History – The Yugoslav Czech: Let L-200 Morava at LDZA

By me
Photos as credited

It’s a pretty sure bet that all of us had, at one point or another, casually ignored an aircraft sitting right under our noses… you know, the sort of machine that may as well be rare and interesting – but one we’re so accustomed to seeing that it pretty much becomes part of the landscape. While the small size of Croatia’s aviation sector doesn’t provide much “opportunity” for the above, there nevertheless still are a couple of aircraft lying around that have become – for lack of a better word – invisible.

As it often so happens, I had chanced upon such a machine purely by accident, running into it while browsing through historic photos taken at Zagreb Airport (ZAG/LDZA). While the gallery in question had much eye candy with which to distract the viewer – Convairs, Caravelles, early MiG-21s and so on – hiding in the corner was a lonely little Let L-200 Morava, unceremoniously preserved at the far end of the airport. While I had seen it numerous times before in my adult life – not to mention having played on it as a kid in the late 80s 😀 – I had completely pushed it out of my mind, always looking further and further out for fresh material.

Caught on a suitably dark and gloomy December day, being kept company by UTVA-66H 52105. Other aircraft that had previously been displayed alongside were Agusta-Bell AB.47J YU-HAG and Lockheed T-33B Shooting Star 10250 (the latter nowadays displayed at Čazma Airfield (LDZC))

Having always had a thing for Czech light aircraft – especially “visually curious” types such as the L-40 Meta Sokol and the L-200 – I decided it was high time to have a look into this example, and see if it maybe has a story worthy of Achtung, Skyhawk!. Though its lack of identification markings had raised some doubts online about its true identity, I once again had the great fortune of being able to call upon the men and women who had worked on it in the past, allowing me yet another fascinating glimpse into the country’s aviation heritage…


While there is nothing on the outside to suggest it being anything other than a stock L-200, this machine does indeed have a bit of color in its history. Even though the Morava had had a short production run of just eight years, considerable interest in the design had still existed when Czechoslovak manufacture came to an end in 1964. One of the parties keen to continue building them was Yugoslavia, which had soon managed to secure rights for license manufacture, handing over the baton for the same to the LIBIS works of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Short for Letalski institut Branko Ivanus Slovenija (the Branko Ivanus Aviation Institute of Slovenia), this small factory had previously been responsible for a few notable GA designs, including the KB-6 Matajur two-seat trainer, KB-11 Branko four-seat tourer, and Libis 17 and 18 training gliders – all of which were produced in relatively small numbers, preciously few of which survive today.

The plan for the Morava, however, had called for just simple, small-scale assembly of aircraft from “knock-down kits” provided by Let (there is no indication that “proper” production was considered, though this cannot be ruled out). To this end, LIBIS was in 1964 supplied with a total of 14 kits, which, when completed, would produce aircraft known as the L-200 Libis. Named so purely for marketing purposes, these aircraft would be identical to the standard L-200D, which itself was an evolution of the early L-200A in response to Aeroflot requirements*.

* Aeroflot would, in the event, go on to operate the majority of the 360 Moravas produced, using them both in training and air taxi roles. To make the basic design suitable for this sort of work (as well as the conditions it was expected to operate in), Aeroflot had requested the addition of:

  • an engine-driven hydraulic pump for the landing gear, fitted to the No. 1 engine (replacing the A model’s manual hand pump)
  • dust filters on the engine intakes
  • a winterization kit to prevent engine over-cooling in low temperatures
  • a radio compass to aid in long-range navigation
  • and – most important of all – an increase in propeller ground clearance to prevent damage on rough strips. This was achieved by substituting the A’s two-blade 1.9 meter V410T/V410AT constant-speed propellers with three-blade 1.75 meter V506 units – making this the primary way to visually differentiate the two models (the original idea had actually been to move the whole engine nacelles higher up – but this would have drastically reduced visibility from the cockpit, so the idea was quickly dropped). A notable curiosity here were the propellers’ pitch control mechanisms: while the V506 had sported a “traditional” hydraulic actuator using engine oil, the old V410 was based on an electrical system, with propeller speed commanded by pushbuttons rather than the familiar blue levers

Of interest (since we’re already digressing 😀 ), two other versions had been considered while the Morava was still in series production. The first, dubbed the L-200B, would have been an evolutionary development of the A, while the L-200C was intended to be certified to UK airworthiness standards and sold as an export model. Both of these though had gone down to the tubes due to the sheer commitment required by Aeroflot and the model D.

In the event however, only five kits would be completed – with out example having been the first :). Rolled out in mid-1964, it would carry two distinct serials, Let’s own (and rarely used) 17-14-13, and LIBIS’ internal 300-20 (changed to 301-01 in September). Its first port of call following completion would be Pan Adria – a small Zagreb-based passenger and light freight airline – where it would become YU-BBE on 10 August.

A very rare pre-1991 shot of BBE in its original state. The photo source (Wikimedia) states this was taken during the aircraft’s formal handover to Pan Adria.

Joined soon by three other LIBIS machines (BBF, BBG & BBH), it would initially be used for just the odd crew training flight, most of which were flown at night. However, the little fleet would quickly be put to use on nightly newspaper and airmail services as part of the carrier’s newly instituted Noćni avionski poštanski saobraćaj (Night-time Aircraft Postal Service, NAPS) program. Ran in cooperation with the Jugoslovenska pošta, telefon i telegraf (Yugoslav Post, Telephone and Telegraph, JPTT), this service would be the first mail-only aerial operation Yugoslavia since WW 2, and had served – among others – Belgrade (BEG/LYBE), Split (SPU/then LYSP) and Dubrovnik (DBV/then LYDU) direct from Zagreb (then LYZA).

The program’s increasing success, however, had soon meant that the Morava was becoming too small and too slow to cope with demand. Piggybacking on one of Yugoslavia’s first mass acquisitions of light aircraft from the West, Pan Adria had in early 1968 ditched the L-200 in favor of the much more suitable Aero Commander 500, a type that would go on to serve in this role right up until the carrier’s dissolution in 1977**.

** interestingly, an identical service would be started in early 1991 by another local operator – Zagreb Airlines (Zagal) – using a fleet of Cessna 310s and 402s. In concert with the carrier’s freight feeder work for DHL and UPS, this operation would provide the essential foundations for the formation of Croatia Airlines later the same year.

Having now been left without a job, the little fleet (sans BBH, lost in Macedonia in June 1966) would on 15 March pass into the hands of the Aeroklub Zagreb flying club, which had at the time been dabbling with the idea of starting an in-house air taxi service. However, despite the bulk of the club – which had always been one of Croatia’s most eminent aviation institutions – standing behind this venture, the L-200 had proved to be simply too thirsty and maintenance-intensive to make the proposal work, resulting in the operation’s continual uphill battle to break even.

Coming to terms with its predicament, AK Zagreb had decided to finally part with the type sometime in 1973. BBF would quickly find a new home in Slovenia, while BBE and BBG would end up in the court of the newly-formed Obrazovni centar zračnog saobraćaja (Air Traffic Education Center, OCZS) based at Zagreb, later to become one of Yugoslavia’s most respected aeronautical organizations. Having had the finances, equipment and know-how to efficiently operate an aircraft of the L-200’s caliber, OCZS had naturally wanted to put these machines to some use, allocating them to its in-house flight school, the Viša zrakoplova škola (Aviation Polytechnic, VZŠ).

No spares to spare

However, right at the very outset, the school ran into a few problems. BBG was reportedly in such a poor state that it was immediately consigned to the scrap heap, while BBE needed a thorough work-over before it could be used in regular service. But, even when this was completed, issues remained; though they still had some time left on the clock, BBE’s engines were very near the ends of their 800-hour service lives. Given that parts and replacement engines were becoming increasingly hard (and expensive) to come by – and the school could do without the bother – it was decided to fly the aircraft as sparingly as possible in order to conserve it for when it would really be needed.

To this end, BBE was earmarked solely for the final stages of Commercial Pilot License instrument training – and would even then be flown only by the school’s first two generations of students. From 1975 onward, it would operate just the occasional staff transport flight, logging only a couple of hours per year in the process. To maintain it in a working condition during this extended downtime, it would be fired up and ran two to three times a month; but even this would cease in early 1980, when the engines finally ticked over to 800 and the aircraft lost its Certificate of Airworthiness once and for all – having flown just 50-ish hours in VZŠ service…

Despite it now being ripe for the chopping block, the school nevertheless did not want the aircraft to go to waste (especially given all the effort so far invested in it). Following its removal from the register on 28 May, BBE would be towed from the apron to the school’s courtyard, where it would be set up as a gate guard and teaching aid.

But, to properly explain what (little) happens next, I though it best to first mention some of the inner peculiarities of the OCZS. Even though the VZŠ was always the most famous thing about it, the OCZS had also ran another institution called Srednja zrakoplovna škola (Aviation High School, SZŠ). While the VZŠ was a higher learning organization that dealt almost exclusively with flight training, the SZŠ – opened in 1976 – was tasked with teaching various aeronautical topics at a high school level. In 1981 though, the OCZS as such would cease to exist, with both VZŠ and SZŠ becoming “standalone” partner institutions sharing the same building***.

*** to further complicate matters, the VZŠ had the habit of occasionally changing its name, but without any alteration to the underlying “mechanics”. This is most evident in official documents, which state that on 1 April 1977, BBE was transferred to the “Centar za odgoj i usmjereno obrazovanje kadrova u zračnom prometu”, or The Center for Education and Specialist Training of Air Traffic Cadre – a seemingly significant change, but in reality it was business as usual. To make the whole issue all the more ironic, the school would revert to its original name within a couple of years.

Having always been attached to the VZŠ, BBE would remain on its books all the way into late 1989, when the school was disbanded in the political turmoil that had preceded the violent collapse of Yugoslavia two years later…

YU-BBE pictured in a sad state in 1995. In common with a lot of preserved aircraft, the YU prefix and all Yugoslav markings had been removed following Croatia’s 1991 independence (photo from Erwin Alexander’s Flickr profile)

Despite the circumstances of VZŠ’s demise, the SZŠ – lacking high-value assets such as aircraft – had managed to remain below the radar throughout the ordeal, coming out of the late 80s relatively unscathed. Designated the nominal successor to VZŠ’s files and infrastructure, the school – nowadays named Zrakoplovna tehnička škola Rudolfa Perešina (The Rudolf Perešin Aviation Technical School, ZTS) – had also become the new owner of BBE, which would continue to serve in its role as a teaching aid all the way into the present.

Paper trails

While I strove throughout to dig up as much info on BBE as I could, many of the finer details (and dates) of its service between 1970 and 1980 are, sadly, lost to history – despite the very best intentions and efforts of the people who had helped me with my research. Virtually all of the aircraft’s known documentation has been confirmed as lost, some during the school’s organizational changes and collapse in the late 80s – but most through a simple lack of interest in BBE over the intervening 20 years.

Critically, even Serbia’s Directorate for civil aviation (the successor to Yugoslavia’s aircraft registry) lacks a clear picture of BBE’s movements in the mid 70s – so much so that even the exact year of its transfer to the OCZS is not known with certainty. Queries in the ZTS library and among current school staff had also failed to produce usable results – while the extensive, but ill-kept and disorganized AK Zagreb archive makes locating the right files harder than finding a needle in a haystack.

The only thing that had remained available to me were the memories and recollections of the men and women who had worked on or with the aircraft in the past – most of which were incorporated into the final article. Whether this story will get any “official closure” in the future remains to be seen…

Having led the hard life of an engineering trainer, YU-BBE is unsurprisingly in quite a shoddy state, despite its 1997 repaint. While its major structural components are still accounted for, the interior has been completely stripped to the bone, with the only thing remaining being the throttle quadrant…

Not an aircraft one is likely to lose in a crowd! Interestingly, even though the D model’s propellers were intended to give a bit of extra ground clearance when operating from unprepared strips, the space between the tips and the ground is not all that great. Note also the underfuselage supports; despite its hydraulics still indicated as being pressurized, BBE nevertheless needs some help standing up…

A peek at the right-hand side M 337Š – which looks to be pretty complete. Apart from its “inverted six” layout (producing 210 HP), this engine is also notable for its supercharger, which could be “plugged in” via a lever in the cockpit to give some extra oomph (a feature seen on several other Avia engines). Interestingly, the design itself is based on the four-cylinder M 332, which is in turn an upgraded Walter Minor – a unit designed way back in the late 20s.

As always, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the people who devoted their time to answer my multitude of questions, including:

  • Capt. (retired) Antun Gabela, former VZŠ flight instructor and professor
  • Mr. Srđan Kisin, former BBE tech
  • Ms. Tihana Strmo, ZTS’ head librarian
  • and of course my father, who had been a dispatcher during Pan Adria’s final days, and mother, who had worked at VZŠ throughout the 80s!


Photo File – From Europe With Love: Croatian Police’s First AW139

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Even though the Croatian Police’s drive to re-equip its air wing is pretty much old news here – with the first two additions, EC-135s 9A-HBA and HBB, having been flying their Fenestrons off for two years now – announcements of the impending arrival of a third machine had once again considerably piqued interest here at Achtung, Skyhawk!. The excitement was all the greater since the whirlybird in question was of a somewhat higher caliber than all the others, taking the form of the imposing (and loud!) AgustaWestland AW139 – in short, the largest and most powerful Western-built helicopter ever operated by a Croatian law enforcement agency.

Predictably enough, the magnitude of its arrival was not lost on me – so it was a given that I would be there to greet it when it alighted at Zagreb Airport (ZAG/LDZA) on 20 January for its formal handover ceremony… 🙂

Looking impressive and powerful in front of the Croatian Gov’t hangar following the formal end of the ceremony. Though this was I-EASM’s first visit to Zagreb, it was not its first time in country, having spent the previous night at Pula Airport (PUY/LDPL) halfway into its delivery flight from Varese in Italy.

Completed in December 2015 with the serial 31715, I-EASM will eventually carry the identity 9A-HRP, thus becoming the sixth distinct helicopter type operated by the Police since Croatia’s independence in 1991 (and the seventh overall since the formation of the air wing in the 60s). Unlike the aforementioned EC-135s, the AW139’s raison d’être is solely border surveillance, being part of an extensive assistance package from the EU to help reduce the porosity of what is now the Union’s second largest land border with non-EU lands (at 1198 km/745 miles, just 115 km/71 miles short of Finland’s border with Russia). Interestingly, current plans also call for a second example, which is intended to join the fleet likely in July 2016… 🙂

Rolling in slowly for the benefit of the press while the morning haze does its best to spoil the lighting. Despite being intended primarily for patrolling the country’s long land border, I-EASM is also equipped with a powerful winch on the right side of the fuselage, enabling it to provide a secondary sea rescue capability (which also falls under the header of border security).

While the AW139 may not have the most elegant fuselage cross-section around, its boxy shape makes it a good practical hauler, with lots of space, easy entry and egress and the ability to haul bulky cargo – or, in HEMS/SAR ops, a lot of vital equipment.

In addition to a nose-mounted EO/IR (Electro Optical/Infra Red) turret cam – a must-have item for any serious patrol duty – I-EASM is also fitted with a Trakka A800 IR spotlight, which greatly increases the precision and quality of both IR cameras and night vision systems (and can even “illuminate” underwater areas up to a depth of 5 meters).

Up front, business is as usual for a machine of this size and sophistication, with advanced digital avionics and automation prevalent throughout. Despite this, the machine’s controls are still a handful, with the collective (out of shot) particularly notable for its number of switches and pushbuttons.

A peek inside the voluminous cabin, rivaling – or even exceeding – that of the AB.212 9A-HBM which had so far held the title of the Police’s largest whirlybird. Of particular interest is the surveillance system operator’s station, which controls and integrates the turret cam, IR spotlight – and a very powerful surface search radar housed in the nose that boasts an effective range in excess of 200 NM. Despite its small size, it has been described as a very powerful system – which is pretty much the heart of the AW139 in this configuration.

Whatever the mission, entry and egress are made quite easy by large sliding doors that remain flush with the fuselage – and bear a resemblance to those of the legendary Huey. Another detail – though impossible to see here – is a integral flotation system for over-water operation, charged by two (very large!) nitrogen bottles located right behind the doors.

Brothers in… rotors. With the ceremony long over, I-EASM prepares to be pushed into the gov’t hangar, while HBB – preceded a few seconds earlier by HBA – hovertaxis out for its return to Lučko. The participation of both new Police helicopter types may have been somewhat of a “marketing gimmick” – but it nevertheless made for a smashing photo op!

Current Police fleet strength:

  • Agusta AW139: AW139 (9A-HRP)
  • Bell 206 JetRanger: 206B-3 (9A-HDB, 9A-HBZ) & AB.206B (9A-HBC)
  • Bell 212: AB.212 (9A-HBM)
  • Eurocopter EC-135: EC-135P-2+ (9A-HBA, 9A-HBB)

Update – 25 March:

As of mid-March, 9A-HRP has officially entered active duty, operating out of both Zagreb and the standard Police squadron base at Lučko Airfield (LDZL). Even though it had spent most of the subsequent days flying up and down the country on familiarization and training flights, some persistent camping at the field had nevertheless provided me with the opportunity to snap it in the act… 🙂

Approaching its helipad on a crisp spring afternoon following a two-hour flight from Dubrovnik (DBV/LDDU) in the extreme south of the country.

Photo File – Reheat On: The Croatian AF Back On Strength

By me
All photos credited and copyrighted as noted

Even though, with all the fine flying weather we’ve been having, one would expect GA to be the talk of the town at Achtung, Skyhawk!, the end of July would see its crown briefly stolen (and in spectacular fashion) by the Croatian Air Force, which had suddenly – and seemingly out of the blue – gone on a PR offensive unseen in recent times 🙂 . While it often finds its way into the media one way or another, the AF had particular reason to be friendly this summer, first having finally completed its reformed MiG-21 force – and then having been given center stage in two major military parades scheduled for the beginning of August.

Wanting to make the best of all three occasions and improve the AF’s somewhat tarnished image, the Ministry of Defense had readily opened up its doors to journalists from all sides, allowing for yet another glimpse at its nowadays rare – but always fascinating – flying machinery… 🙂

Fleet In One

The first event off the blocks was the 22 July presentation of the reinvigorated MiG-21 fleet, fully overhauled and bolstered back to full strength by the acquisition of five second-hand examples from the Ukraine in 2013/2014. Now sporting 12 jets in total – four twin-stick UM models and eight single-seat bis variants – the fleet represents the largest concentration of combat aircraft seen here since the 90s civil war, and is slated to remain in service well into 2018 (when it is due to be replaced by a newer Western type). Brought up to partial NATO standard by the addition of a few bits of modern avionics – as well as equipment allowing them to safely operate in civilian airspace – all of the MiGs have been very active ever since cleared for duty, often flying multiple sorties a day, every day… a situation that had been nearly unimaginable during the fleet’s low period in the early 2010s 🙂 .

This renewed disposition – as well as a more relaxed attitude towards conserving the jets’ service lives – has allowed them to be utilized more aggressively and in more roles than before, with at least one flight per day pretty much the norm now. Apart from the obvious training (and photographic 😀 ) benefits, this had also increased the fleet’s reliability in its primary mission – the protection of Croatian airspace – which the MoD was keen to stress during that July morning at Pleso Air Base (ZAG/LDZA)…

NOTE: sadly though, I was prevented by flying commitments from attending myself, relegating my spot to Mr. Petar Mežnarek, a colleague of mine who had previously collaborated with me on another of my MiG-related posts.

Having limited offensive capabilities (a consequence of both age and cost), the fleet’s primary mission is defensive in nature, and centers around the tasks of “air policing”. Among other things, this involves the establishment of a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) system, in which one or more armed jets (two in the CroAF’s case) are at readiness to take off on several minutes notice to intercept any unidentified or intruding aircraft within the country’s airspace. This capability was on this day demonstrated with a simulated mission, called a Tango (training) Scramble in military parlance. Note the ground start truck to the right, as well as replenishment air cylinders for the -21s pneumatic braking system.

133 and sister ship 132 (out of frame) rolling in after completion of the demonstration. In the standard QRA configuration, each jet sports two Monlya R-60 (AA-8 Alphid) short-range IR-homing missiles, and the distinctive BAK 800 liter (211 USG) droptank for increased operational range.

As good a place as any to catch some shade! Even though its bulbous circular fuselage gives an impression of size and bulk, the MiG-21 is actually a pretty small aircraft. While this limits the amount of fuel and armament that can be carried, it pays off in speed, climb ability and agility – though the latter may not be evident at “non-combat” speeds…

While it is a capable model in its own right, the twin-stick -21 certainly does look less threatening from this angle. The most obvious differences from the post-F-13 single-seat models are the smaller intake and intake centerbody (this version lacking a radar), only two pylons per wing, a less powerful R-13 engine with a different reheat system – and reduced fuel capacity due to the instructor’s cockpit taking up part of the space for the tank.

Even though it’s visually little more than a tube with wings, there’s something about the single-seat MiG-21 that never fails to excite the senses! Note also the matte black finish on top of the fuelage; a common feature on long-nosed aircraft, its purpose is to reduce glare from the paint job during operations in strong sunlight.

A sight that had – sadly – mostly gone from Europe’s skies. Among the last operational -21s on the continent, Croatian examples may eventually outlive all their contemporaries – though their respite from the chopping block is only short-lived…

And given that this is Achtung, Skyhawk! after all, where would we be without at least one light aircraft? Parked at the very end of the apron, this good looking Huron – sporting callsign “Duke 64” – had brought in Frank Gorenc, commander of the US Air Forces in Europe, for an inspection of the fleet.

Parade Lap

Even though the MiGs would be the stars there as well, the second and third events mentioned above would be of a different scope altogether, being based around the 20th anniversary of Operation Storm, a significant military action undertaken in August 1995 during the closing stages of the war. While yearly celebrations of this event are traditionally held on 5 August in the mountain town of Knin – the retaking of which was one of the main goals of the operation – the anniversary had this year also included a mass parade down one of Zagreb’s main streets (held a day earlier on 4 August), for which the Air Force (and even the Police) had been tasked with providing the aerial component.

And while both the original operation and the parade itself remain somewhat controversial in political terms, the latter had nevertheless promised to be quite a spectacle for the photographer, with the AF planning on bringing three examples of each of its aircraft types to the table (with the Police contributing three more machines). However, due to their sheer numbers – with seven types in the AF inventory and three with the Police – the logistics of accommodating them at a single air base had proven to be troublesome, leading to the decision to split them between Pleso (ZAG/LDZA), Lučko (LDZL) and Zemunik (ZAD/LDZD)*, depending on the infrastructure required by each type.

* these seven types also include the AF’s firefighting forces, consisting of the Air Tractor AT-802 and Canadair CL-415. However, due to extensive construction works (and the subsequent lack of space) at Pleso – and the inadequate runway at Lučko – neither could be accommodated at any airport in the Zagreb area, forcing them to operate from their home base at Zemunik, 190 km/103 NM away by the coastal town of Zadar.

Eschewing the parade grounds themselves for some up-close action – and not wanting to let either side down – I’d once again called on Petar Mežnarek for help, with him taking station at Pleso, and me (generally) camping out at my little grass airfield on the edge of town… 🙂

Base Lučko:

  • Agusta AB.212
  • Bell 206B-3 JetRanger III
  • Eurocopter EC-135P-2+
  • Mil Mi-8MTV-1 & Mil Mi-171Š
  • Zlin Z-242L

Three very welcome visitors – and the only airplanes to be based at Lučko – being checked out by ground staff prior to their participation in the general rehearsal on 2 August. Likely visiting the airfield for the first time, 402, 403 and 405 are normally based at Zemunik, and are – along with two other Z-242s – used for initial pilot training.

Firing up for their run in the parade itself. This had also marked the end of their visit to the airfield, with all three aircraft having proceeded direct to home to Zadar once their flypast had been completed…

You know your formation is good when even Mother Nature approves (despite the appalling weather during the rehearsal)! Though Storm itself was a strictly military affair, the parade had also included the presence of the firefighters and police, the latter represented by a three ship group composed of every type operated by the force. Of particular note for the occasion was the AB.212, itself a war veteran and participant to numerous medevac and SAR missions during the entire conflict (a significant few of which under fire).

The old and the new on approach to the Police helipad after their participation in the parade. Despite having been in country for two years now, the EC-135s are still a novel sight, and are often participants to every aerial event the Police is invited to. Despite their modern, gleaming looks, they are still often outshone by the old Bells, all of which had previously served with the the prewar Yugoslav Police – and in many cases, in front line service during the war.

Not that much different from an ordinary day around here! Even without the fleet returning from the parade, this is a perfect juxtaposition of Lučko: civilians, police & military in (almost) perfect harmony. However, 2 and 4 August had likely broken a few records, with the airfield witnessing five Mi-171s, five Bell JetRangers, three Z-242Ls and one each of the Agusta AB.212 and EC-135 – all starting up at once…

Sometimes keeping away from the epicenter of events can be a good thing. Saluting Lučko along the way, 131 and 132 are seen swinging back towards Pleso as the second of three pairs participating in the final flypast…

And, as a bonus, a badly-executed ad-hoc video clip from the 2 August general rehearsal, showing pretty much how would Apocalypse Now look like in a Croatian edition 😀 (and which features some whirlybirds I hadn’t been able to photograph in good light, the Air Force’s JetRanger IIIs).

Base Pleso:

  • Pilatus PC-9M
  • Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21bis & UM

A scene that had draw in visitors from Italy, Germany – and even the UK. Flying the first afternoon practice sortie on 1 August, 165 had left by far the best impression of the three MiGs out at that time, treating both spotters on the fence and in the tower to two memorable low passes. Interestingly, on all occasions, 165 would be piloted by Ivan Selak, with Ivica Ivandić riding in the back seat – who were two of the four Croatian pilots who had defected from the Yugoslav AF at the outset of the war.

The 1 August practice run had also included an appearance by the PC-9, transferred – like the Zlins – from Zadar to Zagreb for the duration of the parade. Nicknamed “Zubonja” (or “toothy” in loose translation, a generic name for CroAF combat aircraft sporting shark mouths), this particular machine was quite a treat, sporting celebratory markings for the type’s first 50,000 hours of operations in Croatia.

The traditional centerpiece of any larger aeronautical event in Croatia is the Krila Oluje (Wings of Storm) aerobatic team, which actually owes its name to the operation being celebrated. Even though there have been some upsets with the team of late – with a number of pilots leaving for better paid flying positions abroad – the replacement crews have gotten into their stride quite quickly, enabling the team to continue the team’s packed display schedule without major disruption.

Rocketing out of RWY 05 as the second of three pairs participating in the parade’s opening flypast. Due to the complexities of MiG operations – and their notoriously small fuel tank capacity – the whole airport had been closed to all non-military traffic for the duration of the event (roughly two hours).

The last of the six MiGs participating in the final flypast is seen touching down onto RWY 05 during the last minutes of the golden hour. Even though the estimates for the number of jets to be airborne had varied between three and eight, the final six had nevertheless not left anyone indifferent!

Photo Report – Spring at Pleso

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Even though this year’s flying season has already started to pick up at Lučko – albeit slowly – there’s still not all that much going on to provide for a steady stream of quality photo material. Having been invigorated by several days of straight sunshine and 20-odd Centigrade temperatures, I was, however, desperately itching to photograph something with wings, be it big, small,  fast or slow. Not unexpectedly, this desire had in the end taken me to Pleso (LDZA), which – while a bit weak on the GA front – nevertheless has a number of other gems at its disposal… 🙂

One of several MiG-21 flights of the day, “Knight 96” is seen recovering into RWY 23 after a training flight. The morning had also seen sorties by the Croatian AF’s AT-802 and Mi-171Š, making for a thoroughly impressive spectacle!

A little visitor from Germany that will eventually become the newest resident of the Croatian register. A type that’s not all that common in around here – its population standing at just two examples – the Arrow is one of Piper’s most popular newer-generation singles, and combines retractable gear, a constant speed prop and (in the Turbo version) a turbocharger into one relatively cheap package. D-EPAP seems to be one of the better examples, having been manufactured in 1982 and equipped with a full IFR suite, Garmin GNS430 moving map GPS, stormscope and digital CHT/EGT gauges.

Another very interesting visitor caught taxiing towards RWY 05 for departure to Munich under callsign “RAFAIR 7160”. While not the first Chinook to visit Zagreb, ZA704 is definitely one of the more interesting ones, being in fact a “composite” airframe sporting the rear rotor boom of CH-47D ZH257. The latter is a nugget as well, having originally flown with the Argentinian military as AE-520 – and captured by the British on the Falklands in 1982. Going on to serve as an instructional airframe, it would donate its behind to ZA704 following the latter’s tail rotor strike in Oman in 1999.

A far more dynamic scene than in real life as ZA704 accelerates after lift off from RWY 05. Like all other RAF Chinooks, it is based at RAF Odiham in central England, a straight-line distance of 1,400 km from Zagreb… meaning ZA704 has quite a bit more to fly yet!

Pick your turboprop! From the big and fast to the small and slow, we have it all! Representing 75% of the companies engaged in commercial passenger transport in Croatia, this lineup consists of Dash 8 Q400 9A-CQB (flown by Croatia Airlines), ATR-42-300 OY-CHT (owned by Fly Denim, but operated on behalf of Air Croatia) and Embraer EMB-120 HA-FAL (flown for local carrier Trade Air).

While not really a rare aircraft in itself, Air Croatia’s sole ATR-42 nevertheless deserves some mention – if anything because of the operational mash-up behind its existence. While it does say “Croatia” on the tin, Air Croatia is actually a Swedish-owned company – and is in fact not an airline, but a tour operator just selling tickets. The flights themselves are operated by Fly Denim of the Netherlands (with its own Air Operator Certificate), using an aircraft registered in Denmark and flown by a cockpit crew provided by Spanish company Aeronova…

History – Ye Olde ZAG: 80s LDZA Airport Charts

By me

Even though the world of modern social media may leave a lot to be desired, it nevertheless does occasionally have its bright and interesting moments :). While the definition of the latter could produce enough material for a whole book (not to mention the odd philosophical brawl), for me they mostly concern the occasional serious aeronautical discussions, all of which rarely fail to intrigue even the most basic aviation enthusiast. Having brought together in one place everyone from aspiring young aviators to experienced airline captains, these threads are always a gold mine of fantastic information and material – and had even served as an inspiration for my most detailed article to date, the extensive review of Croatia Airlines’ light aircraft, published a month or so ago 🙂 .

Rather unsurprisingly given the results, it would only be a matter of time before some new post or photo on Facebook would pique my interest once again. In the event, I did not have to wait long; already at the beginning of March, a member had put up a series of fantastic (and fantastically rare) photos taken from the Zagreb Airport (LDZA/ZAG) tower back in the 80s, covering everything from JAT’s DC-10s to the odd PanAm 737-200. Naturally enough, I was through the roof, and had immediately started digging through my own aviation collection for any other interesting bits from the period. However, having been born only in 1985, I could not produce any of my own material – so I had instead decided to dig up my dad’s old Jeppesen manuals, dust-covered reminders of his days as a dispatcher with Pan Adria in the early 80s 🙂 .

With five full binders now at my disposal – covering most of Europe, North Africa and the western edges of the USSR – I was at a quandary of where to begin… the East German corridors towards Berlin, Munich’s old Riem Airport, Athens’ half-buried Hellenikon, or the 80s versions of Schipol, Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle… however, in the end I’d decided to stick close to home and take a 30 year trip back in time to the second airport I call home… 🙂

Chronologically out of order, the most interesting chart of them all is the Airport Chart, showing what ZAG had looked like at the end of 1982. While at first glance it doesn’t appear to have changed much in the intervening 33 years, there are a few notable differences: there’s no GA apron (which would be added in the early 2000s as an extension of the main apron to the south), the parking positions for large aircraft are at the apron’s southern end (nowadays they’re at the northern, which had also been widened to be flush with the remainder) and the main parallel taxiway is designated M (changed to F sometime in the 90s).

A glimpse into times where reliable area navigation was still years in the future and waypoints were few and far in between, the STAR Chart makes for fascinating viewing. Far, far more complex in modern times (featuring several times as many arrival routes), the chart also shows another anachronism: the KOS NDB in the lower right corner, dismantled and shut down at the beginning of the 90s during the civil war.

The first of the SID charts illustrates a fascinating mix of old fashion NDB navigation and “newfangled” waypoints. VALLU (in the top procedure) still exists, while PAPA (in the lower procedure) would later become MACEL. The latter was actually located a few miles inside Slovenia (even though it was a border point), which would in the early 2000s lead to its replacement by point PODET located right on the border.

Another departure (and another chart that is far more cluttered in 2015). Among the many other notable differences, the point INNA from the upper procedure no longer exists, while the locator PI from the lower procedure is now a “full-blown” NDB called PIS and operating on 424 kHz.

The waypoints of the third SID page are, however, mostly correct today: KOPRY and NASSY are still used, with only BEREK having been withdrawn.

The final SID page is pretty much completely invalidated today due to the aforementioned removal of KOS NDB. As a consequence, airways B9 and UB9 (on the rightmost departure track) have been abolished, with their replacements – L187 and UL187 – using a nearby point called TEBLI.

The approaches themselves had, however, undergone the most change. What was just a “lowly” CAT I ILS in 1982 is nowadays a CAT IIIb system with DME (installed in the early 2000s), operating on the same frequency but with a final approach course of 044 degrees to cater for 33 years of magnetic variation change. With the aforementioned exception of PI, all of the radionav frequencies had stayed the same – though we’d recently gained another DME (LUK, 109.85), collocated with the outer marker. The communications frequencies have undergone a change as well, with Approach now using 120.700 as the primary and 118.500 as backup.

On the opposite approach, things have stayed more or less the same, with the major exception being an ILS frequency change to 109.10 (plus the final approach course change due to magnetic variation).

The ninth and final chart in the set (quite a bit less than the modern 15!). Even though PI has been upgraded, the locator approach still exists – with two having also been added for the RWY 23 end.

Photo Report – Presidential Flight: Diplomatic Jets @ LDZA

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Pretty much one of the hottest topics in the country of late, the recent presidential elections – which had seen the ascension of Croatia’s first ever female president – is not really the type of material I care for here at Achtung, Skyhawk!. However, being an international political event of some significance, the subsequent formal inauguration was certain to draw some interesting machinery to Zagreb Airport, machinery that would inevitably include some of my favorite photographic fare – bizjets :). Even though the final guest list had left something to be desired from a purely diplomatic standpoint – having stopped at just a tad over 10 delegations – the initial reports of the aircraft types expected had suggested an eclectic mix of both Western and Eastern designs, itself more than enough to pique my interest!

Thankfully, having managed to organize ourselves well ahead of time, several colleagues and myself had been able to secure access to the airport’s observation terrace (nowadays, sadly, permanently closed to visitors), allowing us to observe proceedings from the best available seats in the house. Unfortunately, Zagreb’s winter haze – and the (understandable) requirements of airport security with regards to parking positions – had interfered somewhat with our work, the results of which may not be up to my usual HQ standard…

The first arrival of the day - touching down before the morning mist has had time to fully clear - YU-BNA of Serbia really is a sight for sore eyes. One of the timeless classics of the already elegant Falcon family, the 50s was the world's first proper business "tri-holer", and would become Dassault's passport into the high end of the segment. Even though these originals are nowadays few and far in between, the design lives on as the more modern 900 - two of which would also visit Zagreb within the hour.
The first arrival of the day – touching down before the morning mist has had time to fully clear – YU-BNA of Serbia really is a sight for sore eyes. One of the timeless classics of the already elegant Falcon family, the 50s was the world’s first proper business “tri-holer”, and would become Dassault’s passport into the high end of the segment. Even though these originals are nowadays few and far in between, the design lives on as the more modern 900 – two of which would also visit Zagreb within the hour.

First a Falcon 50 and then a Learjet 60 - not a bad way to start the day! Crisp, clean and elegant, Z3-MKD was the second visitor to arrive, hailing from Macedonia (the country, not the Greek province).
First a Falcon 50 and then a Learjet 60 – not a bad way to start the day! Crisp, clean and elegant, Z3-MKD was the second visitor to arrive, hailing from Macedonia (the country, not the Greek province).

The good news had continued with visitor #3, which had taken the form of a Challenger 601-3A from the Czech Republic. Another classic, the 601 model was an important step up from the original 600 and 600S (the first ever Challengers), and had laid down the power plant, range and weight bases for today's popular models 604 and 605.
The good news had continued with visitor #3, which had taken the form of a Challenger 601-3A from the Czech Republic. Another classic, the 601 model was an important step up from the original 600 and 600S (the first ever Challengers), and had laid down the power plant, range and weight bases for today’s popular models 604 and 605.

The biggest visitor though would fly in from Poland - with this not even being its first time at Zagreb. Together with its sister ship SP-LIH, LIG is actually owned by Polish flag carrier LOT - but is operated on behalf of the country's government.
The biggest visitor though would fly in from Poland – with this not even being its first time at Zagreb. Together with its sister ship SP-LIH, LIG is actually owned by Polish flag carrier LOT – but is operated on behalf of the country’s government.

Completely devoid of any registration markings on either side, the French Gov't Falcon 900 strikes a nearly identical pose as YU-BNA (for a handy comparison). With the imminent arrival of Italy's own example, we would soon have a whole Falcon Meet!
Completely devoid of any registration markings on either side, the French Gov’t Falcon 900 strikes a nearly identical pose as YU-BNA (for a handy comparison). With the imminent arrival of Italy’s own example, we would soon have a whole Falcon Meet!

The aforementioned Italian Falcon taxiing towards the GA apron. Given that Zagreb's apron is not all that commodious - and space was needed for all the scheduled flights - the inauguration visitors were scattered all over the place, with some on the GA apron, some on the cargo/widebody positions - and one even on the Croatian government apron...
The aforementioned Italian Falcon taxiing towards the GA apron. Given that Zagreb’s apron is not all that commodious – and space was needed for all the scheduled flights – the inauguration visitors were scattered all over the place, with some on the GA apron, some on the cargo/widebody positions – and one even on the Croatian government apron…

Unfortunately, this had meant that the two most interesting machines of the day had ended up on the far side of the apron... hailing from Slovakia and Hungary respectively, OM-BYL and 407 were by far the loudest aircraft of the day, with the Yak-40 excelling during reverse - and the An-26 everywhere else...
Unfortunately, this had meant that the two most interesting machines of the day had ended up on the far side of the apron… hailing from Slovakia and Hungary respectively, OM-BYL and 407 were by far the loudest aircraft of the day, with the Yak-40 excelling during reverse – and the An-26 everywhere else…

And finally, the last visitor of the day - and by far the most unexpected. Operated by the German Air Force, 14+02 is one of a significant number of military/VVIP/communications Globals in service worldwide - one of the few roles where it was able to outsell its fierce competitors, the Gulfstream IV/V and Embraer Legacy 600/650.
And finally, the last visitor of the day – and by far the most unexpected. Operated by the German Air Force, 14+02 is one of a significant number of military/VVIP/communications Globals in service worldwide – one of the few roles where it was able to outsell its fierce competitors, the Gulfstream IV/V and Embraer Legacy 600/650.

Antonov, Bombardier (x2) and Yakovlev - not a bad day out I must say!
Antonov, Bombardier (x2) and Yakovlev – not a bad day out I must say!

Photo Report – News From The Realm

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Faced with a consistent lack of anything of note to write about – except the weather, which has been so poor lately that catching a good flying day is on par with winning the national lottery 😀 – I’ve decided to fill the void by cobbling together something of a “mix post”, combining the few recent photos from Lučko, Pleso and neighboring Slovenia into one convenient little package. It’s not really much to be honest, but hopefully it’ll provide for a bit of amusement until the arrival of an extensive, work-in-progress historical article… 🙂

The only (operational) Blanik at Lučko poses with its best friend while they wait on RWY 28R for their pilots to assemble. In the event, the first flight of the day would be with a future gliding student, who was given a short demo flight above the western end of town…

While it sounds deceptively simple, a proper aerotow take-off often requires a helping hand on the ground. Due to the absence of a conventional landing gear arrangement, most gliders – especially those boasting larger wingspans – require someone to hold the wingtip at the start of the take-off run. Intended to prevent it from scraping along the ground and possibly slewing the glider off course, this is only necessary during the first few seconds of the run, until the speed builds up sufficiently for the aerodynamic forces on the ailerons to take over.

One of the most beautiful kit planes in Croatia is seen rolling towards RWY 10R after a short fuel stop. Part of the famous Van’s family of nippy two-seaters, DVM is the company’s only design registered here, and spends most of its time staying clear of the more frequented airfields (to the continuing disappointment of the author).

The simple and uncluttered cockpit contains everything one really needs for a good time aloft. Interestingly, even though it is powered by a four-cylinder engine developing 200 HP, DVM uses a fixed pitch propeller – something not generally seen on speedy homebuilt kits of this power range.

The “Grey aircraft only seem to fly in on grey days” photo series continues with the legendary Stratotanker, which had on this occasion hauled itself into Zagreb all the way from Minneapolis. A modernized version of the aircraft that many still consider to be THE tanker, the R model differs primarily by its powerplant, dispensing with the old J-57s in favor of the modern, economical – and significantly quieter – CFM56. An interesting detail is the frost on the wing underside, a common feature on original 717s* during humid days.

* and that isn’t a misprint. While the “717” is today associated exclusively with the re-branded McDonnell Douglas MD-95, the designator had actually been in use ever since the late 50s. Following the introduction of the Boeing 367-80 jet airliner prototype – the famous “Dash 80” – a number of interested civil operators had requested that the design’s slim fuselage be widened to accommodate a six-abreast seating configuration. Boeing had readily agreed, thus giving birth to the 707 as we know it today. However, the US military – also one of the interested parties – was satisfied with the Dash 80 as-was, lobbying that it too be put into production. Knowing that the American military establishment has always been a loyal – and well-paying 🙂 – customer, Boeing agreed to these terms as well, christening the new-old model the 717.

But, since the US military has always used its own original aircraft designators, the new aircraft was quickly labelled the C-135. As the years went on – and the design started making a name for itself in its military guise – the 717 brand had slowly begun to fade from people’s minds… so when Boeing bought MDD in 1997 and inherited the in-development MD-95, they simply recycled the old designator and pinned it to the venerable Maddog (more precisely, the -95 became known as the 717-200 to differentiate it from the original, which had been known within Boeing as the 717-100 since its inception) 🙂 .

To complicate matters even further, the US military has actually operated – and still operates – BOTH the 707 and the 717-100. The former (in its 707-300 version) had served as the basis for the E-3 Sentry, E-6 Mercury and E-8 JSTARS, while the latter covers everything with a -135 designator (including the KC-135, RC-135, OC-135, VC-135 and so on)…

Another of the year’s Globemasters to have visited Pleso, “Reach 574” is just about to put to an end its long flight from Mazar-i-Sharif in Afganistan. Transporting home soldiers of several NATO nations, it would eventually depart again towards Kogalniceanu Airport, serving the Romanian coastal city of Constanta.

A machine that gives no impression that it is actually 33 years old, DJM is one of the last Skylane RG models to have been manufactured by the renowned Reims works, located in the town of the same name up in northeastern France. Sporting retractable landing gear, full IFR equipment and the capability to carry four people with nearly full fuel tanks, the 182RG is probably one of the best cheap – but still capable – light touring aircraft nowadays available…

A bit of that Alpine feel as we climb along the MODRO 1W departure procedure following takeoff from RWY 30 at Ljubljana (LJLJ), Slovenia. While we were expecting (and hoping for) a bit of fog to test our instrument skills, by the time we’d gotten airborne it had already transformed into broken mid-altitude clouds, leaving us with an almost ideal late summer’s day (despite the frosty 12 C out on the apron!).

EDIT: after a lengthy struggle with an uncooperative piece of editing software, I’m also happy to bring you a short video clip to accompany the previous photo 🙂 . Mind you, it’s not really my best work to be honest, but I was handed a GoPro camera and told to have fun with it, so I tried to make the best of the situation (especially considering I did not get a suction mount to securely stick it to the window)…

Operations – The Empty Skies of Croatia

By me

On the whole, I normally do not get much in the way of opportunity to scribble about the operational aspects of flying (and aviation in general) here in Croatia. Most of the time our pedestrian aviation scene simply doesn’t produce any material worth writing home about, while the country’s mostly pleasant terrain and climate – despite my regular rantings 😀 – also leave little in the way of excitement 🙂 .

On 30 July however, my hand was suddenly forced into action by the arrival of cyclone Melisa, another in an increasingly unusual string of low pressure systems to hit the region of late. Having made landfall on a broad front between the Adriatic towns of Pula and Zadar, Melisa had initially seemed to be a strong – but otherwise generally harmless – rainstorm, which would leave behind the occasional flooded street, but little else. However, news reports from Zadar had quickly revealed that this was no usual event, with the nearby island of Silba receiving 218 liters of rain per square meter in just 24 hours – an amount it normally gets in three months!

The red flags here in Zagreb were already beginning to come up by the time the cyclone had crossed the Velebit mountain range, having been replenished along the slopes by a strong, moist southern wind. Increasing in strength, the core of the storm had started turning slowly towards the city, prompting the Zagreb Airport (ZAG/LDZA) met office to issue a series of increasingly pessimistic TAFs – culminating in the dreaded +TSGR, thunderstorms with heavy hail…

The situation during the worst of it, as seen by the State Meteorological Institute weather radar in eastern Croatia (the city of Zagreb is denoted by ZG)…


A similar, but more colorful, snapshot from neighboring Slovenia. As you can see, the core of the cyclone had passed several miles south-east of the city center – rolling pretty much directly across the airport.

Though the hail had failed to materialize (at the airport at least), the torrential downpour that followed was about to launch ZAG into a world of issues. One of the day’s METAR reports perhaps best illustrates just what was going on out there:

 LDZA 301300Z 22038G48KT 0400 R05/0400VP2000N R23/0050VP2000N +TSRA FEW013 BKN030CB 17/16 Q1006 BECMG 05010KT 9999 NSW FEW015 SCT030

In normal-person speak, this reads out to:

  • measurement taken at Zagreb Airport on the 30th of the month at 13:00 UTC (15:00 local)
  • wind from 220 degrees, speed 38 knots (70 km/h), gusting to 48 knots (89 km/h)
  • meteorological visibility 400 meters
  • Runway Visual Range (RVR) down RWY 05 varying between 400 and more than 2000 meters, no significant change
  • RVR down RWY 23 varying between 50 and more than 2000 meters, no significant change
  • thunderstorm with heavy rain
  • few clouds at 1300 ft above ground, CBs covering 6/8 to 7/8 of the sky at 3000 ft above the ground
  • temperature 17 Centigrade, dew point 16 Centigrade
  • QNH 1006 hPa
  • weather imminently turning into a wind from 050 degrees, speed 10 knots (18 km/h), visibility greater than 10 km, few clouds at 1500 ft above ground, scattered clouds at 3000 ft above ground (they’d missed badly with this one!)

The first thing to go wrong was the runway midpoint transmissometer (one of three such units that measure RVR). This was not all that unexpected to be honest, since they also have a tendency to fail during heavy snows (and are an endless source of amusement during the winter 😀 ). Pretty soon however, the downpour became so severe that all operations were stopped dead in their tracks, eventually leading to the full closure of the airport (on top of the fact that even before the storm hit, flights were being delayed by 30 minutes due to anti-hale rocket activity in the area).

However, the worst was yet to come. Several minutes later, I was informed by a colleague – who’d been listening in on the tower and ops frequencies – that ZAG had suffered a “complete technical failure”. Tuning to the tower myself, I was to discover that pretty much the entire airspace surveillance system was down; Approach Control, Area Control, the works. Effectively, the whole of the Croatian ATC – with the exception of the individual Towers – had suddenly gone completely blind.

The issue that had caused the problem was later reported to be a leak in the Area Control Center main building, which had allowed rainwater to make it down into the surveillance system’s power supply, shorting it out instantly and plunging the ACC into darkness. While still unconfirmed officially, this had already sparked some local controversy, especially given that the building was purpose-built (at great cost) and commissioned only nine years ago…

EDIT: the cause was later revealed to not be just a mere leak, but a torrent of water that had suddenly flooded the master electronics room (located under the main ACC building). Subsequent reports had put the depth of the water there at between 1 and 1.5 meters…

A far more immediate problem though was the effect this failure was having on the flow of traffic through the country. Unlike its larger neighbors, Croatia has only one FIR – Flight Information Region, the area in which ATC provides its services – which covers its entire territory, and which is further subdivided into six “sectors” for easier management. However, all of these sectors are controlled and managed centrally from the same location, the ACC building at ZAG. With it out of the picture, there was no means to provide any form of control within the country’s airspace, leading Eurocontrol to impose the so called “zero flow rate” *.

* a common misconception is that a zero flow rate is equal to airspace closure. This is not so. When the airspace is closed outright, no flight is allowed to operate in it, be it an airliner, bizjet, private, IFR, VFR, training or any combination thereof. With a zero flow rate on the other hand, Eurocontrol’s Central Flow Management Unit (CFMU) simply does not approve any IFR flight plans that cross the target airspace. So, while the big birds were not allowed in, I could have taken my Skyhawk and gone flying without problems (apart from the rain obviously 🙂 ).

The first of Eurocontrol’s “non-availability” messages for Zagreb FIR (LDZO).

Eurocontrol’s Network Situation snapshot showing the average delay per FIR. Taken during the peak of the storm, it shows that even before the ACC failure the weather was beginning to have a severely adverse effect on the traffic picture.

By the time all flights had left Croatian airspace – or diverted to nearby airports – we’d gotten a scene we haven’t seen since the eruption of Ejyafjallajökull back in 2010… and right in the middle of one of South-Eastern Europe’s busiest corridors.

Activated at 13:40 UTC (15:40 local), the restriction was initially specified to last until 15:40 UTC, but was in the event extended to 16:40 and then finally 17:00. With the ACC restored to a minimal operational status, the restriction was lifted at 17:03, allowing traffic to resume using Croatian airspace. However, with the impetus being the get up and running as quickly as possible, the ACC had resumed operations with just three of its six sectors operational, each running at just 25% capacity – with expected effects on delay times…

50 minutes into the resumed operation, the delays were still in excess of 45 minutes. However, the priority was to get the flights on the ground back into the skies, as well as smooth out the flight paths of aircraft swerving to avoid both the storms and Croatian airspace.

Within the hour, all six sectors would be up and running, though still at just 25% of their nominal capacity. However, as the technicians worked their spanners off in the ACC, delays had started steadily dropping up until 21:00 UTC (23:00 local) when they dropped below the 15 minute mark and Croatia became grey again 😀 .

Other effects and consequences:

Unsurprisingly, Hungary had borne the brunt of the traffic diverted around Croatia. The high volume of aircraft suddenly crowing their airways – combined with the cyclone’s continued northward path – would cause a cascade effect, causing delays on par with those experienced in Croatia at the start of the storm (glowing bright red on the Network Situation snapshot). However, with only the west of the country affected, things had soon stabilized and delays dropped back to more manageable levels 🙂 .

Back at ZAG, other buildings had also suffered during the downpour. Drainage canals swamped by the sheer volume of water were responsible for the partial flooding of TWY F, ZAG’s only parallel taxiway and the only way to get to the RWY 23 without backtracking along the runway. The passenger terminal had suffered the same fate, though I’m told the flooding was on a very small scale and quickly taken care of…

Photo Intermission – Goldfinger’s Golden… 727

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

The recent – and long overdue – return of sunny skies, summer temperatures and generally fine flying weather has naturally had a dramatic effect on the local GA scene, with operations shifting overnight into a gear completely at odds with the country’s current economic state 🙂 . Lured out by the first truly stable weather in months, our fleet of light aircraft has been all over the place these past two weeks, with airshows, training, skydive and cross-country flights becoming virtually daily occurrences.

All of this had naturally given me a lot to do, the consequence of which was a chronic lack of time for putting together proper quality content for Achtung, Skyhawk!. Help, however, had come to hand on 18 May, when Zagreb Intl (LDZA) became the three-day host to one of the more of history’s more charismatic passenger jets, Boeing’s legendary “tri-holer”… 🙂

A sight for sore eyes – and a sound for sore ears – as 4K-8888 roars into RWY 23. Flying direct from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, this “727 bizjet” had brought in a trade delegation to discuss various high-yielding business deals with the locals. More importantly (for Achtung, Skyhawk! anyway), 4K-8888 had completed our legacy Boeing set, with the 707, 717, 727, 737, 747, 757, 767 and 777 all visiting over the past few years…

Looking as fresh as the day it had rolled off the production line, 4K-8888 had actually been completed in 1981, making it one of the last 727s produced. As with many of its siblings still flying today, it had received an aerodynamic upgrade in the form of winglets – as well as several bits of modern avionics needed for safe operation in today’s congested airspace.

Photo Report – The Comings And Goings of The CroAF MiG-21

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

With the Croatian Air Force’s newly-arrived MiG-21s quickly becoming all the rage on the local aviation scene, it really was just a matter of time before their daily rituals became the dominant photo material on Achtung, Skyhawk! 😀 . Not wanting to let both my readers and myself down, I’ve naturally spent quite some time on and around Zagreb Airport these past few days, trying to get that one perfect shot that I’d be proud and happy to hang up on my wall for all to see…

And while this does sound a bit OCD, it goes a long way to showing just how engrained the MiG-21 is in the Croatian collective aviation consciousness 🙂 . Pretty much part of the local aeronautical identity, the CroAF fleet has always been considered the elite of the flying world, spawning a cult following not unlike that of the rock stars of the 70s and 80s. Making up in charisma everything they lack in actual capability, the MiGs are instant show-stoppers wherever they appear, with the five “new” jets bought in the Ukraine quickly becoming the most anticipated and talked-about aircraft of the year.

Thanks to colleagues in the know, I’ve once again found myself near the cutting edge of developments, the upshot of which is an ever-increasing collection of shots of all forms and colors 🙂 . So, to introduce some law & order to proceedings, I’ve decided to open a single topic that will cover the fleet’s test flights and early operations, adding photos as I snap them. With two day’s worth of material already processed and ready, I’m delighted to present (eventually) Messrs 131, 132, 133, 134 & 135!

Monday, 5 May

Looking quite good seconds from landing on RWY 05. While the switch to Air Superiority Grey was unavoidable due to NATO standards, the AF had at least tried to make the new scheme a bit more lively, primarily through addition of the Croatian coat of arms to the fin and both upper and lower leading edges of the wing. Another very welcome touch is the return of the knight’s helmet nose emblem, made locally famous during the 90s civil war.

Wednesday, 7 May

Returning back home to RWY 23 after its first high-altitude supersonic flight. Flown at 64,000 ft (19,500 m), this mission had required some special equipment, most important of which was a high-altitude pressure suit and helmet (which, as can be seen in the shot, offers a very restricted field of view).

The morning’s sunny skies had also lured out 135, seen here ending its second post-assembly flight. Pretty stock except for a few bits of modern Western navigation equipment shoehorned in among ancient Soviet systems, both jets are nevertheless said to be a significant improvement of the existing fleet (though the latter will – the situation in the Ukraine permitting – soon undergo a thorough rejuvenation program).

Friday, 6 June

A bit of that familiar Tumansky whine to start the morning as “Knight 03” taxis towards RWY 05 for the first of the day’s training sorties. Nearly fully tested and released to service, 135 has spent most of the past week on training duties, giving the squadron pilots some welcome air time…

Letting the locals know – in no uncertain terms – that they live near an airbase, “Knight 03” is seen rocketing out for its 40 minute flight. In what is perhaps a fitting tribute to the breed, this decade marks 50 years of continuous MiG-21 operations at Zagreb, dating all the way back to the mid 60s and the Yugoslav Air Force’s original MiG-21F-13s. Now bolstered with these fresh examples, the current fleet is likely to push this up to 60, with plans to keep it in service for up to 10 more years…

Friday, 18 July

A welcome splash of color as an understated, conspicuous 165 grumbles in for landing after its second test flight. Pretty much the most recognizable of all the CroAF MiGs, “Kockica” – Croatian for “little square” – was part of the seven-strong batch of jets sent to the Ukraine for overhaul. So far, it is the only one to actually fly – and is currently the only operational twin-stick model in the fleet.

Monday, 4 August

Striking quite the photogenic pose, 165 recovers into RWY 23 after a training sortie. The lead ship of a three-jet formation – consisting also of 133 and 135 – Kockica had been on a practice flypast above the town of Knin in preparation for the Victory Day parade on 5 August.

Today’s outing had also allowed me to snap a good shot of the elusive 133. The first of the three to land, 133 was the newest single-seater to reach operational status.

Thursday, 18 December

Even though the horror stories of Zagreb’s fogs are known far and wide, sometimes they nevertheless have a silver lining. After the southern wind had blown the morning’s 200 meter visibility away, we’d ended up with an absolutely beautiful winter’s day, just perfect for flying. The CroAF was of the same opinion, sending out aircraft after aircraft all through the afternoon, including 166, Kockica, another single-seater and even a CL-415…

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

One of several CroAF flights of the day – which had eventually included two more MiGs, an AT-802 and Mi-171 – “Knight 96” is seen recovering home after another training flight. Interestingly, even though the fleet has been up to strength for some time now, this was one of 167’s few outings since refurbishment – indeed, this is the first shot of it have since its camo color days!

ADDENDUM: given that the new MiGs are still hot news here in Croatia (and abroad as well if this post’s view count is anything to go by!), I’ve decided to expand my little gallery with a short set of photos by Petar Mežnarek. A friend of mine and spotting colleague who works at (and lives near) Zagreb Intl., he has naturally had many more opportunities to observe the fleet in action – and given that he also sports a quality camera and lens setup is the perfect person to give this thread more substance 🙂 .

A sight that will likely never be seen again as 121 and 133 blast out of RWY 23 in a mismatched – but very attractive – formation. The final stage of 133’s acceptance tests, this mission would involve a radar system test on an actual aerial target, a role fulfilled by tired old 121…

The first instance of what will eventually become a common scene in Croatian skies – a grey-on-grey formation taking off for another local test flight (likely to tune the radar again).

Fresh out of the post-assembly test program, 135 leads 122 and 121 on a flypast down Lake Jarun during the 2014 Armed Forces Day. Then (1 June) still the acting QRA pair, 122 and 121 can be seen carrying the weapons pylons for their AA-8 heat-seeking missiles, as well as the MiG-21’s distinctive 800 liter centerline droptank.

And finally, one last goodbye for both the famous camo scheme and good old 122. Having borne the brunt of CroAF operations pending the arrival of 131 through 135, 122 was finally withdrawn from service about a month ago. Sadly though, 121 – trailing behind and the last “legacy” MiG-21 in service in July – will soon follow suit…

Fully kitted out to operational QRA specification, 131 and 135 blast out on one of their first practice scrambles. A sight we’ve been waiting to see for ages!

Even in rain, the -21 doesn’t fail to impress! 164 looking stunning as it returns home from a test flight during a brief shower…

Very few sounds at Pleso are as evocative as a MiG-21 at full chat. Even though the R-13 engine of the twin-stick UM is significantly less powerful than the meaty R-25 of the bis single-seater, it can still put up a show!

While flying past the smoke of a burning garbage heap may not be the most heroic of settings, it does however bring out some of the visceral appeal of the MiG-21. And despite its significant operational shortcomings (not to mention its general lack of sophistication in today’s terms), in the right hands the design can on occasion still put up a fight.

Post Update – The New Kid On The Block: MiG-21bis D 131

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

In a dazzling display of impeccable timing, my recent post about the Croatian Air Force’s few remaining MiG-21s had appeared here barely a week before the fleet was boosted by an eagerly-awaited new member :). The jet in question is MiG-21bis D 131, the first of five low-time examples bought from the Ukraine for the express purpose of keeping the fighter force operational until funds can be scraped together for a proper new machine :). Thoroughly overhauled in the port town of Odessa, these five would eventually be trucked piecemeal across Hungary to Zagreb, where they’ll be progressively tested out one by one and added to regular service (releasing hard-working 121 and 122 for servicing). The first of the lot to be completed, 131 was scrambled out today on its first ever flight from Croatian soil, an event eagerly anticipated by several men with very large cameras… 😀

Far from my best work, but an event that had to be captured at all costs - 131's first ever take off from Croatian soil. Preceded by 121 and 122 in full QRA config, 131 would eventually stay aloft for 35 minutes, flexing its wings in the Lekenik Flight Test zone.
Far from my best work, but an event that had to be captured at all costs – 131’s first ever take off from Croatian soil. Preceded by 121 and 122 in full QRA config, 131 would eventually stay aloft for 35 minutes, flexing its wings in the Lekenik Flight Test zone.

Quite an unusual sight after two decades of colorful camo schemes as 131 returns back home to RWY 05. While fresh from the outside, the jets have had some work on the interior as well, the biggest of which was the addition of a Garmin GNS430 GPS and a Sandel SN3500 EHSI.
Quite an unusual sight after two decades of colorful camo schemes as 131 returns back home to RWY 05. While fresh from the outside, the jets have had some work on the interior as well, the biggest of which was the addition of a Garmin GNS430 GPS and a Sandel SN3500 EHSI.

Photo Report – Gotta Catch ‘Em All: A Croatian MiG-21 Collection

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

As many of my readers might have already deduced from posts past, when operating out of Zagreb Intl (LDZA), chances are you’ll pretty quickly stumble upon one of the Croatian Air Force’s charismatic fuel-to-noise converters :). The aircraft in question are – of course – the MiG-21s, 70s manned missiles that are holding on as one of the last of their type still in front line service in Europe. And while we may have grown to taking them for granted through sheer exposure, they nevertheless still have a special – and resolutely unshakable – status on the local aviation scene. As I’ve already noted in a previous post, despite all their drawbacks, they’re still the rock stars of the skies, and have garnered a cult following that extends even outside the immediate aviation community (quite the achievement in a normally disinterested Croatia) :).

So too feel increasing numbers of photographers and enthusiasts from other lands, with the remaining few operational jets achieving close to “tourist trap” status :D. Given that they’ve been thrust back into the spotlight of late – primarily due to delays to their refurbishment in the Ukraine – I thought I might further their promotion a bit by cobbling together a collection of recent and already-featured (but hopefully still interesting) shots of the fleet going about its business. With one notable exception, I’ve decided to completely shy away from photos taken at various events and open days, preferring to stick to snapping them in their “natural operational habitat”… 🙂

Up, up and away! Latterly the hardest working of all the jets in the fleet, 116 and 121 are seen rocketing out of RWY 23 in an unusually tight and attractive formation.
Up, up and away! Latterly the hardest working of all the jets in the fleet, 116 and 121 are seen rocketing out of RWY 23 in an unusually tight and attractive formation. Flying unarmed – and without the centerline fuel tank – would suggest they’re heading out on a simple training mission, rather than the more common Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) practice scramble.

Rocketing out alone for another short training flight.
116 rocketing out on its own for another short training sortie. Essentially a piloted missile, the MiG-21 is (like the F-104 Starfighter) a pure-blooded interceptor, designed for acceleration, climb, and hit-and-run tactics in large numbers rather than the payload capability, versatility and persistence of an air superiority fighter like the Su-27 or F-15.

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A rarely seen member of the fleet, 117 taxis out towards RWY 05 for a test flight. Alongside Bulgarian and Romanian examples, CroAF machines are the last of the front-line MiG-21s flying in Europe – with the type also serving in limited secondary roles in Serbia. Interestingly, all of these operators fly slightly different versions of the jet, with Romania having its own MiG-21MF-based Lancers, Croatia it’s home-grown “bis D” upgrade – and Bulgaria sticking to the most capable examples of the stock bis family.

121 performing a 200 knot wheelie as it returns back to base after a practice QRA scramble with sister ship 122. In the default CroAF intercept configuration, it is equipped with two R-60 (AA-8 Alphid) short-range heat-seeking missiles and the distinctive 800 liter / 211 USG BAK drop tank (giving it a usable endurance of slightly over an hour – which is not all that bad given the type’s notoriously short legs).

Weathered and tired – but still infinitely charismatic – 121 is seen quietly sitting around in the background of the CroAF’s 22nd anniversary ceremony. Sadly, this is one of the last times we’ll be able to enjoy the distinctive camo scheme, with the fleet being progressively repainted into a customized NATO air superiority grey pattern…

The workhorse of the fleet of late, 121 is seen rolling out for a one-ship practice scramble. Despite being part of the QRA pair, it is flying unarmed (but with the R-60 pylons still in place), retaining only the centerline fuel tank. The reasons for this are unclear, but likely have something to do with releasing the aircraft for a training mission with the minimum of fuss and operational complication.

Seconds from touchdown on RWY 05 after another one-hour sortie. Buoyed by the recent arrival of the first of the “new” MiG-21s – five low-time examples bought from the Ukraine – the Air Force had started intensively flying armed pairs again, giving their pilots some much-needed air time – all while safe in the knowledge that they can use the jets’ little remaining lifetime to the fullest without fear of compromising the fleet’s operational availability.

A rare appearance by a twin-stick UMD.
A rare venture outside by a twin-stick UMD (upgraded to the same local standard as the bis D). An endangered species, the UMDs had up until recently numbered just three operational examples, which were whittled down over the course of the summer to just 166. However, the remaining two currently being overhauled in the Ukraine, including 165, famous in song and story for its chessboard Croatian coat of arms paint scheme.