History of Aviation in region
The history of the Czech aviation industry in Moravian region is remarkable. There were several significant milestones that form the foundation of the industry current position characterized by high quality and innovation
The beginnings of the aircraft industry in the region fall into the early 1930s when in 1934 Zlínská Letecká společnost, a.s. (Aircraft Company of Zlin) was established in Otrokovice. Bata company from Zlin became its main stock-holder. The company started with the production of unpowered gliders and later with the production of powered gliders and airplanes. The production soon expanded to the area of sports, agricultural and training airplanes with the brand name of Zlin. The most known of them was the Z-XII which was then the most widespread sports airplane in Europe.
The First World War brought the initial leap forward when the new nation of Czechoslovakia carved out its independence. The Czechoslovak Legion had to journey all the way across Siberia to Vladivostok, where the nascent republic’s first fighter squadron was formed in exile. In the following years military orders for new aircraft involved several aviation design offices, of which Aero (aircraft BH-7,BH-9,BH-11,BH-21), Letov (more than 900 aircraft - types Š-28, Š-328), Avia (Avia B-534) and Tatra (Tatra T-101) were particularly significant and gave the foundation of the first aircraft factories in the region.
Thirties to Forties
The second milestone consisted in the defence of the republic in the first half of the 1930s. The design offices improved their fighter aircraft to the point that just before the beginning of the World War II., Czechoslovakia possessed an exceptional modern fighter (Avia B-35) comparable to the British Spitfire. Unfortunately, the aircraft never went into series production. Most pilots and designers put their training into practice in exile, most notably during the Battle of Britain.
Fifties to Sixties
This period may be characterized by L29 jet trainer aircraft and M701 engine development and manufacturing. Following a series of successful comparison flights, L29 has been selected as the main type of a training aircraft for all countries of former Eastern block. This approach enabled the Czech Republic to be awarded the jet trainer aircraft development and manufacturing management – totally 3,600 pieces of L29 and 10 thousands of M701 aircraft engine. Moravian companies, such as LET Kunovice, significantly participated on L-29 deliveries.
LET L-200 Morava
The jewel among these is the twin-engine L-200 Morava light transport aircraft produced in the 1950s and ’60s. The L-200 featured a spacious, comfortable, well-ventilated and heated cabin and represented the beginning of business aviation in the Czech Republic. The L-200 Morava was used by higher officials of various ministries, companies and organisations, and today it is still in operation with a range of aviation enthusiasts around the world. In total, 360 of these aircraft were produced in Kunovice.
ZLÍN Z-226 Trenér
The ZLÍN Z-226 Trener from the 1950s is another classic from the Otrokovice design school. With outstanding flight characteristics, this single-engine, two-seat, low-wing plane was designed to meet the requirement for a special tow plane capable of pulling heavier gliders. Its quality design enabled a greater payload and the aircraft could handle rough treatment. Particularly for these reasons, the Z-226 remains popular today, primarily among flight schools.
The ZLÍN Z-50 was the world’s first series produced aerobatics plane designed for the unlimited class. It can also be considered the most successful, as it has won several world and European championships in both individual and team aerobatics. The Z-50 came into being at the government’s behest in the first half of the 1970s to show off the Czechoslovak aviation industry and, in so doing, to win a number of championships and gold medals. The decision to series produce the aircraft came after Czech successes in the world championship in 1976 and 1978, when the Poles and Romanians expressed interest in equipping their national teams with the Z-50. When production ended in the first half of the 1990s, more than 80 Z-50s in six versions were in operation on several continents.
The ZLÍN Z-50 was the work of a dynamic team comprised of true aviation enthusiasts, quality specialists and talented designers. Development took only two years, though several fundamental tasks and challenges had to be met during that period. First, the designers had to determine, among other things, whether the aircraft could win the world aerobatics championship, comply with international regulations and have a service life of at least 1,000 hours of hard aerobatic flying. Certain paradoxical situations in contemporary aviation began to appear in relation to the Z-50, namely excessive requirements that contradicted each other. It is to the design team’s credit that the right requirements were considered, leading to a world-beating aerobatics machine.
In the 1980s, the Kunovice region saw the development and production of the very promising L-610, a high-wing transport aircraft with a pressurised cabin for 40 passengers. From the beginning, it was considered for use by the military as well as by the Czech flag carrier. The project involved one of the most highly developed aircraft in the Czech Republic, as it used a great number of electronic elements and featured a pressurised cabin with climate control, which required numerous special tests and measurements. Three prototypes were intended for flight tests, one for strength tests and another for airframe service-life testing. The initial prototype of the M-military version first flew in 1988, and the prototype of the G-civilian version was rolled out in 1991. Initial commercial deliveries were scheduled for 1993. The aircraft’s service life was calculated at 20 years, 32,000 hours and 25,000 landings. Its range with 40 passengers was 1,230 km and it required a paved runway of 1,050 metres or unpaved runway of 1,220 meters. Unfortunately, the L-610 never entered series production and the project was halted.
Even though the preceding L-610 project from late eighties did not go into series production, today it can be stated that the thousands of hours of development work enriched the experience and abilities of specialists, which is currently returning to its earlier level of prestige.
Most small aviation firms in the Moravian region were established at the beginning of the 1990s, when key manufacturing programmes at aircraft factories were suspended and some of the engineers involved in these projects decided to apply their ideas and plans in the area of aircraft design elsewhere or to realise their ideas in related technical fields.
Thanks to this, the Czech Republic began to set the trend in the category of ultralight-aircraft production. Until the middle of the 1990s, such aircraft were “boxes with wings”, so called because they lacked an aerodynamically refined shape. When Czech designers entered this sector, trained design engineers began working on aircraft and aerodynamically clean airplanes began to appear on the market, thus advancing the so-called Czech school of design. The Czech Republic began to set trends for further development, especially on the American market.
Czechs became involved in the production of ultralight aircraft because they wanted to fly but standard planes were too expensive. For this reason, they began to manufacture aircraft on their own and thus a tremendous number of models from various workshops suddenly appeared and, following the entry of top designers, penetrated foreign markets. Designers were drawn to this industry particularly by the fact that they could fly the planes themselves, and thus gave rise to appealing aerodynamic shapes. Development brought forth another benefit – pleasure and enjoyment derived from creating one’s own product (production in aircraft factories involved project teams which did not have such creative freedom).
The Moravian aviation small and medium-sized enterprises (and specialists) possess knowledge of production of specific components and strive to cooperate with the largest possible number of customers. Therefore, they are forced to push themselves forward and to be technically better in order to meet the needs of various customers. They frequently operate across several sectors, so they are able to transfer their knowledge from one field to another.
The reason why aircraft finalists have confidence in these specialists and give them priority over production in other countries is the fact that Moravian specialists have the skill necessary to come up with solutions. These solutions appear in the efficiency of the production process and derive from will-tested processes, aviation routines and experience.