The commander of the MiG-21 squadron poses in front of his aircraft
NATO-style low-vis airforce insignia

On Saturday, the 12th of May 2007, the Croatian Air Force staged an Open Flying Day at their base at Zagreb-Pleso.

The show was opened by three Mi-8MTV-1 helicopters from Lucko, followed by the two An-32 transportaircraft, Two Pilatus PC-9M trainers and finally six MiG-21bisD and UMD fighters.

91. Zrakoplovna Baza
In the first years after gaining independence, the airforce of the Republic of Croatia was put to the test. Now that hostilities are over, the airforce tries to maintain a high standard of training. Some of the aircrafttypes in service (Mi-8, An-32 and MiG-21) have had limited or more extensive upgrades in the past years, extending their servicelife and mainly adding more modern navigation and communication equipment.
1. Lovacka Eskadrila
An-32s returning
Above: The commander of the MiG-21 squadron at Pleso poses in front of 'his' MiG-21bisD at the flightline.
28. ETH
Left: The two An-32 transportaircraft are seen returning from a mission during Pleso's open day.
Transportna Eskadrila
The open flying day at Pleso was organised to give the local press and population as well as a few foreign photographers the opportunity to witness day-to-day operations of the Croatian Airforce from a close distance. After a short introduction three Mi-8MTV-1 helicopters took off, one demonstrating the use of a bambi-bucket as underslung load. These three Hips are normally based at Lucko, a short distance from Pleso.

All three Hips were in the new grey colourscheme. Fortunately, one Mi-8MTV in the old green camouflage colours could be photographed inside the hangar.

The maintenance hangar at Pleso furthermore housed two MiG-21 Fishbed fighters, and the rare Piper Pa-31T of the Croatian Airforce.

After flying their mission two of the three Hips landed back at Pleso, the third made a flyby and flew back to Lucko. As soon as the Hips had shut down their engines, the public was allowed in and around them, and the smart Lucko crew had brought along t-shirts and other squadron goodies for sale to the general public and some Dutch photographers......

Mi-8MTV-1 with underslung load
Pleso is not only a military airbase, it doubles as Zagreb's international airport. During the day, many civil flights, and even the odd visiting military aircraft, could be seen taking off or landing on Pleso's single runway.
Pilatus over Pleso

After the day had been opened by the helicoptercrews, the two An-32 transport aircraft of the Croatian Airforce took off. After their mission they performed a formation flyby followed by a break and some tight turns at low level over the airbase. Quite amazing to see the agility of the An-32 up close and personal!

Following the An-32s were two Pilatus PC-9Ms. They too performed a formation flyby followed by some aerobatics and low passes.

Sharing the flightline with the PC-9s were six upgraded MiG-21 Fishbed aircraft. Three MiG-21bisD and three MiG-21UMD fighters. One of the MiG-21UMDs had received a red/white checkered coat two years ago to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Operation Storm. All six were scheduled to fly a mission.

Nine pilots walked out to their aircraft and the running up of six engines was like music to my ears. One after one they taxied out, the red/white MiG-21UMD flown by the sqn commander leading the pack. They took off in two formations of three aircraft for their mission. Soon the red/white UMD returned for some aerobatics over Pleso.
Fishbed power!

Some tight turns over the base were followed by a gear down pass and some spectacular high speed rolls. Unfortunately, the busy civil traffic at Pleso meant the flying demonstration had to be interrupted. It resumed after a few civil aircraft had landed. The twoseat MiG-21UMDs apparenty carry less fuel than their single seat stablemates as the "Sparki" were first to land followed by the MiG-21bisDs a few minutes later.

After the last MiG-21 shut down its engine, the open flying day had come to an end. The public was also allowed access to the flightline to see the An-32s, PC-9s and MiG-21s up close. Another MiG-21bisD was on static display, but since it had all kind of armament exhibited around it, the public was not allowed to come too close and touch it.

All in all, Pleso's open flying day was a success. Not that many Croatians took the opportunity to take a look, but that might be because the event wasn't widely publicised.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Croatian MoD and all the personnel at Pleso for making us feel very welcome. Hvala!

MiG-21UMD 167 taxies back after its flight Piper Pa31T inside the hangar at Pleso

©Robin Polderman 2007