Aero/Zlín Heli Baby – Rare Rotors

A Piece of the Rotary Action 

Prototype of the military Heli Baby, the VR-2, in the National Technical Museum. Prague, Czech Republic

The late 1940s and early 1950s are best known in the context of aviation as the dawn of the jet age. However, in the shadow of jets, the age of the helicopter had also arrived in the same period.

The Korean War had been a proving ground for the jet as a viable combat platform and the helicopter as a valuable transport and utility resource. By the end of hostilities, both technologies had been proven and had come to stay.

Dominant names in the early days of helicopter production included Sikorsky from America, Bristol from Great Britain and Mil of the Soviet Union. There were however some smaller players fielding helicopter designs in the period; among them was the Czechoslovak firm, Aero.

Aero would be involved in the first, and thus far only, Czech domestically designed and produced helicopter: the Heli Baby.

A Complicated Birth 

Another view of the National Technical Museum’s VR-2

The late 1940s and early 1950s saw a tremendous amount of reorganization and nationalization that touched every company in the former Czechoslovakia. The Communist government, which took over the nation in 1948, went further to dictate exactly what certain companies could and could not produce.

Aero, a longstanding player in the country’s aviation sector, remained safe in aircraft production. However, the Praga company lost their aviation division and found themselves limited to truck production. This represents the first complication in the Heli Baby story; Jaroslav Šlechta, who designed the aircraft, was working for Praga at the time the company lost their aircraft division and had designed it while still employed by them. Praga’s aircraft operations ended up in Aero’s hands along with Šlechta and the Heli Baby design by the end of the 1940s.

The Aero name was firmly on the Heli Baby when construction of the prototype took place in 1951. The prototype’s much delayed first teathered flight took place in early 1954; by that time, Aero’s design department was being overseen by the Aeronautical Reaserch and Test Institute (VZLÚ). As a result of this organizational structure, some references give VZLÚ credit for the Heli Baby design.

By the time testing was finished and production approved in 1956, a further layer of confusion was added to the Heli Baby story when  VZLÚ placed the responsibility for production of the new aircraft in the hands of Moravian Otrokovice. This company was an ancestral form of today’s Zlín Aircraft company; this is why many references attach the Zlín name to the Heli Baby.

A Difficult Child 

An  HC-102 in the Brno Technical Museum. Brno, Czech Republic

Designations for the Heli Baby changed almost as often as those overseeing development of it did. Šlechta’s original design was designated XE-II; through testing and early production it was known as the HC-2 or VR-2 and by 1959, a reworked and improved version had been announced under the designation HC-102.

By the time the Heli Baby prototype made it’s first free flight in late 1954, it was lagging behind the designs of other manufacturers significantly. When production began in 1958, there were high expectations of the machine from both the civil sector and military and both side would be left dissapointed by the initial production version.

Known as the HC-2, the first production variant of the Heli Baby was left decidedly underpowered by it’s 82 horsepower Praga DH four cylinder engine. The Czechoslovak army was unimpressed and unwilling to accept the machine into service in that state and proceded to order  Soviet designed Mil Mi-1 and Mi-4 helicopters.

The HC-102’s Avia M-110 engine

1961 saw the first flight of the reworked HC-102 variant. The new Heli Baby version had been fitted with a four cylinder Avia M-110 engine of 117 horsepower. This increase of power was enough for the army to equip a single unit with the type for utility and training roles in the early 1960s. In army service, the aircraft was designated VR-2.

The aircraft was used by the army only very briefly for training and communications work before they handed their fleet over to Svazarm, an organization encouraging cooperation between civilians and the military in Czechoslovakia. Svazarm used the Heli Baby for flight training from 1963 to 1978.

The last Heli Baby was struck from the Czechoslovak civil register before the 1970s were out. The type was never exported. A total of 21 HC-102 aircraft were produced, including 15 HC-2 aircraft converted to HC-102 standard.

A Few Bright Spots 

HC-102 cockpit

Despite the fact that the Heli Baby’s prolonged and delayed development had seen it well surpassed by more matured helicopter designs by the time it was fit for service, the type did have some accomplishments to it’s credit.

In September of 1958, an HC-2 was flown from Prague to Brussels for the World’s Fair in a time of less than ten hours.

In 1959, the Heli Baby set two world speed records for helicopters of it’s  class over closed circuit courses.

In the civil sector, the aircraft found use in the film industries of Czechoslovakia and East Germany through the late 1950s to the late 1960s.

The Heli Baby was commemorated on a postal stamp issued by Czech Post in 2013.

The Heli Baby Today 

Another angle on the Brno Technical Museum’s HC-102

Today, there are five or six Heli Baby aircraft on display in museums across the Czech Republic and Slovakia, so there is the opportunity to see this obscure type if you visit these countries.

Not surprisingly, there are no airworthy examples of the Heli Baby surviving and that is likely to remain the case given both it’s rarity and obscurity.

While there is very little written about the type in English, the following two links will take you to brief English articles about it:

This link will take you to a photo gallery of the Heli Baby:

One of the Czech Republic´s “Few” Flies Again!

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:

An English language report can be found here:

A Blog in the Hangar


Time to Open the Hatches Again

Today has been a day of behind the scenes work at Pickled Wings.

All remaining 2015 posts have been moved from the main page to top or sidebar menus.

Additionally, the existing articles on the North American Texan/Harvard, T-28 Trojan and Praga Air Baby all received slight text revisions and partial photo refreshment.

The article on the Fouga Magister received a slight text revision and a link to a photogallery I created for it.

Thanks for your continued readership.

Olomouc Air Museum has a New Home!

This is just a brief update on the air museum of Olomouc, Czech Republic.

The museum was unable to open for the 2015 season due to losing residency in the buildings which housed them at the Olomouc airport.

Happily, the museum has managed to find new accommodation in the town of Koněšín, in the central highlands region of the Czech Republic. They officially reopened to the public on July, 2, 2016.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the reopening. However, I will be paying a visit at my nearest opportunity.

Some images of the reopening day can be found on the museum’s Facebook page:

Pardubice Aviation Fair, 2016

A pair of Pardubice based Aero L-39 Albatros trainers take off in preparation for the show’s opening flypast.

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.

Here’s a sampling of was was on hand on the day:

A very rare example of an airworthy Mráz M-1 Sokol. The Sokol was designed in secret during the Second World War and was Czechoslovakia’s first post war aircraft.
An example of the immortal Douglas Dakota made an appearance.
This Catalina flying boat came in from the UK.
Red Bull seems to be bringing more machines to the event every year. This former Luftwaffe Alpha Jet trainer was part of their contribution this year.
A Spitfire takes off for a performance early in the show.
A Czechoslovak interwar product, the Beneš-Mráz Be-50 Beta Minor was first flown in 1935.
This Mil Mi-24/35 Hind was part of the small modern military flight display.
This flypast from a Yakovlev Yak-40 was a welcome sighting of an increasingly rare aircraft type in European skies.
A Messerschmitt Me-262 fighter returning to the flight line after a spirited performance.
The Catalina was joined by a Grumman Avenger.
The Avenger, moments before landing.

Museum of Military History-Berlin, Germany

A selection of early flying machines on display in Hangar 3

Historical Planes in a Historical Place

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 infamous Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet rocket powered interceptor

Indoor Exhibitions

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.

The McDonnell Douglas F-4F Phantom II in Hangar 7

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.

An Ilyushin Il-28 bomber in the outdoor display area.

Outdoor Exhibitions

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.

The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, a ubiquitous shape in western European skies during the Cold War

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.

A trio of aircraft representing German naval aviation

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.

The former RAAF Dakota representing the Berlin Airlift.

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.

Something for the Sabre Fans

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 […]

via The Canadair Sabre — A 30-Year Retrospective 1986-2016 — CANAV Books Blog