By: Norman Hanson
Patrick Stephens Ltd. (1979)
Silvertail Books (2016)
This book is considered by many notable authors and critics to be one of the best pilots’ memoirs of the Second World War.
The author, Norman Hanson, served in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (FAA) as a pilot of Vought Corsair fighters in the Pacific Theatre of Operations and this book follows him from recuitment into the service to commanding officer of a fighter squadron.
He gives very good insights into the various aircraft he flew from the basic trainers he experienced in America to the Fairey Fulmar that he trained and qualified for carrier operations in. Ultimately, the Corsair fighter itself gets the spotlight and it’s a very enlightnening look at real life operations with the legendary carrier borne fighter in both shipboard and land based operations.
The book balances levity and poignancy particularly well. Efforts made to break up off duty boredom are interspersed well against sad tales of losing friends in battle or to accidents.
The unforgiving nature of the Corsair fighter is highlighted many times. Very clearly, it was not a machine that tolerated a lot of cockiness or complacency from the pilot.
The book is a very enjoyable read overall; the only thing I can bring against it is that it contains a fair bit of slang that is either period or service specific and some explanatory footnotes would not have gone amiss for those not familiar with it.
I definitely recommend this book for carrier aviation fans, Fleet Air Arm fans and those who like a well written combat memoir.
This link will take you to the book’s page on the Silvertail Books website:
This post is most specifically aimed at my readership in the United Kingdom. However, if you’re from points further afield you may still be able to help.
I’ve just become aware that on June 25, 2017, vandals broke into the East Midlands Aeropark and did damage to the museum shop and hangar.
While I have not visited the museum myself, I am aware of the very good reputation it has and one day hope to pay it a visit.
Having done volunteer work at museums in the past, I’m well aware that the museum business is difficult enough without vandals making things harder.
The museum has a crowdfunding project underway to raise funds for repairs. They have a goal to reach GBP 5,000 and, at the time of writing this, there are 19 days remaining on the crowdfunding project for them to achieve that goal.
Here is a link to the crowdfunding project if you wish to help:
Following up on my visit to the open day event hosted by the Kunovice Air Museum and Slovácký Aeroklub last weekend, I’ve put together this summary of some of the more visible progress that the museum has made between my last visit, in autumn of 2016, and now:
Bringing in the New
The museum used the open day event to give the public their first view of the newest addition to the museum collection, a freshly restored Let/Zlín Z-37 TM.
The Z-37 TM is a truly one of a kind aircraft that you won’t see anywhere else. In the mid 1980s, a Z-37 T agricultural aircraft was modified for testing the type’s suitability for military close support missions. The tests were unsuccessful and the aircraft was reverted to agricultural configuration and returned to cropdusting work.
After several years of flying on the Czech Register as OK-PJD, the aircraft was transfered to Hungary and languished in outdoor storage there.
In recent years, the museum has successfully worked towards locating and returning the precise aircraft used in the Z-37 TM tests to the Czech lands for restoration.
Over the break between the end of the 2016 season and start of the 2017 season, museum workers have transformed the faded and tired looking assemblage of components that they brought back from Hungary into a first rate restoration of a unique and not so well known chapter of Czech aviation history.
The Nagano Express
The big story of both 2015 and 2016 for the museum was the mind-boggling logistics and bureaucracy of securing and transporting a former Czech air force Tupolev Tu-154 airliner from Prague to Kunovice. This particular airliner was named “Nagano Express” as it was used to fly the gold medal winning Czech hockey team home from the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan
Through a lot of weekend trips to Prague by museum volunteers over a two year period to prepare the aircraft for dismantlement and ground transport and the most successful, to date, internet crowdfunding project in the Czech Republic to ensure not only the costs of transport but many costs relating to further restorations, the aircraft arrived at Kunovice in September of 2016 and placed on supports by a pair of cranes.
As one would expect of a larger aircraft, work on the “Nagano Express” will take some time to complete.
Since arriving in Kunovice, the aircraft’s inner wing sections with main landing gear units have been attached and she’s now off support blocks and standing on her own three landing gear legs.
Additionally, the aircraft’s vertical tail fin has been attached and I have no doubt that quite a bit of internal work has also taken place since arrival in 2016.
Meeting an Old Friend
During the 2014 season opening day at the museum, I purchased a sight seeing flight in a 1954 vintage Zlín Z-126 training aircraft known as OK-IFG on the Czech civil register.
OK-IFG and I spent 20 minutes or so flying over the local countryside and a couple of the more well known tourist attraction of the area. I even got about five minutes of “stick time” controling the aircraft.
After being built in 1954, OK-IFG spent much of the earlier part of her flying career in the Olomouc flying club. She was put in storage for an approximate ten year period before being brought back to flying status in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
OK-IFG spent the bulk of her later flying years in the hands of the Slovácký Aeroklub in Kunovice and was eventually painted in pseudo-military colours.
All aircraft must stop flying at some point and OK-IFG was struck from the register in early 2015 and given to the museum by the flying club.
The 2017 open day was the first time I’d seen OK-IFG since the 2014 flight. While her paint is looking rather faded, she looks quite solid and well looked after in all other aspects.
The Fresh Look is No Ilyushin
One of the museum’s longer term and most visible residents is the Avia Av-14 transport, the Czechoslovak license built version of the Ilyushin Il-14, that greets visitors just inside the museum’s entry gate.
Through the 2016-2017 off-season, museum workers gave the aircraft’s VIP configured interior a much needed refurbishment. Everything from the passenger cabin to the kitchen, lavatory and flight crew stations was refreshed.
For many years, the interiors were looking tired. Upholstery and carpets were looking tattered, faded, stained or otherwise less than presentable while the kitchen, lavatory and flight crew stations all needed a good clean up and fresh paint in places.
Walking through the aircraft interior in 2017, the visitor is presented with a much cleaner and brighter look that befits a VIP.
Fresh carpets, uphostery and paint are in and years of dreariness are out. The flight crew stations look appropriate to an aircraft that is still in service and awaiting the next mission.
Also important ot note. Improvements to the Av-14 didn’t stop with the interiors, both propellors got a much needed fresh coat of paint in the off-season.
Another long term exhibit at the museum is a selection of Cold War era bombs that sit between a pair of Sukhoi Su-7 strike aircraft and represent weapons typically carried by that aircraft type in service.
Prior to the 2016 season, when the bombs recieved a much needed restoration and repaint, they were a said sight indeed. Up until then, they had all been showing signs of corrosion and were positioned in a rather haphazard arrangement between the aircraft.
In 2016, after the repaint, they were arranged in a more orderly fashion based on size. However, they were still sat upon some unpresentable and deteriorating wooden loading pallets.
Happily, the 2017 season sees the collection of bombs presented on a very nice, new block of concrete that fits their recently refreshed appearances.
I have no idea what the plans for the Sukhois either side of the bombs are, but the only thing that could make the bombs look better would be to freshen their associated aircraft.
I hope one day to see that happen.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this update of the Kunovice air museum. In the near future I will be updating my main article on the facility.
On a more protracted timescale, my existing article on the Let L-200 Morava will be subjected to both photographic and text updates through the year.
Partly, this is because I’ve recently made contact with a pilot of the type in the Czech Republic who has kindly provided me scans of some original marketing brochures from the 1960s that will no doubt help to expand the article.
Additionally, 2017 marks the 60th anniversary of the Morava’s first flight. The air museum in Kunovice has put together a special exhibition relating to this and I plan to visit it during the summer months.
May 20, 2017 saw me take a trip to Čáslav air base in the central part of the Czech Republic to partake in the biannual open day there. The weather was overcast all day, but thankfully the rain in the forecast stayed away.
I have to say that I came away with some mixed feelings about the 2017 edition of the event. The static display areas were much larger than in previous years, but I’m not sure the best use of the available space was made to best accomodate both those who were looking at the statics and those watching the dynamic show. Many of the static aircraft were placed between the crowd and the dynamic showline. As such, I had trouble getting close to some static aircraft because of people watching the dynamic show from in front of static display areas.
The increased size of the event also led to and increased size of crowd. The result of that was the special train running from the Čáslav rail station to the air base was inadequate for moving the volume of people going there and back in a timely manner.
Hopefully, these matters will be better handled at the next open day.
That said, here’s a small sampling of what was available to be seen on the day:
The name Beneš-Mráz may not be well known outside the Czech lands, the company only existed from 1935 to 1939. However, in that short window of time, the company produced no fewer than 14 aircraft designs for the civil market.
The company was founded by accomplished aviation engineer Pavel Beneš and businessman Jaroslav Mráz. Previous to partnering with Mráz, Beneš had founded the famous Avia company in 1919 with fellow engineer Miroslav Hajn. Beneš also spent time working in the aircraft division of the Praga company before partnering with Mráz in the mid 1930s and setting up a factory in Cocheň in the northern part of today’s Czech Republic. By 1939, Beneš had divested himself of his part of the company and it was renamed Mráz to reflect the change in ownership.
Through the German occupation of World War II, the rise and fall of Socialism and a number of name changes of the years; the legacy of Beneš-Mráz has carried on to today in the form of Orličan a.s., a sailplane manufacturer that continues to operate in their ancestral home of Cocheň.
The Be-50 Beta Minor: A Solid Start
Summer of 1935 saw the first flight of the first aircraft type designed by the newly established Beneš-Mráz company, the Be-50 Beta Minor.
The Beta Minor was designed for touring, training and sport flying and proved an excellent start for the company. The aircraft was a very clean design with viceless handling qualities that made it popular with flying clubs of Czechoslovakia at the time.
With a large part of the airframe comprised of wood, the Beta Minor was, at 460 kilograms, a light yet sturdy aircraft. It was powered by a domestically designed and built Walter Minor four cylinder engine that could propel the aircraft to a very respectable top speed of 195 kilometers per hour. A combination of light weight and efficient design gave the Beta Minor a range of 750 kilometers without refueling. The aircraft gave a quite good account of itself at a number of distance based races in the late 1930s.
Outside of being very much a pilot’s plane, the Be-50 was also appreciated for mechanical reliability, ease of maintenance and very good short take off and landing performance. A total of 43 Be-50 aircraft were made in the original run by Beneš-Mráz and developed further via the Be-51 series in 1936.
The Be-51 was based on the Be-50, but featured a fully enclosed cockpit and a somewhat shortened wingspan; these modifications gave the Be-51 improved speed and aerobatic ability over the Be-50. The Be-50 shared the Beta Minor name with the Be-51.
In the Reich and the Resistance
As with so many other domestically developed aircraft in Czechoslovakia, the existing Be-50 and Be-51 aircraft in the country were commandeered for Luftwaffe service with the 1939 arrival of German occupational forces.
The Luftwaffe made use of both Be-50 and Be-51 types for liason and training work.
Beta Minors also found their way into the service of the Independent State of Croatia and the Slovak State, two German friendly puppet states that existed during the Second World War. The aircraft were primarily used as trainers and couriers by both bodies.
A strong anti-Axis partisan resistance movement rose up in Yugoslavia through the Second World War and at least one Beta Minor aircraft was captured from Croatian hands by partisan forces late in the conflict.
Very few Beta Minors survived the war and those which did were destroyed soon after the end of hostilities.
The Be-50 Today and Further Reading
For many years, the world had no extant examples of the Beta Minor in any form.
Happily, the original plans of the Be-50 have survived to the present and through several years of careful work in the early 2000s, the Military Historic Institute of the Czech Republic (VHU) built a fully fresh Be-50 faithfully following the original plans. The aircraft was put on static display to the public in 2013 and flew for the first time in 2015. It’s currently active on the Czech civil register and makes appearances at shows around the country.
The aircraft has a few concessions made for modern aviation regualtions and was given construction number 44 to fit in with the original 43 made by Beneš-Mráz themselves so many years before. It is considered a true Be-50 rather than a replica in many quarters.
When it is not flying, it is usually kept on display at the Methodius Vlach Aviation Museum in Mladá Boleslav, north east of Prague in the Czech Republic.
The following links have all been through a translator function and their English is somewhat rough as a result. However, they do contain a good amount of information about the original Be-50 development as well as the new built example: