The Call to Yeoman Service
Intended as a replacement for the K-65 Čáp, the Czechoslovak postwar built version of the German Fiesler Fi-156 Storch, in the early 1950s; the first prototype of the L-60 Brigadýr took its first flight in December of 1953. After extensive refinements, and a change of designers, an improved second prototype flew in June 1954.
Like the Storch before it, the Brigadýr was designed to be a machine of utility with short take off and landing, STOL, abilities. While primarily intended to fill the roles of observation and battlefield support, the L-60 matured into a much more versatile machine than initial intentions reflected.
Through more than five decades of service, mostly in the civil sector, the Brigadýr turned its hand to air ambulance duties, agricultural work, gliding and skydiving support as well as banner towing to name but a few.
Most references credit the L-60 as coming from the design tables of the Aero company. However, other sources claim the aircraft to have its origins with the Orličan aircraft company. There is some truth in both claims. The original prototype, which flew in 1953, was indeed designed by Aero. However, it was a disappointing machine with many problems; not the least of which was a weak engine. It failed to impress the military and a revised prototype was requested.
In the interim, it was decided that Aero was too busy with the license production of the MiG-15 and Ilyushin Il-10 to take responsibility for another aircraft. Further development and the eventual production of the L-60 was consequently put in the hands of the Mráz aircraft company, which had built the K-65 Čáp aircraft that the L-60 was intended to replace.
This change took place between the flights of the first and second prototypes. While the first had been designed by Aero’s Ondřej Němec, the second was designed by Mráz’s Zdeněk Rublič.
Rublič extensively reworked the aircraft’s design and a more powerful engine of domestic design was incorporated. The second prototype first flew in June of 1954. While the aircraft still had a few problems, it was much improved and flew with further refinements in March of 1955; the same year the Mráz company changed its name to Orličan.
In 1956, the L-60 received certification and entered production and would remain in production at Orličan facilities until the last one was built in June of 1959.
While it certainly would be unfair to leave Aero out of the L-60 story, to put their name in front of the L-60 is giving them too much credit. Given that the production standard of the aircraft owes much more to the work of Zdeněk Rublič and his extensive revisions to the prototype than to Ondřej Němec’s original, it is only fair to put the Orličan name front and centre when talking about the Brigadýr.
Through both prototype stages and service life, an area of significant change in the L-60 was the engine.
The use of a German made Argus 10 engine, of the sort used in the Fiesler Storch, in the first prototype of the L-60 was a key contributing factor in its failure to impress the Czechoslovak military.
The second prototype flew with a Walter M208 engine built by Praga. This engine was approved for the production standard of the L-60 and all aircraft were built with it.
Owing partly to a dwindling supply of spare parts for the M208 engine, a modernization program for the L-60 was instituted in the early and mid 1970s. Carried out by the Aerotechnik company, the program included the conversion from the in-line engine to a radial unit.
The new engine was a Polish lisence built version of the Ivchenko AI-14 and the bulk of then airworthy L-60s were converted to use it.
A Winged Workaholic
The Brigadýr found its greatest success in the civil sector. Only the former Czechoslovakia and East Germany used it for military purposes; by contrast, no less than 20 countries have had L-60s on their civil registers over the years.
With excellent outward visibility from the cockpit, the aircraft was a success in its initial intended role as an aerial observation platform. however, like its Storch forbear, it possessed a level of flexibility beyond what its designers had originally envisioned for it. That flexibility is evidenced by the perhaps surprising number of variants that resulted from a relatively modest production run, which ended in 1959, at 273 aircraft with eight versions branching from the baseline L-60.
L-60A: This was the military variant and had accommodation for a machine gun mount in the rear of the cockpit.
L-60B: The addition of a 300 litre chemical tank and underwing spray bars resulted in the agricultural specialist of the Brigadýr family.
L-60D and L-60F: Specifically modified versions for glider tug duties.
L-60E: Brigadýr variant optimised for the air ambulance role.
L-60S and L-60SF: Variants converted to radial engine power.
The final variation was the L-160, which featured a new tail of all metal construction.
Carry on, Carry forth
While not a common sight at airshows, some examples of the Brigadýr remain flyable in the hands of flying clubs around the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Its short take off and landing performance as well as ability to operate from grass airstrips keep the Brigadýr popular as a glider tug in both countries.
While some have found their way into museums, there is still technical support available to keep airworthy Brigadýrs aloft.
A bit of research showed that through the 2010 to 2015 time frame, no less than 22 L-60’s were active between the Czech and Slovak civil registers and at least one on the American civil register.
There isn’t a lot in the way of dedicated English language information on the L-60 on the internet. However, these two links will give you some further reading on the subject.
This link will take you to a brief historical overview of the L-60 from the Polish Aviation Museum’s website:
Link to Polish Aviation Museum page
This link will take you to a Czech language website with a good amount of information about the L-60. The site responds reasonably well to online translators:
Link to article at valka.cz