Photo File – The Swing-Leg Skyhawk: Cessna 172RG Cutlass RG

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

To properly kick off my return here after an unintentional pause of nine months (!), I’ve decided to revisit an aircraft type I had mentioned in passing some time ago – seeing that, by a stroke of sheer dumb luck, I managed to snap TWO in the space of just one week (which is twice as many as I’d managed over the past 18 years). The machine in question – as the post title infers – is the Retractable Gear (RG) version of the common Cessna 172, an aircraft whose rarity and cool factor is matched only by its apparent uselessness and absurdity…

A mint 172RG, in a modern paint scheme, under clear skies on a beautiful summer morning… I could do worse for a pre-dawn spotting session I must admit!

Swinging 80s

To immediately get an idea of why the 172RG stands out like a sore thumb within the traditionally conservative Skyhawk family, it seems best to start off with its main party pieces, as compared to the stock 172P of the same period (1980):

  • fully retractable gear
  • a longer snout to house the nose gear when retracted
  • cowl flaps
  • 180 HP Lycoming O-360-F1A6 w/ constant speed prop (vs the standard 160 HP O-320 and fixed pitch unit)
  • 66 USG fuel capacity (up from the standard 42)
  • and a 1,202 kg MTOM (vs the 1,088 of the P)

Performance-wise, the extra grunt (particularly the increased efficiency of the constant speed prop) and cleaner lines meant the RG could pull up to a 20 knot lead over the stock P, with High Speed Cruise pegged at 140 knots. The new prop also made for slightly better after take-off climb performance (800 fpm vs 700), while the increased fuel tankage gave a pretty chunky range boost, from 440 up to as much as 770 NM.

Cutlass #2 undergoing a wheels-up restoration after a (heh) wheels-up landing in Germany. You can definitely tell it apart in a normal Skyhawk crowd!

However, the ~80 kg added by the gear retraction mechanism also upped the empty weight, now standing at 740 kg vs the P’s 660. Normally, this was not much of a payload issue if you took on only your required fuel – but if you went all out and brimmed the tanks, you’d be left with barely 260 kg of headroom… roughly two 2020 adult males, some luggage and all the stuff normally carried around when away from home (additional oil, tow bar, cockpit/wing covers, emergency equipment, survival kits, …).

The higher MTOM also made for longer take-off and landing runs, both up by roughly 70 meters even on concrete; and while some owners have been known to fly them out of rough fields (and even back country strips), it generally goes without saying that the new legs did not take too kindly to prolonged use on the types of runways normal 172s take for granted.

While the main gear legs are no thinner than those on the standard 172 (where they’re set inside streamlined fairings), Cessna’s electro-hydraulic RG systems are quite complicated things and can go bananas even when mollycoddled. As on the 177RG, 182RG and 210, the main legs of first swing downwards and the fold back into recesses in the fuselage (barely visible here). Early 210s – which were the first to use the system – also had main wheel well doors, but they proved problematic and were deleted well before the 172RG appeared

The Cessna Retractable Dance. Go to 0:30 for retraction and 1:30 for extension. You’ll note that the pilot leaves the gear down for quite some time after take-off; the standard wisdom on RG Cessnas is to leave it hanging until clearing obstacles, since the retraction sequence causes so much drag it can noticeably impair climb performance at a critical stage (this is also SOP on airliners during windshear escape maneuvers). Indeed, the main legs drop by a whopping 60 centimetres during retraction!

Maintenance-wise, private owners, commercial operators and various incident reports all tend to agree that the upsides of its commonality with the stock 172 are frequently balanced out by the many gremlins of the RG system – though user experiences vary considerably, particularly when comparing leisure and training ops.

Persistent weak spots and items that require frequent inspection are the main electric-driven hydraulic pump, down-stop pads that (if damaged) may prevent the main gear legs from locking down, and the main gear pivots that are worn out by the legs’ aerobatics during retraction and extension. There’s also the need to periodically cycle the gear on the ground during checks – which requires jacks and additional man-hours – as well as the costs of servicing the propeller governor (though that’s a pretty standard job).

And while none of these are deal-breakers in themselves – the 182RG and 210 say Hiii! – the cost-benefit math of doing all that on a lowly 172 did not make the RG everyone’s cup of tea…

Mission-ready

So, when all was said and done, the 172RG was a cheap & simple aircraft made expensive & complicated for just a few marginal gains – so much that even the fixed gear 210 HP Reims FR172 Rocket could keep up with it in a pinch (and for noticeably less money). What’s more, if you really wanted the “Full RG Experience”, five numbers up was the (slightly) more powerful, (much) more efficient, (oodles) more comfortable and (far) more elegant 177RG Cardinal – an aircraft conceived outright for the touring role, offering 182 series frills without many of its financial chills.

The 172RG thus appears to be – in technical terms – a complete crock. However, outright performance and mass market appeal are not what this airplane is about; its forte was to corner a very specific niche of the training market by offering a suitable and affordable “quick fix” for a problem few manufacturers seemed interested in tackling.

The niche in question was for what’s termed a complex aircraft, a surprising demanding specification that calls for a simple, easy-to-fly, robust and cost-effective airplane that can also boast toys such as flaps, retractable gear and constant speed props – all the complicated and fiddly stuff that future airline drivers are supposed to deal with (did mine on an old, student-weary PA-44, so the full set of traumas is there!)*.

And with the Skyhawk’s 25 years of active service to its name, the type’s well-known middle-of-the-road handling, off-the-shelf components (even the landing gear, nicked off the Cardinal), a reliable and frugal powerplant and a developed global support network, the 172RG had hit all the nails it needed to hit. Even though it would be born on the eve of Cessna’s decade-long single engine production pause, 1,191 would be made between 1980 and 1984… not bad for a niche design!**

* the original specification for complex aircraft had not set a specific minimum power limit; in 1997 however, the FAA set the bar at a minimum 200 HP, thus disqualifying the 172RG. However, the type still remains in widespread use as an introductory platform for more complex touring machinery – as well as a charismatic “left field” personal airplane

** though there are frequent parallels with the Beech 24 Sierra and the Piper Arrow, the 172RG is actually not a direct competitor to either. Both designs boast thirstier 200 HP fuel-injected engines (the Arrow with the option of turbocharging), better performance, more amenities – and are generally set up more for the posh end of the touring market; their closest Cessna analogue would be the aforementioned 177 Cardinal. The only aircraft on equal footing with the 172RG was the very first version of the Arrow – the 180 HP PA-28R-180 – which debuted in 1967 and remained in production for only a couple of years before being superseded by the first of the 200 HP models

What’s in a name?

While all of the above ticks quite a few Achtung, Skyhawk! boxes, one more thing remains that is very worthy of mention: it’s name.

While it does say “Cessna 172” on the tin, the 172RG is techno-legally not a purebred Skyhawk – but rather an offshoot of the nearly forgotten 175 Skylark. Billed as the next step towards the larger 182 (a role that would later be filled by the 177), the 175 was in essence an up-market high-trim version of the 1956 172A, fitted with a geared 175 HP Continental GO-300 instead of the standard direct-drive 145 HP O-300. Unfortunately, reduction gearboxes were at the time an unheard of feature on such a small civilian engine, meaning that very few pilots had ever encountered one before. The specific way in which such an engine had to be handled – flown at around the 3000 RPM mark – was so alien and absurd to private pilots that many drove them at the more usual 2000-2200 RPM, leading to a ton of breakdowns, failures and bad PR. By 1962, things had gotten so bad that Cessna was forced to pull the plug on the entire design, and retire both the 175 designation and the Skylark name…

A stunning late model 1962 Skylark with the original GO-300. Note the hump on top of the cowling; the propeller axis had to be raised up in order to accommodate the reduction gearbox without relocating the engine mounts

To salvage at least some of the effort invested in the design, the company decided to keep the 175’s Type Certificate (and some mechanical bits) and use them as the legal basis for all future high-performance variants of the 172:

  • the 195 HP R172 Hawk XP
  • the 210 HP Reims FR172 Rocket
  • the military T-41 Mescalero
  • and the 172RG

Traces of the Skylark’s original DNA can still be seen in the R172, FR172 and T-41, since they all sport the tall narrow-track landing gear of the 172A, which would be replaced by the squatter wider-track variant we all know and love on the subsequent 172B.

However, this would not be the end of Cessna’s marketing shenanigans; in 1983, the company would launch the 172Q Cutlass (sans RG), an attempt to “schlepp” on the RG image by fitting the 172P with a 180 HP Lycoming O-360-A4N driving a fixed pitch prop. Quite a rare model today – which did not offer much meaningful superiority over the P – only a handful would ever be built before the Skyhawk family as a whole went into its prolonged 80s coma…

Fixer Upper

While at this point in any normal Achtung, Skyhawk! post I’d go off with a ton of (more or less) descriptive external photos, in this instance I decided to “stay inside”, since the opportunity to snoop around a full-blown rebuild (currently at ~60%) was an opportunity too good to miss! The photos are not my best work – it’s hard to maneuver my 1.91 m frame w/ camera and tripod inside a 172 – but hopefully they’ll be interesting enough for the common avgeek!

I don’t know… it feels something is missing… free from all its kit, the Skyhawk panel looks far more commodious than it actually is! Note the (now very visible) sections for the flight and navigation instruments and the radio stack. Before its wheels-up landing and rebuild, D-EGGF also sported an autopilot (fitted above the glove compartment), and will – when completed – also carry a full set of digital engine instruments. Note also the rudder trim wheel next to the elevator trim; a very useful convenience/borderline necessity with a constant speed prop

A peek “behind the scenes” shows just how many wires, cables, ducts – and even chain drives – there are in a light aircraft. The complexity, weight and maintenance headaches of the average analogue panel have been one of the key drivers behind modern glass cockpit systems built around digital buses and remote sensing systems

Lots of wires… and lots of levers too. With carburetor heat, throttle, prop, mixture and cowl flaps controls, the 172RG could be handful for inexperienced pilots used to the trouble-free operation of the classic Skyhawk (but ideal for the well-meaning masochism of flight training!). Indeed, this was Cessna’s most complicated throttle quadrant short of the 182 (even the 177RG had one level less, being fuel injected)

The most out-of-place level in a Skyhawk: the landing gear handle. One of the more unconventional operational features of Cessna’s RG system is that the “gear up and locked” lamp is – red… which on everything up to and including airliners means either “NOT locked” or “in transit”. Somewhat annoyingly, the light remains continually illuminated as long as the gear is retracted… which is mildly disconcerting from a Q400 driver’s perspective!

Like all RG airplanes, the 172 has a backup gear extension system, whose lever is located under a cover between the front seats. The trick here is that it is just a hand pump, to be used in case the electric one fails (~35 strokes are necessary, according to the POH); it still requires the hydraulic system to be fully operational, and there is no gravity drop or a standalone reserve hydro system. This “unusual feature” is the 172RG’s main Achilles’ heel: the gear is actually held up by hydraulic pressure, and to keep it from dropping, the hydraulic pump occasionally operates in flight to keep the pressure within limits (between 1000 and 1500 PSI). However, if there’s a leak in the system – which seems to happen with some frequency – the pump’s operation will simply dump the hydraulic fluid overboard, eventually emptying the entire system and rendering the gear completely inoperable

The more normal end of the Cessna RG system. The nose wheel doors are mechanically connected to the nose leg so they open and close with gear motion; their biggest operational problem is that they’re quite large and hang low, so it’s easy to damage them if you’re a bit too enthusiastic with the tow bar

Who would have thought that all of this cabling lies hidden behind the teeny panel of the Skyhawk? Another detail unique to the 172RG is the raised floor (best visible below the CDI), necessary to accommodate the main gear legs when retracted. The main wheels however stow behind the normal luggage compartment, so the loss of space there is minimal

Boxes boxes everywhere, not a place to sit… thankfully, the lack of space for maneuvering about with a tripod is taken up by some pretty cool kit: Garmin G5 x2, GMA350, GNC225… should be quite a looker when finished, very much looking forward to trying it out!

As ever, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Dorian Delić of Medulin Airfield (LDPM) in Istria, for allowing me to snoop through his family’s hangar and drool a bit over D-EGGF!

Aircraft pictured:

  • D-EGGF: c/n 172RG-0301 • mfd 1980 • ex. N107JB
  • D-EPAW: c/n 172RG-0757 • mfd 1980 • ex. N6532V, I-ALEU

Sources:

Photo File – The Heat Is On

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 here).

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).


Photo File – Story Time Part 2

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Having set the ball for long-winded photo commentaries rolling with my previous photo file, 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.

So, while the owners of Porsche-powered Mooneys and skydive Caravans 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…

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.

Photo File – Story Time

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo File – One Engine For Short Haul

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While the met office tended to respond with much doom and gloom every time the summer of 2016 came up, out in the (air)field we had mostly been treated to beautiful flying weather all throughout the season, with gorgeous conditions from dawn all the way until the last dusk. This had particularly been true for the week preceding this article, with a large high pressure area over Europe responsible for skies clear as far as the eye could see (even from the flight levels).

Unsurprisingly, this turn of events had lured out many light aircraft all throughout the region, with plains, seas and hills alive with the sounds of pistons. By sheer good luck, this fine spell had seen me travel all over the place, allowing my camera to see what our little piston singles – and gliders – were up to… 🙂

One of only three aircraft on the Pula Airport (PUY/LDPL) apron greets a calm – and slightly foggy – morning. If you had a feeling that this is a bit too elegant to be a Cessna, you’d be entirely right… for despite the name, this is actually a Lancair LC-42-550RG Columbia, a speedy carbon fiber design that Cessna bought some years ago and started selling under its own brand. Like all Lancairs, the LC-42 is notable for its sleek aerodynamics, as well as an enviable power-to-weight ratio, with 310 HP hauling only 1500 kg of all-up mass. Coupled with a modern propeller, this ratio gives the Corvalis cruise speeds in the 340 km/h range – which puts this little “toy” in the same league with some turboprops…

A very welcome visitor to Lučko warming up prior to its afternoon hop to Vrsar Airfield (LDPV). Even though DYG looks at first like a stock late-model 172, details such as the three-bladed constant-speed prop, large exhaust and an air intake on the right side of the cowl reveal that it actually sports Thielert diesel muscle under the hood. A thorough rework of the 2 liter CDI unit out of the Mercedes A Class, the Centurion 2.0 can boast a maximum output of between 135 and 155 HP, and a consumption of only 20 liters per hour – significantly less than the 35+ of the standard avgas model. An additional benefit are the digital engine controls (FADEC), which replace the traditional levers fverniers for power, propeller RPM and mixture with only one jet-style lever…

Proof that even airline pilots are not immune to the call of light aircraft! Briefly swapping gas turbines for cylinders, the crew of OM-M902 prepares for a one hour joyride on and around Lučko. Still pretty rare in Europe, the Jabiru family ranks among the most successful Australian light aircraft programs in recent years, and already pretty much has a cult following in its home state. An interesting detail is that the majority of Jabiru models use the company’s own engine – in this case a 2.2 liter petrol four-cylinder engine developing 80 HP for takeoff.

A mint Reims-built C172P of the Motorfluggruppe Zürich potters calmly along taxiway Alpha at Zürich Airport (ZRH/LSZH) following an afternoon arrival into RWY 28. Despite the airport handling hundreds heavier aircraft every day – ranging from regional turboprops to intercontinental widebodies – it still manages to seamlessly integrate its resident GA population into the traffic flow. In what is almost a case study of Swiss efficiency, the airport manages this through IFR-style regulation of VFR traffic, including strict departure routes and procedures (intended to keep light traffic separated from the big boys and on known tracks) – and even VFR slots, specific periods during the day when commercial traffic is slow enough to permit unhampered operations on both sides.

The newest resident of Lučko just starting to roll towards RWY 28 for another skydive flight. The permanent replacement for C210 9A-DZP – which had been written off in a landing incident – G-MILN is also one of the most well-kept classic Cessnas in Croatia, and had accumulated only around 1300 flight hours since its completion in 1977 – and with only one owner at that. Equipped with a pretty modern avionics setup – including a Garmin GTN 650 touchscreen GPS – this machine will in future also receive a specialized skydive door and other ancillary equipment for such ops.

Easily concealing the fact that it already has more than three decades of service behind it, GOD prepares to wait out an incoming storm in the field’s main hangar. One of former Yugoslavia’s most popular gliders, the Vuk-T was conceived in the late 70s as an intermediate training type – most closely fitting the Standard Class – sporting an all-fiberglass body and a 15 meter supercritical airfoil wing. To make it suitable for its intended role, it had sacrificed ultimate performance for ease of handling and structural integrity – and even today has a reputation for toughness, durability, crashworthiness and simplicity of maintenance (some examples even pushing 6000 flight hours). Despite this, it still boasts a 1/38 glide ratio, and is cleared for maneuvers such as loops, wingovers and spins. Interestingly, the type was also one of the first Yugoslav aircraft designed using CAD tools – and the country’s first glider to be comprehensively tested in a wind tunnel. Another tidbit is its name: translated as “wolf-T”, it comes from a peculiar subdued howl it makes in high speed flight.

Photo File – Porsches to Caravans

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Despite only a month having passed since my last collection of GA photos from around Croatia, I am pleased to announce that I’ve already accumulated enough material for another one :D. The return of both the summer tourist and flying seasons – plus frequent hops to the country’s coastal airports – had pretty quickly resulted in several interesting and unusual finds, allowing for yet another burst of photos to keep Achtung, Skyhawk! lively until the completion of an extensive in-progress historical piece… 🙂

More than any other airport in Croatia, during the summer Dubrovnik (DBV/LDDU) is a real Mecca for general aviation! Conspicuous primarily due to its unusual vertical stabilizer, D-EAFE is notable for another quirk: its Porsche PFM 3200 engine. Conceived in the mid-80s as the company’s attempt to fully break into the aviation market, the PFM 3200 is in essence a thoroughly modified 3.2 liter boxer out of the 911, which – once FADEC was applied – produced 215 HP normally and 240 with a turbocharger. Though it had proved popular with European customers, the engine had nevertheless failed to grab a piece of the Lycoming and Continental pie, leading to the termination of production in 1991. Interestingly, the PM-20K is actually a “bastard”; the only Mooney meant to use Porsche power from the outset was the M-20L, with the PM being an aftermarket retrofit. As of 2016, only two are known to still be flyable…

Though it is not as exotic as a Porsche-powered Mooney, another recent Dubrovnik visitor had nevertheless managed to catch my attention – if anything for its non-standard configuration. Owned by the Union skydive club based at Wels Airfield (LOLW) near Linz, Austria, N105VE had started out in life as a stock Cargomaster freighter, before being modified for skydive duties with the addition of a “skydive kit” (which includes internal and external handrails, footboards and a signalling system in the cabin). Interestingly, it had been retrofitted with six windows from the passenger model, giving it a secondary people carrying capability – the guise in which it had popped into town for a few days.

A full frontal view clearly shows just why had the diminutive Katana made such an impact on the two-seat trainer market. A Rotax in the nose for good economy, a composite structure for better efficiency – and a wing as if nicked off a glider for gentle and predictable handling… one of a total of five operational DA-20s in Croatia inadvertently posing for a cracking photo as it prepares to depart Lučko for its home base of Varaždin (LDVA).

Methinks we need to mow the lawn! While it does look like we urgently need a course in gardening at Lučko, this is actually part of a clever method of raising additional funds for the field’s maintenance. Left to freely grow in select areas (with the runways, taxiways, overrun and underrun areas regularly trimmed), the grass is split into grids which are then auctioned off to farmers and farming companies. When the bidding is completed, the winners use their own equipment to cut the grass – thus saving the airfield the costs of doing it itself, while at the same time bringing in some extra cash.

The replacement for the replacement of our sorely missed CarryAll 9A-BKS, “spotty” is seen warming up for its sole flight of the day. One of only two purpose-modified skydive C182s in Croatia, the 1967 PET is also among the oldest lighties of any sort in the country – which does not really stop it from clocking serious time during the summer season.

While the high wing, underslung turboprops, large tires and a rear loading ramp are nowadays a common configuration for light and medium tactical transports, this profile was still a novelty with the Transall entered service in the mid-60s. One of the most stubbornly long-lived transport aircraft ever made, the C-160 is also among the earliest instances of post-WW2 European cooperation, having come about as a joint project between France and Germany. With uninterrupted service spanning five decades, the Transall is still actively flying in France, Germany and Turkey – and had already in 2001 clocked up one million flying hours. Of interest, the Transall name is an amalgamation of “Transporter Allianz” – while the 160 is its wing area in square meters. 50+75 itself – pictured here at Split Airport (SPU/LDSP) – is one of the last first-generation examples (mfd in 1971), and had visited as part of a multinational exercise.

Photo File – Spring Is Coming…

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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.

Photo File – Lighto

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Even though autumn is in full swing here in SE Europe – with “formal” winter only a month away – the weather had apparently not been informed of this development, with constantly clear & sunny skies, light winds and 20 degrees Centigrade at noon being pretty much the norm. Not wanting to let this beautiful opportunity go to waste – and having been away from GA for most of the summer – I’d decided to use my free time productively and drive around looking for lighties to photograph 😀 . While most of the stuff in my immediate vicinity had already been featured here (ad nauseam in some cases), a research drive for an upcoming article had seen me visit Novo Mesto Airfield (LJNM) in neighboring Slovenia, bringing some fresh material to table. Combined with a few snaps left over from the summer, this should be enough to bring my readers a fresh dose of light aviation on the Balkans… 🙂

A small, odd airplane + parked on grass with muddy tires + a background of rolling hills and autumn colors = love at first sight. The irreplaceable magic of light aviation in one photo as “Alpendohle” warms up its engine for departure from Novo Mesto. A design that tends to raise some eyebrows, the BO-208 is actually a German-built version of the Swedish MFI-9, created at the end of the 50s as a light touring aircraft with utility potential. Even though it is pretty obscure today, the MFI-9 was also the basis for the larger and more powerful SAAB MFI-15 Supporter, which is still used for training duties by several Scandinavian air forces…

Even though it already boasts aircraft from the USA, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, France and former Yugoslavia, Lučko had recently also become home to a little bird (emu?) from Australia. One of the most well known products of Australia’s present-day aviation industry, the Jabiru line of two- and four-seaters is still a rarity in Europe, and are sometimes hard to find even at specialized GA shows. Even though it carries a Slovak registration, OM-M902 – manufactured in 2008 and powered by Jabiru’s own 2200 cc engine developing 80 HP – is actually a former resident of Vinkovac Airfield (LDOV) in the extreme east of Croatia.

An airfield by the coast, clear blue skies, pleasant summer temperatures – and three Cessnas soaking up the afternoon sun… a scene that just begs one to go flying! Even though it still wears its original German colors, D-EBXS (mfd. 1977) is nowadays a permanent resident of Medulin Airfield (LDPM) in Istria, and is frequently seen flying panorama flights up and down the peninsula.

Something that any proper airfield should be: a cafe and restaurant, good company, a full hangar and and interesting little aircraft parked outside (a Robin DR-400-180 Remorqueur, D-EOSR in this case).

C210 Squadron. The only two operational Centurions in Croatia together on the Lučko apron. However, even though they are only two letters apart, the 210L and P210N are actually significantly different machines: DZP is a simple, basic model whose equipment levels do not differ much from other single-engine Cessnas – while N50DD is a top-of-the-line version, equipped with a turbocharger, de-icing systems… and a pressurized fuselage.

One of the newest gliders on the Croatian register waiting for its turn to be put to bed in the field’s main hangar. Restored and assembled by hand, GKB wears this simple – but eye-catching – scheme, which is in fact a copy of a similar paint job seen on another Schleicher in the Netherlands.

And finally, one of those gems that can only be found by careful hangar trawling. Even though, from a numerical perspective, the L-13 Blanik is to gliders what the Cessna 172 is to piston singles, its younger brother – the L-23 Super Blanik seen here – is a somewhat different story. Designed on the basis of operational experiences with the L-13, the L-23 had received a completely new T-tail with swept fin, a slightly larger cabin with a two-piece canopy – and had lost its flaps as a weight-saving measure. Despite noticeably increased performance in all areas, the L-23 had not achieved the popularity of the original – but had nevertheless noted significant success in the USA, where it was also used in the Civil Air Patrol.

Photo Report – Life at Lučko, June 2015

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As was the case (nearly) every year so far, the arrival of our continental summer has once again become the trigger for a sudden and rapid reawakening of the light aircraft scene at Lučko :). Even though the flying season itself had already started several months ago, the long hours of daylight, ample public holidays and fine flying conditions of June have given it a much-needed kick, with all operations – private, training and skydive – quickly shifting into high gear (while it all lasts). And while the gear in question is a notch lower than in previous years – with Croatia still knee-deep in the financial crisis – there was nevertheless still quite a bit to see and snap! 🙂

A little airplane that is not often seen at Lučko preparing for a short afternoon flight above Zagreb. Normally based at Varaždin Airfield (LDVA) in the north of the country, DVW is among the best “classic” 172s here on the continent, and has already seen off its fair share of student pilots…

Sporting a new set of clothes, PET gives no indication whatsoever that it is almost half a century old. Still active in skydive circles, it had recently been thoroughly overhauled, and will soon get a purpose-built carbon-fiber skydive door on the right side.

Several of the many bits of local aviation history hiding in plain sight all over the airfield: a replica of the first aircraft designed, built and flown in Croatia, alongside a type that had given wings to entire generations of local pilots – and both inside a hangar that had previously been home to Bf.109s and Fiat G.50s when it was located at Borongaj Airport in the 40s…

The “disintegrating squadron” catching some sun on its temporary parking position in front of the tower. Manufactured in 1967 and 1978 respectively, BDR and DDA had not been off the ground in ages, with the former last noted in the skies in 2003, and the latter sometime in 2006 or 2007…

Always a welcome sight and sound, BKS is seen warming up for a skydive op in the nearby village of Kurilovec. Having to endure continuous operation at both high-power/low-speed and low-power/high-speed regimes, getting the engine’s internal temperatures into the green before flight is of vital importance – not only to preserve its stated service life, but also to prevent seizures and internal damage due to sudden temperature changes.

The newest resident of the airfield snapped after participation in a local precision landing championship. The only DG-300 in Croatia, 1985-vintage D-2871 is also one of the best-equipped gliders in the area, sporting two competition digital VSIs, a GPS unit – and even a FLARM system (a miniature ACAS designed specifically for use in gliders). Interestingly, despite being a German design, the DG-300 line was manufactured in Slovenia by the Elan works, famous locally for their extensive range of high-quality sporting equipment (particularly skis and sailboats).

Photo Report – 24th Zagreb Kup Precision Landing Championship

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Looking back on it (even though it still has a month and a bit left to run), this year has, aviation-wise, been almost a complete joke. One of the rainiest years since record keeping began in Croatia some two centuries ago, it has produced no less than three major floods, interspersed with unusually frequent (and surprisingly violent) cyclones and depressions that had – in some cases – dumped a year’s worth of rain in just a few weeks. Scenes such as this and this had kept most of our grass airfields closed and flooded for days on end, trapping all of our money-making aircraft and rendering them unable to flee to the paved safety of the country’s major airports…

Likewise, man-made disasters had conspired against us as well, with the country’s long-standing economic crisis now running into its seventh consecutive year – with very little light only dimly visible at the end of the tunnel. Apart from a general reduction in life standard, spanners thrown into Croatia’s GA works include soaring fuel prices, increased maintenance costs – and, not least of all, stepped-up efforts by several operators of popular paved airports to collect increasingly exorbitant fees and charges in order to alleviate their own financial difficulties.

An yet, despite all of this, the local GA scene is operating like there’s no tomorrow (likely because if the weather continues like this, there probably won’t be 😀 ), with a new bizjet, new skydive Cessna, new glider and towplane all having arrived in country within the past few months. Flying clubs are on a roll as well, with mine already having beaten its previous flight time high, set – ironically – in 2013 :). Skydive flights, airshow performances, panoramic flights, private rentals… all seem to be coming back on track despite the worsening living standard (with only flight training letting the side down).

Much of the same could have also been seen during the 24th Zagreb Cup precision landing championship, held at Lučko Airfield (LDZL) on Saturday 11 October :). A yearly small-town event whose sole purpose is to have some good-natured fun (and enjoy a good BBQ afterwards 😀 ), the competition had this year attracted an all-time record in aircraft and competitors, numbering at four Cessna 150s, three Cessna 172s and 24 competing pilots respectively. While this doesn’t sound like much compared to some of the larger and more formal competitions held elsewhere in Europe, it is still of one of the main aviation (social) events of the season, and had this year easily topped the 2013 competition, where we had a showing of only five aircraft and just 18 pilots.

A handy visual guide to everything you need to know about the competition. Closest to me is the landing field used for the purpose, drawn up in lime powder on the right side of RWY 28L. 72 meters long in total, it is marked off in several 5 meter wide grids, plus a two meter wide “zero mark” that represents the ideal touchdown point. For 20 meters on either side, the grids are further split into one meter wide segments – as shown here – to aid the judges in determining the exact point of contact. Further back behind the field are three of the seven competition aircraft – parked on RWY 28R – with the competitors monitoring progress on the runway’s edge.

As nearly every year so far, the competition had been blessed with beautiful summer-like anticyclonic weather, sporting clear blue skies, temperatures of around 25 degrees Centigrade – and lighting conditions to die for. The only thing missing compared to last year was a stiff 15 knot crosswind, replaced this time by a light, variable and refreshing breeze – quite welcome when standing in the sun for several hours 😀 .

Even though this meant we’d miss out on the visually attractive landings of 2013, my shutter finger was not left to stand idly by, with my role as assistant judge allowing me the occasional opportunity to play around a bit… 🙂

The first group of competitors (minus C150 9A-DMI standing to my left) prepares for take-off down RWY 28L. Since they were departing individually, for reasons of safety the lead ship had to be the fastest of the group – C172 9A-DFH – with the three slower C150s at the back sequenced by their pilots’ precedence on the competition roster. Of note, since the competition field took up half the width of the runway, all competitors had to take off from an intermediate position – roughly 200 meters from the threshold – to avoid blowing the flags and lime away…

To avoid running over the above – and the occasional judge – on the way to the intermediate position, the competitors had to taxi past the field on the left side of the runway, which had conveniently brought them to within a few meters of my position – thus allowing me plenty of opportunity to play with various compositions as they rolled by. One of these had inadvertently ended up being a study of the minute differences and options available on the Cessna 150 during its production run…

One of life’s rare opportunities to stand in front of a (slowly) taxing aircraft on the primary runway of a (somewhat) busy airfield with a camera in one hand and a cool beverage in the other!

A crowd on final like we’re at a proper airport! Even though the competition specified a separation standard of one and a half minutes between successive aircraft – enough to have four machines evenly spaced around the circuit all at once – different piloting techniques and approaches had invariably eroded it from time to time…

“Caution wake turbulence”. They may not be fast jets and there’s no smooth tarmac under their tires, but it nevertheless makes one happy to see them! Interestingly, by the time CCG had turned onto the crosswind leg, the lead ship of the group – Cessna 172N 9A-DHL – was already turning final…

Even though it happens only rarely, it is not unseen for contestants to have occasional tailstrikes during these sorts of competitions. Thankfully, in this case the actual strike was very light and brief, with only the tail tie-down ring making contact with the ground. Had it not been there to kick up the grass, we likely would have never noticed…

Deja-vu from 2013… even though there was almost no wind for the entire duration of the competition, occasionally some of the contestant had made a hash of their final “no flaps, no power” approach, forcing them to stretch their glide as much as possible and plonk the aircraft down on its last few Newtons of lift. While this does look somewhat dramatic, the competition rules allow it up to a point, provided the wheel in the air is at a height less than its diameter and not for more than 5 meters horizontal distance.

Photo Report – I have nothing to offer…

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

… but sweat, dehydration, sunburn and flight hours 😀 . Okay, Churchill may not have had the spring/summer flying season at Lučko in mind when he uttered his famous phrase back in 1940, but in this custom form it does go a long way to describing events at the field these past few weeks 🙂 . With out traditional summer anticyclone parked very firmly over the entire region, we’ve been graced with fantastic flying weather for days on end, allowing out entire fleet to go out and stretch its wings. And while the temperatures did let the side down – with 40 Centigrade on the apron not even being newsworthy – we’ve nevertheless persevered, allowing me to bring you another photo series of life in Croatian GA (and beyond)… 🙂

The Carryall in its element: on grass under sunny skies on a beautiful spring day. An aircraft with a rich history in the country, BKS was produced back in 1977, entering service with local operator Pan Adria the same year. Used for tailwheel conversion training and crop dusting, it would pass to the Viša zrakoplova škola flight school a few years later, where it would serve as an IFR trainer. Following the school’s collapse in the late 80s, BKS would end up in the fleet of Aeroklub Zagreb, where it was stripped, lightened and turned into a skydive aircraft – a role it fulfills even today. An interesting personal detail is that this aircraft seems to follow my family around, starting with my dad who used to work in Pan Adria, mom who used to work at Viša zrakoplovna škola – and me currently flying it on behalf of AK Zagreb.

Another look at our charismatic fuel-to-noise converter. Powered by an 8.5 liter/520 cu in engine developing 300 HP and whirling a 208 cm/82 in diameter prop – which is well into the transsonic region on take off – BKS is not the most conspicuous machine around, and can – during favorable winds – be heard all the way to the center of Zagreb, some 10 km/5 NM away…

Definitely one of the more interesting aircraft I’ve come across over the years! Sporting an unusual configuration for what is essentially a motorglider, the HB-21 is quite the performer despite its frail looks, easily rivaling the Piper Super Cub in the climb. Indeed, OE-9129 was bought specifically to replace PA-18 9A-DBU in the glider tow role, with trials revealing it’s more than a match even when hauling a heavy glider such as the Let L-13 Blanik…

A scene straight out of WW I as one of Lučko’s most famous residents flies leisurely overhead. Lovingly crafted over a period of several years – mostly out of materials found in hardware stores – XCA is a modern replica of the first proper aircraft built in Croatia: the P-3 of 1910 (designed by inventor Slavoljub Penkala). Not exactly a one-for-one replica, the CA-10 includes a few aerodynamic improvements to make it easier to fly, as well as an 80 HP Rotax 912ULS in place of the extinct Laurin & Klement inline.

The (mostly) fine weather had also lured out the air force, allowing us to play a bit of spot the differences! Even though they are essentially the same aircraft underneath, the legacy Mi-8MTV-1 and the modern Mi-171 do diverge in a number of details – the most obvious being the 171’s flat rear ramp. Other more subtle changes include the additional forward fuselage door – which had necessitated the relocation of the aircon unit to the top of the fuselage – and the Doppler Navigator antenna array moved further back down the tail boom. Intended to also provide at least some of the capability of the country’s long decommissioned Mi-24 fleet, the 171s also sport some additional combat equipment, including bolt-on armor plating around the cockpit, flare dispensers (above the CroAF roundel on the rear fuselage), IR jammers (at the back of the gearbox assembly) and provisions for carrying up to four B8V unguided rocket packs.

Reasons for getting up at 4 AM to go flying: here’s #1… beautifully smooth air, absolute quiet on the frequency, an agreeable 26 Centigrade aloft – and a fantastic view of sleepy Zagorje as I ferry DMG to Varaždin for servicing at 5:30 AM.

Even though it is relatively busy even at the worst of times, on this morning Varaždin appeared to be host to a mini Cessna convention, with seven 172s, one 182 and one 210 lining the main taxiway and apron. The culprits for this threefold increase in Cessna numbers were the seven 172s from Bulgaria and Serbia, in country on a fox immunization contract and for the time being operating out of Varaždin…

Easily mistaken for a brand new Skyhawk SP, this mint 1978 172N is seen rolling gently towards the main hangar for some minor maintenance. Part of the aforementioned Bulgarian-Serbian fleet, AIA is equipped with a bare bones interior and a special pellet dispenser in place of the regular baggage door. In immunization operations, the aircraft is manned by a crew of two, with the second member manually feeding the dispenser with pellets from chilled boxes (kept overnight in a refrigerated truck trailer).

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?