – observing proceedings at Split (SPU/LDSP) from its elevated position halfway up the airport’s famous hill. Located just a 100 or so meters from RWY 23, the hill tops out at just 10 meters above the airport elevation, and in addition to a GA hangar and fuel farm features an olive garden – as well as a small church that predates the airport by a couple hundred years… not a bad feature to have INSIDE the airport fence! BDM itself is similarly native, having flown in country ever since the early 70s and the first of the Yugoslav government’s aeronautical shopping sprees (intended to equip flying clubs and schools with modern Western machinery). As an H model – Reims-built no less – it still sports the Skyhawk’s original six-cylinder O-300 engine developing 145 HP, quite a more charismatic (if inefficient) package than the modern fuel-injected four-pop IO-360.
Enjoying a bit of sun and fresh sea air on Croatia’s highest – and most challenging – airport. Perched on a high plateau surrounded by hills near the top of the eponymous island, Brač Airport (BWK/LDSB) sports a cocktail of characteristics that requires you to be very much awake on landing, including a 1750 ft elevation, a 1.4% runway gradient (1.7% in places even), notorious rotors and turbulence on all approaches, summer temperatures well above 30 degrees Centigrade – and a tight 1600 by 30 meter runway that often gives bother to business turboprops and jets, let alone the occasional airliner. On this day however, the stars of the show were the lighties, here a typical “summer holiday mix” of aircraft from Hungary, Romania, Germany and Slovenia. Type-wise, there was a lot to choose from as well, with just this lineup boasting one of the more powerful Morane variants, the Mudry CAP-232 aerobatic single-seater… as well as six-cylinder Mooney and a mint Skyhawk that – despite being 35 years old – looks like it had just rolled of the production line.
Taking a quick stroll through Varaždin’s (LDVA) small corrosion corner. Already disused and mostly abandoned prior to having been flipped over in a storm in 2012, CDZ is one of Croatia’s oldest Skyhawks, manufactured way back in 1967. Unfortunately, despite quite a bit of history in its logbooks, this is as far as it will ever get, since repairing it would actually cost more than buying an airworthy late 70s/early 80s example. Indeed, the extensive buckling down the tail (evident on both sides) is a telltale sign of major structural failure in the underlying load-bearing frame, requiring the whole back end of the airplane to be replaced at the very least. Though it had, damage-wise, fared much better, the country’s sole PA-28-235 hiding in the background – and registered, rather ominously, 9A-DIE – is pretty much in the same boat. Completed in 1965, it too had not seen much air these past few years, and looks to be another candidate for a “Coke bottle conversion”…
Just when I thought I’d used up all of my luck for finding rare piston singles, I stumble upon this magnificent Sierra at little old Lučko. Fairly atypical by the standards of the company, the Sport/Musketeer/Sierra family was Beech’s attempt at replicating the success of Piper’s legendary PA-28 Cherokee series. Standing at the top of the lineup, the 24 Sierra was essentially a 200 HP Musketeer with retractable gear that had hoped to take on the extremely popular PA-28R Arrow. Sadly though, none of these models had managed to make a significant impact on the market, partly because they were made to Beech standards – and therefore more expensive – and partly because this segment of the market had never really been the company’s forte. But more on the 24 in a separate post!
Though we had already met before several years ago, it is nevertheless always nice to see this old trooper once again. One of the very few early 206s still flying in Europe, HA-CPA celebrates its 50th birthday this year, a fact that had not – in true utility Cessna tradition – prevented it from working hard well into old age. Many moons ago actually a resident of Croatia, CPA had on this day popped into Lučko for a state skydive championship, for which it was the sole official dropship. An interesting detail is the pronounced chin under the nose, a leftover from the early Cessna 210 on which the 206 is based that had housed the 210’s nose wheel when retracted (a bit more info available
In common with many Cessna models of the 60s, CPA’s flight deck is, by modern standards, a jumbled mess – but it nevertheless does have a certain odd charm. Interesting details are the flap position indicator (partially obscured by the right yoke) with color-coded fields representing maximum flap extension speed – and a Soviet EGT gauge below the CDI, apparently salvaged and reused from a light transport twin (possibly even the An-14).
Taking a short breather on Croatia’s sole truly private airstrip. Nestled in rolling terrain 20-odd kilometers south of Zagreb, Pisarovina Airfield counts among the more scenic places to land at in the area, ringed by dense woodland and the Vukomerić Hills to the north, vast arable fields and fisheries to the south – and airliners on approach to Zagreb Airport (ZAG/LDZA) above. Indeed, the airfield is within spitting distance from both ZAG’s control zone and the Pisarovina NDB – the focal point for all approaches to RWY 05 – making getting in and out quite a fun and refreshing experience. Though several aircraft – and even a flight school – are based here, on this day we were the only plane in town, which made us feel a bit… conspicuous…
A short & sweet additional feature to accompany the photo above: a “dash cam” video of the approach to and landing on Pisarovina’s RWY 04… a fair bit of thermal turbulence that day, but what can you do (also, the camera shake on landing is exaggerated – the runway is relatively smooth, but the camera was mounted on a suction mount on the windscreen, which is flexible and tends to wobble about with every bump).
By me All photos me too, copyrighted
Having set the ball for long-winded photo commentaries rolling with my
, I am delighted to be able to continue the trend with what has proven to be an equally fruitful follow-on. True to my hopes and expectations for this year’s summer season, the material for Part 2 had flooded in rather quickly, thanks most of all to triple sightings of some pretty rare twins all in the space of two weeks. previous photo file
So, while the owners of
prepare for their vacation flights to Croatia’s coastal airports (where I’ll be waiting 😀 ), here’s a bit more of what’s been going on further inland… Porsche-powered Mooneys and skydive Caravans
The emperor’s new clothes… first look at a new & improved 9A-DMG following an extensive interior and avionics refit – the latter of which lags little in sophistication behind today’s class cockpit 172SP (and quite a few bigger and more expensive machines as well). From left to right there’s the Aspen Avionics Evolution 1000 PFD (w/ Synthetic Vision System (SVS)), the JPI EDM 900 Engine Data Monitor (a fantastic piece of kit), Garmin GTN 750 touchscreen NAV 1/COM 1/GPS + Garmin GNC 255 NAV 2/COM 2… and bringing up the right the Garmin GTX 345 Mode S transponder. Not a bad look for an 1979-vintage “old man”!
A bit of twin-engine action as this German canary navigates Lučko’s uneven apron on its way toward RWY 28. Even though the Seneca is one of history’s most popular piston twins, this early version – introduced in 1974 – is nowadays nevertheless a bit of a rarity. Created in response to the numerous criticisms levied at the original Seneca I – which was, with its normally-aspirated 200 HP engines, considered severely “asthmatic” – the Seneca II was fitted with turbochargers that, despite not adding to the power, had immediately and dramatically improved performance (especially in an engine-out scenario at altitude). However, despite this, the type’s ultimate lack of power had remained a thorn in users’ eyes, leading Piper to add 20 HP per engine and new three-bladed props in 1981, creating the most popular PA-34 of them all, the Seneca III. D-GLOC itself had been manufactured in 1978, and had received its eye-catching paint scheme from its previous owner, Italian watchmaker Locman (which also explains the reg). On this day, it had popped into town to pick up a passenger bound for Split (LDSP).
Speak of the devil – the original Seneca I! As noted previously, unlike the most popular models – the III and V – Number One had left quite a sour taste in the mouths of many owners, primarily due to its lack of power and marginal performance at altitude and with an engine out provided by its normally-aspirated 200 HP Lycoming IO-360s. This deficit was such that in some quarters the Seneca is still labelled as “the best single engine airplane in the world”, despite the vastly improved performance (and potential) of the turbocharged 220 HP III, IV and V. While the fuselage and wing are visually mostly identical across all five Seneca marks, the One can be picked out in a crowd by its boxy, square nacelles (replaced by more streamlined units on the Seneca II) and air intake on the side of the cowl. This particular example – snapped at Lesce-Bled Airfield (LJBL) in the northwestern corner of Slovenia – was manufactured in 1974, the One’s final production year…
As soon as it got a bit of wind in its wings, the Falke had started flapping trying to get airborne… and why wouldn’t it: pleasant temperatures, a light wind perfect for soaring, and not a cloud in the sky! While far from the best design around, the type’s durability, simplicity and good all-round performance have consistently made it one of Europe’s most popular Touring Motor Gliders (TMGs) – a fact also helped by its capacity to accept almost any light engine available, from the two-cylinder two-stroke 26 HP Hirth F10A of the original SF-25A, to the turbocharged 115 HP Rotax 914F of the late-model SF-25C.
… and a dog to pack all of Lučko’s active gliders into its compact WW2-era hangar. A scene well known to many pilots as instructors and students clean up at the end of a busy flying day.
Young Eagle and Flying Teddy Bear await their turn to be tucked into the hangar after another full day of soaring and towing. Though still far from Lučko’s “golden years” of the early 2000s, this weekend saw five gliders pretty much constantly in the air – a very welcome slight after the airfield’s nearly decade-long financial crisis-induced slump in operations.
Only the second 340 I’ve ever seen in the metal, D-INGI easily dominates the room during a spot of maintenance. One of Cessna’s “more serious” piston twins, the 340 boasts a pressurized cabin, pneumatic de-icing system and a 30,000 ft ceiling – all of which (especially when used together) require a significant supply of compressed air. To cater for these services, each of the type’s Continental TSIO-520s sports a whopping large turbocharger – seen just aft of the engine block – whose output is used to feed the engine itself, provide a 10,000 ft cabin altitude at the type’s typical 20,000 ft cruise, and inflate the wing and tail boots enough to break off any reasonable amount of ice. Like the similarly-equipped Beech 60 Duke and Piper PA-31P Pressurized Navajo, all of this however makes the 340 somewhat expensive to operate, making it slowly lose favor to the far simpler modern single-engine turboprop. Another interesting detail are the vortex generators, located just aft of the wing boots; most often seen on utility and short-field aircraft, their function is simply to create a swirling, turbulent layer of air along the upper surface of the wing. While this sounds counter-intuitive at first (and indeed does create a fair bit of additional drag), a high-energy turbulent boundary layer sticks to the wing for more of its width, increasing the lift generated at any one speed. This is most useful for operations at higher angles of attack (such as during approach and landing), since it both lowers the aircraft’s minimum speeds – and increases the effectiveness of the flaps and ailerons, providing for better control at low speed and more benign behavior in and near the stall.
Fortune favors the brave – or at least those willing to stand out in the wind and rain for a photo! And a nice subject to do so for it is – likely the rarest of all the King Airs, the elusive B100. One the one hand, it’s a 100 series, a nowadays uncommon stretch of the base 90 – and on the other it’s the B model, the only series-production King Air not to use Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-series engines, but the rival 715 HP AI Research/Garrett TPE331-6. The latter engine’s “straight flow” layout – in which the exhaust ducts are the the back of the engine – is pretty much the only visual clue that sets it apart from the PT6A versions, whose “reverse flow” setup means the exhausts are located up at the front. Unfortunately, due to the now-reduced commonality with the rest of the family (and a general lack of demand for a TPE-powered version), only 137 B100s would be made, with the 1979 vintage N3536 – snapped here at Munich Airport (MUC/EDDM) – being a crisp mid-production example.
By me All photos me too, copyrighted
As is usual for this time of year, the ever-improving weather conditions (with the inevitable hiccup or two) have slowly started waking the local GA scene from its winter stupor. While operations are still very much in the 7 AM pre-coffee stage, life is nevertheless returning to airfields across the land, with planes, gliders and helicopters being dusted off for the coming spring. Naturally enough, I had once again decided to snoop around and check on proceedings, hoping to capitalize on the calm before the storm… 🙂
One happy little bear roaring away during a late-afternoon engine test. Even though Lučko had still been closed at this point (its grass runways soaked), AK Zagreb had decided to use the time well and send DBS through a post-overhaul shakedown…
Clean and tidy following deep servicing, GPA waits for its turn to be parked in the hangar after its first flight of the year. Even though it carries the Pilatus name and sports the designation PC-11, this type had actually originated in Germany in the mid-60s as a product of a small group of up-and-coming engineers. Initially called the B4 after Gert Basten – the owner of the factory that had manufactured the prototypes – the design had not entered series production until the mid-70s, when it was acquired by Pilatus. Praised for its simplicity, robustness and quality of manufacture, the AF version can boast respectable aerobatic capabilities, a role in which it is still used worldwide. GPA itself had been manufactured in 1977, and is today one of seven examples listed on the 9A register.
Hands down one of the most unusual aircraft that can be seen in Croatia, OE-9129 is seen firing up for an entire afternoon of glider towing. Essentially a motor glider itself, the HB-21 was conceived in Austria during the 60s, and is in this form powered by a 100 HP VW engine mounted behind the cabin – and driving a unique pusher prop arrangement integrated into the aircraft’s backbone.
When the sun sets and the temperature drops, normal pilots go home… but then, with the rising fog, come those who wander around with big cameras. Having a bit of fun with Piper PA-28RT-201 Arrow IV 9A-DCB and Cessna 172N 9A-DMG, on a December day – albeit not unlike many found in spring.
Instantly recognizable among Čakovec Airfield’s (LDVC) fleet of gliders, YU-CPE is seen providing a suitable metaphor for Yugoslav aviation as it waits out an uncertain fate by collecting bird droppings in the corner of the hangar. An aircraft much of 60s and 70s Yugoslavia had learned to fly on, the indigenous Aero 3 had over the years garnered a reputation as an unforgiving and sometimes difficult to handle trainer, which had over the years claimed a number of lives. Despite this, the design – made almost entirely of wood and powered by a 190 HP Lycoming O-435 – is viewed with today increasing nostalgia, resulting to several attempts at preservation and restoration. Sadly, given the lack of spares (only 100-ish having been built) and the financial requirements of such work, only one machine had been returned to airworthy state, with the rest left in limbo… (including its brother, Lučko’s own YU-CPC/9A-XPC)
Even though it was pretty much the only aircraft on the apron at Split Airport (SPU/LDSP), N828PA nevertheless proves that quality is still better than quantity! Still a rare type in Europe, the Eclipse 500 was the forerunner of the Very Light Jet (VLJ) category, “pocket” bizjets that were both simple and cheap enough for owners to fly themselves – while still providing better performance than traditional business turboprops. N828PA itself was completed in 2008, and is one of the last examples manufactured before the company filed for bankruptcy. It would eventually be restarted in 2009 under new ownership, rolling out an improved model – the Eclipse 550 – in 2013.
And finally, something that doesn’t really fit all that well into the GA category – but is nevertheless worthy of note! Soaking up the noon sun, 6M-BH of the Austrian Air Force had popped into Zagreb (ZAG/LDZA) to take on fuel before continuing northwards to Varaždin (LDVA), where it would provide transport for an Austrian presidential delegation attending a regional summit. An interesting detail here is its designation; even though the name “Black Hawk” is almost universally associated with “UH-60”, export models are often labelled as S-70, which is the manufacturer’s official designation for this type.