On July 21 of 2016, one of the last surviving Czech pilots who served in the ranks of the Royal Air Force during World War II took to the air in a legendary Spitfire fighter for the first time on over 70 years.
Born on February, 25 of 1923 in Brno, General Emil Boček took off on a 25 minute flight from Great Britain´s famous Biggin Hill airfield in a Spitfire fitted with a second seat.
This is video footage of the event from Czech Television:
May 28 and 29 of 2016 bring us this year’s annual edition of the Pardubice Aviation Fair. A largely civilian event, with heavy emphasis on the vintage end of things; this year’s edition was no different.
The weather was mostly sunny and hot, so heat distortion was an issue in photo taking, though we did get a downpour of rain towards the end of the show in the late afternoon on the 28th.
The aviation collection of the Museum of Military History of the Bundeswehr is located at what remains of the historic Berlin-Gatow airfield in the Kladow district of Germany’s capital city.
The Gatow airfield was constructed between 1934 and 1935 as a training base and college for the Luftwaffe. At the end of the Second World War, it was briefly occupied by Soviet forces and then ceded to British control upon the division of Berlin.
The base remained under British control, spending time under both air force and army jurisdiction, until 1994 when it was handed over to German control. It ceased to be a functional airport in 1995. Eventually, the two runways were cut in half to make room for residential development in the nearby vicinity.
The museum has approximately 70 aircraft on display both indoors and outdoors that cover a broad range of time periods from the late 1800s to the present day. Aside of the aircraft, there are also displays of uniforms, land vehicles and much more.
The museum’s indoor exhibitions are housed in two hangars and the control tower building.
Hangar 3 contains aircraft of both world wars and of aircraft used in the early days of the reformed post war Luftwaffe. The museum’s souvenir shop is also here.
The control tower building contains displays of uniforms from different eras of 20th century German military history as well as a room comparing the organisational structures of the air forces of the former East and West Germany.
A walk to the other end of the tarmac will get you to Hangar 7, where exhibits of a more contemporary nature are kept. Here, you’ll find examples of more recently retired aircraft as well as an extensive display about cooperation with the U.S. Air Force for the training of German fighter pilots in America.
Aircraft on display in Hangar 7 include a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, McDonnell Douglas F-4 PhantomII, Panavia Tornado, Fouga Magister and Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum among others.
Beyond the full aircraft on display, Hangar 7 also has preserved nose sections of the F-104, F-4 and Tornado that enable visitors to get a close up look at the cockpits of those three types
Aside ofthe Luftwaffe aircraft in that hangar, there is also an example of a U.S. Air Force Cessna T-37 training jet; a type in which many German fighter pilots during the Cold War received their basic jet training on in America.
At the time of my visit, in early May of 2016, the aircraft and land vehicles which make up the museum’s outdoor exhibition were arranged mainly according to their roles.
All eras of Cold War aircraft are well represented here, with not only aircraft of the formerly divided Germany but also some of foreign nations which operated in the former West Germany through NATO commitments. As such, former Royal Air Force machines like the English Electric Lightning and Hawker Siddeley Harrier are present in the museum’s collection as is a former French air force Mirage III fighter. Notable in the museum’s selection of foreign aircraft is a Royal Australian Air Force Douglas Dakota transport which is used to represent the international nature of the Berlin Airlift operations, for which Gatow was a key flying base.
Also notable in the museum’s collection, both indoor and outdoor, is the repeated appearance of the distinctive Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. There are no less than five complete examples on public display as well as a preserved nose section.
This level of representation of one type in one museum could be seen as quite appropriate in the case of a museum like this one.
Through the course of the Cold War, nine European nations used the Starfighter. Additionally, Canadian and American F-104 units were also based in Europe during the period.
The F-104 kept a constant presence for over four decades in European skies from the early 1960s until Italy retired the last of theirs in 2004. Both derided and praised, the aircraft became an icon of western air power in Europe during the Cold War.
While the Luftwaffe is the main focus of the museum, there is also some space made for the Marineflieger; the air arm of the German navy.
A clutch of three aircraft; a Fairey Gannet, Hawker Sea Hawk and Franco-German developed Atlantic patrol aircraft represent this lesser seen aspect of German military aviation
As might be expected of a museum with a significant outdoor aspect open to the elements, the aircraft all show one degree or another of weathering. Some have clearly been tended to and refreshed in the not too distant past while others are still clearly waiting their turn. However, all the aircraft are clearly cared for and all look structurally sound.
The museum states in their information brochure that there are future plans to eventually open more of the hangars for exhibition purposes. Hopefully, this means that some of the aircraft sitting outside right now, will find permanent housing indoors one day.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
Though not near the centre of Berlin, this museum is very worth visiting and reasonably easy to get to using Berlin’s very efficient and well organised public transport system.
My trip there from the centre of the city took approximately an hour, including two exchanges and a ten minute walk from the nearest bus stop to the museum. However, it felt much quicker due to minimal waits for connections along the way.
Alternately, the museum has some parking available if you go by car.
The museum is free to enter and is open from 10:00 to 18:00 on Tuesdays to Sundays. With the exception of public holidays, it is closed on Mondays.
These two links, the museum website and their information brochure respectively, will give you more information about not only the Museum of Military History branch at Gatow, but also the other two locations at Dresden and Konigstein fortress.
If you’re at all a fan of the legendary Sabre jet, Larry Milberry’s exhaustive volume of the subject is one of the best references around. Certain books become known as “The Bible” of a particular subject matter; I would say that if there is a “Bible” on the Sabre, this book deserves to be known as such.
Mr. Milberry recently made a post marking the book’s 30th anniversary. The post included some pictures from the book’s release party in 1986 and also gives you the opportunity to purchase your own copy from his now limited supply of them.
Please visit the post and, if your finances permit, purchase a copy of the book. It is money well spent.
Thirty, even 20 years ago, there still was great enthusiasm for the printed word. When a new aviation book appeared, readers would hurry out to find a copy, and there sure never was a problem filling a room for a book launching. The evolution of the internet has greatly altered this historic scenario – news […]
In the mid 1930s, the Soviet Union expressed an interest in purchasing and license producing certain American aircraft for the national airline, Aeroflot. Among the machines which captured their interest were the Douglas DC-2 airliner and its legendary follow on, the DC-3.
In 1935, a delegation headed by Andrei Tupolev travelled to America to visit a number of American aircraft firms and arrange purchases of aircraft or production licenses. It was through this delgation that a DC-2 was purchased for evaluation.
Once in the Soviet Union, The DC-2 was inspected in great detail and evaluated quite favourably. Shortly after the evaluation, the Soviets proceded with securing production licenses for the DC-2 and DC-3.
The foundation for what would become the Li-2 was laid in the summer of 1936; when a delegation of Soviet aviation professionals which included Boris Lisunov, Vladimir Myasishchev and Anatoliy Senkov were sent to the Douglas aircraft factory in California to observe production methods and begin the labourious task of translating the DC-3 plans and specifications to make them suitable for Soviet production lines. It was a task that would take approximately two years and incorpoarate many more changes to the original DC-3 design than at first anticipated.
A Dakota, and Yet Not
While most references on the Douglas DC-3 include sections on the Soviet variation of the aircraft, they don’t always give fair space to expand upon the differences that existed between it and the Douglas original. If one is to be fair about things, the DC-3 and Li-2 are distant cousins at best once one looks beyond the family resemblance.
Part of the herculean task of translating the DC-3 plans and specifications to Soviet ones was the redrawing of the plans from American measurement units to metric ones. Metric conversion contributed to the Soviet version having a higher weight than the original DC-3. This was the result of the closest equivalent metric calibrated sheet metal for covering the aircraft being slightly thicker than its American counterpart.
Dimensionally, the Soviet variation of the aircraft was slightly smaller in both length and wingspan than the Douglas original. In addition, while the American version had the cargo and passenger boarding doors both on the left side of the fuselage, the Soviet variant moved the passenger door to the right side while retaining the cargo door on the left.
The Shvetsov ASh-62 engines which powered the Soviet version were themselves a development of the Wright R-1820 Cyclone engine which powered early versions of the DC-3. However, like the aircraft themselves, there were many technical differences between the Shvetsov engine and its Wright designed forbear.
A great many more changes took place under the skin of the aircraft, close to 1,300 in total, to meet the Soviet specification for the aircraft. Many of these changes were connected to the Soviet specification doing away with some of the design refinements of the DC-3 in favour of stronger internal structures and winter specific gear.
An assembly facility was established near Moscow and the first aircraft built to Soviet specification, then designated PS-84, was completed in 1938. After a year of testing and evaluation, full production was approved and several had been built by th end of 1940; further production of the airliner version through 1941 provided Aeroflot with a mixed fleet of PS-84 and Douglas built DC-3 aircraft.
While the PS-84 had greater stuctural strength than the DC-3, it did lack the speed and range of the Douglas aircraft. Many references mention that the Shetsov engines were not as reliable as their Wright counterparts and that many of the Soviet made systems, notably radio equipment, were considered inferior to their American made equivalents by aircrew. Many of these same references go further to say that PS-84 crews prefered to fly the DC-3 when they had the chance.
Life in Uniform
The PS-84 became the Lisunov Li-2 in 1942 when production of military specific variants of it began. It must be stated that it was a peculiar choice to involve Boris Lisunov in the aircraft’s name; by 1942, Lisunov had fallen victim to the paranoia of Stalin’s Great Purge which lasted from 1936 to 1938. His involvement in the aircraft was well in the past by the time his name was put on it.
As with the Dakota, the Li-2’s main stock in trade during the Second World War was as a transport, medevac aircraft, glider tug and paratroop carrier. However, unlike the military variants of the Dakota, the Li-2 could often be seen fitted with defensive guns in place on either side of the rear fuselage and a dorsal gun turret.
Notable use of the Li-2 as a bomber was also made. Though crude and improvised, Li-2s flew many night bombing missions during the Battle of Stalingrad and later conflicts. The bomber versions of the aircraft had external fittings for carrying bombs as well as carrying bombs internally which could be tossed out the rear cargo door by the crew. As the war progressed, bomber versions of the aircraft were subject to a series of incremental improvements.
Beyond World War II, the Li-2 also saw use in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Though the systematic replacement of the Li-2 began with the advent of the Ilyushin Il-12 and Il-14 in the 1950s; it proved a stubbornly long lived aircraft. The militaries of at least 14 nations used the aircraft extensively in the post war era and the type was known to be flying in military service until at least the mid 1970s with some limited service being observed into the 1980s. Outside of the transport role, military Li-2s saw use in reconnaissance and surveillance roles as well as radiation sampling, electronic warfare and intelligence gathering.
During the Cold War period, the Li-2 recieved the reporting name “Cab” in NATO’s code naming system for Soviet aircraft.
The post war civil career of the Li-2 was also a varied one. The aircraft was modified for work in polar regions and at high altitudes. Additionally, the aircraft was fitted for forest fire work, fisheries monitoring and meteorological studies to name a few.
What Remains and Learning More
Of nearly 5000 built, a number of Li-2s remain extant in whole or partial form in museums. Between at least 15 and 20 can be found in museums across central Europe, Russia and China as of 2016. No doubt there are several others standing alone on pedestals or corroding away anonymously in more remote locations.
Since 2004, the world has known only a single airworthy Lisunov Li-2. Part of the Goldtimer Foundation collection at the historic Budaors airfield in Budapest, Hungary; HA-LIX makes appearances at a variety of European airshows resplendent in period colours of the former Hungarian air carrier, Malév.
This link will take you to the Li-2 page of the Goldtimer Foundation website and give you some insights into the restoration of HA-LIX: