The Last Stronghold
October 17, 2014 will mark the retirement of the world’s last operational A-7 Corsair II strike aircraft. An aircraft which is seeing its final retirement just short of five decades of service worldwide and just under forty years with the type’s last remaining operator, Greece.
The A-7 served a total of four nations over its lifetime:
USA: 1967 – 1993
Portugal: 1981 – 1999
Thailand: 1995 – 2007
Greece: 1975 – 2014
The A-7 and Me
My own exposure to this particular aircraft has, to this point, been limited to two occasions.
In 1987, I saw one one refueling on the tarmac of the US Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island in Washington state. I had wanted to get closer to it, but it wasn’t possible due to the itinerary of the base tour I was on.
At an airshow in my native Canada in the early 1990s, I finally got a chance to get up close to an A-7 which was in the static park. It was a US Air National Guard machine from South Dakota and I was immediately struck by how solidly built the aircraft seemed from every angle.
Particularly memorable about the A-7 I saw at the airshow was that it was parked next to a Grumman A-6 Intruder from the US Navy. The history shared by these two types is immense and spans from the Vietnam conflict to the Persian Gulf war of the early 1990s. I imagine if the two could be personified, they’d have been like a pair of near retired rugby thugs reminiscing about “Back then”.
Many have called the A-7 “Ugly”, I’ve never seen it as such. Its looks are purposeful for certain, but not ugly to my eyes.
Sadly, I will not be able to add the final retirement ceremony of the type to my short list of experiences with it.
Links and Learning More:
This is a ink to the A-7 retirement page, detailing what the day’s activities will be:
This is a documentary of about 45 minutes in length that details the A-7’s development, history and service; it was made when the aircraft was still active in the American military:
J-29F preserved at the Zeltweg Air Museum. Zeltweg, Austria, 2013
The Unassuming Equal
As the American F-86 Sabre and Soviet MiG-15 jet fighters tangled and became legends in the skies of the Korean War in the early 1950s, it is easy to overlook the fact that there was another jet fighter in service at the time which was equal in performance to both. That aircraft was the Saab J-29 Tunnan (Barrel) from Sweden.
Entering service in 1950, the J-29 never equaled it’s American and Soviet counterparts in production numbers or enjoyed their widespread popularity. However, in the truest spirit of “Quality over Quantity” the Tunnans which were built served their users well and earned the respect of those who were associated with it.
The smaller production quantities of the J-29 had more to do with Sweden’s, as a neutral nation, strict policies on who they would sell military gear to and Saab being so busy meeting Sweden’s own demand for the aircraft that they couldn’t possibly build any for anyone else than it did with any negative qualities the J-29 may have possessed.
If not equal to the F-86 and MiG-15 in fame and numbers; then certainly their equal in performance, technology and design. Let’s spend some time with the Saab J-29 Tunnan:
J-29F at the Zeltweg Air Museum in 2013.
Like any developed industrial nation in the immediate Post World War Two era, Sweden quickly recognised the requirement for a jet powered fighter aircraft to protect its territory. Like other developed nations, Sweden’s first steps into the jet age were tenuous ones which reflected war time design aspects.
The first jet powered fighter aircraft in Swedish service were the Saab J-21R, a piston powered design retrofitted with a jet engine, and the primative DeHavilland Vampire. neither were ideal and better had to be found.
This situation was not unique to Sweden, other western jet aircraft designs of the period such as the Gloster Meteor, DeHavilland Vampire and Supermarine Attacker from Great Britain as well as France’s Dassault MS.450 Ouragan and the Republic F-84 Thunderjet from America, which would equip many European NATO nations, were all decidedly unadventurous in their straight wing designs and hampered by the limitations of such wing designs.
Initially, the Tunnan was designed with straight wings. However, Saab engineers gained access to war time studies done by Germany into the value of swept wing designs and tested swept wings on a modified variant of their own model 91 Safir aircraft and adjusted the J-29’s wings accordingly as a result of those studies. The J-29 prototype took to the air for the first time in September of 1948 with swept wings and the Tunnan became one of the world’s first production swept wing aircraft.
Due to minimal experience with swept wing aircraft and their higher performance compared to straight wing types, the Tunnan had an initially high accident rate after entering service in 1950. This situation was not peculiar to Sweden, most early jet aircraft did not have dedicated two seat training variants made for them and accident rates for most early swept wing types were on the high side at first.
DeHavilland Ghost engine at Zeltweg Air Museum in 2013.
Of course, a modern aircraft requires a modern engine. In the case of the Tunnan, the DeHavilland Ghost engine was selected and produced in Sweden as the RM 2B by Svenska Flygmotor.
The J-29 was produced between 1950 and 1956, a total of 665 were built in five major versions:
Baseline fighter version built between 1951 and 1954.
J-29B / A-29B
Upgraded fighter introduced in 1953. It featured greater fuel capacity and accommodation for wing mounted weapons and fuel tanks. The A-29B designation was used for J-29B aircraft which served in dedicated attack units.
The dedicated reconnaissance version introduced in 1954. Changes included a redesigned forward fuselage housing cameras in place of the standard cannon armament.
A small number built in 1955. The E variant introduced a refined and more efficient wing design.
This designation denoted approximately 300 B and E versions which were modernised between 1954 and 1956 to include the E style wing and an afterburner equipped version of the Ghost engine. Remaining F models were modified to use the American designed Sidewinder air to air missile in the early 1960s.
A cutaway Ghost engine at the Zeltweg Air Museum in 2013.
The Tunnan on Duty
In service, the J-29 was used only by the air forces of Sweden and Austria. The last military flight of a Tunnan took place in Sweden in 1976.
Austria took the first of a total of thirty J-29F models into service in 1961 and retired the last in 1972. An interesting side note to the Austrian usage of the type was a reconnaissance variant peculiar to them. A handful of Austrian aircraft were ordered with a modification which allowed the two cannons on the left side of the nose to be replaced with a camera module, this was rather in contrast to the dedicated S-29C reconnaissance version used by the Swedes.
The closest the Tunnan ever got to combat was during the Congo Crisis of the early 1960s. From 1961 to 1963, a squadron of Swedish air force Tunnans wearing United Nations markings were deployed to the Republic of Congo and performed ground attack and reconnaissance missions.
The J-29 Today and Learning More
The Tunnan has done very well in retirement with several preserved in museums and one kept in flying condition by the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight.
The following link is to a pdf file of a 1950 magazine article that gives good insight into how the type was viewed early on:
These two links are to short pieces about the aircraft from Saab’s own website, the first is a general overview of the aircraft and the second is a summary of their use in Congo:
This weekend was the annual NATO Days exhibition at Ostrava in the north east of the Czech Republic.
Photographic conditions weren’t the best and the flying show was on the thin side, but there was some interesting things to see in the statics.
Here’s a sampling of the goings on from Saturday:
A Sea King of the German navy.
Another German heli, a Bo-105.
Special tails from Slovakia.
Phabulous Phantoms from Turkey!
A pair of L-159 ALCAs lining up.
The Czech presidential A319 turning around.
Greek “Zeus” solo demo F-16.
F/A-18 in from Finland.
Big and loud, the MiG-29 awaits its turn to go skyward.
The Swedish Air Force Historic Flight’s Saab 37 Viggen ready to land.
A CV-22 Osprey, in for Saturday only.
Flypast, helicopter style!
Tatra T.101.2 replica at Prague, Czech Republic in 2014.
Tatra Aircraft, Skywards So Briefly
The name Tatra belongs to one of the oldest still active automotive manufacturers in the world, it’s a name that conjures up images of land vehicles ranging from horse carriages, locomotives, heavy trucks and luxury cars. What few people familiar with the Tatra company and its products are aware of is the firm’s brief foray into aviation during the mid to late 1930s.
Beginning in 1934, Tatra took on some very talented aviation designers and opened an aviation division in 1935. The first aircraft Tatra produced were a small number of Bucker Bu-131 Jungmann trainers; following that, they produced at least one Avro 626 Avian trainer.
The company’s first original aircraft design appeared in 1937 and was designated T.001; with some refinements, the T.001 became the T.101.
While only a single T.101 was ever built, its accomplishments during a brief flying career were far from insignificant and its place in aviation history much more important than one might at first imagine. Indeed, it was a critical developmental step in the creation of the post war Zlín Tréner series of training and aerobatic aircraft.
T.101.2 displaying at Prague in 2014.
Revolutionary Record Setter
From a design and performance standpoint, the T.101 was a remarkable achievement for single engine, two place touring aircraft of its era.
The T.101’s wing was a complex, single unit which the fuselage could be attached to the top of rather than two separate wings attaching to either side of the fuselage. At a span of 13 metres, the T.101’s was the largest wooden wing built in Europe prior to the Second World War.
The T.101 had a fuel capacity of 500 litres. With a full fuel load, it could maintain 30 hours of flight time and travel a distance of almost 5000 Kilometres in ideal flying conditions. The maximum operating altitude for the T.101 was 8,000 metres.
Tatra used the T.101 to set a number of altitude and distance records which included a non stop flight from Prague, Czechoslovakia to Khartoum, Sudan in 1938 that covered a distance of 4,340 Kilometres.
Also in 1938, the aircraft was used to set altitude records for single and two seat aircraft possessing engine capacities between 2 and 4 litres. On the morning of March 16 of that year, with two people aboard, the T.101 set a new height record for two seat aircraft of the class when it reached 7,113 metres. On the afternoon of the same day, with only one person aboard, the T.101 went aloft to set a new height record for single seat aircraft of the class. It reached an altitude of 7,470 metres, breaking the existing record by around 1,000 metres.
The last flight of the original T.101 is acknowledged to have taken place in October of 1938.
T.101.2 taxiing at Prague in 2014.
T.101.2 Replica, To Rise Again
In 2008, a pair of Czech brothers finished construction of a full scale replica of the T.101. To avoid confusion between the original and the replica, the original is referred to as the T.101.1 and the replica T.101.2.
It was something of a miracle that this replica could come into being at all. After the fall of Socialism, it was discovered that the original T.101 plans had survived not only the German occupation of World War Two but also the following decades under the Socialist regime. The plans had been found intact in archives in the north eastern city of Opava.
With original plans in hand and a great deal of help from many companies and other organizations, the replica would become a reality.
The T.101.2 received certification of airworthiness in 2009 and it has put in appearances at Czech airshows a number of times since then.
While the replica is as faithful as possible, certain concessions in materials and construction methods had to be made to satisfy contemporary standards.
To see the replica fly its spirited routine is a treat and whatever concessions its constructors had to make to see it finally fly will be the furthest thing from your mind when you watch it.
The Zlín Tréner series, represented here by a Z-126, are the grandchildren of the Tatra T.101.
The T.101 Legacy Today
A sport optimized offshoot of the T.101, the T.201, was developed in 1937. It had smaller wings and tail surfaces than the T.101 and clearly had speed as a priority.
Karel Tomas, who had been head of Tatra’s aircraft division, found himself employed by the Zlín aircraft company in the early post war period and heading the design team which created that company’s prodigious and legendary Tréner family of aircraft using the T.201 concept as a starting point.
From certain angles it is not at all difficult to see the family resemblance between Zlín Tréners and the T.101.
To learn more about the T.101.1, the T.101.2 and Tatra aircraft in general; you’ll do no better than the website of the brothers who are responsible for the T.101.2:
September 6, 2014 was the annual open day of Prague’s historic Letňany airport. In its 90 year history, this airport has been the site of many historic events in Czech aviation and served as an early home for legendary Czech aviation firms Avia and Letov.
The event was a small, laid back and primarily civilian affair with a strong focus on vintage and replica aircraft. Here’s just a sampling of what was there:
Mráz M.1C Sokol; one of Czechoslovakia’s first post WWII domestically produced aircraft.
M.1 Sokol in flight. Only two or three remain airworthy today.
Full scale Avia Bh.1 replica.
Boxy but highly entertaining.
Orličan L-60 Brigadýr with radial engine.
L-60 Brigadýr with inline engine.
Tatra T.101 replica
T.101 reflecting in the sun.
Přikryl-Blecha PB-6 Racek replica.
Praga E.114 Air Baby
Polikarpov Po-2 in from Slovenia.
Beech 18 visiting from the UK.