Feeding A Hunger
The interwar period saw an increasing interest in aviation among the public of many nations around the world. It was in this period that general aviation was born; the First World War had demonstrated quite clearly that the airplane could be practical rather than simply the plaything of eccentric dreamers, as early aviators were often considered to be.
The Praga company, founded in 1907 and still operating today, merged with Czechoslovak engineering giant ČKD in 1929 and produced a selection of aircraft through the 1930s. The E.114 Air Baby, which was aimed at the growing sport touring aircraft market, took to the air for the first time in Autumn of 1934 and would see production both before and after the Second World War.
The Air Baby, so named for its very light weight, spent most of its life firmly in the civil aviation sector and set many records for distance and speed in its class as well as taking victory in a number of international air rallies.
The E.114 was a very clean, efficient and modern design for its time. In a period where open cockpit biplanes with wire braced, fabric covered wings and fuselages were still in abundance; the Air Baby was a monoplane of all wood, internally braced construction with a fully enclosed cockpit. It also had a single piece wing and accommodated two people in a side by side arrangement.
The weight savings and aerodynamic benefits that the Air Baby’s all wood construction and internally braced wing produced allowed the aircraft to be powered by a substantially smaller and less powerful engine than many other aircraft of its class could use. The Praga B series engines fitted to the E.114B versions were two cylinder engines of roughly 40 horsepower; though low on power, the B series engines were noted for low fuel consumption.
After a series of demonstrations across Europe and being shown at the 1934 Paris air salon, enough interest had been generated in the Air Baby that a license for production in the United Kingdom was granted. A total of around 40 E.114B aircraft were constructed by F. Hills & Sons Ltd. of Manchester along with approximately 135 Praga B2 engines built by Jowett Cars Ltd. of Bradford. The British produced aircraft were marketed under the name Hillson Praga. Several were used by a flight school in Manchester while several others reached other points in the UK or were exported.
Other interwar developments of the E.114 included the E.114D, which was powered by a four cylinder engine, as well as the E.115 and E.117 which both featured significant revisions to the wing and fuselage design. Additionally, a single example of the radial engined E.214 variant was built.
While the German occupation of Czechoslovakia interrupted Air Baby production, the aircraft had already left a big mark on the international aviation landscape. Among the aircraft’s interwar accomplishments for its class were:
A world record of 1020 kilometers flying without landing.
Flying non-stop from Prague to Constantinople, a distance of 1560 Kilometers.
A world record flight from Prague to Moscow, 1680 kilometers, in 15 and a half hours.
An English record flight of 14,722 kilometers between London and Cape town in 16 days.
In its E.115 variation, it set two world records for speed in a straight line and new world records for altitude in both one person and two person categories.
Life After War
In 1946, Praga reopened the Air baby production line with the E.114D version and its four cylinder Praga D engine. By 1947, the E.114M version with a more powerful four cylinder Walter Mikron engine was introduced as the last member of the aircraft family.
While the bulk of pre war Air Babies, both Praga and Hillson versions, did not survive the war; post war versions proved popular as touring and training as well as glider tug aircraft in several countries around Europe.
Total pre and post war production came to around 275 airframes . The aircraft enjoyed export success to such countries as: Algeria, Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Romania and Switzerland.
Through the 1960s, with Praga having turned its attentions away from aviation as well as superior aircraft being introduced, the Air Baby faded from favour. Through the late 1980s and the 1990s, none were airworthy.
The Air Baby has not fared so well in retirement and your chances of seeing one are slim indeed if you don’t travel to Europe. Of the 275 or so built, the only three examples known to survive intact are to be found there.
Happily, over a six year period spanning 2003 to 2009, an E.114M was restored to airworthy condition and placed on the Swiss civil register as HB-UAF. It does sometimes make appearances at aviation events in Europe.
Another former Swiss E.114M, HB-UAD, was returned to the Czech lands and reconstructed to E.114B status with an original Praga B2 engine. On the Czech civil register as OK-TAU, it has been gracing Czech Skies since late 2015.
The third surviving Air Baby is an E.114D which is on display in the Kbely Air Museum in Prague, Czech Republic. It is not airworthy.
The following two links will take you to pages relating to the reconstruction of OK-TAU. The translation is a bit rough in spots, but there’s quite a few interesting pictures of the reconstruction process:
This link will take you to a brief overview of HB-UAF: