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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.