© Mark Empson | Croatian Air Force | Mikoyan-Gurevich Mig-21UMD Mongol B | 165

On May 11, 2024, Zagreb Franjo Tuđman airport hosted AIRVG 2024 in conjunction with the Croatian Air Force to help celebrate the retirement of its last remaining Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed aircraft, and the introduction of its replacement, the Dassault Rafale F-3R. VG stands for the city Velika Gorica where the airport resides. As one might expect, the air show attracted a large public audience as well as aviation enthusiasts from across Europe to witness the nations MiG-21s in particular.

AeroResource were present to witness proceedings on the ground and in the air, both of which were very well organised. In terms of Croatian Air Force attendance, every type in service was present with the exception of its aerial firefighting fleet, namely Air Tractor AT-802 and Canadair CL-415.

Zagreb Franjo Tuđman Airport

Located approximately 6 miles (10 Kms) from the capital of Croatia, Zagreb Franjo Tuđman Airport (ICAO:LDZA) is the largest and busiest international airport in Croatia handling approximately 3.72 million passengers and some 10,859 tons of cargo in 2023. With its new terminal, the airport is also relatively unusual in the sense that it is also the main operating base for the Croatian Air Force (Hrvatsko Ratno Zrakoplovstvo (HRZ)) fast jet operations with 91 Krilo (Wing) located. This wing comprises 191. Eskadrila Lovačkih Aviona (Fighter Squadron) which operates the Croatian Air Force last remaining Mikoyan MiG-21bisD and MiG-21UMD, and the first six of twelve Dassault Aviation Rafale F-3R which were delivered on April 25, 2024. The remaining six aircraft are expected to be delivered before the end of 2024.

Closely located near to the airport is the Zrakoplovno-Tehnicki Centar (ZTC) defence overhaul and maintenance facility which undertakes repair, maintenance and modifications of both fixed and rotary wing aircraft primarily for the Croatian Air Force, and some others which includes civilian Air Tractor AT-802 aircraft. Principally state owned, this facility has direct access to Zagreb civil airport runway whilst also containing its own runway and heliport.

AIRVG 2024

The great news from the aviation enthusiast perspective was that 350 advance tickets were available enabling the lucky few to enter the static area at 11:15 some 45 minutes before the wider public entered to photograph the static aircraft. These were effectively placed into three lines; fast jet, rotary and motorised gliders. Two Israeli built Orbiter 3b UAS were also on a display nearby 133 MiG-21bis D which was open to enable visitors to sit in the cockpit. As one can imagine, this particular exhibit was in extreme demand throughout the day consistently with the long queues.

The first static line on leaving the airports historic Old Terminal (which was the hub for refreshments, interviews and displays) contained the following aircraft in order:

Zlin 242L – 392. Eskadrila Aviona (93 Krilo), Zadar/Zemunik

Pilatus PC-9M (support aircraft for the Krila Oluje (Wings of Storm)) display team – 392. Eskadrila Aviona (93 Krilo), Zadar/Zemunik

MiG-21R (see below)

MiG-21 UM (see below)

Rafale F-3R – 191. Eskadrila Lovačkih Aviona (91 Krilo), Zagreb Franjo Tuđman

As one might expect, the static aircraft were presented immaculately behind barriers. The stand-out aircraft were undoubtedly the two historic MiG-21’s which are not airworthy.

The first of these was ‘26112’ MiG-21R which is also known as ‘Rudijev MiG’ following the defection from former Yugoslavia by the the Croatian pilot Rudolf Perešin.  On October 25, 1991, Perešin departed Željava-Bihać airbase and having completed a photo reconnaissance mission over Slovenia, landed the aircraft at Klagenfurt in Austria. Retaining its original Yugoslav Air Force markings, the aircraft was finally returned to Croatia in 2019. Shortly after his defection to Croatia, Perešin joined the Croatian Armed Forces and fought in the Croatian War of Independence. He was subsequently killed during a Close Air Support mission on May 2, 1995, when his MiG-21 was shot down near Stara Gradiška. As a consequence of his bravery and actions, Perešin was posthumously promoted to the rank of Brigadier General.

Parked next to this aircraft was ‘165’ a twin-seat MiG-21UM ‘Kockica’ which received special markings applied in the red and white fields of the checkerboard of the Croatian coat of arms. The contrast of both aircraft against a deep blue sky was impressive.

At the head of the second main Croatian Air Force static line was ‘133’ which is one of the last operational MiG-21 bis D aircraft serving with 191. Eskadrila Lovačkih Aviona (91 Krilo) based at Zagreb Franjo Tuđman airport.

The second static line contained the rotary component as follows:

Bell 206B Jet Ranger  – 393. Eskadrila Helikoptera, Zadar/Zemunik AB

Bell OH-58D Kiowa – 393. Eskadrila Helikoptera, Zadar/Zemunik AB

Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk – 194. Eskadrila Višenamjenskih Helikoptera,  Zagreb/Lučko AB

Mil Mi-171SH – 194. Eskadrila Višenamjenskih Helikoptera, Zagreb/Lučko AB (KFOR markings applied)

AS-532AL Cougar, Slovenian Air Force – 151 Helikopterska eskadrilja, Cerklje ob Krki AB.

The Slovenian Air Force Cougar was the only international participant. Based approximately 30 miles (50 Kms) from Zagreb, this helicopter arrived in the morning of the show and departed around 19:00 hours that evening. All the visiting Croatian Air Force aircraft arrived on May 10. The only two aircraft to perform a rehearsal of sorts were ‘116’ MiG-21 bis D and ‘150’ Rafale F-3R which departed separately before completing a formation flypast before landing separately. Also noteworthy on May 10 was the departure of two Rafale’s on a sortie to meet with two French Navy Rafale’s which proceeded to conduct a flypast over the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.

Air Show

Air show day itself required detailed co-ordination to ensure the the airport could continue to operate its civilian traffic whilst running the show.  The flying display was therefore timed to commence at 15:00 hours with intervals to enable civilian traffic to land and depart. 

First to display were the six Pilatus PC-9M of the national display team Krila Oluja (Wings of Storm) who completed a wide variety of team and individual manoeuvres lasting approximately twenty minutes. Departing on runway 04, these six aircraft landed on runway 22 to enable them to taxi past the crowd which were assembled towards the 04 end. This was standard for all display items. 

Next up was a solo display by a Zlin Z 242L, callsign ‘ROBIN02’ that demonstrated its impressive aerobatic capabilities. This was closely followed by a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) demonstration, callsign ‘KOBRA 31 FORMATION’ which commenced with a lone parachute drop from a Mil Mi-171SH which then proceeded to land where special forces troops simulated a CSAR operation behind enemy lines. Top cover aerial support was provided by two OH-58D Kiowa’s that performed some impressive tight turns before the CSAR operation was complete.

It was then time for the main event which everyone was awaiting. First to depart in full afterburner was ‘150’ Rafale F-3R, callsign ‘KNIGHT 11’ followed by ‘116’ MiG-21 bis D, callsign ‘VITEZ03’ which had tail markings commemorating 25 years of the Croatian Air Force. First to display was the MiG-21 which completed a number of low, fast, rolling manoeuvres many with afterburner ablaze, before it made way for the Rafale to display in similar fashion. Both aircraft then joined up for a final formation flypast which was accompanied by Croatia Eurovision song entry ‘Rim Tim Tagi Dim’ by Baby Lasagna which we now know finished second in the contest that night. Both aircraft taxied to where the crowd were positioned to soak up what was an excellent atmosphere.

The final items on the display comprised some excellent solo flying from firstly a Zlin 242L closely followed by a Bell 206 Jet Ranger, callsign ‘HOOT 70’. The Wings of Storm Pilatus PC-9M team closed the show with a brief display before continuing onwards to their home base once their display was complete. The airport then returned to normal civilian traffic operations.

AIRVG 2024 proved to be a great occasion for the Croatian Air Force and its adoring public, most of whom had Europe’s last remaining MiG-21s on their mind whilst also welcoming their new Rafale into service. The show also provided the Croatian Air Force with the opportunity to showcase their assets, capabilities and also to recruit. 

AeroResource would like to thank the organisers for their support in providing early entry to the air show whilst also enabling us to watch the show from the north side of the airfield. 

You can find out more about AIRVG here: https://airvg.info

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