Photo File – Spring Is Coming…

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

As is usual for this time of year, the ever-improving weather conditions (with the inevitable hiccup or two) have slowly started waking the local GA scene from its winter stupor. While operations are still very much in the 7 AM pre-coffee stage, life is nevertheless returning to airfields across the land, with planes, gliders and helicopters being dusted off for the coming spring. Naturally enough, I had once again decided to snoop around and check on proceedings, hoping to capitalize on the calm before the storm… 🙂

One happy little bear roaring away during a late-afternoon engine test. Even though Lučko had still been closed at this point (its grass runways soaked), AK Zagreb had decided to use the time well and send DBS through a post-overhaul shakedown…

Clean and tidy following deep servicing, GPA waits for its turn to be parked in the hangar after its first flight of the year. Even though it carries the Pilatus name and sports the designation PC-11, this type had actually originated in Germany in the mid-60s as a product of a small group of up-and-coming engineers. Initially called the B4 after Gert Basten – the owner of the factory that had manufactured the prototypes – the design had not entered series production until the mid-70s, when it was acquired by Pilatus. Praised for its simplicity, robustness and quality of manufacture, the AF version can boast respectable aerobatic capabilities, a role in which it is still used worldwide. GPA itself had been manufactured in 1977, and is today one of seven examples listed on the 9A register.

Hands down one of the most unusual aircraft that can be seen in Croatia, OE-9129 is seen firing up for an entire afternoon of glider towing. Essentially a motor glider itself, the HB-21 was conceived in Austria during the 60s, and is in this form powered by a 100 HP VW engine mounted behind the cabin – and driving a unique pusher prop arrangement integrated into the aircraft’s backbone.

When the sun sets and the temperature drops, normal pilots go home… but then, with the rising fog, come those who wander around with big cameras. Having a bit of fun with Piper PA-28RT-201 Arrow IV 9A-DCB and Cessna 172N 9A-DMG, on a December day – albeit not unlike many found in spring.

Instantly recognizable among Čakovec Airfield’s (LDVC) fleet of gliders, YU-CPE is seen providing a suitable metaphor for Yugoslav aviation as it waits out an uncertain fate by collecting bird droppings in the corner of the hangar. An aircraft much of 60s and 70s Yugoslavia had learned to fly on, the indigenous Aero 3 had over the years garnered a reputation as an unforgiving and sometimes difficult to handle trainer, which had over the years claimed a number of lives. Despite this, the design – made almost entirely of wood and powered by a 190 HP Lycoming O-435 – is viewed with today increasing nostalgia, resulting to several attempts at preservation and restoration. Sadly, given the lack of spares (only 100-ish having been built) and the financial requirements of such work, only one machine had been returned to airworthy state, with the rest left in limbo… (including its brother, Lučko’s own YU-CPC/9A-XPC)

Even though it was pretty much the only aircraft on the apron at Split Airport (SPU/LDSP), N828PA nevertheless proves that quality is still better than quantity! Still a rare type in Europe, the Eclipse 500 was the forerunner of the Very Light Jet (VLJ) category, “pocket” bizjets that were both simple and cheap enough for owners to fly themselves – while still providing better performance than traditional business turboprops. N828PA itself was completed in 2008, and is one of the last examples manufactured before the company filed for bankruptcy. It would eventually be restarted in 2009 under new ownership, rolling out an improved model – the Eclipse 550 – in 2013.

And finally, something that doesn’t really fit all that well into the GA category – but is nevertheless worthy of note! Soaking up the noon sun, 6M-BH of the Austrian Air Force had popped into Zagreb (ZAG/LDZA) to take on fuel before continuing northwards to Varaždin (LDVA), where it would provide transport for an Austrian presidential delegation attending a regional summit. An interesting detail here is its designation; even though the name “Black Hawk” is almost universally associated with “UH-60”, export models are often labelled as S-70, which is the manufacturer’s official designation for this type.

History – Lockheed TV-2 Seastar, 10250

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

After a couple of years of driving ’round the various back roads that wind across the countries of former Yugoslavia, you get used really to seeing the oddest things by the side of the road… an old tank here, some deserted barracks there – and everything else up to the occasional motionless radar dish and overgrown abandoned bunker. Certainly, I myself have seen quite a few of these on my travels, and almost thought myself beyond surprise anymore – until, while rounding the crest of a small hill in central Croatia, I suddenly saw a silver T-33 Shooting Star rising up from the tall, unkempt farmland grass :D.

My surprise was not lessened even by the fact that I was actually looking for this specific aircraft – nor that I’d already been here several years ago, and had flown over this spot at low altitude more than a dozen times :). But, that first instant of seeing an abandoned aircraft, a piece of history, so much out of its element, is always a thrill – so much so that I was forced to apply liberal amounts of braking to avoid spearing off into the undergrowth :D.

The location for this near-off was Čazma airfield (LDZC), an unassuming little strip located about an hour’s drive east of Zagreb. Overgrown and uncared for, Čazma had been established in 1944 as a supply airfield by the Yugoslav Partisans, and had after the war gone on to serve as a base for agricultural aircraft (surrounded, as it is, by the abundant farmland characteristic of this part of Croatia). Following the decline of cropspraying flights some years ago, Čazma had progressively become disused and forgotten, until it had even dropped off the aeronautical maps about a year ago (for reasons which vary depending on who you ask). For all intents and purposes abandoned, it is today visited only very rarely by light aircraft wanting to have a go at its tight, sloping 660×10 meter paved runway…

A strongly backlit overview of Čazma as it was back in February 2011. The runway - in pretty good shape it must be said - runs in a 01-19 direction, but its slope (sloping up RWY 19 by about 2 degrees) is not noticeable until you actually land...

Sadly sharing the fate of the airfield, the Shooting Star that began this entry also has an interesting story to tell. Even though I’d labelled it as a T-33 purely for reasons of brevity, this ex-Yugoslav machine – coded 10250 – is actually a much rarer “TV-2 Seastar”, one of the T-33’s naval brothers. However, over the years these “brothers” have tended to cause some confusion, so for clarity’s sake it’ll help to clear them up first :).

Despite the dozens of names associated with them throughout their service history, there have only ever been two naval Shooting Star versions:

  • the TV-2 of 1949, at various times also known as the TO-2 and T-33B. Even though it was operated by the US Navy for the training of US Navy pilots, the TV-2 had remained a land-based aircraft, and had generally differed little from “standard” T-33As
  • and the T2V SeaStar, later known as the T-1 SeaStar. Made fully carrier-capable with the addition of catapult fittings and an arrestor hook, the T2V (developed in 1957) had also received new naval avionics, leading edge flaps (slats), a redesigned tail and rear cockpit, and significant structural enhancements to cope with the realities of shipborne operations. Interestingly, the T2V was also the originator of the “SeaStar” name, which had over the years also filtered – probably by association – down to the TV-2

Spot the differences: the carrier-based T2V SeaStar (foreground) with the land-based TV-2 (photo: Wikipedia)

Apart from adding yet more confusion to the already complicated world of the Shooting Star, the T2V’s entry into service had also, at a stroke, made many TV-2s redundant. Concurrently, a similar process was occurring within the USAF as well, as newer, more advanced aircraft slowly started to displace veteran T-33As. The combined effect was a market flooded with cheap, but essentially good trainers, just ripe for picking by smaller (friendly) air forces looking to modernize their fleets for the least amount of money :).

Yugoslavia – despite its socialist government – was no exception, and had by the early 60s snapped up more than 100 of these aircraft. The majority – about 55 by my count – consisted of TV-2s, with out example, 10250, being one of the last delivered… 🙂

Like many gate guardians in the country, 10250 is in a rather bad state - though it seems to have been spared more damage due to its remote location. As per what I've been able to find out, it's actually a relatively recent addition to the field, having been moved here around the year 2000. It had previously been located at Zagreb Intl. (LDZA) since its decommissioning in 1972 - and I believe I used to play on it as a kid back in the late 80s when my parents worked at the airport :D.

Very rarely used - except by the occasional lorry and light aircraft - the airfield's maintenance is essentially nonexistent, hence the overgrowth. The last time it had been used on any larger scale was back in 2006, when it was host to a local airshow

Definitely one of the most easily recognizable noses of the early jet era :). As well as "factory standard" TV-2s, T-33As and RT-33s, the Yugoslav AF had also operated the odd IT-33, a local reconnaissance modification broadly similar to the RT-33 (with I standing for "izviđač", or "scout")

Battered, but still proud, with an appropriate stormy background :). Only one other gate guardian Shooting Star remains in Croatia, located at Rijeka Airport (LDRI) on the island of Krk (though its status - and future - is rather bleak)