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: