The Last Czechoslovak RAF Airman Turns 100

The legendary Supermarine Spitfire fighter, flown by many of the Czechoslovak pilots in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

Last of the 2500

In 1939, after Germany occupied Czechoslovakia, many Czechs and Slovaks left their homeland to fight against Germany in Allied militaries.

Over 2500 Czechs and Slovaks bolstered the ranks of the Royal Air Force.

The last known living of the Czechs and Slovak airmen who joined the Royal Air Force, General Emil Boček, will mark his 100th birthday on February 25 of 2023.

Congratulations, General, and thank you.

Today, Radio Prague published this article about the General and his service.

Remembrance and Reflection

If you’ve been following Pickled Wings for a while, you may also be familiar with my other website, Beyond Prague, and the article about the Czechoslovak RAF airmen I have there. If not, please spare a bit of time to visit it.

If you want to know more about the Czechoslovak airmen and their stories, you’ll do no better than a visit to the Free Czechoslovak Air Force website. It is a rich resource for anyone who wants to know more about these airmen.

Douglas DC-6 at 77!

February 15 of 1946, 77 years ago today, the Douglas DC-6 took to the air for the first time.

The DC-6 is considerd by many to be the pinnacle of propliner aircraft. The last of the piston engine driven airliners before turboprop and jet airliners took over. Even after its days as an airliner were finished, the DC-6 soldiered on for many more years as a freighter and even a firefighting aircraft.

A small handful of DC-6s are still flying today, including the immacualtely maintained example owned by Red bull in the photos below:

To learn more about this legendary propliner, visit my Douglas DC-6 article.

Hawker Sea Fury – Tempest tossed

A Sea Fury FB.11 at Pardubice, Czech Republic in 2022.

Piston Powered Purity

Few names in British aviation history are more legendary and storied than Hawker.

Co-founded in 1920 by Harry Hawker (1889-1921), an Australian aviation pioneer who relocated to the United Kingdom in 1911, H.G. Hawker Engineering was created from the liquidated assets of the Sopwith Aviation Company following the end of the First World War. In fact, the principal people in both companies were the same and the new company was effectively a continuation of Sopwith.

The company changed its name to Hawker Aircraft Limited in 1933 and built a name for itself in aviation worldwide until 1963, when it was absorbed into other companies through a series of business mergers that reduced the British aviation industry from many to a handful of companies during the 1960s.

Today, the Hawker legacy is held by BAE Systems.

In the interwar period, Hawker was a primary supplier of combat aircraft to the Royal Air Force. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Royal Air Force’s primary fighter was the Hawker Hurricane.

While the Sea Fury came too late to have a role in the Second World War, it served as a very important intermediary fighter between piston and jet driven types for the Royal Navy of Great Britain and the air arms of nine other nations.

The Sea Fury would be the last piston driven fighter operated by the Royal Navy and is representative of the apex of piston driven fighter development.

Driven by an 18 cylinder Bristol Centaurus radial engine of 2,480 horsepower, the Sea Fury had a maximum speed of around 740 kmh (460 mph) at an altitude of 5,500 metres (18,000 feet). This performance gave the Sea Fury a place in history as one of the fastest piston driven aircraft put into mass production.

Let’s spend some time with the Hawker Sea Fury:

A Sea Fury FB.11 at Pardubice, Czech Republic in 2022.

Building the Storm

As the Second World War progressed, Hawker created the Typhoon ground attack aircraft and developed the Tempest fighter from the Typhoon.

It is in the Hawker Tempest that we find the origins of the Hawker Sea Fury.

Designed by the legendary Sydney Camm, the Hawker Typhoon entered service in Autumn of 1941. Widely remembered as one of the best ground attack aircraft of the Second World War, the Typhoon had initially been intended as a medium to high altitude fighter. Due to a number of design flaws, the Typhoon had poor high altitude performance and could not carry out the air-to-air fighter role it was intended for.

The Hawker Tempest entered service in early 1944 and was the result of much redesign work to address the shortcomings of the Typhoon.

The biggest change between the Typhoon and Tempest was a completely redesigned wing that was thinner and broader than the Typhoon’s wing. With the new wing and other adjustments to the design, the Tempest was a fearsome low altitude fighter-bomber and interceptor.

The Tempest was heavily armed, agile and powerful. Tempest pilots scored a number of victories against Germany’s Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighter and made many successful intercepts of V-1 flying bombs that Germany launched at Great Britain from the European mainland.

While the Tempest was a definite improvement on the Typhoon, it had the drawbacks of being too big and heavy to be a truly well-rounded fighter aircraft.

Even before the Tempest had entered service, Sydney Camm and his design team had begun work on a lightened version of the aircraft. The new aircraft used a shortened version of the Tempest wing and had a redesigned fuselage that was much lighter than the Tempest’s. Additionally, the new aircraft had the cockpit raised to give the pilot a better view outward than with the Tempest.

The efforts of Hawker to improve the Tempest were noticed by the Air Ministry. In early 1943, the ministry was so impressed by the new aircraft that it issued a specification designed especially for it. The initial specification was for a land based fighter for the RAF, a different specification was issued for a carrier based fighter for the Royal Navy.

The two specifications were eventually merged into one after Sydney Camm showed that the new aircraft could satisfy both the air force and navy requirements.

The air force prototype, named the Fury, first flew in Autumn of 1944. The naval prototype, the Sea Fury, took to the air for the first time in early 1945.

Responsibility for design and development of the Fury remained with Hawker, while Boulton Paul Aircraft were contracted to develop and produce the Sea Fury.

A Sea Fury FB.11 at Pardubice, Czech Republic in 2022.

Saved by the Navy

In spring of 1944, orders were placed for 100 examples of the Fury for the RAF and 200 of the Sea Fury for the Royal Navy.

However, with the Allied victory in Europe, the RAF order was cancelled completely and the navy order was reduced by half.

The result of losing the RAF order was that Bolton Paul’s contract for the Sea Fury was cancelled and further work on the aircraft was consolidated at Hawker.

While the RAF was in the process of introducing jet fighters and reducing the number of active squadrons it had in the post war period, the Royal Navy had a much smaller air arm and did not have time to wait for a new jet fighter to use on their aircraft carriers.

At the time, the Royal Navy’s carrier based fighter fleet was made up of Supermarine Seafires, a navalized variant of the legendary Spitfire fighter, and Vought Corsair fighters that were received from America via the Lend/Lease agreements that America had with other Allied nations.

Both the Seafires and Corsairs were war weary machines that desperately needed replacing. The Seafire had always been an aircraft of compromise; while it functioned, it showed that the Spitfire design did not adapt well to the rigours or the aircraft carrier environment. An ongoing issue with the Seafires was the tendency for their landing gear to collapse upon landing on the carrier.

In accordance with the Lend/Lease agreements, any equipment sent to an Allied nation from America had to be returned to America, or purchased or destroyed by the borrowing nation at the end of hostilities. The Royal Navy Corsairs were well used by the end of the war, America did not want them back and Britain did not have the means to buy them. Most of the Royal Navy Corsairs were pushed overboard from their aircraft carriers or scrapped when the war ended.

The Sea Fury entered Royal Navy service in 1947. It also entered service with the Royal Netherlands Navy, the type’s first export customer in the same year.

While the Royal Navy would place jet fighters on their carriers before the 1950s were out, the Sea Fury was an appealing interim type that would give them a capable and relatively modern fighter type to see them through the late 1940s and early 1950s

A Sea Fury FB.11, formerly of the Royal Canadian Navy. Seen preserved in 2019 at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.

Sea Furies Abroad and in Anger

The Sea Fury not only bridged the gap between piston and jet fighters on Royal Navy aircraft carriers; it also served the same purpose on the aircraft carriers of the Royal Australian Navy, Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Netherlands Navy.

Beyond naval users, the Sea Fury was used by the air forces of Burma, Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco and Pakistan.

In addition to military users, a fleet of Sea Furies was operated by Deutscher Luftfahrt-Beratungsdienst (DLB), a civilian firm in the former West Germany that was contracted by the military to carry out target towing duties.

In addition to Hawker built examples of the aircraft, a production license was granted to Fokker to produce some of the aircraft for the Dutch navy Sea Fury fleet.

The non-naval users of the aircraft received versions with a significant amount of carrier specific equipment, such as tail hooks and launching gear, removed.

While the Aircraft used by Burma, Cuba, Egypt and West Germany were Former Royal Navy aircraft that had beeen refurbished by Hawker, the Sea Fury fleets of other users were factory fresh machines.

As mentioned earlier, the Sea Fury came too late to have a role in the Second World War. However, it did see its share of combat.

The first combat use of the Sea Fury was by the Dutch navy against insurgent forces in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, in 1947. The Dutch attempt to hold onto the colony ended in December of 1949, when the Netherlands officially recognised Indonesia as an independant nation.

Sea Furies of the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy were very effective ground attack aircraft in the Korean War. They were a difficult target for enemy jet fighters as well as ground based anti-aircraft crews due to their speed and agility. Those factors in combination with the Sea Fury’s ability to carry a significant amount of armaments on a mission made the aircraft a threat not to be taken lightly by North Korea and its allies.

On August 9 of 1952, a formation of four Royal Navy Sea Furies were attacked by a group of North Korean MiG-15 jet fighters. While none of the Sea Furies were lost in the ensuing air battle, one of the Royal Navy aircraft was successful in shooting down one of the MiGs. In doing so, the Sea Fury became one of the very few piston driven fighters after World War Two to claim an aerial victory over a jet fighter.

The next major combat that involved Sea Furies was the Cuban Revolution and the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion. The Cuban military took delivery of the Sea Fury in 1958, shortly before the dictatorial regime of Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by revolutionarly forces led by Fidel Castro.

Due to a lack of experienced pilots and ground crew, the Cuban Sea Furies proved difficult to keep in servicable condition after Castro took over. However, the few that were kept in running order gave a good account of themselves against the American CIA backed ships, aircraft and ground forces that made up the force sent to take Cuba back from Castro in April of 1961. Cuban Sea Furies were credited in part for the sinking of two major ships and shooting down of a number of attack aircraft of the invasion force.

Through much of the 1960s, Sea Furies of the Iraqi air force were used against frequent Kurdish uprisings during the First Iraqi-Kurdish War. The conflict lasted from 1961 to 1970 and ended in a stalemate.

Sea Fury T.20S seen at Čáslav, Czech Republic in 2013. This aircraft has a four blade propeller, typical of aircraft refitted with American engines.

Off to the Races

The Iraqi air force was the last military user of the Sea Fury, replacing their fleet with the Soviet built Sukhoi Su-7 attack jet between 1967 and 1969.

However, the end of military service was not the end of the Sea Fury. By the mid 1960s, the Reno Air Races had been inagurated in Reno, Nevada, USA.

A growing interest in restoring and maintaining historic aircraft, known popularly as the Warbird Movement, began to take hold in many places around the world at the same time.

It wouldn’t take long after the last Sea Furies were retired from military service for the air racing and warbird communities to take an interest in them.

A number of Sea Furies with a good amount of flying hours left in them had found their way into civilian hands before the 1960s were out.

By the mid 1970s, Deutscher Luftfahrt-Beratungsdienst were selling off their T.20S Sea Furies to civilian buyers and replacing them with North American OV-10 Bronco aircraft.

In the late 1970s, several former Iraqi air force Sea Furies were recovered from Iraq and shipped to America and sold off to different buyers. Many of these aircraft were able to be restored to airworthy condition as the dry desert air they’d been kept in since retirement had kept corrosion to a minimum.

In the context of the Reno Air Races, the Sea Fury has proven popular in the Unlimited category. The basic requirements for an aircraft to be in the Unlimited category are that it must be piston driven, able to sustain a speed of 805 kph (500 mph) and be able to withstand turns of at least six times the force of gravity.

The Sea Fury is not only popular in air racing due to its flight performance, it’s also popular for being adaptable to engines other than the Bristol Centaurus it was originally powered by. Any Sea Fury entered into the Reno Air Races has been refitted with an American engine comparable to the Centaurus and a four bladed propeller designed to work with the American engines.

Most racing Sea Furies are refitted with the 18 cylinder Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone or the 28 cylinder Pratt and Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major.

The primary reason for the engine change was one of availability of not only spare engines and parts, but also availability of skilled technicians to work on the engines. Air racing is incredibly hard on aircraft engines, so a reliable source of replacement engines and parts is essential. As Centaurus engines were never used in American aircraft, both they and people knowledgable in working with them are rare in America.

Sea Fury T.20S seen at Čáslav, Czech Republic in 2013.

The Sea Fury Family

Approximately 860 examples of the Sea Fury were built across nine variants:

Sea Fury F.10

This was the initial single seat fighter version delivered to the Royal Navy

Sea Fury FB.11

The FB.11 was a fighter-bomber version. It had many improvements over the F.10, including better weapons and hydraulically operated wing folding mechanisms.

The FB.11 was the most numerous of the Sea Fury variants, with over 600 being built. They were used by the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy and Royal Canadian Navy.

Former Royal Navy FB.11 aircraft were refurbished by Hawker and used by the air forces of Burma, Cuba and Egypt.

Sea Fury T.20 and T.20S

The T.20 was the two seat trainer version of the Sea Fury that was made for the Royal Navy. As with the FB.11, a number of T.20 aircraft were refurbished and taken into service with Burma, Cuba and Egypt.

Ten former Royal Navy T.20 aircraft were converted to the T.20S version. The T.20S was a target towing version specifically used by Deutscher Luftfahrt-Beratungsdienst in the former West Germany.

Sea Fury F.50 and FB.51

These versions were built for the Dutch navy. The F.50 was a single seat fighter and the FB.51 a single seat fighter-bomber.

Fury FB.60 and and T.61

These were designations for the single seat fighter-bomber and two seat trainer versions built for Pakistan. They were built factory fresh with most of the navy specific gear deleted.

Fury I and Fury Trainer

These were designations for the single seat fighter-bomber and two seat trainer versions built for Iraq. Like the Pakistani versions, they were built factory fresh with most of the navy specific gear deleted.

Iraq donated a small number of their Furies to Morocco for use in their air force. However, those aircraft were not in a good state when delivered and the Moroccans ultimately did not use them.

A Sea Fury FB.11 performing at Pardubice, Czech Republic in 2022.

What Remains and Learning More

The Sea Fury has done very well for itself in its post-military life and of the 860 or so built, upwards of 50 are know to still be surviving as museum exhibits, active flyers, restoration projects, or in storage.

With its large size, high speed and agility relative to other single engine piston driven fighters, the Sea Fury is an unimissable presence on the ground or in the air at any show it appears at.

If you see a Sea Fury with a five blade propeller flying at a show, take time to savour the sight and sound and appreciate that you’re seeing one of the very small handful of Sea Furies that still fly on a Centaurus engine.

The majority of Sea Furies flying today are fitted with American engines and four blade propellers. While that does not make their performance any less spectacular, the sound is quite different from the original Centaurus and a little less authentic.

There’s a good amount of information on the Sea fury online:

This link will take you to the dedicated Hawker Fury and Sea Fury page on the BAE Systems website.

This link to a write up about the Sea Fury on the Royal Australian Navy website will give you some insights into the aircraft in the Australian context.

Similarly, this link will take you to an article about the Sea Fury in Canadian service. This article has lots of good pictures too.

This link to the Britain’s Small Wars website will take you to a very interesting first hand account of the Sea Fury victory over the MiG-15 in the Korean War. For many years after the event, it was a contested point who the credit for the victory should have gone to.

This link will take you to a condensed historical article about the Sea Fury at the Afterburner Aviation Magazine website.

In print media, “Sea Fury in British, Australian, Canadian and Dutch Service” by Tony Buttler is an excellent and well illustrated volume to read more about the Sea Fury in those air arms.

The MiG-15 hits 75 Years

Like its western counterpart, the F-86 Sabre, the MiG-15 needs no introduction.

December 30 of 1947 saw the maiden flight of the legendary Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter.

To mark the occasion, here are some pictures of MiG-15 variants I’ve taken here and there over the years:

Book Review – Gloster Javelin: An Operational history

Book cover image (credit: Pen and Sword Books)

Gloster Javelin: An Operational History

By: Michael Napier

Pen and Sword Books (2016)

First flown in Late 1951, the Gloster Javelin was a distinctive design and quite large for its intended roles as a fighter and interceptor. With its large delta wing and horizontal stabilizer set at the top of the tail fin, the Javelin was an unmistakeable shape among its contemporaries.

As British military aircraft of the Cold War go, the Javelin often gets downplayed as an “also ran” type with mediocre qualities where flight performance was concerned.

On the surface of things, it’s not difficult to see how history might record the Javelin in that rather dim light. The Javelin had no export success and only served the Royal Air Force for around 12 years. It always seemed to be something of a “work in progress” as no fewer than eight different versions of the aircraft were developed and put into service in that relatively short window of time.

Additionally, the Javelin was introduced to RAF service in 1956 and was gone from the front line of air defense of the United Kingdom by 1964, the last four years of its service life being spent fulfiling RAF committments abroad. As such, the Javelin never had much time to work its way deeply into the hearts and minds of the British public.

Last but not least was the aircraft that replaced the Javelin, the English Electric Lightning. The Lightning was a true performer from the start; capable of twice the speed of sound with a reputation of being a “missile with a man in it” the Lightning was a showstopper wherever it went and was able to capture the the imagination of the British public in ways the Javelin could never hope to.

To this day, among aviation enthusiasts far and wide, the Lightning has a large fan base while the Javelin is rather more of a niche interest.

All of this is borne out further by the fact that while over 430 Javelins were built, a respectable production run, only ten remain intact in museums today and none of them will ever fly again.

In spite of the rather lacklustre hand that many historians have dealt to the Javelin, it was a significant aircraft in many regards for the Royal Air Force and was an essential stepping stone to higher performance aircraft like the aforementioned Lightning.

The Javelin was an aircraft of “firsts” for the Royal Air Force; it was their first true all weather fighter, it was their first missile armed fighter, the first type in RAF service with the ability to be refuelled in flight, it was also the first type in RAF service with afterburner equipped engines.

If there was ever a military aircraft, British or otherwise, from the 1950s that deserved a fair hearing and reevaluation of its importance, the Javelin certainly qualifies.

Happily, this book gives the Javelin that fair hearing.

This book, as the title indicates, focuses on the service life of the Javelin and begins when the first squadrons of the aircraft were activated. A total of 19 squadrons used the Javelin during the type’s years in service.

The author does not shy away from the shortcomings inherent to the Javelin’s design and the fact that the aircraft was in a continual state of development throughout its service life to overcome many of those shortcomings.

However, the author also makes sure not to lump shortcomings of other systems associated with the Javelin in with those of the aircraft itself.

The Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engine, two of which were used to power the Javelin, was a typical fuel hungry turbojet engine of its era. Any perceived lack of range in the Javelin must be laid, at least partially, upon the fuel guzzling nature of the engines.

An additional, and much more serious, problem in the engine was that the Sapphire was prone to a phenomenon called centre-line closure. This disasterous phenomenon occured when the aircraft was flown through thick clouds and the temperature of air going into the engines lowered enough to cause the engine casing to shrink enough to make contact with the spinning turbine blades inside.

When contact was made between the turbine blades and engine casing, the affected engine ripped itself apart and typically took the other engine and a good sized part of the back end of the aircraft out with it.

A number of Javelins and their crews were lost to centre-line closure incidents.

The author also discusses the shortcomings of the DeHavilland Firestreak missile, which the Javelin was equipped with. The Firestreak represented the first generation of heat-seeking missiles and had all of the limitations that its contemporaries did. those limitations included the fact that it could only be fired at a target from behind and could only be fired at a maximum angle of around 20 to 30 degrees off the target to ensure a reasonable chance of a hit.

This book does a good job of showing that the Javelin was generally well liked by those who worked with it. It was a well handling and reliable aircraft with a roomy cockpit.

Some of the most important work the Javelins were involved in did not happen while flying from British soil, and this book does a very good job of detailing this aspect of the aircraft’s service.

While the Javelin never fired a shot in anger, it proved its worth as a projection of both NATO and British military airpower in some key hot spots through the late 1950s to the late 1960s.

Squadrons of Javelins were based in the former West Germany from 1957 to 1966 as part of the United Kingdom’s committment to NATO for the shared defense of the country.

A squadron of Javelins was based on Cyprus from 1963 to 1967 and turned back a number of Turkish air force fighters coming into the island’s airspace during the volatile years between Greek and Turkish Cypriots immediately after the island attained independence from British rule in the early 1960s.

A squadron of Javelins was dispatched to Zambia after Rhodesia announced its Unilateral Declaration of Independence in late 1965. Zambia had attained its independence from British rule in late 1964 and the Javelins were stationed there to ensure the country was protected from any attacks by the Rhodesian air force.

Javelin squadrons were based in Asia as part of the RAF’s Far East Air Force (FEAF) from 1961 to 1968. It was in this area of operations that they perhaps carried out their most critical work as it was also the time of the Indonesia – Malaysia Confrontation that lasted from 1963 to 1966 and the Cultural Revolution in China, launched by Mao Zedong in 1966. Javelins based in Singapore and detached other points on the Malay Peninsula were part of ensuring that Indonesian air force bombers were kept out of the area and the nation of Malaysia could be established. At the same time, Javelins based in Hong Kong guarded that colony’s airspace from possible incursions by Chinese military aircraft.

This book is a well researched and thought out volume on the Javelin and has a good balance of pictures to go with the text.

The book is also a timely one given that the generation that worked with the Javelin directly is certainly an aging one and many who did know the aircraft best are no longer with us to give first hand account of it. For those who are still with us, and the families of those who are not, this book is an affirmation that the Javelin and those who worked with it are not forgotten and are indeed appreciated.

If you like the Javelin, or would like to know more about it, this book will definitely give you a good starting point. It’s accessible reading that brings the nature of the Javelin across well without getting bogged down in unexplained technobabble.

Buy with confidence.

You can follow this link to the book’s page on the Pen and Sword Books website.

This link will take you to the book’s page on the Author’s website. If you have Facebook, the authour has this dedicated page for the book.

Medlánky Oldtimers Weekend – 2022 Edition

September 10 and 11 of 2022 saw the annual Oldtimers Weekend event take place at the Medlánky airport in the northern reaches of Brno,Czech Republic.

The event was a mix of some familiar gliders, both contemporary and vintage that belong to the Medlánky Aeroklub, and visiting aircraft. The 2022 edition of the event had a surprize in the form of a Czech air force Mil Mi-35 helicopter on September 10, this was a very unusul aircraft to have on hand as the event is typically a fully civillian affair.

The weather forecast for the weekend was not particulary good, but the event went on anyway. I took these pictures during a practice for the event on September 9 and a window of reasonably clear weather on the afternoon of September 10.

A Grand Old Horse – The Antonov An-2 “Colt” turns 75!

On August 31 of 1947, the prototype of Antonov’s An-2 took to the air for the first time. An instantly recognisable aircraft, the An-2 was given the name “Colt” in NATO’s code naming system for Soviet military aircraft during the Cold War.

Holding the distinction of being the largest single engine biplane ever to be put in production, the aircraft was in production from 1947 to 2001; an astoundingly long period for any aircraft.

Over 18,000 examples of the type are known to have been built between production lines in the former Soviet Union, Poland and China.

Here’s a selection of pictures I’ve taken of An-2s at various times and locations:

Methodius Vlach Air Museum – Mladá Boleslav, Czech Republic

General view of the musem’s main floor from the upper level.

Air Museum in a Car Town

Located approximately 50 Kilometres north-east of Prague, Mladá Boleslav is a very important city to the Czech Republic in both historical and contemporary contexts. First and foremost, it is home to the legendary Škoda automobile company and their main factory. It was also home to Laurin & Klement, the ancestral company to today’s Škoda Auto; the collective history of the two car makers stretches back to 1895, making Škoda one of the oldest still operating automobile manufacturers in the world.

The city is also the home of the Methodius Vlach Air Museum (Letecké Muzeum Metoděje Vlacha).

Why would a city with such a deep connection to automotive history have a dedicated aircraft museum? For the answer to that question, we need to spend a bit of time getting to know the namesake of the museum, Methodius Vlach (1887-1957):

The museum’s full scale, flyable replica of Methodius Vlach’s 1912 aircraft.

Methodius Who?

Methodius Vlach was an industrial designer by training who worked for several companies in his professional life. In 1909, he arrived in Mladá Boleslav and took up work with Laurin & Klement; between 1909 and the outbreak of the First World War, Vlach experimented with aircraft design.

Vlach’s is certainly not a household name in aviation history. While he had no formal training in aviation and he did not spend long experimenting with aircraft, he can certainly be considered a pioneer in the rich fabric of Czech aviation history as he designed and built the first fully Czech aircraft between 1910 and 1912.

Designed by a Czech, built on Czech soil from fully Czech sourced materials that included an engine from Laurin & Klement; Vlach took the aircraft into the air for the first time on November 8 of 1912. Throughout the day, he made six short flights and managed to reach a speed of 100 kph. On the sixth flight, the aircraft crashed and Vlach sustained minor injuries.

While it was Vlach’s own inexperience in piloting that caused the crash, he had made it clear that Czechs could create their own aircraft.

Flyable replica WWI fighters in the collection.

A Dynamic Collection

The collection at this museum comprises around 28 to 30 aircraft that represent eras from the dawn of powered flight up to the present.

Made up of both replica and original aircraft, the bulk of the museum’s collection is flyable. During the summer months, the museum displays some of its aircraft at airshows in both the Czech Republic and Germany. It also hosts air display days of its own from time to time.

The museum includes a very spacious caffeteria with an outdoor terrace that faces directly onto a runway, so you can enjoy drinks and snacks while taking in whatever aircraft movements might be happening at the time. The museum building also includes a viewing tower and some grandstand style seats to watch airport action from as well.

With its angular exterior, which the architect said was inspired by the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter, the museum building is an exhibit in its own right. Completed in 2014, the building has won awards for its design.

View of the museum building.

Building on what is already something of an immersive aviation experience for the visitor, it is also possible to purchase time on a gyroscopic simulator as well as flight simulators or a parachute simulator. According to information on the museum’s website, sightseeing flights can also be arranged.

It should be kept in mind that I visited the museum on a basic ticket and all my interactions with museum staff were in Czech. If you wish to try any of the activities listed in the above paragraph when you visit the museum, I’m not sure what sort of linguistic flexibility you could expect there and it would be best to contact them ahead of your planned visit to see what’s possible if you don’t speak Czech.

An original Polikarpov PO-2 from 1937.

Planes Renowned and Obscure

The selection of aircraft at the museum includes both world famous and well known types as well as some quite obscure types not typically known about to those without a deep knowledge of Czech aviation history.

On the famous end of things, the museum’s most valuable aircraft is a flyable Polikarpov PO-2 biplane of original Soviet production that was built in 1937. At the time of writing this article, July of 2022, less than ten examples of the type are known to be flyable worldwide.

Other famous machines in the collection include a Bucker Jungmann biplane and a Zlín Z-50 aerobatics aircraft.

The Verner W-01 Brouček.

On the more obscure end of things, you can view the Verner W-01 Brouček. First flown in 1970, it was the first modern Czech amateur aircraft design.

You can also find a Zlín Z-50M, a rare version of the Z-50 aerobatics aircraft that was fitted with an inline engine. Only 5 of the Z-50M version were ever made.

Another aircraft of more localised significance in the collection is a flyable replica of a 1909 Grade monoplane. In 1911, Božena Láglerová earned her pilot’s license in this type of aircraft. In doing so, she became not only the first Czech female pilot, but the first female pilot in the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The museum’s second level.

Getting Above Things

The upper floor of the museum building is a mezzanine that gives one a nice look down at the aircraft on the ground floor and brings you nose to nose with aircraft that are displayed in hanging fashion.

The upper floor is also taken up by a number of display cases filled with a variety of aviation artifacts like flight instruments, scale models and uniforms.

The museum also has a small gallery of aviation art that’s tucked away out of immediate sight, but is very worth making a point to find and take in.

Suggested walking path between the Mladá Boleslav bus station and the museum.

Paying a Visit and Learning More

Buses run regularly between Prague and Mladá Boleslav. If you’re travelling by bus from Prague, you will need to take a bus from the Černý Most bus station which is the eastern terminus of the B (yellow) line of the Prague metro system.

The average travel time between the cities is 45 minutes to an hour depending on the bus you take.

Mladá Boleslav does have a public transport system and there is a line that stops at the aviation museum, but my experience in using it to get to the museum was confusing as the route had many turns and the stop announcement system on the bus wasn’t working well. Additionally, the line that goes to the museum only runs once an hour.

I took the chance on walking back to the centre of town and found it quite easy in both navigation and physical effort. If I paid another visit and the weather was nice, I’d probably just walk from the station to the museum.

As the museum also has a good sized parking lot and bicycle racks, you can come by car or bicycle if you like.

To find out more specific information about the aviation museum, its operating hours and ticket prices, you can visit its official website. While the website is only in Czech at the moment, it responds reasonably well to online translators.

On a final note, Mladá Boleslav has enough on offer to keep a visitor busy for the bulk of a day. Beyond the aviation museum, there is also the historic centre of town and the Škoda Museum. If you’re going there from Prague, go early and make a day trip of it.

Morane-Saulnier Rallye – Gallic Gem

Rallye 100ST seen at Brno, Czech Republic in 2022.

From the Morane-Saulnier Stables

The Rallye (“Rally” in English) family of aircraft is a prolific one, with a number of twists and turns by way of corporate takeovers, product renamings and license production to create a rather convoluted history.

What is not unclear, however, is that the Rallye family represents the most successful French designed single engine general aviation aircraft of the latter half of the 20th century. Perhaps that should come as no surpize considering the origins of its pedigree: Morane-Saulnier.

When talking about French aircraft producers, few names are as well known as Morane-Saulnier. The Morane-Saulnier name has been around nearly as long as powered flight and is attached to some very pioneering aircraft from the pre World War I era, successful fighter aircraft in both world wars and a number of successful training and aerobatic aircraft in the interwar period. At the time the Rallye prototype first flew, in 1959, the company had nearly half a century of aircraft design experience behind them.

The company existed independently from 1911 to 1962, when it became a subsidiary of the Potez aircraft company. In the late 1960s, state owned Sud Aviation took over Potez and inherited the Rallye design in the process. After the Sud Aviation take over, the Morane-Saulnier name was replaced with SOCATA (Societe de Construction d’Avions de Tourisme et d’Affaires) and continued French production of the Rallye family took place under the SOCATA name.

Rallye 100ST seen at Brno, Czech Republic in 2022.

Giving Wings to the Public

Just as it was in the post First World War period, there was a significant upsurge in aviation mindedness among the public of many nations in the immediate post World War Two years. This led to the need for modern general aviation designs to satisfy the requirements of both individual pilots and flying clubs.

America had staked its claim on the market with the Cessna 172, which first flew in 1955 and experienced almost immediate widescale success.

Not to be left out, the French government opened a competition in 1958 for French aircraft manufacturers to design a light single engined aircraft suitable for training and touring as well as glider and banner towing. Morane-Saulnier won the competition with their MS.880 design and the prototype Rallye took to the air for the first time in 1959.

The Rallye was immediately successful at home and flying clubs across France took the new aircraft on in quantity. Before long, the aircraft experienced success more widely in Europe and points abroad. Over 3,300 examples of the Rallye were built across various family models, and the type saw export to no fewer than 65 countries. Aside of civilian use, members of the Rallye family were used by the air arms of 14 countries.

Part of the Rallye’s success can be found in its pilot friendly nature, it has a reputation as a very forgiving aircraft that is quite tolerant of novice mistakes. The same pilot friendly handling, along with the generous view outward provided by the large cabin canopy, also makes the Rallye pleasant for longer flights associated with touring.

Rallye 100ST seen at Brno, Czech Republic in 2022.

A Look at the Rallye

Two key qualities of single engine general aviation aircraft are affordability and maintainability. In achieving these qualities, simplicity is paramount. The Rallye certainly fits this description; it has proven itself to be a very economical and dependable machine at the flying club level.

At a glance, the Rallye can be described as an all metal, low-wing monoplane with a fixed landing gear. It seats up to four people, depending on the model.

On closer inspection, the Rallye has a few features that are rather unusual for an aircraft of its class:

As opposed to traditional doors, the cabin of the Rallye is opened and closed by a sliding canopy. This is an unusual feature on aircraft of the Rallye’s class and it allows for the aircraft to be flown up to a certain speed with the canopy left a bit opened. This means it’s possible to experience the sensation of open cockpit flying in the Rallye.

The Rallye was also designed to have near STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) qualities to it. To this end, it features slats on the leading edges of its wings that extend automatically at lower speeds to improve handling during low speed flying and at landings.

Aside of the leading edge slats, the Rallye also has quite large flight control surfaces for an aircraft of its size. This makes it very responsive in flight and lends to its forgiving flight characteristics. The trade off for the larger flight control surfaces is higher drag; accordingly, the Rallye is not the swiftest of aircraft in its class.

As part of the STOL features, the Rallye has quite robust landing gear that can handle not only short landings in the STOL regime, but also hard landings by student pilots.

Rallye 893 Commodore 180 at Kunovice, Czech Republic in 2018.

The Rallye Family

As mentioned at the start of this article, the Rallye family has a rather confusing looking family tree. This confusion comes not only from which Rallye variants were produced under the Morane-Saulnier brand versus those built under the SOCATA name, but also members of the family that began life with one designation, but were renamed later for marketing purposes.

There is also the license built versions by PZL, in Poland, to consider. In the late 1970s, PZL was granted a license to produce the Rallye as the PZL-110 Koliber (“Hummingbird” in English) and Polish Rallye production continued for several years after French production ended in 1984. Eventually, the Koliber diverged far enough from the Rallye to be able to constitute its own aircraft family.

The best way to look at this aircraft family is to separate it by the lightweight (MS.880) and heavyweight (MS.890) series, as all variants fall into one of those two categories. The main difference between the two series is that the MS.880 series was initially designed with two seats and later modified to have three or four seats, while the MS.890 series was designed with four seats from the start.

MS.880 / MS.880A

These two aircraft were prototypes. The MS.880 was the two seat version while the MS.880A was the three seat version. Additionally, the MS.880A had a swept vertical tail fin.

MS.880B Rallye Club

The MS.880B was the first full production version of the Rallye. It was a two seat aircraft with a 100 horsepower engine. A total of 1,100 of this version were built.

MS.881 / MS.883

These were two seat versions with slightly more powerful engines than the MS.880B had. The MS.881 was fitted with a 105 horsepower engine while the MS.883 had an engine of 115 horsepower.

MS.885 Super Rallye

The Super Rallye was available in two and three seat versions and had a 145 horsepower engine. Slightly over 200 of this version were produced.


Powered by a 150 horsepower engine, only three of this version were made.

Rallye 100S Sport

This was a two seat trainer version with a 100 horsepower engine. 55 of this variant were built.

Rallye 100T / Rallye 125

The Rallye 100T was essentially an MS.880B with some minor revisions. the Rallye 125 was a four seat version of the Rallye 100T with a 125 horsepower engine.

Rallye 100ST / SOCATA 110ST Galopin / PZL-110 Koliber

The Rallye 100ST was a modest improvement on the Rallye 100T. It included three or four seats and a 20 kilogram gross weight increase.

The SOCATA 110ST Galopin was an improvement on the Rallye 100ST in that it had a 155 horsepower engine

The PZL-110 Koliber (Hummingbird) was the first of the Polish license built versions of the Rallye. It was powered by a 116 horsepower engine.

Rallye 150T / SOCATA 180T Galerian

The Rallye 150T was a four seat vesion of the Rallye100ST with a higher gross weight, enlarged tail surfaces and a 150 horsepower engine.

The SOCATA 180T Galerian was an improved version of the Rallye 150T by way of a 180 horsepower engine.

Rallye 150ST / SOCATA 150SV Garnement

The Rallye 150ST was a Rallye 150T that was structurally strengthened to handle stall recovery training. 66 of this verion were made.

The SOCATA 150SV Garnement was an improved version of the Rallye 150T through a 155 horsepower engine.

Rallye 893 Commodore 180 at Brno, Czech Republic in 2017.

MS.890 Rallye Commodore

This was the first member of the Rallye family to be designed and build as a four seat aircraft from the ground up. Eight were built, all powered by a 145 horsepower engine.

MS.892 Rallye Commodore 150 / Rallye 150

The MS.892 was an MS.890 fitted with a 150 horsepower engine.

Rallye 150 was a later redesignation of the MS.892.

MS.893 Rallye Commodore 180 / Rallye 180 / SOCATA Gaillard / SOCATA Galérien

The MS.893 was fitted with a 180 horsepower engine

Rallye 180 and SOCATA Gaillard were later redesignations for the MS.893 while the SOCATA Galérien was the designation for a glider towing version of the MS.893.

MS.894 Rallye Minerva / Rallye 220

This version took the horsepower up to 220 and was given the later redesignation of Rallye 220.

Rallye 235 / SOCATA Gabier / SOCATA R235 Guerrier / SOCATA 235CA Gaucho

As the Rallye 235 designation suggests, this variation was fitted with a 235 horsepower engine. This model was later redesignated as the SOCATA Gabier.

The SOCATA R235 Guerrier was the military version of the Rallye 235.

SOCATA 235CA was the designation for a handful of Rallye 235 aircraft that were modified for agricultural work. The modifications included a tail wheel landing gear arrangement and a hopper to hold material for spraying.

Rallye 893 Commodore 180 at Brno, Czech Republic in 2017.

The Rallye Today and Learning More

With around 3,300 built, there are still a good number of the Rallye family flying. However, they are not spread evenly around the world and your best chance of seeing one is likely to be in Europe.

A number of attempts were made to market both the Rallye and Koliber in America, but only a modest number were sold there due to the fact that there were already plenty of American made aircraft of similar capabilities saturating the market there.

You can find two good articles about flying the Rallye at the Achtung, Skyhawk! website. This article covers a flight from Spain to Croatia in an early MS.880 model and this article covers a flight in the later Rallye 150 model.

The Aeronautiker website has a nicely detailed article about flying and maintaining Rallye aircraft.

An article on flying the Rallye in America can be found at the AOPA website.


Pardubice Aviation Fair – 2022 Edition

A Great Show is Back on Track

After a couple of years delay due to COVID restrictions, the Aviation Fair in Pardubice was back on in 2022 on May 28 and 29.

I attended on May 28, The weather was variable but I managed some decent shots on the day: