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Hrvatsko ratno zrakoplovstvo i protuzračna obrana (HRZ i PZO) 

Croation Air Force


In September 2001 we had the honor to meet MLADEN CRNIČKI, a famous FIGHTER PILOT within the Croatian Air Force. He was an observer for the Croatian Air Force during the "Partnership for Peace" exercise "Cooperative Key 2001" in Bulgaria. At Graf Ignativo Air Base, situated north of and close to the beautiful city of Plovdiv, we discussed with him the possibility to make a report about the Croatian Air Force. Because of his great support we got permission from the Ministry of Defense to visit the following bases: 91 Zrakoplovna Baza Zagreb-Pleso; 92 Zrakoplovna Baza Pula; 93 Zrakoplovna Baza Zadar-Zemunik and 94 Zrakoplovna Baza Zagreb-Lučko in May/September 2002 and August 2007. 


Although Croatia has a rich history, it has been dominated by various peoples for centuries. The Croatia we now know is one of the youngest nations in Europe. When violent battles broke out in 1991, it quickly became independent of the Yugoslav republic. In the first instance, it concerned the northern provinces. It was not until 1993 and 1995 that the coastal strip near Split and Dubrovnik and the western Krajina province were reconquered on the Serbs and the current Croatia was created.

The then HZS, Hrvatsko Zracne Snage (Croatian Air Defense) was proclaimed in 1991, immediately after proclaiming the independence of Yugoslavia. This name was later changed to the current: HRZ, Hrvatsko Ratno Zrakoplovstvo, literally Croatian War aviation. Popularly this is therefore translated as Croatian Air Force.

During the civil war the HZS initially used light civil aircraft. This mainly concerned An-2s, UTVA 75s, various types of Cessna's and Pipers and even a number of spray aircraft. It was mainly the versatile An-2 that was used a lot. This mainly involved transportation tasks, but sometimes it was also used as a bomber, where homemade boiler bombs are thrown down from the doorway.

The first jet fighters to join the HZS were three Yugoslav MiG-21bis's, with which the Croatian pilots originally fled to Croatia. These formed the basis for a more professional air force. The three MiG-21s were used in various actions against the Serbs, where two aircraft were shot down. Croatia quickly tried to get additional jet fighters. Since the personnel in the Yugoslavian Air Force were used to dealing with the MiG-21, the search was focused on that type of aircraft. Complicating factor in this was the arms embargo, which was proclaimed by the UN for the entire Balkans, which forced Croatia to find alternative ways to buy the aircraft.

Based on currently available data, it can be concluded that twenty-three MiG-21bis's ('104-126') and four MiG-21UMs ('160-163') trainers were received. The MiGs probably come from one of the former Soviet republics and not from the stocks of the former East German Air Force, which has once been suggested. For an unconfirmed story they were transported to Slovakia by plane and from there to Croatia by rail. By the end of 1993, sufficient MiG-21bis's and MiG-21UMs had been delivered to bring 2 ELZ (Eskadrila Lova kih Zrakoplova) to full strength at Zagreb-Pleso. Also 22 ELZ on Pula was equipped with the MiG-21. Some MiG-21s have a small camera modification on the nose, something that is unique to the Croatian MiG-21bis. Also one MiG-21U-400 was painted in Croatian colors with the serial '195' this was an ex-Yugoslavian aircraft that was out of use at Zadar-Zemunik. The aircraft is there now as a monument.

During the civil war the MiG-21 was deployed in various operations. Extremely low flying was used as a favorite tactic. 

Flying through the valleys, the Serbian air defense was evacuated, after which the aircraft emerged just before the target, attacked the ground targets and then quickly disappeared behind the mountain ridges.

This low flying proved the best defense in the enemy areas and was perfected as the war progressed. In 1995 two MiG-21bis's were shot down, the '104' on 16 April and the '119' on 2 May 1995. During an attack on the Ubdina airfield the '114' hit the treetops and made a successful emergency landing on Zagreb-Pleso, the aircraft was repaired to be written off in 2002 after a motor fire on Pula. Some of the MiG-21s were in bad condition and were never used, these were the '111' and trainer '161'. On August 14, 1996, bis '109' crashed, the pilot made a draft break became probably dizzy and then crashed.

In 2001, the name of the squadrons was changed to Eskadrila Borb and Aviona. As a matter of fact, both squadrons have a twofold task: they fly both air defense and ground attack missions. The 21 EBA stationed at Pleso has slightly more aircraft on strength than the 22 EBA of Pula. 22 EBA had seven MiG-21bis's and two MiG-21UMs in 2002. Since January 2000, 22 EBA also has the task of operational training unit. Regularly the second phase of the training is flown from Pleso. Especially in the tourist season, which runs from June 15 to September 15, flying from Pula is limited, to spare the tourists on the nearby beaches as much as possible. Due to the expansion of Pleso, more flights from Pula and Zadar-Zemunik started in 2009.

To keep the number of MiGs secret, the serials were not clearly applied to the ex-Soviet planes. These were small on the aircraft here and there. A few aircrafts went to an Open Day in Italy in 1996 and had to be presented with serials according to international rules.

Croatia has been in a difficult economic situation since the end of the civil war. Due to the extensive devastation that has been done in the country, a large part of the country has to be rebuilt. However, the main export product of Croatia, the tourism, has received a major blow. Because of huge expenses on the one hand and lack of income on the other hand, the country is not looking promising economically.

After the civil war, Croatia had a large army. Due to the reduced tensions and the economic situation, the military force is forced out of necessity. Most jobs disappeared from the army. The HRZ, with a staff of 2,000 people, initially remained unaffected. The personnel file has now been reduced to 1600 for the period 2006-2015.

21 EBA "Black Knights" MiG-21bisD and MiG-21UMD at Zagreb-Pleso.

22 EBA "Bulls" also with MiG-21bisD and MiG-21UMD at Pula.

On the flight-line of Pula in August 2007 MiG-21UMD "165". This scheme was introduced in 2005 to commemorate the 10-year jubilee of "Operacija Oluja" (Operation Storm) in 1995. 

MiG-21 upgrade

Because the MiG-21 was already quite on age, an upgrade was necessary. Aerostar in Romania was commissioned to upgrade 12 MiG-21s. Eight MiG-21bis's to MiG-21BisDs, the D for 'Doradjen', (Croatian for better) and were delivered in late 2003-early 2004. The trainers were apparently through the hours. Via Poland, four UMs were purchased from a former Soviet state, which were modified to MiG-21UMD.

The aircraft were equipped with a new IFF, GPS, VOR/ILS, other radios and DME navigation equipment. 

They were also provided with a new camouflage, two shades of green with gray and a light blue bottom. After the upgrade, the other MiG-21s were put into storage, several aircrafts have now turned up as monuments.

In 2005, for the commemoration of "Operacija Oluja" (Operation Storm), the conquest of the Krajina in 1995, UMD '165' was provided with a red and white checkered scheme.

Two MiG-21bis's in the color scheme before the upgrade in 2003/2004 started. Above at Zagreb-Pleso on 6 May 2002 "124" with 21 EBA badge. Below on the flight-line of Pula on 25 September 2002 ("110") with 22 EBA badge.

Good to see the difference between two color schemes. Above MiG-21UM ("160") before the upgrade and below MiG-21UMD "166" in the colors after the upgrade. Photos: above Zagreb-Pleso 6 May 2002 and below Pula August 2007.

MiG-21bisD "117" at Pula in August 2007.  


In the first years of the existence of the Croatian Air Force, the time-honored An-2 was the backbone of the transport fleet. During the civil war it was even used as a camouflaged bomber, with homemade bombs made of gas bottles filled with explosives. An An-2 the '006' was modified with a radome under the fuselage. In 2002, the air force still had a few An-2s, which almost never flew. They have now been put out of use.

In original color scheme AN-32B "707" from 27 ATZ on the flight-line of Zagreb-Pleso on the 6th of May 2002..

Later the AN-32B "707" got the grey colors. Potographed at Zagreb-Pleso on the 13th of August 2007.

The only PA-31P in service used for light transport duties. Zagreb-Pleso 6 May 2002.

In 1995 the Air Force purchased two An-32Bs. Initially, these went into citizen registries with basic Aeroflot colors such as '9A-BAB' and '9A-BAC', the B with blue and the C in the red Arctic scheme. In 1996 the BAG was registered militarily as '021'. In 2000-2001 the '021' became the '727' and the 'BAB' became the '707'. After maintenance and an upgrade in 2004 at the Antonov factory in the Ukraine, they are now in a gray scheme. In 2006-2007 both Antonovs were further modified for deployment in International operations, such as those in Afghanistan. Before air transport, the Air Force had a single Piper PA-31P-425, serial '014'. With this aircraft, is in terms of purchase something unsafe, and was not allowed to fly.


The versatile Mil Mi-8 is used for transport, SAR and VIP transport. The fleet mainly consists of Mi-8MTV-1s which were purchased in the Soviet Union/Russia in the period 1991-1993. They were flown to Croatia in civil markings. Some had the standard Aeroflot color scheme, on which the Croatian markings were placed, along with a red cross. The helicopters were delivered in the orange Arctic Aeroflot color scheme but were camouflaged immediately after arrival in Croatia. During the civil war the Mi-8 proved indispensable in supplying isolated or besieged troops. Because most pilots came from the Yugoslav air force, they were familiar with the Mi-8. They were only accustomed to the Mi-8T and therefore had to get used to the more powerful MTV-1. During the civil war one Mi-8 was lost when he hit a hill. The crew could fly the aircraft back to the field, but the damage was so great that the helicopter had to be written off. 

The fleet of Mi-8s has one unique heli, because it has oval instead of round or rectangular (Mi-8PS) windows (the 'H-253'). This is one of the Mi-8s, which was assigned directly to the 1. HGZ, Hravski gardijski zbor, Croatian Guards Regiment, also known as the Presidential Guards ('H-251 to' H-254') directly under President's order. This guard was disbanded in 2000 and the Mi-8s transferred to the air force. There are still a few older Mi-8Ts and Mi-8PS in service. The first Mi-8 was an ex-Yugoslav Mi-8T, which was forced to land in Croatia on 25 September 1991 and was subsequently repaired, the heli is now out of service. At least one heli came from the Czech Republic.

Quite early after the proclaimed independence of Croatia, four Hughes 369/500s were purchased for the Presidential Guard. One of these 'Cayuses' was lost after it was transported with a Mi-8 as a sling-load. However, the sling started to swing, after which the crew of the Mi-8 was forced to drop the load. These aircrafts also later went to the air force. Meanwhile all Hughes 369/500s have been taken out of service. They have been replaced by the Bell 206B3.

Nine Mi-24 "Hinds" were purchased in the early 90s. The "Hinds" were illegally bought in Russia, a Russian general disappeared as a result of lock and key. In 1995 the Mi-24s were firmly deployed during the 'Operation Storm', the liberation of the province of Krajina in the East of Croatia. Together with the MiG-21 Serbian positions were attacked, after which the Serbs eventually had to withdraw.

After the Balkan conflict ended, there was less need for the Mi-24, maintenance also became a problem. Thus the "Hinds" were stored in 2002. Although it was necessary to renovate and modernize it, this never happened. Now they have been replaced by the Mi-171Sh that can be used with armament. In 2006, Georgia was interested in buying them, but this sale was blocked by Russia.

In 2004-2005 15 "Hips" underwent a major maintenance. Ten machines, which were handled by a company from the Ukraine, were sprayed gray. Others were camouflaged in two shades of green with sand (light brown).

Initially the standard color scheme for the transport heli-two shades was green with brown. A few had slightly darker colors, these were used by the presidential guard. The VIP helicopters were completely white. They are now gray, with the roundel in gray. From 2008, the 'H-' for the serial has disappeared.

On 4 July 2006, 10 Mi-17Shs were ordered from the UUAP, the Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant. This as a payment for part of the debt from the Soviet period to the former Yugoslavia. The Mi-17Sh is a further development of the Mi-8MTV series. The first two were delivered on December 5, 2007.

In recent years, the Croatian Air Force has modernized the helicopter fleet by purchasing a dozen Mi-17Shs.

Mi-8PS "H-106" is used for VIP transport.

Also photographed at Zagreb-Lučko on 6 May 2002 is Mi-8MTV-1 "H-212" used in the transport and SAR role.

Mi-8MTV-1 "H-213" of 28 ETH photographed at Zagreb-Pleso on 13 August 2007.

Mi-8MTV-1 "H-213" of 28 ETH photographed at Zagreb-Pleso on 13 August 2007.


The Air Force Academy is located at the Zadar base. The flying school is named after Rudolf Peresin. This was a Croatian pilot who, on 25 October 1991 with his Yugoslav MiG-21R '26112', went to Klagenfurt in Austria. His statement was: "I am a Croatian and I do not shoot Croats". Later he became the commander of 1 Squadron at Pleso, until he was shot in 1995. He took his ejection seat in safety and was captured by Serbia. He died in captivity.

Zadar was also a training field in the Yugoslav air force. Present there were the following types: UTVA 75, Soko Galeb and Soko Super Galeb. After the Serbs left the field in September 1991, the 'Air Group Zadar' was established by Croatia. On 6 November 1991 an attack squadron was set up, flying with UTVA 75s coming from aero clubs. Most were used for reconnaissance , but a few were also equipped with pylons, so that they could be used as light attack aircraft.

On March 21, 1992 the base Zadar was established as the main training base of the Croatian air force. In September 1992, the first generation of Croatian pilots arrived and started their selection flights. In August 1994, the first full training started, after which in 1997 34 pilots could receive their license.

In 2004 the civil serials of the UTVA 75s were replaced by military serials (9A-DJL became 005), all stationed at Zadar-Zemunik. Photos: above September 2002 and right August 2007.

Ten Bell 206Bs were bought, with the serials '601-610'. Photos at Zadar-Zemunik (above in September 2002 and right in August 2007).             

Since 2005 a demonstration team is equipped with the PC-9M "Krila Oluje" or 'Wings of Storm'. Photo of 064 taken at Zadar-Zemunik in September 2002.

The Pilotska Skola (Pilots School) on Zadar

The Pilotska Skola (Pilots School) on Zadar uses three aircraft types. The basic trainer is the Zlin 142L. Thereafter, the training is continued on the Swiss PC-9 and the Bell 206B for the training of helicopter flight pilots. From the PC-9, Croatia initially received three second-hand ones in April 1996. In August 1996, the PC-9 was officially in service. Later, 17 newly built PC-9Ms were purchased, which were delivered in early 1997. The first three PC-9s were later upgraded to almost PC-9M standard. Only the engine was not replaced.

When the HRZ purchased the PC-9, they wanted to be able to arm it. At the time of the purchase, however, there was still an arms embargo, so that the PC-9s became yellow as an unarmed version.

The Bell 206B became operational in April 1997 for the training of helicopter pilots. This made the Mi-8s of Zagreb-Lučko completely available for transport tasks.

In 2002, the first six pilots completed their conversion from the PC-9M to the MiG-21. This was the first time that an air force trained successful pilots directly from a turboprop trainer to a Mach-2 fighter.

Now that the PC-9 is being used as 'lead in trainer' for the MiG-21, there were plans to equip the 25 EIA aircraft with HUD and the cockpit layout of the MiG-21BisD. For weapon training the PC-9 would be equipped with advanced computers, with which it can attack targets simulated. 25 MEED, I mjesovita eskarila za electronsko i izvidjane, = mixed ECM/ reconnaissance squadron, has existed for several years and besides the training the squadron also provided aggression, ECM and coastal patrols. The upgrade of the PC-9s was canceled and in 2007 25 EIA was disbanded.

The Croatians have since 2005 a demonstration team equipped with the PC-9M "Krila Oluje" or 'Wings of Storm' derived from the 'Operation Storm' from 1995. The team provides demonstrations at home and abroad. In June 2011 they were in Turkey at Izmir in connection with "100 years Turkish Air Force" with an impressive show.

Five Zlin 142s replaced the UTVA 75 as a basic trainer. The first two Zlins arrived in September 2007. In March 2008 the training was started on the Zlins. The UTVA 75 was designed and built in the former Yugoslavia. The parts supply became problematic and the performance was below par. At first the UTVA 75 was sprayed various schemes, some were camouflaged and others were still in the old Yugoslavian training colors. In 1992-1993 they were even deployed with armament in camouflage with the serials '001','002','169' and '179' (the last two with the last three of the Yugoslav serials '53169 'and '53179') as attack aircraft. The whole training fleet is white with red and blue and most UTVA 75s have long flown with civil registrations, but in 2004 they were equipped with a military serial.


Because tourism is one of the pillars of the Croatian economy, protecting the tourist areas is a high priority. The government has already focused on the development of tourism as early as the new Republic of Croatia. Already in 1994 the PZE 'Protupozarna Zrakoplovna Eskadrila' (Airborne Fire Fighting Squadron) was established under the Ministry of the Interior. Most of the personnel came from the fire fighting unit of the former Yugoslavian air force, which was stationed at Zadar. This Yugoslav unit flew with the Canadair CL-215. However, after the disintegration of Yugoslavia, these facilities had been withdrawn to Serbia and settled there. 

Eventually they ended up in Kenya. Although the civil war was still raging, the government decided to lease two CL-215s from the Canadair factories to protect the vulnerable coastline. Already in 1995 these aircraft were replaced by two CL-215s, which Croatia bought on the second-hand market.

In 1997, 1998 and 2000, this fleet was supplemented with a newly built CL-415. In 2003, the two CL-215s were exchanged for a fourth CL-415 the '877', so that the entire fleet is now standardized with the CL-415. A fifth CL-415 followed on February 26, 2011 ('811').

In the summer of 1997 an Air Tractor AT-802F was leased as a patrol aircraft. It can transport to one (1) m3 water and can therefore also be used against incoming fires. Because this type proved to be very useful, two AT-803Fs were purchased. From 2000, these are also used. In 2004, one of the two AT-802Fs was lost. The type turned out to be so successful that in 2008 five AT-802AFs 'Fire Boss' (an AT-802F on the track) were purchased.

On January 1, 2001, fire fighting was transferred from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Defense.

Since 2001, the squadron has been part of the Air Force, which means, among other things, that the personnel became military and the civilian registration was also replaced by a military serial. 

The squadron was renumbered to 855 PPE Protupofa rna Eskadrila. The squadron has Zadar-Zemunik as home base, but during the summer period of June 1 to October 1 stand permanent aircraft at Dubrovnik and Pula. In a daylight period a crew is permanently ready to take off. When it is hot and dry, several crews are kept on stand-by. During a deployment, pilots are allowed to fly a maximum of seven hours and about 80 drops. Then a new crew is deployed.

The CL-415 can only be used in the coastal region and for fires on one of the thousands of islands of Croatia. For the bragging of water, the CL-415 requires a strip of water of three kilometers in length and at least three meters deep. In the summer the lakes in the interior are freely dry, so that the CL-415 can hardly be used effectively. However, the

CL-415s are on their best when it is burning on the islands. Because they hardly have to fly between the fire and the open water, the CL-415s can do dozens of waterdrops per hour.

The AT-802F is used for patrol flights and the fight against small, newly starting, fires. Because the AT-802 can drop the water very accurately, it is also used for fire fighting in the built-up areas.

The CL-415 has a capacity of 6.000 liters of water, which is stored in two water tanks in the fuselage of the aircraft. When the water is dropped, the CL-415 searches for a strip of open water. The water tanks are filled using retractable openings under the fuselage. By pulling these through the water while flying, water is being scooped up and fed into the tanks. The scoop of six m3 of water costs approximately 10 seconds. This maneuver is called 'scooping' and during a fire on one of the islands between 18 and 20 scoops can be performed per hour.

If necessary, the absorbed water can be mixed with additional biodegradable substances during scooping. The water then turns into a kind of foam. whereby the water sticks to trees as it were, and the effect of the water is further increased.

Photographed during better days, AT-802F "891" from 855PPE. It was written-off on 2 September 2004. Zadar-Zemunik September 2002.

It was a privilege that the commander of 855 PPE (Protupozarna Eskadrila/Fire Fighting Squadron) invited us to experience a practice flight with two CL-215s. 

While our CL-215 landed on the water we could photograph  "833" picking up water which was dropped in an area in the vicinity of the Adriatic sea. Photos September 2002.   

CL-415 "866" on the taxiway of Zadar-Zemunik on 27 September 2002 on his way for a flight to Zagreb-Pleso. 

The Future

Direction NATO. Because Croatia considers itself as a part of Europe, there are lines at the administrative level towards the EU and NATO. In May 2000 Croatia became a member of the Partnership for Peace program. Initially, in 1996 some Mig-21bis's and an An-2 visited the open day at Aviano in Italy. To strengthen mutual relations, USAF and US Navy units have been sent to Pula several times since 2000 to practice together with the Croatian Air Force. For Croatia, these were excellent opportunities to become familiar with NATO procedures and to express their tactics. For the Americans, Croatia offers one of the few possibilities to practice against the MiG-21. The exercises concentrate on 'dissimilar air combat training'(DACT). The MiG-21s proved to be difficult opponents for the Americans. Because of their local familiarity with the terrain, the Croatian pilots were able to fly extremely low and fly hard to suddenly pop out of a valley and surprise the Americans. It turned out that the Americans did not see a chance to get the low flying MiG-21s on their radar. The solution to this was found by having an extra fighter circling high above the practice area, which could make a better radar image of what was flying around in the valleys. This extra fighter deployment led the others to the Croatian MiG-21s. Later, cooperation with NATO was intensified. In 2006, the Croats participated in eight exercises and in 2007 twelve. For the first time in October 2004 Croatia practiced with the Italian air force. Other exercises were 'Noble Midas' in October 2007 with, among others, French marine Super Etendards, and in December 2007 'Istrian Wings' with Italian F-16A ADFs from the 5 Stormo on Cervia.

Due to the financial problems in Croatia, it will take some time before a decision is made about this.

On 23 September 2010, the Croatian Air Force has two MiG-21BisDs lost after a collision. This has not only hit a big hole in the defense, but has also made it clear that it is necessary to think to a follow-up of the MiG-21.

Germany has already offered to supply 20 surplus Phantoms. The Croats are orienting themselves on the second hand market for F-16s or on the new market for the Saab Gripen.

There is also, in the context of participation in international operations, the need for an addition to the An-32s with a type such as the C-27J or the C-130. 

Due to the financial problems in Croatia, it will take some time before a decision is made about this.


Orbat Croatia

Photo gallery


We thank MLADEN CRNIČKI and the Ministry of Defense of Croatia for their great support to make these visits possible. The hospitality at Zagreb-Pleso, Pula, Zadar-Zemunik and Zagreb-Lučko was great. We have forgotten the names of all the persons who have helped us with all our wishes, everything was possible and done very friendly.

The authors: Marinus Dirk Tabak; Volkert Jan van den Berg; Joop de Groot and Jack Bosma.

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