Malé letadlo a skvěly příběh / A small airplane and a great story: The Verner W-01 Brouček homebuilt airplane

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Vladislav Verner’s little sweetie, the Verner W-01 Brouček. Anon., “Private Flying.” Flight International, 14 May 1970, 806.

Ahoj, my reading friend, hello. It is, as always, a pleasure to welcome you to the wonderful world of aviation and space.

Quick question. Do you know what homebuilding is? (Hello, SB!)

Yes, you are correct. The term homebuilding refers to the construction of aircraft by individuals working at home using plans or kits more or less ready to be assembled.

Does this mean that this week’s topic of our intergalactically-read blog / bulletin / thingee has to do with homebuilding, you ask? Yes, it does.

Our story began in Czechoslovakia around 1963 when an aircraft engineer working at the Výzkumného in Zkušebního Leteckého Ústavu (VZLU), an institute for aeronautical research and testing, began to design a homebuilt aircraft. Having heard of the project, some collaborators of Vladislav “Vláďa” Verner, not to mention some people from other organisations, offered their help in constructing the small single-seat machine, in the attic of his house.

Even though the construction project proved challenging, the Verner W-01 Brouček, Czechoslovakia’s first homebuilt aircraft since the country’s dismemberment in 1938-39, was completed in late winter of 1969-70. A VZLU test pilot was at the controls when it made its first flight, in March 1970. The Brouček made its first public flight in April.

A brief digression of a somewhat dark nature if I may. When the Brouček first took to the sky, the people of Czechoslovakia were not a happy lot. You see, in January 1968, a reformist became first secretary of the Komunistická strana Československa (KSČ), the Communist party of Czechoslovakia as you have probably guessed. Alexander Dubček attempted to introduce a number of reforms (democratisation, partial decentralisation of the economy, creation of 2 socialist republics within the country, etc.) which pleased a lot of people in Czechoslovakia but royally riled up the government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). This period of reform became known as the Prague Spring.

The Soviet government tried to convince Dubček that was he was doing, his socialism with a human face, was not in his best interest, or that of Czechoslovakia. In August, unsatisfied with the result of these discussions, it ordered an invasion of the country. A huge number of soldiers (500 000? 650 000?) leapt into action. Not all of them were Soviet soldiers. Four member states of the Treaty of friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance, a USSR-dominated organisation better known as the Warsaw Pact, namely Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Bulgaria, also took part in the invasion. With friends like that…

The Soviet military thought that Czechoslovakia would be subdued in a few days. How wrong they were. Enraged by the invasion, countless people protested but it should be noted that acts of violence were quite rare. A great many individuals and families fled the country. In the end, it took 8 or so months, until April 1969 perhaps, to subdue the people of Czechoslovakia.

Dubček was forced to resign in April 1969. The KSČ expelled him from its ranks in 1970. All the reforms he had launched, with the exception of the creation of 2 socialist republics within Czechoslovakia, were reversed. The new leadership kept a very close eye on the sullen population of the country.

In this gloomy atmosphere, yours truly wonders if the construction of a homebuilt aircraft went unnoticed. Such a vehicle could, after all, be used by its pilot to mount an escape. I wonder if the Státní Bezpečnost, Czechoslovakia’s secret police, kept a close eye on Verner’s activities.

Am I being paranoid, my reading friend? Have I read too many Max Otto von Stierlitz novels and watched too many episodes of a television miniseries detailing his adventures?

What is it, my reading friend? Don’t tell me you have never heard of Stierlitz, born Vsevolod Vladimirovich Vladimirov – a superspy who had infiltrated National Socialist Germany’s intelligence community during the Second World War? This fictitious character was / is the Soviet equivalent of James Bond, a gentleman (sic) mentioned a few time in our you know what since May 2018. The first of the 14 Stierlitz novels came out in 1968. The miniseries, on the other hand, was first aired in August 1973.

Would you believe that said miniseries was rebroadcasted every year after that, in May, in the USSR and in member states of the aforementioned Warsaw Pact, to commemorate the defeat of National Socialist Germany in May 1945?

It has been suggested that a 20 or so year old university student was so intrigued by the miniseries that it may have contributed, a bit, to his decision to join the USSR’s dreaded secret police / spy agency, the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, in 1975. His name was / is, you guessed it, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. But back to our story.

Over the years, Verner was able to fly the Brouček to airshows held in countries like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and (West?) Germany. Yours truly wonders if these trips took place before or after the disappearance of the USSR in December 1991, and / or the breakup of Czechoslovakia in December 1992.

Eager to reduce his operating costs, Verner oversaw the reclassification of the Brouček as an ultralight aircraft in 1995. He seemingly had but one accident, a minor one, in 2003.

Toward the end of 2007, Verner donated the Brouček to the Letecké muzeum of the Vojenský Historický Ústav, in other words the aviation museum of the military history institute of the Czech Republic. In 2015, the aircraft was loaned to the Leteckého muzea Metoděje Vlacha, where it still was as of early 2020.

If I may be permitted to change the tracks of your train of thought, Metoděj Vlach was / is an Austro-Hungarian aviation pioneer of Czech origin. If truth be told, he was the first Czech to make a controlled and sustained flight in a locally-designed powered aeroplane. This historic event took place in November 1912.

Are we done yet, you ask? Are we done yet? Nope. Yours truly is not done with you yet.

In the late 1980s, Verner met Elbert Leander “Burt” Rutan, an aerospace engineer known around the globe and founder of Scaled Composites Limited Liability Company mentioned in a February 2020 issue of our you know what. He was sufficiently intrigued by Rutan’s very efficient aircraft to have a go at the idea of adapting one of these machines, the Rutan VariEze, to conditions in Czechoslovakia, using locally available materials. This being said (typed?), Verner still wanted to use composite materials, in this case fibreglass.

Several of Verner’s aeronautically-inclined friends were sufficiently intrigued by his idea to help him construct a prototype of this aircraft, known as the Verner W-02.

A brief pontification if I may. The prototype of the VariEze, a canard 2-seat machine, in other words an aircraft whose elevators were placed at the front, flew for the first time in May 1975 and…

Yes, my wing nutty reading friend, the Aerodrome No. 4 Silver Dart, the first aircraft to make a controlled and sustained flight in Canada, in February 1909, was a canard aircraft. May we move on?

And yes, the maker of this aeroplane, the Aerial Experiment Association, was mentioned many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since October 2018.

When displayed at the 1975 edition of the EAA Annual Convention and Fly-In of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the prototype of the VariEze caused a sensation. Better yet, Rutan set a new closed circuit distance record for aircraft weighing less than 500 kilogrammes (1 100 pounds) by covering a distance of almost 2 621 kilometres (more than 1 628 miles) – the distance between Montréal, Québec, and La Habana, Cuba.

Anyway, so many people who saw the VariEze at Oshkosh asked for plans that Rutan redesigned the aircraft so that it could be made by homebuilders.

By the way, both the EAA, the largest light aviation organisation in the world, and the EAA Annual Convention and Fly-In, today’s EAA Airventure Oshkosh, the world’s largest airshow, were mentioned in some issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since September 2017.

A typical Rutan Model 33 VariEze, July 2005. Wikipedia.

A typical Rutan Model 33 VariEze, July 2005. Wikipedia.

The redesigned aircraft, known as the Rutan Model 33 VariEze, was an instant hit. It popularised the canard configuration and the use of composite materials within the homebuilders’ community.

Even though the last set of plans may have been sold in 1985, 800 or so (airworthy?) VariEzes could still be found in the American civil aircraft register as of early 2020. From the looks of it, there were 4 (airworthy?) VariEzes in the Canadian one as of early 2020, and back to the Verner W-02.

Construction of the aircraft did not proceed as fast or as smoothly as team members may have wished, for a variety of technical reasons. Sadly enough, the W-02 was not completed. Worse still, Verner left this Earth in February 2012.

The W-02 was on display at the aforementioned Leteckého muzea Metoděje Vlacha as of early 2020. Sadly, yours truly cannot say if this aircraft belonged / belongs to this institution or to the equally aforementioned Letecké muzeum of the Vojenský Historický Ústav.

To my great surprise, yours truly just discovered that a small Czech aircraft engine manufacturing firm by the name of Verner Motor Společnost s ručenim omezeným came into existence in 1993. Better yet, it was still going strong as of 2020. Verner Motor produced / produces engines for ultralight and homebuilt aircraft. Its founder, Pravoslav Verner, is not related to the designer of the Brouček. Small world, isn’t it?

Buď opatrný, příteli / Be careful, my friend.

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Rénald Fortier