How did it start?
With my father, who started to restore planes Kurir and Vaja, which he got for the long-term management of the airport in Postojna. The condition was that he gets them if he restores them and they will be stationed in Postojna. Kurir and Aero-3 (which is now being restored in Trbovlje) avoided the directive from Belgrade to destroy them in the 80s. He started the restoration in the mid-90s when I was still a kid.
Airplanes Kurir and Vaja
I think it was a very big challenge for him. Previously, they worked on other aircraft and restored them, including the Citabria aircraft for the needs of the club. He gained enough confidence from this to decide to rebuild the airplanes on his own. The father and his colleague decided to join the powers. A colleague took on the restoration of “Bebica”, while my father worked on the Vaja and Kurir. But first, we had to build a hangar, and we did. I helped as a child. We were learning many things. Kurir was rebuilt by the year 2001 and Vaja by 2003. At that time, I was already old enough to start helping more seriously and also flying. When the planes were restored, we started with the first air shows and were all “drawn into” this story. The team was created.
You got some other, older planes at that time.
We later got two more Libis 17 planes for restoration, which were made, just like the Vaja, in Ljubljana at the Libis factory (they are still waiting for restoration), and later another Čavka plane from Lesce (restored by the late Albin Novak). Later, we brought a Delfin from Celje, which is also awaiting restoration, and Jastreb, which we brought from Maribor. Jastreb had damage on one wing. It was restored by a colleague Vinko Doles. He also restored another Čavka plane (Postojna) and produced a replica of the Vrabec plane according to the original plans. We also have airplane Roda, the first two-seater in our history, and airplane Žerjav which is also waiting to be restored.
What drew you to this story?
I dreamed about it. I’ve always loved airplanes. When I was little I built model airplanes.
Why Aero 3?
This plane has always been fantastic to me. In 2007, my father informed me that he had been contacted and that they had one for sale from Croatia (Split). That was our opportunity. We decided to go get it immediately. I was 25 years old and that was my project. My initiation.
It was interesting that we couldn’t export it at first because it was in military colors. They wouldnot let it cross the Croatian border. Then with a little bit of effort, a transfer to Slovenia was finally approved.
How did you go about the renovation?
First, you don´t know what to do. My father’s experience really came in handy and we tackled the matter systematically.
We slowly started taking it apart, took pictures of each part, and put them in the album in order. We took it to pieces to the very last screw… Not even one screw remained. It was really good that we took pictures and sketched everything. It took two years just to dismantle it. All parts were boxed, listed, and washed with gasoline. In the end, only the main body, the wooden part remained. It was covered with canvas. We melted the canvas with a thinner and when we took it off, there was only the wooden structure underneath. We washed it, inspected it, and started repairing it. Once that was done it was time to paint the interior and then put the components back together. When the fuselage was at a certain level, we disassembled and repaired both wings, and the tail surfaces, all this went very slowly.
Once you are involved in this process, you look forward to everything you do. And the best was when the wooden part was arranged and we installed the first fuel tap just before leaving for the holidays. The first four screws – that was “a victory of all victories”. Finally, we started to build.
Where did you find all the components needed for the restoration?
I spent a long time looking for spare parts and documentation on the Internet. I bought a few things from the USA as it is an American engine. The connections of my father’s colleagues from Serbia came in handy, where we found an engine and indeed many pieces that are only from Aero 3 airplane. My work experience (automotive industry) also came in handy. They made a seat belt for me in Texas (USA), we looked for screws in the Czech Republic and Germany, we went to Germany to look for the canvas, etc…
How many years did it take you to rebuild?
All together seven years. In 2014, we perfected the entire plane. Then the measuring, weighing, and registration began… We had really good support from everywhere. We painted it in Pivka. The renovation took place slowly, among other things due to combining hobbies, work, and family.
How was the first flight?
First, I started reading manuals on how to fly “it” and listening to older pilots. Many older pilots from Yugoslavia started their training on this aircraft, so practically everyone knew it. But some people were also afraid of it because it is heavy and its speed drops quickly, so it can fall into a tailspin. Many accidents happened with Aero 3 airplanes. That was terrible to listen to.
Dad went first. He had flown it before and really had a lot of hours on it. In 2014, a small group of us got together. That’s when we took the plane out for the first time. We prepared everything and checked ten more times. My father flew and landed beautifully. Then we had a party. 🙂 We did the following flights together, my father sat in the back cabin and I sat in the front. Later I flew independently and all those stories about the dangerous Aero 3 aircraft passed.
What is it like to fly with it?
I found this airplane to be wonderful to fly as it is one of the smoothest airplanes I have ever flown. Cessna´s and Citabria´s…general aviation planes are “coarse” versus Aero 3. Aero 3 is soft and really gentle. This gentleness surprised me the most.
However, it is true that it has a weak engine and when you fly, the whole process takes longer than with other planes I know. It slowly picks up speed to lift its tail and the engine is no longer covering the end of the runway. You have to be patient as it sways on its soft shock absorbers on the front wheels. When it finally gathers enough speed you wait for it again to gather speed for climbing. Once that happens, it is fantastic in the air.
How much fuel does it use?
40 l per hour. We make sure to fly regularly, 5-10 hours a year. I hope to have many more hours. 🙂
How far away did you fly so far?
For now around Postojna and its surroundings. First, we tested it, flew the zones, and tamed all the things that could go wrong, so now we are planning bigger tours. However, it does not yet have the equipment for controlled air space, it does not have a transponder.
Has anyone else flown with it besides you?
A lot of people really want to fly with it, but we haven’t given it to anyone yet. With such airplanes, one has to be careful. So far we took with us family, friends, and club members. First, we wanted to wait for it to fly for some hours. And now that everything has been going well for three years, we will slowly change our tactics.
How many Aero 3 aircraft are there in Slovenia?
There are three in Slovenia. One is in Pivka, one is ours, and one is the one that used to be in Postojna without one wing… That project is still in the middle of a renovation. So this is the only one that flies.
What is the story of the Kurir plane?
This year we will register it and it will also go in the air. Kurir already flew but was neglected for a while because of Aero 3. It is a connecting partisan plane that can land and fly quickly on short runways. Otherwise, it was used to tow gliders and throw parachutists. It has room for the pilot and two seats in the back, either for the wounded or two parachutists. Its weak point is the reducer. Yugoslavs installed it to increase its take-off power, as it has a weak engine based on the Czech Walter-Minor 6-III. This system is the most vulnerable and is therefore constantly reviewed. When we were restoring it, the late Miha Mazovec, the co-constructor of this Kurir plane, was still alive and he told us the whole story of how it was constructed and why the Kurir is the way it is. A very old mechanic from the Czech Republic also helped with the restoration. He rebuilt the magnets, and the gas pump and helped with the engine, which is more complex than the Aero 3.
For Kurir and Aero 3 to fly together in formation.
Where does the money for the renovation come from?
All out of pocket. We would like a sponsorship, or to appear at more air shows and get fuel covered. It’s a real shame that the planes are sitting in the hangar.
How is it possible that we don’t have a museum of this type of aircraft in Slovenia?
We all expect that the country would have an interest and do it, but so far there is none. After so many years of trying to get someone to recognize the value of it, you get tired and withdraw into a shell. But if you go into it yourself, it involves huge resources. Of course, we want something to change and I think the best way is to start flying at air shows. More interest means more publicity and maybe people who can help.
However, your family is still fighting to preserve the memory of this cultural heritage.
We are currently working on a catalog of all serial numbers of Aero-3 aircraft that have been produced. There are 110 of them, plus prototypes, and we’re trying to get photos of them all. Next are all Kurir airplanes.
What is your advice to young people interested in restoring aircraft?
Come and learn, and ask questions. They can always come to the airport and help. And not just refueling. There is always something to do. So they can not only see the plane but also disassemble, assemble, and then fly.
What did you learn about life while rebuilding Aero 3?
Patience. Even when I watch my kids, they all like to buy Legos that are built in 15 minutes. With the old timers, you don’t do anything in one day. Sometimes you just need a day to think about what you’re going to do. To learn how the system works, find out what needs to be done, and not do anything wrong. Maybe it’s a different logic than at work, but finally, this kind of thinking also helps at work when you’re under pressure. Sometimes it’s good to calm down, think, and then solve the matter in a way more elegant way than if you go head-first through the wall. You learn that if you do something a little later, it won’t be the end of the world, but it will be done the way it should be.
author: Eva Kraš