Kbely Aviation Museum, Prague, Czech Republic

A Tupolev Tu-104 airliner in Czechoslovak Airlines colours.
A Tupolev Tu-104 airliner in Czechoslovak Airlines colours.

On Hallowed Aviation Ground

Kbely airport, located in the north east suburbs of Prague, is used today as a transport base by the Czech air force and a place for Czech and international dignitaries to come and go from the city by air. However, Kbely can trace its history back to 1918; in almost 100 years of history it has served as Prague’s first airport, Czechoslovakia’s first military airport, the departure point of Czechoslovak Airlines’ first scheduled flight in 1923 and hosted many major public airshows through the interwar era. As such, it is quite fitting that the Czech Republic’s largest aviation museum should be located here.

In conjunction with the nearby Letňany airfield, which was established in 1923, Kbely as been witness to many national and international aviation events over the decades. In its lifetime, Letňany has at various times been home to three major Czech aircraft manufacturers as well as aeronautical research and testing facilities of international repute.

This corner of Prague is indeed a very appropriate place for a major aviation museum.

SPAD XIII in the First World War collection
SPAD XIII in the First World War collection

A Well Rounded Collection

The air museum at Kbely was established in 1968 and comes under the authority of the Military Historic Institute in Prague. The museum collection numbers well over 200 aircraft, though only a fraction of them are on display at any given time. Beyond the aircraft themselves are several preserved engines and other artifacts.

The exhibits are split between indoor and outdoor displays and are primarily organised by era with hangars dedicated to the Czechoslovak air force in World War One and the interwar period, World War Two, early jets and Czech aviation from 1945 to 1990.

Outdoor displays are sorted into type with areas dedicated to transport aircraft, fighters and helicopters.

A domestic product of the interwar period: The Avia B-534 fighter.
A domestic product of the interwar period: The Avia B-534 fighter.

Proud Local Production

As might be expected, this museum puts primary emphasis on the long and rich aviation heritage of the Czech lands. Names of local manufactures such as Aero, Avia, Let, Letov, Praga, Zlín and others take prominence here.

Here’s but a small sampling of the significant Czech designed and produced aircraft you can see at Kbely:

Letov S.2
A development of the S.1 light bomber which was designed shortly after the First World War; this aircraft family incorporated quite modern construction methods for the time, such as a formed plywood fuselage, and were proof that Czechoslovakia’s fledgling domestic aircraft industry could create a military aircraft which was competitive with established European manufacturers.

Avia B-534
A gracefully streamlined and swift biplane fighter series which was the backbone fighter of the interwar Czechoslovak fighter force.

Zlín XII
A twin seat sports and touring aircraft of the mid 1930s. It was Zlín’s first major aircraft design and very popular internationally seeing significant export sales.

Mraz M-1 Sokol
Czechoslovakia’s first domestically designed and produced aircraft after the end of World War II. It was designed completely in secret during the war while the company was forced to produce aircraft for the German war effort.

Aero Ae-45
An early post World War II twin engine multi-place aircraft which saw much international popularity as an air taxi among many other roles.

A selection of locally produced Walter engines on display.
A selection of locally produced Walter engines on display.

Let L-13 Blaník
The world’s most produced sailplane, the Blaník has seen worldwide export, has served as a training aircraft for countless gliding clubs around the world and taken numerous prizes in gliding competitions over the years since it first flew in the 1950s.

Aero L-29 Delfin
The first jet aircraft designed and built by Czech hands; the Delfin spent many years as the standard basic jet trainer of Warsaw Pact nations and enjoys success today in vintage aircraft circles.

Walter Engines
Of course, any country with a thriving aviation industry will be an attractive place to set up a company specializing in engines for all those local flying machines. As far as Czechoslovak aviation is concerned, Walter is the name of prominence when it comes to aero engines. Many engines with the Walter trademark on them are on display around the museum.

A Saab J-37 Viggen, gifted to the museum from Sweden after the Viggen force was retired.
A Saab J-37 Viggen, gifted to the museum from Sweden after the Viggen force was retired.

An International Flavour

It’s not all local produce at Kbely, a selection of international aircraft have found their way into the collection and some of them have quite interesting stories:

In the early 1990s, the Royal Air Force presented one of their recently retired F-4 Phantom II fighters to the museum as a gesture of gratitude to the Czechoslovak airmen who served in the RAF during the Second World War.

Along similar lines, the museum also has a former Vietnamese air force F-5 fighter which was given as a gift by the Vietnamese government in gratitude of the many Vietnam War refugees that the former Czechoslovakia took in following that conflict.

The restored fuselage of a Saunders Roe A.19 Cloud flying boat has a very interesting story indeed. It was used by Czechoslovak Airlines in the 1930s and then spent many years as a private house boat after it was decommissioned. It was found quite by chance several years later and purchased by the museum for restoration.

Soyuz 28 re-entry capsule.
Soyuz 28 re-entry capsule.

The Sky is Not the Limit

A particularly interesting exhibit at Kbely is the scorched re-entry capsule from the Soyuz 28 mission of 1978.

This capsule has its place at Kbely as Czech cosmonaut, Vladimír Remek, was aboard it. Remek’s place on that mission was not significant only to his homeland but also to international space exploration as he was the first person in space who was neither an American or Soviet citizen.

What will jump out at you about this capsule is just how little room there was in the thing. Soyuz 28 was a two man mission; the capsule on display has a single mannequin inside it with full space suit for scale and for the life of me I can’t imagine how two people got in there.

Paying a Visit

The Kbely museum is not at all difficult to access by Prague’s public transport system and entry to the museum is free of charge.

The museum is open from May to October everyday except Mondays from 10:00 to 18:00.

Follow this link to the Military Historic Institute website for full information on the Kbely museum and other museums under the institute’s authority:

http://www.vhu.cz/english-summary/

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