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While I often rant here about Croatia’s summer weather – an eclectic mix of searing heat and violent thunderstorms – these past few months have seen thermometers run off their scales, with several airports reporting temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Centigrade… no small feat, since readings are taken two meters above grass and
in shade. Out on the tarmac, 55+ was nothing out of the ordinary, making life out in the open particularly unpleasant.
Thankfully though, the heat and humidity had not deterred the brave men and women of general aviation from their passion, with the region’s airports chocked full of everything from cheap-and-cheerful ultralights to high-flying, million+ Euro turbine singles. So having already come to terms that my summer would consist of flying from one oven to another, I’d decided to make the best of it and see what’s on offer on the country’s GA aprons… 🙂
Whenever I’m in a rut for not having snapped a light aircraft in awhile, I can always count on Dubrovnik Airport (DBV/LDDU) to come to the rescue! Even though both GA aprons had on this day been overflowing with various private and business aircraft, G-UAVA was the one that had instantly caught my eye – if anything for being one of the very few Twin Comanches still flying in Europe. Born in the early 60s, the PA-30 was an extensive twin-engine conversion of the earlier PA-24 Comanche, a “heavy cruiser” that had been the top of Piper’s single-engine offering all the way until the late 70s and the appearance of the PA-46 Malibu. Even though it is far from the most elegant twin out there, the Twin Comanche nevertheless has several aces up its sleeve – the biggest of which is a design penned by the legendary Ed Swearingen, a freelance engineer known for his passionate love of speed and low fuel consumption. Most famous as the father of the Merlin bizprop and Metro feederliner, Swearingen had used all of his talent in designing the PA-30, creating a 300 km/h aircraft powered by engines of only 160 HP that together drank just 17 USG per hour. While they do not sound like something to write home about, these numbers are identical to what the SINGLE engine Cessna 210N could manage on its 310 HP – and all the more amazing given the extra drag and weight penalties of the second engine. G-UAVA itself had been manufactured in 1967, and can additionally boast so called “turbonormalized” engines, a special variant of the classic turbocharged setup running at lower manifold pressures and cylinder temperatures – thus increasing engine life and durability with very little loss in performance. Another interesting detail is the slope of the apron and runway; my camera’s internal balance had said that this shot is perfectly level! Built on an undulating plain that is the only suitable piece of flat land for dozens of miles around, the airport is well known for its “uneven nature”, which can cause problems if you’re not prepared for it.
After Dubrovnik had served up its best offer, Split (SPU/LDSP) had also decided to deliver! Cessna’s first post-war twin, the 310 had remained in continuous production for 26 years, and spawned such a number of versions that they ate up half the alphabet. The Q model pictured here was the type’s last snub-nosed variant, with the subsequent 310R – the last series to go into production – receiving an elongated and aesthetically far more pleasing job that had included a lot of additional storage capacity. A fine example of a classic 70s Cessna paint scheme – proudly advertising the fact that the engines sport a fuel injection system and not the common man’s carburetor – D-IBMM had been manufactured in 1973, and can still be seen happily flying all over middle and southeastern Europe.
A cute little canary coming in to make an already fun day of flying and photography at Split Airport (SPU/LDSP) all the better. A pretty rare bird, the Do-328JET is – as it says on the tin – a turbofan variant of the 33-seat Do-328 turboprop, a sleek and sexy design that can still today be seen flying with smaller regional operators in and around the Alps. Even though it had always been a well designed, robust and quality product, the Do-328JET had one fatal flaw: it was the brainchild of two small companies (Fairchild and Dornier) that went head-to-head with the likes of the much more established ERJ-135 and CRJ-100/200 in a market that does not easily forgive design missteps. Dornier’s wobbly financials had further deepened the hole being dug under the design, the result of which are only 83 examples of the type ever made. Today however, it is enjoying a small Renaissance as a business jet – as well as a speedy and capable utility aircraft for both civilian (such as ADAC) and military operators (including the USAF).
The second oldest airworthy Skyhawk in Croatia – manufactured in 1966 – observing proceedings at Split (SPU/LDSP) from its elevated position halfway up the airport’s famous hill. Located just a 100 or so meters from RWY 23, the hill tops out at just 10 meters above the airport elevation, and in addition to a GA hangar and fuel farm features an olive garden – as well as a small church that predates the airport by a couple hundred years… not a bad feature to have INSIDE the airport fence! BDM itself is similarly native, having flown in country ever since the early 70s and the first of the Yugoslav government’s aeronautical shopping sprees (intended to equip flying clubs and schools with modern Western machinery). As an H model – Reims-built no less – it still sports the Skyhawk’s original six-cylinder O-300 engine developing 145 HP, quite a more charismatic (if inefficient) package than the modern fuel-injected four-pop IO-360.
Enjoying a bit of sun and fresh sea air on Croatia’s highest – and most challenging – airport. Perched on a high plateau surrounded by hills near the top of the eponymous island, Brač Airport (BWK/LDSB) sports a cocktail of characteristics that requires you to be very much awake on landing, including a 1750 ft elevation, a 1.4% runway gradient (1.7% in places even), notorious rotors and turbulence on all approaches, summer temperatures well above 30 degrees Centigrade – and a tight 1600 by 30 meter runway that often gives bother to business turboprops and jets, let alone the occasional airliner. On this day however, the stars of the show were the lighties, here a typical “summer holiday mix” of aircraft from Hungary, Romania, Germany and Slovenia. Type-wise, there was a lot to choose from as well, with just this lineup boasting one of the more powerful Morane variants, the Mudry CAP-232 aerobatic single-seater… as well as six-cylinder Mooney and a mint Skyhawk that – despite being 35 years old – looks like it had just rolled of the production line.
Taking a quick stroll through Varaždin’s (LDVA) small corrosion corner. Already disused and mostly abandoned prior to having been flipped over in a storm in 2012, CDZ is one of Croatia’s oldest Skyhawks, manufactured way back in 1967. Unfortunately, despite quite a bit of history in its logbooks, this is as far as it will ever get, since repairing it would actually cost more than buying an airworthy late 70s/early 80s example. Indeed, the extensive buckling down the tail (evident on both sides) is a telltale sign of major structural failure in the underlying load-bearing frame, requiring the whole back end of the airplane to be replaced at the very least. Though it had, damage-wise, fared much better, the country’s sole PA-28-235 hiding in the background – and registered, rather ominously, 9A-DIE – is pretty much in the same boat. Completed in 1965, it too had not seen much air these past few years, and looks to be another candidate for a “Coke bottle conversion”…
Just when I thought I’d used up all of my luck for finding rare piston singles, I stumble upon this magnificent Sierra at little old Lučko. Fairly atypical by the standards of the company, the Sport/Musketeer/Sierra family was Beech’s attempt at replicating the success of Piper’s legendary PA-28 Cherokee series. Standing at the top of the lineup, the 24 Sierra was essentially a 200 HP Musketeer with retractable gear that had hoped to take on the extremely popular PA-28R Arrow. Sadly though, none of these models had managed to make a significant impact on the market, partly because they were made to Beech standards – and therefore more expensive – and partly because this segment of the market had never really been the company’s forte. But more on the 24 in a separate post!
Though we had already met before several years ago, it is nevertheless always nice to see this old trooper once again. One of the very few early 206s still flying in Europe, HA-CPA celebrates its 50th birthday this year, a fact that had not – in true utility Cessna tradition – prevented it from working hard well into old age. Many moons ago actually a resident of Croatia, CPA had on this day popped into Lučko for a state skydive championship, for which it was the sole official dropship. An interesting detail is the pronounced chin under the nose, a leftover from the early Cessna 210 on which the 206 is based that had housed the 210’s nose wheel when retracted (a bit more info available
In common with many Cessna models of the 60s, CPA’s flight deck is, by modern standards, a jumbled mess – but it nevertheless does have a certain odd charm. Interesting details are the flap position indicator (partially obscured by the right yoke) with color-coded fields representing maximum flap extension speed – and a Soviet EGT gauge below the CDI, apparently salvaged and reused from a light transport twin (possibly even the An-14).
Taking a short breather on Croatia’s sole truly private airstrip. Nestled in rolling terrain 20-odd kilometers south of Zagreb, Pisarovina Airfield counts among the more scenic places to land at in the area, ringed by dense woodland and the Vukomerić Hills to the north, vast arable fields and fisheries to the south – and airliners on approach to Zagreb Airport (ZAG/LDZA) above. Indeed, the airfield is within spitting distance from both ZAG’s control zone and the Pisarovina NDB – the focal point for all approaches to RWY 05 – making getting in and out quite a fun and refreshing experience. Though several aircraft – and even a flight school – are based here, on this day we were the only plane in town, which made us feel a bit… conspicuous…
A short & sweet additional feature to accompany the photo above: a “dash cam” video of the approach to and landing on Pisarovina’s RWY 04… a fair bit of thermal turbulence that day, but what can you do (also, the camera shake on landing is exaggerated – the runway is relatively smooth, but the camera was mounted on a suction mount on the windscreen, which is flexible and tends to wobble about with every bump). VIDEO
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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.
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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.
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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.
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