Avia B-534 (replica)

Avia B-534 (ultra-light replica, OK-QAB-1), taxiing for the static display of the 24th Aviation Fair air show (Aviatická pouť), Pardubice, May 2014.

Avia B-534 was a biplane fighter aircraft, designed in the former Czechoslovakia in the early 1930s. The aeroplane was developed from B-34, which was the first – and of debatable quality – fighter biplane made by František Novotný for the Avia company. There were only twelve examples of the B-34 made (plus one prototype) when it turned out the aircraft had significant issues with its engine and merely had not fulfilled the hopes for modern, Czechoslovak-made fighter.

Nevertheless, with increasing tensions in Europe, the need for a modern fighter aircraft for the Czechoslovak Air Force had become even more urgent. All three main domestic aviation manufacturers – Praga, Letov and Avia, competed in contract award procedure and eventually, the latter was announced the winner, with an aircraft designated the B-534.

The new Novotný´s fighter was an upgrade of the aforementioned B-34, equipped with license-made Hispano-Suiza radial engine, generating 860 hp. The aeroplane was characterized with all-metal, aerodynamic fuselage, exceptional climb rate and manoeuvrability, as well as top speed close to 400 kph. At the same time, it was still a biplane with fixed undercarriage and open cockpit – being a bit obsolete design for the middle of the 1930s.

However, the B-534 still meant a significant step ahead for the Czechoslovak Air Force and Novotný´s design was approved for serial production. It was launched in 1935 and lasted until the German invasion and then annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. There were four main variants of the aeroplane existing (also commonly known as ´series´) and a total of 566 examples of the B-534 was built.

Due to political developments, the B-534s were not used to defend the country, as the Czechoslovak armed forces did not fight with the occupying German forces (with a few exceptions). Nevertheless, hypothetical duel between the B-534 and Messerschmitt Bf 109 is still one of the favourite subjects for discussion among Czech historians and aviation enthusiasts. Nowadays, the aircraft remains an icon of the interwar Czechoslovakia and one of the legends of the Czechoslovak aviation industry.

The Avia B-534 was used in combat by the newly established country of Slovakia. Some aircraft were taken over by Slovaks in March of 1939 and then used against Hungary. Later the same year, the Slovak Air Force operated them against Poland, however without any significant success in any of those two campaigns. In 1941, a few B-534 were also sent to the Eastern front and used there for reconnaissance duties. Additionally, almost 80 examples were handed over to Bulgaria.

Regrettably no example of the Avia B-534 survived until today. There are two copies built for museum purposes and exhibited in Aviation Museum Kbely (Prague) and Slovak Aviation Museum (Košice). Both were reportedly made with use of original drawings and include some original parts – nevertheless aviation historians have already pointed several mistakes done while creating those copies.

Surprisingly, in the country with such a strong aviation tradition as the Czech Republic is, for many years there was no attempt to build an airworthy replica of the B-534. This changed in 2002 when Stanislav Fiala, a former airline pilot, launched his project of creating an ultra-light version of that legendary biplane fighter.

The aircraft had to be powered by Walter Mikron III engine, generating approximately one-tenth the power of the original Hispano-Suiza powerplant. Thus, the aircraft had to be scaled down to approximately seventy percent of the B-534 size and use wooden wings and tail elements.

That replica of the B-534 was made with use of original drawings and photographs, as well as examination of the example exhibited in Kbely museum. For the first time, the aircraft was ready to fly in 2009, however it turned out that the undercarriage needed to be strengthened. Additional works and then the administration procedures to acquire certificate of airworthiness for the replica lasted until 2012.

In October of 2012 the replica of the B-534 was approved and then registered as OK-QAB-1. Since that time, the aeroplane visited several aviation events in the Czech Republic, always raising great interest of spectators.