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

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All photos me too, copyrighted

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

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

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

Monday, 5 May

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

Wednesday, 7 May

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

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

Friday, 6 June

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

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

Friday, 18 July

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

Monday, 4 August

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

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

Thursday, 18 December

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

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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All photos me too, copyrighted

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

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

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

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

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All photos me too, copyrighted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Report – High Seventy-Five: the Learjet 75 at Zagreb

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All photos me too, copyrighted

Anybody who has ever spent some time flying light aircraft – especially those part of smaller flying clubs – will no doubt have experienced what I’ve come to call the “cascading planning failure”. It’s the weekend, the weather is (nearly) perfect, the bird is operational and ready… and willing pilots can be found in their dozens. After several rounds of negotiation – and a hefty phone bill – you finally end up with a working plan, one that will both make everyone involved happy and keep the aircraft’s down time to a minimum. Excellent. All that remains now is one person to derail the entire works right at the outset… πŸ˜€

Such was the case on 13 April, when a planning meltdown kicked off my series of flights with an hour’s delay. What was a mild irritant at first had though quickly turned to excitement, proving conclusively (once again) that there really is a silver lining to every dark cloud! Rejoining the pattern at Zagreb Intl. – now well over two hours behind schedule – I happened to catch a transmission by an N-reg aircraft on approach, complete with a movie-set American accent. And while we do get quite a few N-numbers here in Croatia, most of them are aircraft actually based somewhere in Europe and operated by European companies and individuals – so catching an “authentic” US machine was immediate cause for excitement. Rolling lazily into the downwind leg, I scanned the skies for signs of the newcomer, expecting it to be a small business prop or the like… and then I saw it, dead abeam and 1000 ft lower – a pristine white Learjet gliding in towards the touchdown point.

Being a lifelong fan of the Learjet (thank you Microsoft Flight Simulator 98 πŸ˜€ ), I was naturally through the roof, especially given my recent photographic dry spell. And while I couldn’t make out the exact model from the air, I’d assumed it was one of the established, “common” models like the 45 or 60. So you can imagine my surprise when, while holding on TWY B for the traffic to clear, a brand new Learjet 75 happened to roll by in front of my nose… πŸ™‚

With their classic, speedy lines – hallmarks of the brand ever since the original model 23 of 1963 – Learjets definitely tend to stand out on the apron… even when sporting such a basic scheme as this!

Nip ‘n’ tuck

The newest operational member of the Learjet family (notwithstanding the recently problematic 85), the model 75 is not a new design per se, but rather a revamp and thorough upgrade of the best-selling model 45 (the aircraft included in the aforementioned Flight Simulator that had sparked my love affair with the brand πŸ™‚ ). First flying in 1995, the 45 was conceived as the replacement for the superlative model 31 – for many the greatest of the classic Learjets – and had introduced a new, wider fuselage, reworked wing for higher cruise speeds and a new, state-of-the-art glass cockpit (the Honeywell Primus 1000 suite to be exact).

Despite being a clean sheet design, the 45 was nevertheless still a “proper Learjet” in every way – not the most commodious of aircraft, but one that could out-accelerate, out-climb and out-fly pretty much everything else in its category. And while its ceiling of 51,000 ft – known in the 60s and 70s as “Learjet country” – was neither that impressive nor unobtainable anymore, the way it got there had nevertheless still guaranteed it a healthy and loyal customer base.

However, by the early 2010s, the 45 was becoming increasingly hauled in by time, prompting Bombardier to put on its thinking cap and develop a modernized version. To that end, they took the basic 45 airframe and refitted it with new winglets (a design borrowed from the Global Express), more powerful Honeywell TFE731-40BR engines producing 17.1 kN of thrust each (versus the 15.57 of the 45’s TFE731-20s) and a completely redesigned cockpit featuring the newest in Garmin digital avionics. In this form, the new aircraft would become the model 75*, first flying in late 2012, with FAA certification following on in November 2013 πŸ™‚ .

* the same treatment would also be applied to the Learjet 40, the 45’s shorter brother. Fitted with the same suite of upgrades, it would become the model 70, with its certification still pending.

With the aircraft now ready for sale, all that was needed was to whip up a fully spec’d demonstrator and head out into the world. Such was the role of the titular aircraft, N446LJ, which had popped into Zagreb to take on fuel before continuing onwards to Denmark. Having rolled onto the GA apron just a few minutes later, I was at the plane in moments, camera naturally set and ready… πŸ™‚

Looking stunning in the golden afternoon light. Even though it was in town for just half an hour on a “mere” technical stop, N446LJ’s visit was nevertheless quite the local exclusive, marking the type’s first ever appearance both in Croatia and South-Eastern Europe.

Many news here in the pointy end! Doing away with the Primus, the 75’s cockpit is based around the new Garmin G5000 suite which – in addition to all the usual features – also includes the Synthetic Vision System (SVS). Notably cleaner and less cluttered than those of previous Learjets, the 75’s flight deck actually feels more open and airy – despite the fact that it is of the same size as that on the 45 (also, sorry for the poor crop… the F/O was preparing the bird for its onward flight so I though it best to intrude as little as possible).

One of the reasons for the cockpit’s cleanliness lies in the relocation of the light switches to the overhead console – the first such panel ever fitted to a Learjet.

Like on all modern Learjets, the cabin of the 75 is comfortable – but not all that roomy. Updated along with the rest of the aircraft, it now features pop-up video monitors linked to touchscreen controllers installed at every seat, as well as several new trim options – the best of which is this pleasant and warm cream-wood combo.

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A reverse view from the lavatory (which also doubles as the ninth passenger seat). At my 1.93 m /  6ft 3 in, navigating the cabin was a bit interesting – but not nearly as much trouble as I would have thought. Provided you’re not carrying a huge camera bag on your back, entry, seating and exiting is pretty straightforward, with very few objects you could snag with your limbs or clothes on the way.

While it is technologically far removed from the original 23 – and even the legendary 31 – the 75 still sports those evocative, exciting lines of the classic Learjet. With that narrow nose, short-span wing and short vertical stabilizer – plus a perfectly proportioned fuselage – it continues to dominate the business jet segment in sheer visual (and visceral) appeal. Also note the new winglets, installed at a significantly more obtuse angle than on the 45.

I would also like to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to the crew of N446LJ for allowing me to snoop around and snap at will!

Additional information:

Photo Report – Life at Pleso #3

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All photos me too, copyrighted

With the weather finally turning for the better, I have come once again to the point where my (admittedly limited) flying duties see me visiting Pleso Airport (LDZA) on a near-daily basis (not that I’m complaining! πŸ˜€ ). The upshot of the situation is that my camera invariably visits with me, which – combined with generous apron access – often makes for some good and exciting photography. As I’d explained previously in another post on this very topic, Pleso’s status as the default gateway to Croatia is a surefire guarantee that something interesting will pop in every once in awhile, whether it be a heavy freighter, a fast military jet, or an unusual little prop πŸ™‚ .

And while 2014 has so far been somewhat of a slow year for Achtung, Skyhawk!-worthy aircraft, a few oddballs have nevertheless flown in, providing me with enough material to satisfactorily continue this photo series… πŸ™‚

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Another medical flight rolling in with the last light of day. In town to pick up a donor organ urgently needed for transplant somewhere in Europe, OK-UNO is part of a steady stream of similar flights arriving into Pleso throughout the year. In addition to “pure” organ transport, many of these also fly out people seeking medical treatment abroad – flights that are on the up since Croatia joined the EU in July 2013.

One of
One of the absolute highlights of the year so far is seen diving for RWY 05, flying in a volleyball team for a local championship. A lengthy – and hopefully educational – description is provided below!*

* definitely one of the most interesting aircraft to have come out of the Antonov works, the An-74 is an upgraded, Arctic-capable version of the An-72, both of which owe their unconventional looks to the application of the so-called “CoandΔƒ effect”. Named after its discoverer – Romanian aerodynamicist Henri CoandΔƒ – this effect describes the tendency of a moving gas to follow the shape and form of the surface it is flowing against. Recognizing its potential to drastically reduce an aircraft’s minimum approach and landing speeds, Antonov had in the mid-70s decided to implement it on an actual aircraft – the An-72 – in which the engine exhaust gasses flow over the flaps and inner sections of the wing, increasing their generated lift without necessitating an increase in flight speed (Boeing had applied the same principle on its YC-14 – an aircraft roughly identical in shape and function, and created round about the same time). Originally conceived as pure-blooded military transports, the An-72 and 74 would eventually also evolve into a number of passenger models, the first of which was the An-74TK-200 pictured above. Interestingly, the design had also served as the springboard for the modern An-148 and 158, which were derived from the visually nearly-identical An-74TK-300.

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Sitting clean and pretty at the end of another fine winter’s day. Owned by Geofoto – a well-known local aerial imaging company – DOF had actually spent the last year or so on the ground due to various financial issues, with its only movement having been a tow from one side of the airport to the other. Said to be up for sale, the aircraft had been spruced up over the course of the winter – and even ran for a few minutes to clear the proverbial bats out of the engines.

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A welcome sight and sound as “Knight 01” rolls briskly towards RWY 05 for a one-hour sortie. Looking worse for wear every time I see it, 121 is one of the last Croatian AF MiGs still in something resembling an operational status, with the rest of the fleet currently undergoing servicing and overhaul in the Ukraine. As part of the current QRA pair, 121 would normally be armed with two R-60 (AA-8 Alphid) heat-seeking missiles – but was on this occasion flying empty, with only the missile pylons in place…

A selection for all tastes (and wallet sizes): the modern Challenger 300 for medium ranges, the classic and elegant Falcon 50EX for transoceanic flights - and the small and cheap Citation Mustang for popping into another country for a coffee
A selection for all tastes and wallet sizes: the modern Challenger 300 for “medium haul”, the timeless and elegant Falcon 50 for transoceanic hops – and the humble, cheap Mustang for popping over the border for a coffee. While not nearly as sizable or impressive as those seen across Western Europe, this little fleet – which had also included three more Citations out of shot – is definitely a sight to behold at Pleso…

Even though this weekend was not as interesting as the last, one could still find some interesting machines on the GA apron . An extremely rare type, the Citation VI is essentially a cheaper version of the base Citation III, Cessna's first swept-wing jet - and also the first Citation to turn out to be a sales disaster. Intended to offer solid performance at the bottom end of the market, the Citation VI would be sold in only 39 examples and pulled from the product offering after just a few years...
Even though the traffic situation the following weekend was not as varied as the one pictured above, one could still stumble upon some interesting machinery on the GA apron! One of the rarest bizjets around, the Citation VI was developed as a cheaper, softer version of the original Citation III, Cessna’s first swept-wing jet. Intended to offer solid performance and operating costs to the lower end of the market, the VI ended up being a huge sales flop, with only 39 examples made before production ceased in 1995… the first one I’ve ever seen up close, PH-MFX is operated by Holland’s Solid Air and is I believe one of just a handful of examples flying in Europe.

Photo Report – The Jet Set

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With “my” airplane now more-or-less permanently based at Zagreb’s Pleso Airport (LDZA), I’ve by necessity ended up spending as much time there as I did at Lučko back in its heyday. And while I’m not really a fan of the restricted (but understandably necessary) operating policy of larger airports, my relocation is not necessarily a bad thing… for despite the ton of paperwork, lots of security measures and more waiting for the big birds to clear, there’s a bewildering array of interesting aircraft to be seen, at times far eclipsing in size and scope anything possible at a small field πŸ™‚ .

Even though Pleso itself is not a big facility by the standards of the world – most European countries would classify it as a regional airport – it does have a lot of things going for it that are conductive to aviation photography. The first (and foremost) is its status as the main gateway to the country’s capital, which by default implies bizjets and bizprops by the dozen. The other thing in its favor – though the airport management would struggle to agree with me on this πŸ˜€ – is its relatively low traffic volume, which lends itself to those aircraft that can’t be bothered to wait in queues or tend to take up too much time and space. Lastly, being the only port of entry in the area – as well as the largest airbase in Croatia – it tends to attract everything from ultralights to combat jets, so you’re never left wanting for something unusual πŸ™‚ .

Since my last post on the topic, the tempo has picked up quite a bit – it being summer and all – so here’s what we’ve been graced with in the past few months… πŸ™‚

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A beautiful classic Challenger snapped just a few minutes after landing. Today quite rare, the 601-3A represents the midpoint of the Challenger’s evolution and is considered to be the aircraft that had set the stage for today’s 604s and 605s. Compared to the original model 600, the 601 had introduced more powerful General Electric CF34 engines (replacing the old Lycoming ALF502), winglets, a higher MTOW – and, in the 3A version, an EFIS cockpit that taken the place of the old analogue avionics setup. The later 3R version would introduce larger fuel tanks, after which the design would evolve into the 604, sporting even more powerful engines, higher weights, yet more fuel and a full glass cockpit

As clean and tidy as if it had just rolled off the production line - and not way back in 1987 - the Google jet is seen in the final moments of its approach to RWY 05. Even though it's very nice to see a private 767, the aircraft is a bit disappointing... considering its owner, I was expecting it to be pasted full of ads for cameras, safety jackets and spotter days
As clean and tidy as if it had just rolled off the production line – and not way back in 1987 – the Google Jet is seen in the final moments of its approach to RWY 05. Even though it’s very nice to see a private 767, the aircraft is a bit disappointing… considering its owner, I was expecting it to be pasted full of ads for cameras, safety jackets and spotter days!

A machine that's as close as it can be to the ideal business turboprop . The only fully certified (and Beech-endorsed) King Air modification, the Blackhawk series conversion visually differ little from the standard models - but "under the hood", things are quite different. The top of the line choice for the model 90, the XP135A conversion includes the replacement of the standard 550 HP PT6A-21 engines with more modern 750 HP PT6A-135As. In addition to the drastically increased torque - which does wonders in the climb - the new engines predictably also increase cruise speed, boosting it from 403 to 503 km/h for the C90A .
A machine that’s as close as it can be to the ideal business turboprop! The only fully certified (and Beech-endorsed) King Air modification, the Blackhawk series of conversions visually differ little from the standard models – but under the hood things are quite different. The top of line option for the model 90, the XP135A conversion seen here entails the replacement of the standard 550 HP PT6A-21s with more modern 750 HP PT6A-135As. In addition to the drastically increased torque – which does wonders in the climb – the new engines predictably also increase cruise speeds, boosting them from 217 to almost 271 knots…

Even though jets and turboprops are de rigeur at Pleso, every once in awhile the airport gets a very interesting little piston.
Even though jets and turboprops are de rigeur at Pleso, every once in awhile the airport sees an interesting piston single like this one, usually on its way through immigration. One of the lesser-known members of the famous Aero Commander family, the 100 looks like the bastard child of a Mooney and Cessna 172 – and indeed was essentially designed to compete with the latter. Built in 1967 and powered by the same O-320 160 HP engine used on the Skyhawk, D-ENKU is one of the very few 100s still flying – and I believe one of only three or four in Europe…

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However, some of Pleso’s biggest attractions – which never fail to brighten the day – often come in military form. Quite rare by any local measure, “Bartok 25” is seen slowing down to vacate RWY 23 via taxiway C. Flying in from Papa Airbase in Hungary, 08003 is part of the three-strong NATO Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) fleet, nominally based in Hungary and part of the Hungarian Air Force – but used on a wet lease basis by several countries in the region. A program started to allow small countries access to heavy lift capability without the need for buying their own aircraft, SAC has been quite a success, with even Croatia having its own yearly allotment of flying hours

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A perfect profile shot as “Convoy 6161” taxis out for departure down RWY 05. One of the many Herc versions to have visited Zagreb over the years – including the KC-130 tanker and MC-130 “spook” – the T model represents the US Navy’s primary logistics and support aircraft, and serves in this role alongside another veteran, the DC-9-based C-9B Skytrain II. Unlike most Hercs – which simply sweep through the airport on training missions – 164762 had arrived for a cargo pickup and spent almost two and a half hours roasting nicely on the superhated apron

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The wail of the classic Diesel 9 and a wave from the commander on a beautiful summer’s afternoon – what more could one ask for? Seeing as how I’d mentioned the C-9 in the previous photo, the US Navy had very kindly sent one example for our convenience, representing the second of the type I’ve seen in person. Using callsign “Convoy 6601”, 161529 is also seen taxiing towards RWY 05 – brought to you courtesy of my sprint across half the apron after landing and (badly) parking my Skyhawk!

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Up, up and away! Always the party piece, two of the Croatian Air Force’s few remaining MiG-21s are seen rocketing out of RWY 23 in an unusually tight formation. A good but nowadays outdated design, the MiG-21 has remained in front-line service with just three other European operators – Serbia (on a very limited basis), Romania and Bulgaria – making it quite an attraction and regularly drawing in dozens of foreign photographers

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More MiG action as “Knight 01” recovers home after a practice QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) scramble with sistership 116 “Knight 02”, trailing a mile or so behind. In full intercept config, both were armed with two AA-8 short-range heat seeking missiles, as well as the traditional centerline tank. Despite being almost 40 years old, CroAF MiGs still continue to ply the skies, and will soon undergo a life extension program that’ll keep them in front line service for up to 10 more years