The MiG-29 “Fulcrum” an aircraft for which Belyakov served as chief designer.
The Master of MiGs
Rostislav Belyakov, former chief designer at the Mikoyan aircraft bureau, passed away on February 28, 2014 at the age of 94.
Belyakov joined Mikoyan in 1941 and served on the design teams of several of the bureau’s legendary Cold War aircraft. He was promoted to the position of deputy chief designer in 1957 and chief designer in 1969.
In the position of chief designer, he oversaw design and development of the MiG-23 “Flogger”; the Soviet Union’s first variable geometry fighter as well as the mach 3 capable MiG-25 “Foxbat” interceptor and the MiG-29 “Fulcrum” fighter.
While the MiG-23 is an increasingly rare aircraft in the skies and the MiG-25 is all but completely retired from service; the MiG-29 is still going strong as the main fighter type in several air forces today.
A brief synopsis of Belyakov and his work for Mikoyan can be found at the BBC website:
A Mil Mi-4 seen at the Kunovice air museum in 2013.
Late to the Party
In the immediate post war years the helicopter was coming into its own and being embraced by militaries on both sides of the Cold War. Both east and west fielded light utility types though it was the United States which introduced the first true transport helicopter into service in the form of the Sikorsky S-55 which first flew in 1949.
The Soviet army lacked such a dedicated transport helicopter at the time; however, the versatility and flexibility the S-55 provided American and allied forces with in the Korean War would change that very quickly.
In 1951, on the direct orders of Stalin himself, Soviet helicopter manufacturers were given 12 months to develop a machine which would give their army the same mobility and flexibility that the S-55 was giving to the west. Ultimately, only the Mil bureau rose to the challenge and the prototype for the Mi-4 flew for the first time in 1952.
The Mi-4 entered service with the Soviet and Polish air forces in 1953. It would be the beginning of a long and varied life for an aircraft which would form the backbone of Warsaw Pact rotary wing transport until the 1970s. In the full scope of its career, the Mi-4 would do much, much more than simply move equipment and personnel from one place to another.
The helicopter existed in both military and civilian variants. Inside a production run totalling roughly 4000 airframes from both Soviet and Chinese assembly lines, the aircraft family comprised at least 30 different versions. Throughout its lifetime, the Mi-4 was subject to constant development and upgrading.
Mil Mi-4 at Kunovice in 2013
The Sincerest Form of Flattery?
From a western perspective, the Mi-4 spent its life being derided as nothing more than a copy of the Sikorsky S-55. This could be attributed as much to the dominating point of view in the west that the bulk of Soviet produced military hardware was simply copies of, presumably, superior western designs as it could be to any physical resemblance the two aircraft shared.
The similarity between the two aircraft is quite understandable as long as one keeps in mind that Stalin only gave one year to develop a helicopter and the S-55 had already proven itself as a design formula that worked in battle. For any of the Soviet aircraft manufacturers to try to create a clean sheet design and take it to flying status in the space of a year would have been, frankly, idiotic and wasteful. Drawing inspiration from the Sikorsky design was perfectly sensible given the time available and the projected role of the finished product.
On even brief examination, the two aircraft have more differences than similarities:
The Mil helicopter was a significantly larger and stronger machine than the S-55 and more flexible in what it could transport. It was possible to open the entire rear fuselage and load vehicles, artillery pieces and other larger loads which were completely outside the S-55′s ability to lift internally.
From a strictly weight lifting standpoint, the Mi-4 was much more comparable to Sikorsky’s S-58 which superseded the S-55. However, the S-58 still did not have the same internal carrying abilities the Mi-4 did. To carry such loads as vehicles and artillery, the S-58 would need to carry them externally in a sling under the aircraft.
While attempts were made to adapt the S-55 to the armed gunship role, all but the most modest of gun armaments proved too heavy for it and left it under powered for the task. The Mil, by contrast, adapted very well to the attack helicopter role and was able to carry a variety of guns, rockets, mines and even torpedoes in a specialized anti ship variation. The Mil’s armament also included a gondola in the underside of the fuselage which could be fitted with a forward firing machine gun.
The above are the larger differences between the two, certainly more could be uncovered on closer scrutiny. Suffice it to say, the Mil designers most certainly took inspiration from the Sikorsky design but in no way created an imitation of it.
Generally speaking; if one is to look at western helicopter designs that could be considered contemporary to the Mi-4, there really wasn’t any direct and complete counterpart for it.
Mi-4 with rocket launchers seen at Vyškov in 2012.
Working Like a Dog
The Mil-4, which was known as “Hound” under the NATO code naming system for Soviet aircraft, was a very busy aircraft in both military and civilian circles.
In military service, it fulfilled roles as diverse as transport, electronic warfare, maritime patrol, reconnaissance, VIP transport, medical evacuation and rescue work among others.
Notable military actions the Mi-4 played a role in include the Hungarian uprising of 1956, the Indo Pakistani War of 1971 and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s.
The Hound’s military life spanned a little over 50 years; the last military variants, Chines built Harbin Z-5 versions, were retired by Albania in 2005.
In the civilian world, it was every bit as busy operating in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, geology and infrastructure fields as well as bush flying in Siberia, Antarctic exploration, air taxi, air ambulance and fire fighting.
Outside of regular duties, a modified version of the Mi-4 was used to set a number of speed and altitude records in the late 1950s. Additionally, the Mi-4 won a gold medal at the World’s Fair in Brussels in 1958.
Hounds at Vyškov in 2012
The Mi-4 Today
By all appearances, it would seem that there are no remaining airworthy examples of either the Mil Mi-4 or Harbin Z-5 at the time of writing.
Several seem to be either restored or in storage at museums in several locations around the world while others look to be abandoned and corroding into oblivion in other places. As such, there are certainly opportunities to see these aircraft though the quality may be highly variable depending on where you see them.
Following this link will take you to the Polish Aviation Museum’s information page about the Mi-4:
This link will take you to an entry at the Travel for Aircraft blog featuring the Mi-4 used as Ho Chi Minh’s personal transport:
A former Austrian Saab 35OE Draken on display at Zeltweg, Austria in 2013.
Making the Leap
When Saab’s J-35 Draken (Dragon) entered Swedish air force service in 1960 after a rigorous design and development period, it caused a stir in the aviation world at large. Not only was the overall design a modern and unexpected departure from aircraft design norms of the period, the source of the aircraft was also something of a shock; that a relatively small company on the aviation landscape from a politically neutral nation would present the world with an all weather fighter capable of speeds exeding twice the speed of sound was unexpected indeed.
Saab was not unknown in jet fighter development prior to the J-35 Draken. Before the 1940s were finished, the company had developed the J-21R jet fighter from its J-21 piston powered fighter. The company’s first jet fighter designed as such from the ground up, the J-29 Tunnan, entered Swedish air force service in 1950 and was followed in 1956 by the J-32 Lansen.
The J-29 and J-32 were well regarded in the aviation world and stood as testament that Saab were capable of designing jet fighter aircraft which could match the capabilities of designs produced by larger, better known names in aviation. However, both designs were thoroughly conventional and mirrored aircraft design philosophies of their day.
By contrast, the J-35 Draken was a fully new design which showed that Saab could more than match what their contemporaries were producing and were not at all afraid to innovate.
A partially dismantled Draken at Zeltweg in 2013
A Unique Solution to Unique Requirements
At the height of the Cold War, incursions into domestic airspace by Soviet bomber aircraft were as much a concern to Sweden as they were to other western countries in the northern hemisphere. When the bombers became faster and flew higher, it was clear that the firmly subsonic J-29 and J-32 fighters were not up to the task of effectively intercepting them, supersonic speeds were essential. This fact was but one contributing factor to the Draken’s groundbreaking design.
Another key aspect that dictated the Draken’s design was Sweden’s own unique defensive doctrine. As a neutral country, Sweden shaped its defense network independent of other nations’ philosophies. As such, Sweden had rather different expectations of a combat aircraft than some other nations did.
Through the Cold War, Sweden became well known for requiring their combat aircraft to be able to use straight stretches of highway as improvised runways and for the aircraft to be fully supportable away from a fully equipped permanent base. This aspect dictated that the aircraft also have a relatively short take off and landing length.
Additionally, the Draken would need to be easily and competently maintainable by a small number of conscripted ground crew with possibly minimal training so robust and relatively simple systems which could be easily accessed were a must. Also essential was that the aircraft spend a minimum amount of time on the ground between missions, the Draken had to be refueled and rearmed and put back into action in less than ten minutes.
From a strictly Swedish standpoint, the aircraft had to be compatible with the country’s Stridsledning integrated air combat management network. Known as “STRIL” for short, the network was composed of early warning radars and ground control centres which controlled and guided aircraft to their targets. The Draken would be a component of the “STRIL 60″ network which was activated in 1960 and remained in service through to the early 1990s.
Of course, military considerations were not the only driving force in the Draken’s design. Sweden is not a large country and Saab was not a large company compared to many of its contemporaries; this meant that whatever else the company incorporated into the design, development and export potential had to be in the mix.
Needless to say, the Draken had a lot to live up to before it even left the designer’s drawing board.
A J-35OE at Zeltweg in 2013
The Dragon Takes Flight
The most striking external aspect of the Draken is its distinctive double delta wing configuration. A standard delta wing configuration is based on a triangle; the double delta, as the name implies, is based on a pair of triangles superimposed on each other. The principle behind the double delta arrangement is that two triangles of differing angles will provide the aircraft with better performance through a wider range of speeds than a standard delta wing would.
In the early 1950s, Saab proved the principles behind the double delta using a scaled down proof of concept aircraft known as the Saab 210. By late 1955, the first full scale Draken prototype had flown.
The aircraft was no less advanced in internal design. Very modern methods of parts fabrication were employed which allowed for a quite light airframe of modular construction. The airframe could be very logically disassembled into large structures for easy parts replacement in the field or offered as kits for assembly to export customers. As it was, only a handful of Drakens were ever assembled by non Swedish hands when 12 machines were assembled by Finland’s Valmet company from kits provided by Saab.
While an interceptor and air to air fighter in the main, the Draken was adapted to ground strike and reconnaissance roles. Versions exported to Denmark were optimized for air to ground strike with revised outer wing sections, improved electronic countermeasures and removal of the air to air radar.
For export versions, an alternative electronics system was offered in place of the STRIL 60 specific gear required by the Swedish versions of the aircraft. As STRIL was exclusive to Sweden, export customers had no use for equipment associated with it.
A pair of Drakens on display at Zeltweg in 2013.
The Dragon’s Reign
The Draken’s military life lasted 45 years from its service debut in Sweden in 1960 to its final retirement in Austria in 2005. Beyond these two nations, the aircraft also served the air forces of Denmark and Finland. Chile, Switzerland and Venezuela all took some interest in the Draken, though sales to them never materialized.
In military service, the Draken was everything it was intended to be; easy to maintain in spartan conditions away from fixed bases, quick to refuel and rearm between missions and possessing great development potential. Also, thanks to its Swedish built version of the British designed Rolls Royce Avon engine paired with a fully Swedish developed afterburner section, the Draken had the blistering speed so essential to the interceptor mission.
The J-35 Draken family isn’t a terribly complex one, though many members are rebuilt and refitted versions of other variants as Saab did buy some Drakens back from the Swedish military and refurbish them for export purposes. Here’s an overview of the J-35 Draken lineage:
This was the basic initial Swedish version which entered service in 1960. It was fitted with a French built radar as the Swedish one was not yet ready. The J-35 existed in both long and short fuselage versions due to variations in afterburner designs.
The J-35B, which entered Swedish service in 1962, was equipped with a Swedish radar and fully integrated into the STRIL 60 network.
The J-35BS designation denotes the B versions sold to Finland.
Equipped with a new version of the Rolls Royce Avon engine, the D was the swiftest member of the Draken line. The D also incorporated lengthened air intakes for the engine and greater internal fuel capacity.
J-35OE was the designation given to 24 D models refurbished by Saab for sale to Austria in the mid 1980s.
The J-35F, which entered service in 1965, was the most produced Draken version and had many improvements incorporated into it. The standard internal armament of two 30mm cannons was reduced to one to make room for additional avionics. The F version took the Hughes Falcon air to air missile of American design as its primary armament. Further improvements included the incorporation of an infrared targeting system and modifications to increase the radar’s resistance to electronic jamming.
J-35FS designated the F version sold to Finland.
An extensive rebuilding and modernization program of some F models in the mid to late 1980s resulted in the J model. Modifications included modern electronics and cannon, two extra weapons stations, increased internal fuel capacity along with airframe life extension modifications.
This was the reconnaissance version with a camera equipped nose in place of the radar. 60 of this version were built with roughly half that number being rebuilt from J-35D models.
The two seat trainer variation, SK-35C, was created by rebuilding 25 short fuselage J-35A variants.
SK-35CS was the designation of the Finnish air force variation of the trainer.
This was the generic term for the much modified export versions which went to Denmark. Denmark used three variations of the Draken: the F-35 single seat fighter, the TF-35 two seat trainer and the RF-35 reconnaissance type.
These were 12 aircraft of a roughly J-35F standard which were built in Finland. They were eventually upgraded to a J standard.
A former Swedish air force J-35J at the Kbely Air Museum in Prague in 2007
The Draken Today
The Draken has done quite well for itself in post military life with several airframes preserved in museums across Europe.
After their retirement from military service in 1993, several Danish Drakens were purchased and shipped to America to be kept airworthy for research flights and test pilot training.
At the time of writing, one Draken remains airworthy in Europe as part of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight.
To learn more about the Saab Draken, follow this link to a PDF version of a period product brochure produced by Saab for the Draken:
A look at the wooden hangar styled decor at Wings Club.
Atmosphere and Ambiance
In late December of 2013, I paid a visit to the National Technical Museum in Prague. After that visit, I got on a tram across the centre of the city to the Žižkov district to take a much needed meal at the aviation themed Wings Club restaurant.
Established in 2004 and styled after a vintage wooden hangar, Wings Club is an aviation museum as much as it is a dining establishment. The walls are covered in photographs, many autographed, as well as all manner of other aviation related paraphernalia. There are also display cabinets with much more on display for you to look at.
The items on display all come from the owner’s personal collection and represent only a small fraction of what he has to hand. According to the restaurant website, some of the exhibits are rotated occasionally so what you see in this blog entry might be a bit different from what you see when you visit.
They eye catching full scale Spitfire cockpit just inside the entrance.
The Small Hangar
Wings Club is divided into three sections; the Small Hangar, Large Hangar and VIP Lounge.
Once through the entrance, you’ll find yourself in the Small Hangar which is very pub like in atmosphere. This is where the restaurant’s bar is located as well as a television and typically small tables for two or four people, as you might expect in a pub.
You certainly won’t miss seeing the full scale Spitfire cockpit section just inside the entry; it was used as a film prop and certainly takes some pride of place at Wings Club.
Almost every available bit of space on the walls is taken up by pictures, art and display cases and this continues into the Large Hangar area.
The Large Hangar
One of the display cases in the Large Hangar section.
The Large Hangar is much more restaurant like in arrangement than the Small Hangar. It is in this larger area where the restaurant’s vintage wooden hangar theme really shines and comes to life. Rustic brick and wood structure lines the walls and the slightly scuffed tables and chairs give a used but welcoming and informal atmosphere to the place.
While you eat your meal, you can take in the display cases loaded with instruments, models, trophies, tools and flying gear of all manner. A variety of models hang from the ceiling, some of them authentic Second World War aircraft identification models for training aircrews how to identify another aircraft quickly so they could identify friend from foe at a glance once in the air.
The rustic surrounds of the first two sections of Wings Club gives way to the decidedly more polished and formal atmosphere of the VIP Lounge which is through a small door at the back of the Large Hangar.
The VIP Lounge
Display case and art in the VIP Lounge
The paneled and papered walls of the small VIP Lounge are a stark contrast the less finished feel that dominates the first two sections. There’s no scuffed wood here and much of what hangs on the walls is much more art like than the many autographed photographs and posters elsewhere in the establishment.
If you were invited to dine in this room, you’d certainly feel under-dressed without a suit and tie or other manner of more formal dress.
The much smaller and exclusive feel of the VIP lounge feels distinctly like a commanding officer’s ready room while the rest feels like the pilots’ and ground crew lounge.
With a single central table and room for about eight people, the VIP Lounge also feels a good bit more intimate than the rest of the restaurant.
Paying a Visit
The Small Hangar from a different angle.
Wings Club is easily reached by public transport. The nearest metro station is three stops from Prague’s main rail station and it’s a very short walk to Wings Club from there.
I found the food very good there. I had a plate of Svíčkova, a beef dish which is one of the Czech Republic’s national dishes.
While, as I did, you can simply walk into Wings Club; they also take reservations if you want to be sure of having a table.
For more information, follow this link to the restaurant’s website:
A Saab Safir preserved at Zeltweg, Austria in 2013.
To Tour, To Train
In November of 1945, as the clouds of war were clearing, the Saab 91 Safir took to the air for the first time. Designed primarily for the civil market as a touring and training aircraft, the aircraft also found favour in post war air forces looking for a modern training aircraft for the post World War Two generation of pilots.
Produced for a period of 20 years starting in 1946, approximately 320 Safirs were built between the Saab assembly lines in Sweden and the De Schelde factory in the Netherlands. The Safir quickly gained popularity among pilots for its responsive and forgiving flying characteristics, ease of access for maintenance, rugged construction, aerobatic abilities and range.
Early versions of the aircraft had three seats and space for passenger baggage while later versions incorporated a fourth seat. Four seat versions could be converted to air ambulance configuration by removing the front and rear right side seats and replacing them with a stretcher.
Ultimately, the Safir was built in five versions and flew in military and civilian hands in at least twenty countries.
Notable civilian operators who used the Safir for pilot training were Air France, Lufthansa and the State Flying School of the Netherlands. Military operators included: Austria, Ethiopia, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Tunisia.
Another Safir preserved at Zeltweg.
Reaching Back to Reach Forward
The mind behind the Safir was Anders J. Anderson; a Swedish aircraft designer who had made a name for himself designing training aircraft for the Bucker company in Germany during the 1930s.
After leaving Germany before the outbreak of the Second World War; Anderson started designing the Safir for his new employer, Saab. The new machine bore more than a passing resemblance to the Bu-181 Bestmann, the last aircraft Anderson had designed for Bucker before returning to his native Sweden.
The Safir and the Bestmann had more in common than physical resemblance; both were very popular due to their pilot friendly handling qualities, both had the same basic purposes envisioned for them, both had excellent visibility from the cockpit and both were taken into service primarily as trainers but ended up doing a lot of liaison and courier work on the side.
Also similar between the Safir and the Bestmann was that neither of them were subject to any radical developments after their initial entry to service and only had a modest number of sub variants, most of which were distinguished by internal rather than external changes.
The Safir family can be summarized as follows:
Model 91A: De Havilland Gipsy Major engines of 125 or 145 horsepower. Three seats.
Model 91B: Lycoming engine of 190 horsepower. Three seats.
Model 91B-2: Minor modification of 91B to Royal Norwegian Air Force specifications
Model 91C: Four seat variation of 91B with fuselage fuel tanks relocated to the wings.
Model 91D: Lycoming engine of 180 horsepower. Four seats.
Another angle on the outdoor Safir at Zeltweg.
Not Done Yet
As of 2009, approximately 75 Safirs were known to be airworthy and on active registries in the world. A quick look around some aircraft spotting and photography web sites during the writing of this entry showed several are still heading skyward on a regular basis these days.
While the Safir is old enough to qualify as a vintage aircraft, its qualities as a touring machine still give it some practicality in today’s general aviation circles and it is still considered a pleasant flying machine in contemporary contexts.
it’s not the kind of aircraft you typically see getting wrung out at airshows and competitions; as such, those Safirs which remain airworthy will likely stay airworthy for some time to come yet.
Good reading on the Safir is a bit tricky to find on the internet, but there is some out there. These links are all quite interesting:
This is a PDF version of a period product brochure produced by Saab for the Safir:
Here is an article about the only Safir ever to make it to Australia:
Last, but certainly not least, a good write up on the type by fellow blogger – Short Finals:
A Cessna 172M Skyhawk II seen at Kunovice, Czech Republic in 2013
Power in Numbers
When the basic Cessna 172 flew for the first time in 1955, its designers likely did not suspect that their creation would go on to become a watershed event in aviation history. More than fifty years on, The Cessna 172 is indisputably the most produced aircraft in history and quite likely has been used to train more pilots than any other type.
As of 2012, over 40,000 units of the Cessna 172 had been built in over 30 variations and was still very much in production. In fact, with the exception of a ten year period between the mid 1980s and mid 1990s, Cessna 172 production has gone on largely uninterrupted.
The Cessna 172 has done for post Second World War general aviation what the DeHavilland DH.60 Moth series of aircraft did for general aviation in the interwar period; brought aviation to the general public to such a degree that it ingrained itself in popular culture. The Cessna 172 is the definitive light aircraft for most casual observers; many people will look to a light, single engine aircraft passing overhead and simply call it a “Cessna” even if it’s not a Cessna aircraft at all.
Let’s take a look at just a few of the more pertinent events in the life of this aircraft thus far:
Cessna 172 Skyhawk Milestones
1955: First flight of prototype Cessna 172.
1956: Basic Cessna 172 enters series production.
1960: 172A version with redesigned tail introduced.
1962: 172B version introduced and “Skyhawk” name used for the first time.
1964: United States Air Force chooses the 172F as their new basic trainer.
1965: 172F production line opens in Reims, France.
1968: 172I becomes first variant of the family to have a Lycoming engine.
1973: Introduction of the 172M, the first “Skyhawk II” variant.
1980: 172RG introduces retractable landing gear to the family.
1986: Beginning of a ten year suspension of 172 production.
1996: Production resumes with the 172R model
1998: 172S production begins.
2005: 50th anniversary of first flight.
2012: Proof of concept electric powered 172 completes several successful test flights.
A 172RG at Vyškov, Czech Republic in 2012.
A Critical Catalyst
No discussion about the Cessna 172 and its place in history could be complete without touching on the May 1987 flight by German pilot, Mathias Rust. Rust, who was only 19 and a very inexperienced pilot at the time, flew a Cessna 172P deep into Soviet airspace and landed it near Red Square in Moscow.
The incident is regarded by many Cold War experts as the catalyst which gave Mikhail Gorbachev, then the relatively new leader of the former Soviet Union, the justification he needed for dismissing many key military leaders who were powerful opponents of his proposed Glasnost and Perestroika reforms.
That a western aircraft could not only be allowed to fly unopposed so deeply into Soviet territory, but also land in the middle of the capital city was a permanent blow to the credibility of the Soviet military in the eyes of the populace. Gorbachev seized the opportunity to remove his opponents from power and the beginning of the end of the Cold War began in earnest.
The aircraft Mathias Rust used, registration D-ECJB, is preserved in the German Museum of Technology in Berlin.
The 172′s Future and Useful Links
The Skyhawk is still in production at the time of writing and Cessna is still marketing it very strongly while countless examples of it are flying from airfields large and small around the world. There’s no reason to believe that the 172 will stop developing any time soon or that it doesn’t have at least another 50 years of active, practical life in it.
This website contains a lot of great information about the 172 including a detailed list of variants and their differences:
This link will take you to a 2012 article about why the 172 remains relevant more than 50 years after its first flight and why it’s likely to remain so for the foreseeable future:
This 2007 Danish documentary made to mark the 20th anniversary of Mathias Rust’s historic flight is quite informative and insightful on the incident and its significance:
A 172N at Brno, Czech Republic in 2012.
Goings on Behind the Scenes
While putting things together for my next featured aircraft write up, I’ll take a few moments to bring you up to date on a few amendments to existing articles and properly introduce you to a new feature.
First, the amended articles:
When I first published the piece on the Aero Ae-270 Ibis, I worked through a lot of fragmentary information and was not able to find a good single link for further reading. The good news is that I have recently found a link with a magazine article published before the Ibis was cancelled. It makes for some quite interesting reading:
I have also recently added two more aircraft profiles to the Airtrade vintage aircraft fleet section:
New Feature: The Century Formation
Those of you with sharp eyes might have already noticed the title page for this new section in the menu bar.
This is an idea I’ve had bouncing around in my head since the Wright brothers’ flight centennial and conversations I had with several other aviation enthusiasts speculating about which aircraft types might still be flying when their design reaches 100 years old.
The aircraft I feature here not only have a lot of history behind them, but also look like they might have a lot more in them yet.
The articles in this section will be shorter than the usual and may sometimes go straight to the menu section rather than be given a front page appearance.
The aircraft there reflect only my own speculations and the idea is purely a bit of a fun exercise in imagination. I hope you will enjoy it; if it turns out to be popular over the course of 2014, I might just keep it around: