History of Stará Aerovka premises
The history of Stara Aerovka premises is closely connected with the history of Czech and Czechoslovak aviation. The first years after the founding of independent Czechoslovakia in 1918 were also characterized by boom of the aerospace industry. The top place in this area belonged to Prague. In the early 1920s, new aircraft manufacturers were rolling out newer and newer world class prototypes. This period is inseparably connected with the development of Prague airports, where huge complexes of modern hangars were being built.
AERO factory was founded by Vladimír Kabeš on January 10, 1919 (after 1921 - AERO, aircraft factory Dr.Kabeš). This second oldest Czech aircraft factory was initially located at the back part of a water cleaning station in Prague-Bubeneč, and they focused on repairs of WWI planes. Soon the company moved from their cramped premises in Prague-Bubeneč to wooden buildings in Prague-Holešovice. Initially, these buildings were rented and later on, the company bought the premises from German aircraft repair company Al-Ma. A very important point in the future development of company AERO was an order for production of a series of licenced training biplanes Brandenburg. The company produced 35 planes under the name A-1. This order allowed the company to start developing and designing their own prototypes. The first own airplane was a fighter biplane, type A-2. In the middle of the boom, there was a fire in the factory on November 5, 1921, which destroyed their joinery workshop, car repairs workshop, and their prototype assembly workshop. Subsequently, some workshops had to be relocated to different parts of Prague due to lack of space.
It was also at that time, when the first AERO assembly hangars were built in the south-west part of Prague-Kbely airport - the only Prague airport then. Here, AERO built the first two-wing wooden assembly hangar with area of 600 m2. This hangar was destroyed in fire in 1921. Immediately afterwards, the company replaced it with a practically identical hangar designated for final assembly and storage of tested airplanes. Today, it is Hangar No.VI on Stara Aerovka premises. At its close proximity and at the same time, the company started construction of a modern brick hangar, which was finished in 1922 (1923 at the latest). Today, it is Hangar No.III on Stara Aerovka premises.
AERO experienced rapid development which brought so much finance that in 1923 the company was able to build modern factory facilities in the middle of fields in Prague-Vysočany. At that time, the company had more than 570 employees, and under the supervision of the Head of Engineering, Antonín Husník, it produced airplane Aero A-2, followed by a number of civil and military airplanes. The company achieved a number of firsts in Czechoslovak airplane construction. It was the first company to build a fighter airplane; they built the first dedicated cabin transport airplane, the first twin-engine aircraft, and the first seaplane, which was designed for a flight test squadron operating on the Yugoslav coast. During the whole time of its existence, the company also produced airplane equipment and gear, and their main focus - besides aviation – was on production of cars of the same name.
AERO premises at Prague-Kbely airport were always used for final assembly of airplanes produced in Prague-Vysočany after their transport to the airport; for calibration, weighing, and storage between individual test flights.
After the occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the factory production and airport operations were entirely subjected to the needs of the German Army. In order to enlarge Prague—Kbely airport for the needs of a German pilot school, it was necessary to remove AERO test-flight department premises. The last AERO aircraft tested here was the training aircraft Bücker Bü-131 on September 30, 1940. AERO was given new premises at the nearby eastern part of Prague-Letnany airfield. In 1940-1941, two original Prague-Kbely hangars (No. III and IV) were moved here, and two brand-new hangars were built (No. IV and V). All of these hangars are still situated here. Besides building hangars and workshops on the premises, the company also built a number of service buildings and buildings for employees, e.g. a canteen, a compressor hall, a laundry, and warehouses. Since the beginning, the premises were used for final aircraft assembly, preparation for test flights, and subsequent delivery to the customer. The premises served these purposes also for other aircraft manufacturers in Prague-Kbely and Letnany districts. First aircraft went on their maiden flights here in March 1941. The tested aircraft were especially types Focke-Wulf Fw 189 and Siebel Si 204. An essential witness of this stage of the premises’ development is a 1942 photograph taken by an American reconnaissance aircraft. The premises worked undisturbed until spring 1945. On March 25, 1945, an air raid by allied armies demolished not only the buildings, but mainly the airfield, which has marks of craters until today. AERO factory in Prague-Vysočany was also severely damaged.
Following the reconstruction of factory halls in Prague-Vysočany, nationalization of AERO and its incorporation into Letecké závody a.s. concern, the assembly and testing departments were restored at Letnany airport. The nationalized AERO continued to manufacture and repair aircraft. Modified German types of airplanes were produced not only for Czechoslovak Air Force, but also for civil aviation. Shortly after the war, a new remarkable indigenous aircraft was introduced – the high-performance, twin-engine, all-metal Aero 45 four-seater. Before the early 1950s, all post-war types of Aero aircraft were tested at Letnany airport. In the early 1950s, AERO built new factory premises in Vodochody, and due to the fact that a testing airport was built on the premises of Aero Vodochody, there was no more need for a testing department at Letnany airport. However, the premises were still in use as a testing airfield for company Avia Letnany. It was used especially for testing licenced aircraft Ilyushin/Avia 14. The control over the so called “Stara Aerovka” was taken over by company Rudy Letov, followed by company Letecke opravny Kbely. The hangars were used for dismantling and minor repairs of military aircraft, and for production of auxiliary fuel tanks. In the 1980s, they also produced adapted vehicles for airport operations.
It can be said that the Stara Aerovka premises have remained preserved in a unique completeness. This can be proven, among others, by comparing photographs made by American reconnaissance aircraft with current aerial photos. It is an absolutely unique building complex, which accentuates the development of airport structural engineering between WWI and the late 1940s. Hangar No. VI is a typical Austrian-Hungarian building from WWI. Hangar No. III is a typical Central European building from the early 1920s.Hangar No.IV illustrates continual development in the 1930s, and hangar No.V is a typical German-school building (Junkers type) aiming at maximum saving of material which was in short supply. There are only a few buildings of this type and construction worldwide; and all of them are only individual airport buildings from that time period. We know of no other similar airport complex preserved in such completeness and genuineness.
This fact is given especially by historic development. Vast majority of European cities, which were centres of aerospace industry, were severely damaged in WWII due to bombarding or ground military operations often targeted at airports. In this matter, Prague is an exception. It was practically untouched by ground military operations, and damage caused by bombarding was minor. That is why the Stara Aerovka premises were damaged only marginally. The nationalized aerospace industry could continue developing here immediately after WWII. Also this fact was beneficial for preservation of the buildings’ originality. The investment in the buildings during WWI was nearly none, and it was directed only at daily repairs.
The well preserved complex not only shows the level of airport structural engineering of its time, but, thanks to its extraordinary genuineness, it also lets us see the working procedures of the period. The hangars, originally used for assembly of aircraft, have kept their original interior equipment and machinery, e.g. aircraft scales, or internal wooden galleries with the foremen’s offices.
Therefore the Stará Aerovka premises is a unique complex representing not only the architecture connected with the beginning of Czechoslovak aviation, but also the development of aircraft technology during WWII. At one place, it is possible to see several uniquely preserved buildings, typical pro Central European airport structural engineering of the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. This place, which illustrates the history of Czechoslovak aviation, should undoubtedly be preserved for the next generations.
The History of Hangars No. V and VI
Regarding the history of Hangar No. V, we can introduce the following facts. During the construction of new premises for AERO in 1940-1941, also this hangar was built, as seen not only in pictures from the construction of the premises (1940-1941), but also in a 1942 picture taken by a reconnaissance aircraft of the allied armies. It is a standardized hangar belonging to German company Junkers, which illustrates the development of airport architecture during WWII. After its reconstruction, this hangar will house a collection of bombers, fighter aircraft, and fighter bombers from the years between WWII and 1980s. One of the exhibited aircraft is going to be the most valuable addition to the collection of Military History Institute in Prague in the last 20 years. It is a Soviet bomber aircraft, Petlyakov Pe-2 from WWII, of which there are only three pieces in museums worldwide. This aircraft is after emergency landing and it was acquired to the collection of the Military History Institute in Prague from Norwegian aviation museum Norsk Luftfartsmuseum in Bodo. This museum owns also parts of several aircraft of this type. In close cooperation with colleagues from Norwegian aviation museum, the aircraft is going to be renovated in the coming years, and the renovation will take place in Hangar No. V, right in front of the visitors’ eyes. As the hangar is a typical example of WWII airport architecture and it will house a number of unique WWII aircraft, the museum exhibition project aims to use the object also for exposition of the European resistance in WWII. The resistance of Czech technicians and workers against the Nazi regime was clearly visible right in the Stara Aerovka hangars. This part of the Czech resistance movement will be shown in wider European context. The hangar showing bomber planes will focus specifically on the history of the Norwegian resistance. It is a widely known fact in the Czech Republic that one of the most significant moments in the European resistance was the assassination of Deputy/Acting Reich-Protector, Reinhard Heydrich – operation ANTHROPOID, but it is not known that the only comparable act was operation SWALLOW – destruction of a heavy water factory, Norsk Hydro, which prevented Germany from construction of a nuclear bomb. Both of these operations were carried out by Czechoslovak and Norwegian paratroopers trained by British SOE, and dropped by bomber aircraft. And usage of bombers for landing of diversionary troops is one of the less widely known parts of military use of these aircraft. The Norwegian resistance followed a path similar to the Czech one, including their experience with occupation, creation of local civil and military resistance, foreign troops in Great Britain, but also traitors as Quisling or Moravec. The afore mentioned Czechoslovak and Norwegian resistance operations are still the most important moments in the fight of European nations for freedom and democracy, and the exposition is going to be a combination of well preserved unique collectables with modern audio-visual media.
Regarding the history of Hangar No. VI, we can introduce the following facts. The first AERO’s hangar used for assembly and testing of airplanes was built at the south-east part of Prague-Kbely airport in 1920. In March 1921, it was destroyed by fire, and immediately afterwards, a new wooden hangar was built at the very same place. Its construction was identical to the previous hangar. During the construction of new AERO premises at south-east part of Prague-Letnany airport, the original wooden hangar was moved to a new place. Hangars of this type can be seen in photographs of the territory of former Austria-Hungary, including Czech countries. This proves that in 1920, architects based their design on a tested type used in the very beginning of aviation. In the Czech Republic, hangars from this time are well preserved on the premises of current Letecké museum VHÚ (Aviation Museum VHÚ) in Prague-Kbely. However, it is a more modern type Wagner. Hangar No. VI is thus a unique example of airport architecture, which in unparalleled not only in the Czech Republic, but neither in Central Europe.
After its reconstruction, this hangar will illustrate the history of AERO aircraft production. The key exhibits will be four unique Aero aircraft prototypes.
The Stara Aerovka premises is a unique complex representing not only the architecture connected with the beginning of Czechoslovak aviation, but also the development of aircraft technology during WWII. Following the reconstruction of the two afore mentioned hangars, the Stara Aerovka premises will, in cooperation with the VHU, house a unique museum complex based on the original purpose of the individual buildings, part of which will also be returning historic aircraft produced by AERO to the place where they were manufactured.