Orličan L-40 Meta Sokol – Taking the Falcon Farther

An L-40 Meta Sokol at Čáslav, Czech Republic in 2015. The type's distinctive landing gear configuration clearly visible.
An L-40 Meta Sokol at Čáslav, Czech Republic in 2015. The type’s distinctive landing gear configuration clearly visible.

A Flustered Falcon

When Orličan’s LD-40 first flew in late March of 1956, it was more than just the prototype of the L-40 Meta Sokol aircraft; it was the successful culmination of great effort to improve upon the Mráz M-1 Sokol (Falcon).

Just as Orličan was a descendant company of the Mráz company, so was the Meta Sokol intended to be a descendant of the M-1 Sokol. In both cases, neither company nor aircraft was a direct descendant of their forbear and the corelation to their respective ancestors is rather convoluted as a result.

Orličan had its roots in the pre war Beneš-Mráz company. During World War II, the company was annexed by the Germans and forced to do work for the Luftwaffe; it emerged from the conflict simply as Mráz. Through a series of nationalisations and mergers of Czechoslovak companies in the late 1940s, Mráz was merged into and passed through several other companies before it emerged as the independant Orličan in 1955. One result of this is that Orličan aircraft are sometimes credited to other manufacturers in some references.

Mirroring the evolution of its creator, the L-40 Meta Sokol ended up being a much greater departure from the M-1 Sokol than originally intended. What was envisioned as a refined and improved version of the M-1, ultimately emerged as a completely new arcraft with little in common with the M-1 save the Sokol name and the same designer, Zdeněk Rublič.

Meta Sokol at Čáslav in 2015.
Meta Sokol at Čáslav in 2015.

A Delayed Successor

Designed by Zdeněk Rublič in secret during the Second World War, the M-1 Sokol was Czechoslovakia’s first post war aircraft design. It was a very clean touring and sport aircraft of laminated wood construction and, by most accounts, a pleasure to fly. Nearly 300 M-1 aircraft were produced across five variants and successful enough to justify further exploration of the design and development of a follow on to it.

Work began on the Sokol’s successor in October of 1949. Changes included full metal construction as opposed to the M-1’s wood construction, a new cabin design and wing refinements. Additionally, the new aircraft design incorporated a V-tail design; famously used by the Beech V-35 Bonanza and the Fouga Magister jet trainer, and a distinctive reversed tricycle landing gear configuration.

The new aircraft, designated XLD-40 Mír, flew for the first time in July of 1950 and exhibited quite unfavourable handling characteristics; These handling problems were traced to the V-tail configuration. At the same time, Czechoslovakia’s Socialist regime ordered a shift in industry priorities to favour projects which benefited the military; as a result, the XLD-40 was put to low importance and any adjustments and developments to it were done on a volunteer basis as time allowed.

By 1953, the Czechoslovak government had adjusted its priorities once more and work on the XLD-40 was officially reauthorized. With the aircraft back to higher priority, developments were accelerated and a revised XLD-40 took to the air in August of 1954 with the V-tail replaced with a conventional tail arrangement.

The reborn XLD-40 was still not perfect from a handling standpoint, though much had been learned in its development and these lessons were applied to the LD-40 pre production prototype which flew in March of 1956.

Meta Sokol at Čáslav in 2015
Meta Sokol at Čáslav in 2015

Into Production and Around the World

Production of the L-40 Meta Sokol commenced in December of 1957 and concluded in December of 1959 after a total of 106 aircraft had been completed; 60% of these aircraft were exported and found use in nearly 20 countries outside of Czechoslovakia. The most significant export customers of the type were Australia, Great Britain and the former West Germany.

In the main, the aircraft was marketed as a light touring aircraft and navigation trainer with accomodation for three passengers plus the pilot. Like the M-1 Sokol that went before it, the L-40 had pleasant flying characteristics. However, it could present a challenge in ground handling when crosswinds were present.

The L-40 was of lightweight construction and possessed quite respectable range for an aircraft of it engine class. It also had several design features which set it apart from other aircraft of its period.

The reverse tricycle landing gear arrangement, so distinctive to the type, was adopted primarily to improve the pilot’s view of the runway during taxiing, take offs and landings. Unusually, rather than having a traditional tricycle landing gear configuration equiped with a nose landing gear, the Meta Sokol’s design was derived by replacing the M-1 Sokol’s traditional tail wheel with a more robust gear leg located located to a position just aft of the aircraft’s cabin.

Aside of the improved visibility for the pilot, the relocated tailwheel was able to be fully retracted into the fuselage for better aerodynamics in flight. The trade off of the reverse tricycle landing gear arrangement was that it reduced the aircraft’s wheel base and made it much more sensitive to crosswinds during ground handling and during take offs and landings. Such qualities required the pilot to be particularly attentive with the aircraft during these phases of flight.

The L-40 was also designed to incorporate a degree of component commonality. The wing flaps and ailerons were not handed nor were the horizontal tail surfaces. This allowed not only greater ease of maintenance when replacing parts, but also it reduced the amount of tooling required at the factory for the manufacture of those components.

One of the few design features that the L-40 inherited from the M-1 was main landing gear legs which intruded minimally into the wing construction. With the exception of a small percentage of the tires retracting into unobtrusive hollows in the wing, the remainder of the main langing gear legs simply retracted against the wing surface. This arrangement had the added advantage of reducing structural damage if the aircraft was force to make a belly landing.

Owing to the short period the type was in production and the modest number made, the L-40 only ever existed in one basic version.

In contexts of time frame, development, dimensions and performance, the Italian designed Piaggio P.149 could be considered one of the Meta Sokol’s closest contemporaries despite the fact that the Italian aircraft outnumbered the L-40 in production numbers and spent most of its time in military service while the Meta Sokol was exclusive to civil aviation.

Meta Sokol at Čáslav in 2013.
Meta Sokol at Čáslav in 2013.

The Meta Sokol Today and Learning More

Due to a relatively small production run, the L-40 Meta Sokol is not a common sight today and has a fairly sporadic distribution worldwide. Happily, as of 2015, there were at least 20 of the type listed as active between Australian, Czech, German and Slovak civil registers as well as technical support still available for it.

If you see a Meta Sokol, take some time to enjoy the sight and take some pictures if you can, it might be a while before you see another.

This link will take you to a brief write up of the type and some photos of one of the pre production prototypes which is on display at the Kbely Air Museum in Prague, Czech Republic:

https://translate.google.cz/translate?hl=en&sl=cs&u=http://www.vhu.cz/exhibit/letoun-orlican-l-40-meta-sokol-vyr-c-002/&prev=search

The Last Dambuster Pilot, Squadron Leader Les Munro, Has Slipped the Surly Bonds

Today, August 4 of 2015, saw the passing of the last surviving pilot of the Dambuster raids in World War Two.

John Leslie Munro, a Royal New Zealand Air Force veteran, passed away in hospital in his native New Zealand at the age of 96 following heart problems.

With his passing, only two crew members of the Dambuster missions are known to survive; Fred Sutherland from Canada who served as a front gunner and George Johnson of the UK who was a bomb aimer.

This link will take you to a news article detailing Mr. Munro’s military service and passing:
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-33769486

This link is to an interview with Munro which was part of a 2013 BBC special on the 70th anniversary of the Dambuster missions:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0193kx5

On behalf of Pickled Wings and its readership, I extend thanks to Squadron Leader Munro and all New Zealand veterans for their service and deepest condolences to Mr. Munro’s family.

Kia Kaha
Kia Maia
Kia Manawanui

Be Strong
Be Brave
Be Steadfast

Freshening up the Paint – Updates to Pages

The last couple of months have been busy for my camera and I as far as aviation subjects are concerned, so it’s time to sort through pictures and update some of the existing pages in the drop down menus at the top of the blog page.

Please take some time to visit the following pages which have had some or all of their photographs updated:

1920-1939
Avia BH.1
Beech Model 18
Bucker Bu-131 Jungmann
DeHavilland DH.60 Moth
Stearman Model 75

1939-1949
Aero Ae-45 and Ae-145
Yakovlev Yak-3

1950-1959
Ilyushin Il-14 “Crate”
North American T-28 Trojan

1960-1979
Zlín/Let Z-37 Čmelák

1990-2000
Aero Ae-270 Ibis

Pardubice Aviation Fair, 2015 Edition

Yesterday, I went to the central Czech city of Pardubice for their annual Aviation Fair. It was a largely vintage affair this year with a few modern military acts thrown into the mix.

It was relentlessly hot and sunny, so heat distortion was a constant problem for taking photographs. However, here’s a few of the better shots on the day for your perusal:

The gorgeous Lockheed P-38 Lightning from the Red Bull fleet.
The gorgeous Lockheed P-38 Lightning from the Red Bull fleet.

A Hispano HA-1112 Buchón dressed up as a Messerschmitt Bf-109.
A Hispano HA-1112 Buchón dressed up as a Messerschmitt Bf-109.

An Aero Ae-145 from the Czech civil register.
An Aero Ae-145 from the Czech civil register.

A Czech air force Mi-24 Hind in a special scheme to commemorate Czechoslovak airmen who served in the RAF in WWII. It's based on the camouflage used on Liberator bombers in RAF Coastal Command.
A Czech air force Mi-24 Hind in a special scheme to commemorate Czechoslovak airmen who served in the RAF in WWII. It’s based on the camouflage used on Liberator bombers in RAF Coastal Command.

Czech aerobatics and fighter pilot, Martin Šonka, wows the crowd.
Czech aerobatics and fighter pilot, Martin Šonka, wows the crowd.

A Hawker Hurricane goes aloft to take part in a WWII aircraft formation.
A Hawker Hurricane goes aloft to take part in a WWII aircraft formation.

This Lockheed Electra 10A recently came "home" to the Czech lands after 75 years away.
This Lockheed Electra 10A recently came “home” to the Czech lands after 75 years away.

Shining in the sun, the Red Bull B-25 Mitchell makes a fly past.
Shining in the sun, the Red Bull B-25 Mitchell makes a fly past.

Peggy Walentin, a wing walker in from Austria.
Peggy Walentin, a wing walker in from Austria.

A Beech C-45, formerly of the British civil register, now under Czech ownership.
A Beech C-45, formerly of the British civil register, now under Czech ownership.

An Mi-17 and Mi-24 of the Czech air force "rescue" a downed airman.
An Mi-17 and Mi-24 of the Czech air force “rescue” a downed airman.

A DeHavilland DH-82 Tiger Moth buzzes past the crowd.
A DeHavilland DH-82 Tiger Moth buzzes past the crowd.

Lockheed Electra 10A Flies Home After 75 Years!

Today, after four years of rebuilding and restoration in America, a 1937 vintage Lockheed Electra 10A touched down in Prague after a journey which started on May 21. It’s believed to be the only airworthy example of its type anywhere.

The aircraft has quite a history. It was initially intended to go to Amelia Earhart, but was instead purchased directly off the assembly line by Czech businessman Jan Antonin Bata who used it for business purposes. At the time the Munich Agreement was signed, the aircraft was in Krakow, Poland on business while Bata himself was in the UK. After contacting Bata, the crew were ordered to fly the aircraft the Yugoslavia and then to the UK via Greece and France. After arriving in the UK, the aircraft was pressed into RAF service and two of its crew joined the RAF.

In the postwar years, the aircraft served in the Royal Canadian Air Force and then a series of civilian owners in North America.

Here’s a link to the story covering today’s arrival:

http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/batas-lockheed-electra-plane-returns-after-more-than-75-years

This article from International Pilot, just before the flight home took place, gives a bit further insight into the aircraft’s restoration:

http://www.international-pilot.com/bata-lockheed-electra-returns-home-to-czech-republic/

Though I could not be in Prague to see the aircraft come home today, I very much look forward to seeing it at shows in the future.

Čáslav Open Day, 2015

Yesterday was the biannual open day at the Czech air force base in Čáslav, in the central part of the country. While the weather was far from optimal for good photography, there was a good cross section of military and civil types spanning vintage to modern.

Here’s a bit of what was available to be seen on the day:

The old guard, a MiG-21 kept preserved at Čáslav. The Gripen replaced it in Czech service in 2005.
The old guard, a MiG-21 kept preserved at Čáslav. The Gripen replaced it in Czech service in 2005.

Special 10th anniversary tail art on a Czech Gripen.
Special 10th anniversary tail art on a Czech Gripen.

A PZL SW-4 helicopter, a CASA 295 transport and an F-16 fighter in from Poland.
A PZL SW-4 helicopter, a CASA 295 transport and an F-16 fighter in from Poland.

The extremely rare Ae-270 Ibis. This is possibly the only flying example these days.
The extremely rare Ae-270 Ibis. This is possibly the only flying example these days.

A Beech T-34 Mentor and a DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver in the vintage section.
A Beech T-34 Mentor and a DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver in the vintage section.

A Pilatus P.2 and Beach C-45 also in the vintage section.
A Pilatus P.2 and Beach C-45 also in the vintage section.

A Swedish Gripen getting airborne.
A Swedish Gripen getting airborne.

A special 10 ship Gripen formation to mark a decade of the type in Czech service.
A special 10 ship Gripen formation to mark a decade of the type in Czech service.

A Czech CASA 295 transport pulls up from a touch-and-go landing.
A Czech CASA 295 transport pulls up from a touch-and-go landing.

This Z-37T AgroTurbo put in one of the more spirited performances on the day.
This Z-37T AgroTurbo put in one of the more spirited performances on the day.

A Spitfire Mk.XVI taxiing back from its performance.
A Spitfire Mk.XVI taxiing back from its performance.

A Belgian F-16 taxis back after an incredible solo routine.
A Belgian F-16 taxis back after an incredible solo routine.

Olomouc Air Museum – Looking for a New Home

Just a few of the aircraft in the  Olomouc museum's collection.
Just a few of the aircraft in the Olomouc museum’s collection.

At a time when museums and other facilities that close for the winter months are reopening their doors for a new exhibition season, the Olomouc Air Museum has found themselves in search of a new home instead.

According to the museum website, the airport came under new management and the lease on the hangars the museum occupied was terminated in favour of demolishing the buildings for the value of the metal in their structures.

This development is is a very unfortunate one on a number of fronts, not the least of which is that it renders the great deal of work that has already been done by museum volunteers, and the assistance of companies such as Honeywell and the like, to improve the museum and its facilities at the location largely a waste of effort and resources. The carpet has essentially been pulled out from under the museum.

It is also unfortunate as the hangars themselves had some historical value, having been used by the Soviet military during the Socialist era. While they are in a very dilapidated state, remnants of Cyrillic text can still be discerned on their walls. It would be interesting to know what, if any, restoration potential they possess.

The museum’s collection of aircraft has some very rare specimens which include a prototype of the ill fated Let-610 commuter aircraft, a prototype example of the Aero L-29 Delfin trainer, one of two L-13 Blaník gliders which were used in jet propulsion experiments and a Tupolev Tu-154 airliner which was used as the presidential transport for the late Václav Havel.

According to their website, the museum seems optimistic that the city of Olomouc will grant them some assistance; hopefully that optimism is justified. In the meantime, the museum will be operating as a travelling exhibition moving from one locality in the Czech Republic to another on a monthly basis.

You can find a link to the museum’s website in my main article about it in the “Museums & Organisations” section in the sidebar. The site has a multilingual translator function, so you can read the museum’s statement on the matter in a language of your choosing. The article also contains a link to the museum’s Facebook page.

It goes without saying, that I hope a satisfactory solution can be found in the near future to find new housing for the museum. I also hope the museum can stay in Olomouc, which is a very nice and historic city quite worth visiting on its own merits.

For Readership in the Czech Republic – Pro čtenáře v České republice

If the museum travels to your area during 2015, be sure to visit and show your support for them.

If you are from Olomouc or the immediate area, please urge the city to assist the museum and keep it in the city. Olomouc is a great town to visit thanks to attractions like this museum. With proper housing and strong local support, this museum has a great deal of potential.

It would be a pity for Olomouc to lose the museum.

Pokud muzeum přijede v roce 2015 do vašeho regionu, určitě ho navštivte a projevte mu podporu.

Jestli jste z Olomouce nebo okolí, prosím, vyviňte tlak na magistrát, aby muzeum ve městě udržel. Olomouc je díky takovým zajímavostem jako je toto muzeum skvělým návštěvním cílem. V muzeu, pokud bude mít dobré zázemí a silnou místní podporu, se skrývá velký potenciál.

Byla by škoda, kdyby Olomouc o muzeum přišla.