Tatra Aircraft, Skywards So Briefly
The name Tatra belongs to one of the oldest still active automotive manufacturers in the world, it’s a name that conjures up images of land vehicles ranging from horse carriages, locomotives, heavy trucks and luxury cars. What few people familiar with the Tatra company and its products are aware of is the firm’s brief foray into aviation during the mid to late 1930s.
Beginning in 1934, Tatra took on some very talented aviation designers and opened an aviation division in 1935. The first aircraft Tatra produced were a small number of Bucker Bu-131 Jungmann trainers; following that, they produced at least one Avro 626 Avian trainer.
The company’s first original aircraft design appeared in 1937 and was designated T.001; with some refinements, the T.001 became the T.101.
While only a single T.101 was ever built, its accomplishments during a brief flying career were far from insignificant and its place in aviation history much more important than one might at first imagine. Indeed, it was a critical developmental step in the creation of the post war Zlín Tréner series of training and aerobatic aircraft.
Revolutionary Record Setter
From a design and performance standpoint, the T.101 was a remarkable achievement for single engine, two place touring aircraft of its era.
The T.101’s wing was a complex, single unit which the fuselage could be attached to the top of rather than two separate wings attaching to either side of the fuselage. At a span of 13 metres, the T.101’s was the largest wooden wing built in Europe prior to the Second World War.
The T.101 had a fuel capacity of 500 litres. With a full fuel load, it could maintain 30 hours of flight time and travel a distance of almost 5000 Kilometres in ideal flying conditions. The maximum operating altitude for the T.101 was 8,000 metres.
Tatra used the T.101 to set a number of altitude and distance records which included a non stop flight from Prague, Czechoslovakia to Khartoum, Sudan in 1938 that covered a distance of 4,340 Kilometres.
Also in 1938, the aircraft was used to set altitude records for single and two seat aircraft possessing engine capacities between 2 and 4 litres. On the morning of March 16 of that year, with two people aboard, the T.101 set a new height record for two seat aircraft of the class when it reached 7,113 metres. On the afternoon of the same day, with only one person aboard, the T.101 went aloft to set a new height record for single seat aircraft of the class. It reached an altitude of 7,470 metres, breaking the existing record by around 1,000 metres.
The last flight of the original T.101 is acknowledged to have taken place in October of 1938.
T.101.2 Replica, To Rise Again
In 2008, a pair of Czech brothers finished construction of a full scale replica of the T.101. To avoid confusion between the original and the replica, the original is referred to as the T.101.1 and the replica T.101.2.
It was something of a miracle that this replica could come into being at all. After the fall of Socialism, it was discovered that the original T.101 plans had survived not only the German occupation of World War Two but also the following decades under the Socialist regime. The plans had been found intact in archives in the north eastern city of Opava.
With original plans in hand and a great deal of help from many companies and other organizations, the replica would become a reality.
The T.101.2 received certification of airworthiness in 2009 and it has put in appearances at Czech airshows a number of times since then.
While the replica is as faithful as possible, certain concessions in materials and construction methods had to be made to satisfy contemporary standards.
To see the replica fly its spirited routine is a treat and whatever concessions its constructors had to make to see it finally fly will be the furthest thing from your mind when you watch it.
The T.101 Legacy Today
A sport optimized offshoot of the T.101, the T.201, was developed in 1937. It had smaller wings and tail surfaces than the T.101 and clearly had speed as a priority.
Karel Tomas, who had been head of Tatra’s aircraft division, found himself employed by the Zlín aircraft company in the early post war period and heading the design team which created that company’s prodigious and legendary Tréner family of aircraft using the T.201 concept as a starting point.
From certain angles it is not at all difficult to see the family resemblance between Zlín Tréners and the T.101.
To learn more about the T.101.1, the T.101.2 and Tatra aircraft in general; you’ll do no better than the website of the brothers who are responsible for the T.101.2: