Photo File – Gulfs Galore: G-III N32MJ + G-II-B N4NR @ LDZA

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Having always been on Team Gulfstream when it came to range-topping business jets – and living in a touristy country where the rich and famous (used to) come to let off some steam – I naturally had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the many fine forms of the Big Gulf. Down at the coast the G-IV, G-V and latterly the mighty G650 were as common as trees, and there was virtually no seaside airport without at least half a dozen of them at any one time.

However, the “older gentlemen” of the family – the original G-II and G-III – had continually eluded me, and several years came by and went until I finally managed to snap one. Making the same mistake as before, I kept thinking “well, that’s it, I’ve seen one now and never again”… right up until they started appearing in measurable numbers all over the place, including – very conveniently – at my base airport, Zagreb Intl (ZAG/LDZA)…

Gulfstream Aerospace G-1159A Gulfstream III • N32MJ

The first one off the bat is a mint 1982 G-III with the serial 460, owned by the basketball world’s own Magic Johnson. Since I do not watch sports, I cannot comment on Mr. Johnson’s professional career; but he is very obviously a man of culture, since – despite everything – he chooses to own an “oldtimer” that’s so loud it has to be silenced by law!

It may be plain while and surrounded by newer, fancier & flashier birds – but N32MJ nevertheless manages to dominate the GA apron with ease!

While these large cabin jets tend to lead comparatively simple and quiet lives, N32MJ has a history that can rival any MD-80: by my count, it had carried 10 separate registrations and passed through the hands of 12 different owners! (the full list can be found at Plane Logger) What is interesting for us here and now is that in 2005 it would pass from jet legend Clay Lacy to court legend Magic Johnson, with the intervening 15 years representing by far its longest stint with a single operator…

So, while this particular airplane probably has quite a few stories to tell, the G-III as a whole has a good one too. While it sometimes takes a keen eye to tell it apart from other members of its extended family, the III is probably the definitive landmark Gulfstream, since it was the one to set the stage – in terms of performance, comfort and style – for all the models that came subsequently. To make it even better, its glorious shape – delicate, elegant, powerful and brutish all at once – actually has its roots in a – turboprop 😀 .

And while the very mention of the P Word may raise a few eyebrows, the machine in question is probably one of the most beautiful t-props of them all: the dashing and elegant G-159 Gulfstream. Grumman’s attempt to offer the business market something better than a converted WW2 light/medium bomber, the G-159 was on its debut in 1958 one of the world’s first purpose-built large executive aircraft, sporting a comfortable and pressurized cabin for 8-24 passengers* (w/ the type’s famous oval windows), an advanced flight deck, transcontinental range and a pair of very loud – but also very tough and reliable – Rolls-Royce Darts rated at 2,190 HP each.

* according to many of the sources I found, the voluminous cabin allowed for numerous configurations with large differences in total capacity. The most luxurious setup seated only eight; the Sardine Can Special could squeeze 24; while the most common variant had space for 10-12. There was even a version called the G-159C (five of which were built), aimed at the regional airline market; a 3.25 meter fuselage stretch brought the total capacity to 37, roughly equal to the much later DHC-8-100

By the mid 60s though, the rise of the business jet could not be ignored anymore; names such as Lockheed JetStar, Rockwell Sabreliner, Dassault Falcon and Hawker-Siddeley HS.125 had grown into a credible threat, which meant that the G-159 could not hope to compete for much longer solely on its superior capacity, fuel economy and airfield performance. To stay in the game, Grumman decided to build on the 159’s success and turn it once more into the ultimate business transport. To that end, in 1966 they took its entire cabin and forward section (including the nose gear), stuck on a bespoke swept wing w/ increased fuel capacity, a rakish T-tail, and a pair of howling Rolls-Royce Spey low-bypass turbofans in the back (still a quieter fit than the Darts!), thus creating the daddy: the G-1159 Gulfstream II**, the first jet Gulf.

** on its introduction, the G-159 – which would remain in production for two more years – would be renamed into Gulfstream I

While a quantum leap in performance over the G-I – being the first bizjet to cross the Atlantic non-stop – by the mid 70s the G-II was itself becoming a bit dated, and would soon start to face some worrying competition from (among others) the upstart Canadair Challenger – the first modern large cabin jet designed from the ground up for the business role. In reply, Grumman would in 1979 take the G-II and:

  • stretch the fuselage by 0.6 meters
  • re-contour the entire radome and windscreen
  • redesign the wing to incorporate 1.8 meters more span and a more efficient leading edge
  • add striking 1.5 meter winglets (inspired by those on the Learjet 28 Longhorn, the first bizjet to carry them)
  • up the luxury to 11
  • revamp the cockpit to include more glass and automation

and christen the result the G-1159A Gulfstream III. Despite having sold only a modest 202 examples, the G-III was such a conceptual hit that it immediately set the standards for what a proper Gulfstream should be (despite its inefficient and gas-guzzling engines).

Indeed, the hugely successful 1985 G-IV – more than 900 sold over multiple versions – is actually a lengthened G-III with a tweaked wing, a full glass cockpit and power provided by modern Rolls-Royce Tay high-bypass turbofans. Even the G-V of 1995 shares the same DNA, being a longer, fully re-winged G-IV powered the brand new Rolls-Royce/BMW BR710. Only with the coming of the clean sheet G650 did the old G-II/III finally decide to lay down and die…

Despite the “Eurowhite” paint job (which is actually new), N32MJ does carry a few tokens of Mr. Johnson’s sporting life: his old basketball team on one side…

… and the baseball team he owns on the other

There’s just something about a quarter side view of a classic Gulf… interestingly, N32MJ was parked at Zagreb immobile for approximately two weeks while Mr. Johnson was down on the Adriatic coast, despite an abundance of airports that could (and had the space) to accommodate a G-III…

You know your airplane is good when it needs a muzzle. For those unfamiliar with them, “hush kits” – seen here at the back of the engine – are aftermarket air mixers fitted to older generation low-bypass turbofans to reduce their noise signature. They work by providing additional mixing of outside air and exhaust gases, which reduces the shearing forces between them that are the main cause of “jet engine noise”. In many Western countries, they are nowadays an essential piece of kit to even get in. The units fitted to N32MJ are QTA Stage 3 models, by far the most popular choice for Spey-powered Gulfs (of note, the gap between the engine and mixer accommodates the reverser buckets when open)

Rarely are there aircraft whose looks combine characteristics that are so different: elegant, but brutish… delicate, but powerful… discreet, but imposing…

Gulfstream Aerospace G-1159B Gulfstream II-B • N4NR

Just as the G-III’s advancement carried forward onto the G-IV, they also filtered backwards onto the old G-II. In 1981 – a year after its production ended – Gulfstream offered the G-1159B Gulfstream II-B upgrade, which would see the III’s wing and cockpit setup mated to existing G-IIs (the only other factory variant of the II was the G-II-TT, fitted with tip tanks; only 18 are known to have been so equipped). Offered until 1987, 44 machines had been converted to this standard – including our example, the non-hush-kitted N4NR.

Lost in the mist and overcast. To see a G-II in the 21st century is something… to see one WITHOUT hush kits is a different matter entirely!

Completed in 1978 under the serial 255, this odd bird had started out in life as N442A of the Aramco Steel Corporation. In 1984, it would pass into the hands of Rockwell International, where it would soon become N4NR – and, presumably, be converted to the II-B standard. It would stay with Rockwell’s various incarnations all the way until 2001, after which it would pass through the hands of several venture capital corporations (list also at Plane Logger), finally ending up with the somewhat cryptic Global Mission LLC in 2008.

That all was not going well in its world became obvious in November 2018, when its first (and last) arrival into Zagreb was met with a pre-planned sting operation ran by the Croatian Police, acting on information provided by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Though some of the details are still not entirely clear, official press releases stated that the crew of two were flying in from Mali with a kilo of very pure cocaine, a sample of the payment to local arms dealers for a shipment of Soviet-era man-portable anti-aircraft systems, assault rifles, ammunition and other military gear – all stuff that was scheduled to be passed onto a Malian Islamist terror group.

Immediately impounded as evidence, it sat sealed for a few years in the corner of the GA apron, awaiting the end of the investigation and some future auction where it would be sold off to whoever cares. Informed opinion at the time (eventually to be proved pretty accurate) suggested that it would never fly again, since it is in pretty poor condition*** – and the costs of returning it to airworthy state and bringing it up to code are not encouraging…

*** indeed, it has been mentioned informally that is had started out for Zagreb three previous times before returning back to Mali with technical issues

While you’d be hard pressed to tell it apart from the G-III from most angles, the dead giveaway is the old G-I-style nose. While it is very cool in its own right, it almost looks like the G-IIIs rural cousin…

Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat? More like Forgotten Jehoshaphat! In 2020, N4NR would be moved to the far end of the apron (to a spot just under its horizontal stabilizer) and left to the elements…


Photo File – Moving House: New Pax Terminal @ LDZA

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

While the start of spring of 2017 had brought quite a few developments in Croatian aviation, the main talk of the town has consistently been the long-awaited opening of Zagreb Airport’s (ZAG/LDZA) bespoke new passenger terminal – and its associated bespoke new apron – on 28 March. Much had already been said in the media about its design and furnishing, advancements and failings, costs and politics – so for my part I’d decided to skip over all of that and devote some space to the one bit that people rarely see first hand: life airside.

Having had the opportunity to experience its workings for its first two days of operations – inevitably with camera in hand – I’d quickly found myself with enough interesting material to put together a short “early days” photo story. Biased a bit (OK, a lot 😀 ) towards the Q400, these shots are not intended to be a tour of the terminal/apron nor a serious documentary piece – but merely a “first look” at the place our airliners will now call home… 🙂

For handy reference, the official airport chart (in PDF format) is available here.

CTN Squadron (or rather a quarter of it) set and ready for its first day of operations from what is colloquially known as “NPT” (short for “novi putnički terminal”, New Passenger Terminal). Notably smaller than the old apron – which had up to 22 stands – this new one only has 12 (E1 through E11, with E8 able to be split into E8L and E8R as conditions dictate), eight of which have jetbridges.

Welcome aboard! Even though they cannot use these jetbridges due to the design of the bridge floor pan, Q400s can nevertheless normally use these gates, with E4 – in the middle of the terminal – seen here.

One of the bigger sources of complaint is the FMT Airpark Visual Guidance Docking System (VGDS), which is... well, rudimentary at best. Unlike more advanced (i.e. partially or fully digital) systems elsewhere, this one is completely analogue and somewhat crude in guidance.

One of the bigger sources of complaint is the FMT Airpark Visual Guidance Docking System (VGDS), which is… well, rudimentary at best. Unlike more advanced (i.e. partially or fully digital) systems elsewhere, this one is completely analogue and somewhat crude in guidance – since it relies on a human operator rather than an integrated laser system.

A wheel + towbar + little truck = pushback. Even though Zagreb had always had a push capability (including a pretty powerful tug sufficient even for the heavies), the “taxi-out” nature of the old apron had meant that it was very, very rarely used. However, since all stands at the NPT require pushing to get out of, this had necessitated a lot of dry practice runs by the ground crews…

Given that most of the visitors at ZAG are of the turboprop or medium jet variety, pushing is generally done in the manner shown. However, if need be, the airport has a heavy duty tug that lifts the entire nose wheel and is used to move the heavier stuff.

I wonder what the fines are for parking in other people’s spots… trying one of the standard non-bridge stands – E10 – on for size. Even though there are three such positions, their configuration and usability depend on the occupancy of E8, the only jetbridge stand able to accept a widebody.

The calm before the evening rush hour. Even though it seems large here, the apron is actually quite tight; indeed, a major criticism from flight crews and operators alike is the lack of maneuvering space and the existence of only one taxilane. This oversight became most acute during the day’s three major rush hours, when multiple aircraft arriving, departing and pushing at the same time led to long delays and unnecessary congestion – particularly problematic for flights time-restricted by slots at their destination.

And finally, a bit of video from a push out of stand E4 on the Day #1… with a nice view of the entire terminal:

Update – Day 5: showing off the airport’s ambitions…

Aiming high? Nose gear position markings for the 777-300, A340-500 and 777-200 at stand E8. While all of these types had visited Zagreb before (some multiple times), not one had as of yet made a habit of it – though Emirates had recently announced it was planning to change that with a daily year-round 777-300 service to Dubai.

Markings for the 777-300, 747-400 and 777-200 at stand E10R. The prevalence of 777-capable positions reflect the type’s status as one of the most popular widebodies in town, particularly frequent during the summer on twice-weekly tourist charters from Korea.

Update – 21 May: it took me until Day #53, but I’d finally managed to capture the operation (of lack thereof) of the FMT Airpark VDGS. As is (hopefully) visible, lateral guidance is provided by simple optical systems that change shape with viewing direction – while distance is regulated by ground personnel through the (rather crude) semaphore.

Photo File – Cold War Mk.II: 727 v Yak-42 @ LDZA

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

It is perhaps the nature of aviation photography – or a consequence of living off the beaten airways – to assign a sense of “finality” to those rare (and invariably old) machines that occasionally pop into Croatian airports. Back in 2012, Zagreb was briefly host to a beautiful JT3D-powered DC-8-60 freighter from Ghana, a type that was an unusual sight here even at the best of times. As it left, many had felt that that was that, we’d seen a DC-8 and would likely never see one again… until a CFM56 DC-8-70 freighter decided to rock up less than a year later 😀 .

Since history has a habit of repeating itself, the feeling was much the same in 2014, when we got wind of a gold-painted 727-200 bizjet thundering in from Azerbaijan. For me the first live sighting (and hearing) of a 727 since 1989, this was an event on par with the visit of the An-225, likely the final opportunity to enjoy what was – in Europe at least – a rapidly disappearing breed.

It took two years this time round, but – invariably – we would once again be proven wrong :). What’s more, Murphy would throw in some bonus content as well, presenting us with a fantastic opportunity to simultaneously indulge in triholers from both sides of the Iron Curtain…

Cold War Mk. II at Zagreb: an American triholer airliner-turned-bizjet vs. a Soviet triholer airliner-turned-bizjet. Apart from ample material for comparison of design philosophies (despite the 727 and Yak-42 not really being rivals), one really has to admire the cheek of the airport planners who had decided to park the two side by side!

Boeing 727-21, VP-BAP

Unlike the Azerbaijani machine that had opened this entry, VP-BAP is a nowadays rare(er) “short body” 100* series, the 727’s first production version. A tad over six meters shorter than the more common 200, the 100 would enjoy an excellent production run even by modern standards, totaling out to roughly 500 examples completed between 1964 (the type’s entry into service) and 1972 (10 years prior to the end of all 727 manufacture).

* for the sake of accuracy (and aviation nerdiness), the “100” designation warrants a bit of discussion. Before the introduction of the 200 in 1967, the 727 did not carry a series number, only a two-digit customer code (a Boeing practice that is in use even today). After the former’s entry into service, the “short body” machines were re-designated as the 727-100; under this regime, the 727-21 (for example) would officially become the 727-121. However, while Boeing still uses this nomenclature internally, most sources on the net have reverted to the pre-200 system – so much so that even 100s manufactured after the 200 appeared are designated with two digits only.

VP-BAP itself would turn out to be a mid-production example, having left the assembly line in 1967 wearing the serial 19260 and line number 412. Its 21 code denotes it as originally being a Pan Am example, where it became known as N358PA and christened Clipper David Crockett.

Its service with what is still considered to be history’s most prestigious (if deeply flawed) airline would continue for the next 14 years, during which it would go through a raft of name changes – including Clipper Berlin, Clipper Wuchtbrumme (which actually means “foxy lady” in German!) and Clipper Flotte Motte. All of these indicate that it had spent most of its time with Pan Am in Germany, operating the carrier’s Internal German Services (IGS) between major West German cities and West Berlin.

By 1981, its time with Pan Am had come to an end, and in September that year it would be sold on to International Executive Aircraft, becoming N727SG in the process (the reg N358PA would later be reused by Pan Am for another 727, albeit a 200 Advanced). At this point in time, it appears that the aircraft had received an executive interior and a new paintjob – though available evidence suggests little else was done.

In early 1984, the aircraft would pass into ownership of another business operator – Fun Air – where it would continue flying as N727LA until some indeterminate time in the early 2000s.

As 2004 came about though, its life would suddenly become a bit more interesting :). Now already 37 years old, it would be picked up by the Malibu Consulting Corporation, taking on yet another new identity, N727GP. However, the purchase was marked with problems and disputes, with Malibu’s maintenance contractors being refused a thorough inspection of the entire aircraft (which was at the time stored in Tel Aviv). Going ahead with the buy nonetheless, Malibu would soon discover that the aircraft was in a far worse shape than advertised, necessitating extensive – and thoroughly expensive – work before it could be flown again.

Though the exact timeline is not entirely clear, it appears that Malibu had decided to try and make the best of the situation, sending the aircraft – following court proceedings against Fun Air – not just for repair, but also a thorough overhaul and modernization. Completed in 2006, the work had included the usual refit of the interior – but also the installation of winglets, removal of two overwing exits and Boeing’s trademark “eyebrow” cockpit windows to save weight… and the addressing of performance issues with the Super 27** engine upgrade.

** having changed more hands than the average MD-80 – conceived by Valsan Partners, sold by Goodrich, and now supported by Quiet Wing Technologies – the popular Super 27 mod entails the replacement of the 727’s outboard JT8D-1s with more economical, quieter and significantly more powerful JT8D-217C or -219 units, allowing the aircraft to now meet Stage III noise regulations and somewhat saner fuel consumption figures.

Interestingly, the No. 2 (center) engine is not changed, since there is simply not enough room in the fuselage to accommodate the larger -200 series core. To lessen the -1’s noise footprint, it is fitted with an advanced exhaust mixer and noise-insulated exhaust cone, both of which require the removal of its thrust reverser. Other changes also include strengthened engine mounts to cope with the -200’s higher weight and thrust.

It takes a lot of imagination to believe that this aircraft is 49 years old – and that it had just made a non-stop hop from Canada. Like virtually all 727 bizjets, VP-BAP is clean to a fault… while its flight record suggests it may continue working well into its 60s.

Turned now into nearly the ultimate head-turner (beaten in style only by the 737-200), N727GP would in 2007 be transferred to the Virgin Islands register, becoming VP-BAP – but still reported as owned by Malibu. No stranger to Croatia – having also visited Dubrovnik (DBV/LDDU) several years back – it had on this occasion hopped across the pond from Ottawa on unknown business, staying just long enough for its Soviet companion to arrive… 😀

Yakovlev Yak-42D, RA-42423

Even though it too is no stranger to Croatia – nor my camera – the imposing Yak-42 nevertheless still manages to attract much attention – even when parked next to a 727 :). While most of its allure comes from its Soviet origins and rock-solid looks, the -42 also has an air of significance, and can easily be considered as one of Russia’s most important regional airliners. While it had not introduced anything really new or groundbreaking when it premiered in 1975, it did signal a small – but important – shift in Russian design philosophy, for the first time bringing together the swept wing, an advanced two-man flight deck and modern turbofan engines in one “cheap and cheerful” short-haul design. Even more so, despite its firm stance, the -42 has been designed without rough-field capability, a consequence of improved infrastructure available across the USSR and an increasing drive for efficiency at the expense of ultimate versatility.

This combination had proved to be a local hit, with 180 or so examples produced between 1979 and 2003. While this doesn’t sound at all impressive – considering that similar Western designs are pushing four digits – it has to be viewed in the context of the time, with the Yak-42 catching its production stride just as the stage for the colapse of the Union had been set. But, while the fragmentation of Aeroflot and the disappearance of state funding in 1991 had dealt a serious blow to the design’s ambitions, the -42’s low price and suitability for use on some of Russia’s most vital routes – to and from Moscow – had meant that it was able to avoid the sad fate of similarly modern, but more grandiose, projects from the 80s (such as the Ilyushin Il-96).

Indeed, the example featured here was part of a large batch of -42s produced in the years immediately following 1991, leaving the shop flow in 1993 as a Yak-42D*** with the serial 4520424216606. Christened RA-42423 right from the outset, it would remain with Yakovlev as a company shuttle and/or demonstrator all the way until 2006 – though photo evidence suggests it had briefly flown with airline City Star 100 in 2000.

*** having replaced the standard model on the production line in 1988, the D’s principal claim to fame is increased range (D – dalniy, long range), providing for an extra 400 km at maximum payload – and up to 700 with more usual in-service loads. Other tweaks included 500 kg added to the Maximum Take Off Mass – now at 57,500 kg – as well as improvements in both ceiling (31,500 ft vs 30,000 ft) and hot-and-high performance (with Yakovlev claiming the D could successfully operate from elevations of 8,000 ft at ambient temperatures of 45° Centigrade).

My first Tu-154? Though it lacks the smooth, curving elegance of the 727, the “sewer pipe” Yak-42 makes up with brutish purposefulness. Note also the large “bypass ducts”, spaces through which the majority of air from the fan flows around the engine core – a hallmark of the turbofan engine. An additional detail – not often seen on Western designs – is the wing anhedral, the downward stoop of the wings outboard of the fuselage. Used most notably on the aforementioned Tu-154, this feature reduces the aircraft’s stability slightly – not enough to make the aircraft difficult to fly, but enough to provide an additional degree of maneuverability.

Following its departure from home, RA-42423 would join the fleet of regional carrier Centre-Avia, where it would remain until 2008. As was the case with N358PA on becoming N727SG, it would at this point sail into executive waters, passing to bizjet operator S-Air.

Again mirroring the story of the 727, it is likely – though unclear from available info – that it had been outfitted with a VIP interior at this time (in Russian nomenclature often called salon). Whatever the case, in 2009 it would be acquired by another executive outfit – Rus Air – in whose fleet it would remain until mid 2016. Though many sources still list it as a Rus Air machine, Sirius-Aero (billed as Russia’s largest bizjet operator) now calls it its own.

Be that as it may, on this occasion it had popped into town direct from Bratislava (BTS/LZIB) as part of an increasing flow of hockey charter streaming into Zagreb these past few years… 🙂


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 – Big(ger) GA Birds at Pleso (LDZA)

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

In another run through my database (lost count of them all 😀 ), I’ve seen I’ve got quite a few interesting shots from Pleso airport, our big bad international gateway (for our GA expectations anyway 🙂 ). Having often selflessly volunteered to fly there for fuel once our own station at Lučko closes for the day, I’ve had the chance to spend some quality time on the GA apron, snapping a few shots here and there while waiting for the bowser to trundle up. At other times I’ve taken my telephoto lens to the RWY 05 approach path, snapping a few landing photos before the police inevitably shoo me away :). So, while patiently waiting for something new, I’ve decided to compile a little collection of what can be seen operating in and out of our friendly little airport…

First up is 9A-CHC, a relative newbie to the Croatian register. A nowadays rather rare Cessna 501 Citation I/SP, it is operated by IVA-DOM Aviation, the country's first proper bizjet charter company

Shot in some excellent light, 9A-CZG (formerly 9A-BZG) is a Piper PA-31T-500 Cheyenne I operated by Geo-Foto - a very well known local mapping company - in an aerial photography configuration

Somewhat of a patriotic moment this as 9A-CRO, the presidential Canadair Challenger 604, glides in for landing on RWY 05

My first Hawker 400! 🙂 CS-DMM, a 400XP, is operated by NetJets Europe out of Portugal

Another Cheyenne I, registered in Germany as D-IEMR, but operated privately in Croatia for a while

Another new one for me here, what I believe is a Cessna 340, registered G-FEBE. Done quite a trip to get here...

A prison view (almost! 🙂 ). Not a very good one at that, but my dad told me there was a Caravan at the airport - and I immediately rushed there to see it :D. Turns out it's the 1500th produced, N1276Y, here on an European tour

And here's a very, very nice treat from Austria - a Piper PA-46-500TP Malibu Mirage (reg OE-KDM) on final for RWY 05

The Swedes are bringing up the rear with an even rarer Citation than 9A-CHC, a non-single-pilot Citation 500 registered SE-DEG

A view of the Pleso GA apron at night... and not even half full 🙂

As an afterthought, I’ve though I might add something a bit bigger as well :). Though most of the commercial traffic in and out of Pleso consists of boring Airbii, Boeings and Dash 8s, there are a few gems every now and then… big, smoky, Russian ones… 🙂

Lookie, twins! RA-76494 from Russia and UR-78786 from the Ukraine, both Ilyushin Il-76TDs, visiting Zagreb on a rare occasion. Shot with my old camera from the control tower 🙂

One of the most graceful airliners ever built rocketing off RWY 23. Though still not all that uncommon, the Tupolev Tu-154 (M model here) is still a rare sight outside the former Eastern Block

Now this had really brightened that cold, windy March day - a very rare Ilyushin Il-86 charter on approach to RWY 05. The first true Soviet widebody, the Il-86 was produced in limited numbers, hampered all the way by a serious lack in power...