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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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).
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… 🙂
While for the most part Zagreb Airport is your stock, average – and flat out uninteresting – regional gateway, every once in awhile it does have a few bright moments 🙂 . As reported previously on several occasions, these usually include visits by rare and interesting cargo and passenger charters, which make use of the airport’s proximity to the country’s capital, its low traffic volume (something the airport management is none too happy about! 😀 ) and generally its favorable strategic position at the entrance to the Balkans.
However, the rulebook on what is interesting had been completely re-written between 8 and 10 November, when Zagreb was host to the world’s most impressive aircraft (bar the Concorde): the fantastic – and fantastically huge! – Antonov An-225 Mriya 🙂 .
The aviation event of the year – which had drawn in over 10,000 visitors according to Police statistics – the 225’s 8 Nov arrival had marked the type’s first visit to Croatian soil, naturally sending the locals into a frenzy 😀 . Making headlines even in the normally-unimpressed mainstream media, the Mriya was in town to pick up a locally-made 140 ton electrical transformer urgently needed on the Philippine island of Cebu. Ironically, at “just” EUR 1.5 million, the transformer itself is significantly cheaper than the EUR 2.2 million bill for flying it there – which says a lot about the urgency of its delivery! (destined for the San Lorenzo powerplant, it is due to replace a previous unit – also made in Croatia – which had been heavily damaged in a flood and then, for that little extra something, struck by lightning)
While news of this fantastic export success did wonders for national morale – and rightfully heaped praise on the engineers of Končar Power Transformers Ltd. who’d built the thing in less than two months – this particular Croat was somewhat more interested in the actual delivery truck 😀 . Thanks to a one-in-a-million stroke of luck, I’d managed to secure free run of the entire aircraft – thanks to its Captain, Dmitry Antonov, as well as fellow aviation photographers Petar M. of Croatia and Tamas M. of Hungary – giving me an amazing insight into the workings of this awe-inspiring machine…