Playing to Strengths
Founded in 1934, Zlín is a long standing player in the Czech aviation industry and a world renowned producer of trainer and sport aircraft. The company was developed from the Bat’a company’s flight school complex, which had been established in the 1920s in the eastern Czech town of Otrokovice, and expanded into aircraft production in the early 1930s.
The established flight training and aircraft production facilities at Otrokovice most certainly played a key role in the company being forced to build training aircraft under German occupation in the Second World War.
Zlín emerged from the war as a nationalized company and with a design for an aircraft that would mark the beginning of a true dynasty of trainer and sport aircraft, the Z-26 Tréner. Six major variants would ultimately branch from the baseline Z-26 with several sub-variants growing from them.
What had begun simply as Zlín’s response to an early post war tender for a new basic trainer for the Czechoslovak air force was destined to become much, much more.
From a Teacher to an Acrobat
The base Z-26 aircraft incorporated a significant amount of wood in its structure; the first major variant, the Z-126, did away with the wood components in favour of metal ones. Modifications to the Z-126 to make it suitable for glider towing resulted in the Z-226 in 1954. The Z-226 would mark a major turning point in the Tréner family as it was during flight tests of the initial Z-226 that the design’s excellent aerobatic qualities were discovered.
Work was undertaken to bring out the aerobatic abilities of the Z-226; before the 1950s were out, this variant of the series was winning international aerobatics competitions and capturing the attention of the world in the process.
The Z-226 was the dominant aircraft type in international competitions through the 1960s and was considered one of the best aerobatics machines of the era.
The Z-326 was developed from the Z-226, it was through this development that retractable landing gear were introduced to the family.
Later Additions to the Line
Modifications made to the Z-326 ultimately resulted in the Z-526 Tréner Master variant which first flew in 1959 and carried on the aerobatic standards set earlier members of the series
The Z-526, like the Z-226 and Z-326, was developed into sub variants that included a single seat aerobatics optimized variation, a basic trainer version and a glider tug modification.
A series of modifications to the Z-526 to keep the family competitive against newer aerobatics aircraft resulted in the Z-726, the final member of the line. Unfortunately, many of the modifications that created the Z-726 resulted in a heavier aircraft with eroded aerobatic capacity.
The Tréner line was closed in 1974 after nearly 30 years and almost 1500 aircraft built in six major types and 15 further sub-types.
On a Personal Note
On April 5 of 2014, I had the opportunity to take a flight in a Zlín Z-126.
I had traveled to Kunovice, in the south east part of the Czech Republic, to attend the 2014 season opening of the aviation museum at Kunovice’s airport. In conjunction with the museum opening, the local flying club was offering sight seeing flights in a variety of aircraft including a Z-126. I purchased a 20 minute flight and went to the aircraft to meet the pilot.
During the flight, I was allowed to take control of the aircraft for a few minutes and found myself quite surprised by how stable and solid the controls felt. Given the aircraft’s lineage as a training and sport type, I had expected a machine much more sensitive on the controls. I had also expected the small aircraft to be bumped around by the wind and air currents; however, the ride was solid and smooth and very enjoyable.
While the Tréner family’s competition days are behind it, many examples remain flying and popular as sport planes in private hands or in flying clubs and are not uncommon as solo or team performers at airshows in Europe.
A very good summary of the development of the Tréner line can be found at this website:
Link to zlintrener.com
An overview of the Zlín company and its history can be found at the company website:
Link to Zlín Aircraft website