building is shaped like a giant glass-surfaced doughnut placed on a smaller, circular base
with a wide plaza and steps leading up to the entrance - a bit like the ‘Close
Encounters’ UFO. Exhibits are placed on two floors and are also suspended from the roof,
with the exception of perhaps two replicas, both using the original engines and one has
it’s original propeller and Lewis gun! All of the aircraft have had a working life and
80% actually flew to the site, the drip trays placed at strategic points under some of the
older planes confirms this point.
The oldest exhibit appears to
be the Saric No. 1 built by Ivan Saric in 1909-10 and rebuilt in 1959. This has it’s
original Saric five cylinder radial engine with updraught carburettor, inlet valves in the
piston crown and exhaust valves in the centre of the heads operated by pushrods. The
standard of workmanship of the rebuild seems to have been very high but some deterioration
of the rigging has occurred over the years.
A significant part of the
exhibits are military with emphasis on WW2 . There is an example of a ME 109 G2,
Yugoslavia bought or ‘acquired’ seventy of these before and during that war and the
last of these was pensioned off in 1953. With a 1086kW (1454 BHP) Daimler Benz motor, this
was perhaps the most famous of the German ‘warbirds’. Alongside, are examples of the
Hurricane (a Mk IV RP) and Spitfire (a Mk VC) which were kept in service until 1951/2 and
introduced into the collection in 1961. Alongside those is a Russian YAK 3, it is
difficult to believe that 4,848 of these were built and yet this is one of only three left
in the world.
Earlier military planes
include a Nieuport I, ‘Bebe’ of WWI. This was rebuilt with it’s original Le Rhone
9-cylinder radial giving 59 kW (79 bhp), original propeller and it’s original Lewis gun
mounted on a tripod high above the wing.
A prototype Bucker
Jungmeister from 1935 is suspended from the roof, although without the usual English
translation on the placard, I wasn’t able to gather any more detail.
An unusual exhibit is the
experimental Ikarus 451. This has two inverted Walter six-cylinder piston engines of 118
kW (158 bhp) each, 6.7m (22 ft) wingspan, a maximum speed of 335 kph (182 knots) and a
ceiling of 4750m (15,570 ft).
The unusual feature is
that the pilot lies prone and has a chin pad to keep his head up and allow forward vision
through the plastic nose cone. Entry is via a hatch in the top of the fuselage which seems
to be quite a snug fit around the pilot. Without the benefit of an English translation,
the placards seem to indicate that the pilot is able withstand greater ‘g’ forces in
the prone position than in the more normal seated position.
Another aspect of Yugoslav
aviation is that of the development of gliding. From the ‘Vrabac A’ open glider
designed in 1939 and built by many flying clubs for basic training from 1946 onwards, to
the Icarus, ‘Orao’ first built in 1949 and which later won the first UK gliding
In complete contrast to that
glider is another ‘Orao’ which takes pride of place at the centre of the mezzanine
floor. This particular ‘Eagle’ is the prototype of a fighter-bomber in current service
with the Yugoslav Air Force and which is powered by two Rolls Royce Viper engines. It has
a top speed of Mach 0.97 at 9,000 m, a ceiling of 14,000m and a range of 1,300 km.
that is another current fighter, the SOKO Galeb G-4 powered by a single Viper and capable
of 612 kph / 12,000 m and a range of 1016 km. An indication of the resilience of this
aircraft is a tail section badly damaged by a SAM in 1991. In the heat of battle, the
pilot claimed not to have noticed the hit and was shattered to have the damage pointed out
to him after landing normally !
For both these aircraft, the
Viper engines are actually built in Yugoslavia under licence from Rolls Royce and with RR
supervision of the quality control systems.
In addition to other
interesting aircraft, the display also charts some of the history of Yugoslav aviation
manufacturing companies, for example, UTVA, based at nearby Pancevo, was established in
the late 1930’s and by 1995 had produced a total of 901 aircraft, including 17
prototypes, 77 gliders, and 807 production units. Belgrade-based IKARUS has a similar
historical display showing the various types of aircraft that had been developed and the
annual production quantities of each. Teleoptik, another Belgrade company, has
manufactured cockpit instruments for more than fifty years although latterly the bulk of
its production has been for military aircraft such as the Galeb and Orao.
Another display shows the
history of the airport from a grass field to the current international status and the
planned intention to develop it still further. Until the political situation has been seen
to be stable for a period of time and the economy has improved, that project in common
with many others is, in my opinion, unlikely to proceed.
On the grass areas outside
the museum building, there are several larger aircraft to be seen, including a Junkers
Ju-52 Tri-motor, a DC-3, a Mil Mi-4 helicopter, and a Yugoslav Airways Caravelle.
Interestingly, around the back of the museum, there must be thirty or so jet fighters,
mainly Galebs, which were grounded as a result of the Dayton Agreement. They are all
complete, flew into the site, and are reputed to be for sale , either as individual lots
or in groups. Equally intriguing are the large entrance doors to what must be the cellar
of the building where I presume must lie the eighty or so rare exhibits which the brochure
says are in preservation awaiting restoration.
The museum building was
opened in 1980 and is equally interesting in it’s conception, the periphery has a
geodetic bolted steel lattice supporting over 1,250 triangular reflective-glass
panes. This lattice structure is supported only at it’s upper and lower edges from the
main concrete hub and provides a totally open display space. A permanently-installed
exterior gantry, running on rails at the top and bottom of the glass area, allows exterior
cleaning of the glass. How the inside of the glass is cleaned remained a mystery !