While the summer season of 2018 was not really my most productive one (and is far below the bar set by 2017, which gave us classics such as this and this and particularly this), it nevertheless was not a total bust photography-wise. While I’m still smarting from having missed a couple of proper Achtung, Skyhawk! classics by mere minutes (including a Dash 7), I’ve still managed to hoard enough quality material for one jolly Photo File, to at least keep the ball rolling until something else comes up… 🙂
EDIT: and a bit of video as well… when you need a break from boring a hole in the sky, you can rent a Skyhawk and go get in the way at a neighboring airbase. The guy up in the tower must have died laughing: PC-9s regularly fly high speed breaks down the runway, occasionally even F-16s “request permission for flyby”… and into the mix comes me with a 40 year old 172 doing a blistering 125 knots…
When I had published my first derelict MD-80 story back in February of 2014 – featuring Maribor-based MD-82 S5-ACC – I had pretty much believed that to be that as far as this whole topic was concerned. And while there were several other abandoned Mad Dogs scattered throughout the region (two of which were in Croatia), all of them were pretty much inaccessible, shoved away into some remote corner of a commercial aerodrome and left to the elements. Sometimes of uncertain legal status and often with a fair bit of notoriety to their names, I had half expected them to either be broken up and scrapped – or disintegrate on their own – before I ever got the chance to snap them up close…
As it happens, I was somewhat wrong on that account, since one machine did indeed survive to be used again – sort of :). The aircraft in question is universally known to the locals as 9A-CBG, and had once flown with one of Croatia’s first post-independence private carriers, Air Adriatic (once also the parent of S5-ACC, known then as 9A-CBD). Unlike the latter though, CBG had changed considerably over the years, transforming from a sad, rotting hulk – and into a smoky, and quite interesting, firefighting trainer :).
Fire in the hole… hold!
Unlike most members of the MD-80 family, CBG had led a positively dull life, only ever flying with two operators – quite the anomaly in the Mad Dog world :D. Wearing the serial 49430 and line number 1334, CBG would first take to the skies on 11 November 1985, sporting an unknown (but likely subsequently reused) test registration. Interestingly, it would be more than a year before it appears in any online fleet list, joining the ranks of Italy’s flag carrier Alitalia in the very last days of December 1986. Taking on the identity of I-DAVI, it would remain in Italian service for nearly 20 years*, before finally being transferred (via leasing provider Azzure Holdings Ltd) to a rapidly expanding Air Adriatic in January 2005 :).
* I-DAVI would not be the only Alitalia example to head east. The Air Adriatic fleet had also included ex I-DAVH (9A-CBF, 49221/1330) and I-DAVG (9A-CBH, 49220/1319).
Like its sister ships, CBG (now named “No guts, no glory”) would be put to use in the carrier’s various charter operations, where it would remain until September 2005. It would then return briefly to Italy, having been wet-leased to operator MyAir (along with the aforementioned 9A-CBD/S5-ACC) until November of the same year.
However, the difficult operating economics – among other unfavorable realities – of airline flying in Croatia at the time head meant that pretty soon the carrier had found itself in an increasingly unenviable financial position. With its back being pressed ever more firmly against the wall, Air Adriatic had started shedding its (by now) eight-strong MD-82/83 fleet already in late 2005, entering 2006 with just five machines on its record. The company’s downward spiral had continued all throughout the year, until – with just three MDs to its name – it had lost its Air Operator Certificate (AOC) in March of 2007…
The final nail in the carrier’s coffin, the revocation of its AOC had firmly grounded the remaining jets where they stood. In the case of CBG, this was Rijeka Airport (RJK/LDRI), a small regional gateway located on the island of Krk and serving the coastal town of Rijeka – once home to Air Adriatic’s HQ. Unfortunately though, even though it was stuck on the company’s doorstep, there would be no reprieve for CBG, since the company’s financial collapse – and its subsequent inability to honor lease and operating payments – had meant that the aircraft would certainly end up embroiled in long and complicated legal proceedings. And so it came to be: caught in no man’s land, CBG would be left to rot and disintegrate in the corner of the apron…
Though it had not had the good fortune of its former sister ship CBD/S5-ACC, CBF would nevertheless eventually manage to find a new meaning in life :). Scrapped in November 2012 according to some sources, the aircraft was actually modified into an unusual low-budget firefighting trainer for the Rijeka Airport firefighting brigade. Now called the Dim-12 (“Smoke-12”), CBD’s conversion had primarily entailed a drastic shortening of the fuselage, a clean strip of all interior fittings – and its mounting on a trolley so it can be towed to whichever part of the airport it is needed at. Thankfully for me, at the time of my visit to the airport it was not engulfed in smoke, allowing me and my camera a closer inspection… 🙂
I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to both the Rijeka Airport ground team and firefighting service for the opportunity to snoop around!
While I have stated on more than one occasion that I’m not much of an airliner person, I’m nevertheless always on the lookout for rare and interesting examples of the breed – especially if they have a fair bit of history (and the odd plot twist) behind them 🙂 . Unfortunately though, the region’s traditionally fickle airline fortunes mean that “rare and interesting” is often synonymous with “abandoned and failed”, with a number of local airports home to disused aircraft in various states of (dis)repair that had been left behind when their parent companies went under. The very nature of these airlines – small, private start-ups fighting uphill for their place under the sun – had meant that these machines would inevitably be cheap members of the MD-80 family, with three such frames located within a 200 km radius from Zagreb.
One of these (and by far the best preserved) is the titular MD-82, nowadays displayed at Maribor Airport (LJMB) and briefly featured in one of my previous posts – where I’d pledged to give it a proper “work over” at some later date 🙂 . So, for another of my periodic returns to the world of commercial aviation, I’ve decided to make good on that pledge and – catching a break in our depressing winter weather – drove up there to see what’s what…
Mad Dog One
Following the universal path of the MD-80, ACC had led quite a varied and geographically diverse life, latterly changing operators more often than most people do socks 😀 . Sporting the serial 48095 and line number 1055, its story begins with first flight on 20 January 1982, soon after which – 23 April to be precise – it would join the fleet of Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) as N940PS. Interestingly – though I’ve been told this was not unusual among early Mad Dogs – N940PS had actually started out in life as an MD-81, to be reworked into its current MD-82 standard sometimes in the mid 80s. While both versions are visually identical inside and out, the 82 is fitted with more powerful Pratt & Whitney JT8D-217A engines – which produce 89 kN of thrust, versus the 82 kN of the -209 series fitted to the 81 – allowing for greatly improved performance in hot and high* conditions. The extra grunt had also led to a Maximum Take Off Mass (MTOM) increase of around three tons, even though fuel, passenger and cargo capacities had remained the same.
* a term that has pretty much entered everyday aviation conversation, “hot and high” refers to a specific set of atmospheric conditions created by a combination of high temperature and altitude. As the air warms up, its density begins to decrease, leading (among other things) to a reduction in engine efficiency and power. The same effect also occurs as altitude increases and is essentially one of the major factors that define an aircraft’s performance ceiling. Individually, either of these effects can be handled and overcome without undue problems by the majority of “regular” aircraft; however, when they combine, their total impact can be such that operations are only possible at very low weights – weights that imply a small payload and questionable operating economics. To overcome these conditions (found in many lucrative coastal areas around the world), several aircraft have been designed with higher than usual power-to-weight ratios and aerodynamics tailored to get as much out of thin air as possible. By far the most famous of these is the superlative 757, which, on a cold day at low altitude, can leave any other airliner for dead in the take off and climb 🙂 .
N940PS itself would continue to fly with PSA all the way into the beginning of April 1988, when the company merged with rival USAir (precursor to today’s US Airways). Retained in the new combined fleet, the aircraft would become N815US on 9 April, and would continue to serve staunchly until it left the fleet for good on 27 February 1997.
From there on end though, things start to get interesting 😀 . As far as the Internet is concerned, the aircraft had disappeared off the face of the planet for several years – in all probability spending some time in a desert somewhere – until it resurfaced back again in May 2003 as 9A-CBD 🙂 . Operated by Air Adriatic – one of the very few private airlines to have ever been formed in Croatia – it would fly various charter flights across the Balkans and Europe until August 2005, when it was wet-leased to Italian operator MyAir (keeping its Croatian registration as per the usual leasing rules). Sadly though, the realities of airline operations in Croatia – not to mention the complexities of their operating economics – had quickly caught up with Air Adriatic, which began shedding its eight-strong MD-82/83 fleet already by 2006 (the airline would eventually go under just a year later). Among the first to go, CBD was quickly acquired by Albanian low cost start-up Belle Air (which had commenced operations in 2005), where it became ZA-ARB on 1 February 2006.
But, even though the carrier was financially far sounder than Air Adriatic – and would, in fact, continue to operate for a further seven years before closing its doors in November 2013 – ARB still hadn’t experienced much in the way of smooth sailing. Having done its bit in giving Belle Air the initial kick it needed to get going, it would be pulled from the fleet just two years later, making way for the far more economical – and comfortable – A320.
Migrating back north once again, in early 2008 the jet would take on its current identity, serving now with Aurora Airlines, a Slovenian start-up operating out of Maribor 🙂 . Having spent much of the first half of the year on crew training duties, ACC would enter the commercial arena in September, flying on behalf of Air Kosova, a plane-less airline formed in the wake of Kosovo’s 17 February independence. Re-based at Priština Airport (BKPS) for this purpose, it would be used to connect Kosovo with several larger German cities, a traditionally sound choice given their wide variety of connection – as well as the presence of significant expat populations, in common with virtually every other Balkan nation.
However, given the new country’s economic climate and the population’s near-complete lack of purchasing power – Kosovo always having been one of the poorest regions of the Western Balkans – it was only a matter of time before Air Kosova too went under. And so it had happened near the end of the year, when the whole operation disappeared off the radar as quickly as it had appeared…
What was – with 20/20 hindsight – the final nail in ACC’s coffin, this development had left Aurora without any form of stable, sustainable work. Several charter contracts came and went – the last of which was for Hajj flights into Mecca – but pretty soon Aurora began to feel the same strain felt by Air Adriatic several years back; operating a cheap-to-buy but nowhere near cheap-to-run type on a shoestring budget, the company was pretty soon forced back against the wall. With bankruptcy staring it into the eyes, the company had no choice but to sell off its infrastructure while it could still be salvaged. Its second Mad Dog – MD-83 S5-ACE – was eventually sold, but ACC found no new home to go to. And so, on 14 January 2009, it had rolled up to a remote part of the Maribor apron and shut down its engines for good*…
* interestingly, this last flight – repositioning without passengers – was flown by two of my future CPL flight instructors, who’d once told me that despite its age and colorful working history, ACC was one of the finer Mad Dogs they’d flown…
A Trip to the Other Side
With those very engines now removed and sold, ACC was pretty much left to the elements. However, standing there for the better part of the year, it had caught the attention of the management of Letalski center Maribor (Maribor Flight Center), located on the opposite side of the runway. Deciding that it was not likely to go anywhere ever again – and that it could make for a nice addition to the center’s grounds – LCM had made a bid for the aircraft, eventually buying it outright in 2010 🙂 .
In what is perhaps the best tribute to both ACC, Aurora – and the MD-80 family as a whole – upon taking possession LCM had not gone down the path of turning the jet into a kitsch fairground attraction. Instead, they’d simply trucked it over to their side of the airport and preserved it (as much as possible) in its original shape and form 🙂 . Still in remarkably good nick, the aircraft is today open to visits by various school groups and enthusiasts – one of which had rocked up on 14 February with a huge camera and a mean-looking tripod… 😀
I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to Mr. Danilo Kovač of Letalski center Maribor for his time – as well as for opening ACC for me and sharing interesting snippets from its recent history!