That’s me on the left, or, How would you feel about a few words on the flying Cadillac of Czechoslovakia, the Let L-13 Blaník glider?

One of the earliest examples of the Let L-13 Blaník glider. Anon., “Flying newsreels,” Flying, November 1959, 48.

With your permission, my reading friend, I would like to begin our expedition to the wonderful world of aviation and space with a question. Do the first words of the title of this week’s article ring a bell? No? That’s no big deal.

Let me enlighten you by mentioning a series of Canadian novels which appeared between 1962 and 2005. Known as the Bandy Papers, these books related / relate the adventures and misadventures of Ontario’s Bartholomew Wolfe Bandy. A gifted if accident prone fighter pilot during the First World War, Bandy met many historical figures between 1916 and 1945. The author of these 12 well-researched but highly amusing works of fiction was / is Donald Lamont Jack, a Canadian author of British origin and fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

Three volumes of Bandy’s memoirs won the prestigious Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, in 1963, 1974 and 1980. A 5-part radio drama derived from the first title in the series, Three Cheers For Me, produced by the Canadian national television broadcaster Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, aired around 1972-73.

Would you like to see (read?) a list of the titles of Jack’s 12 books? No? Allow me to ignore this somewhat presumptuous request. Here is the list of said titles:
Three Cheers for Me (1962)
Three Cheers for Me (1973)
That’s Me in the Middle (1973)
It’s Me Again (1975)
It’s Me Again (1976)
Me among the Ruins (1976)
Me Bandy, You Cissie (1979)
Me Too (1983)
This One’s on Me (1987)
Me so Far (1989)
Hitler vs. Me (1996)
Stalin vs. Me (2005)
But back to our story.

If this article of our blog / bulletin / thingee owed / owes its existence to a photograph found in the November 1959 issue of the American monthly magazine Flying, the subject of this article, the Let L-13 Blaník, owed / owes its existence to something else altogether. Let me explain.

We are in 1954, in Czechoslovakia. An engineer from the Výzkumného in Zkušebního Leteckého Ústavu (VZLU), an institute for research and testing, started the design of a modern 2-seat training (initial, aerobatics, distance flying) glider. The first of the 2 prototypes of the Blaník, manufactured in the VZLU’s prototype workshops, in the factory of the state-owned company Aero Vodochody Národni Podnik, flew in March 1956.

One of these aircraft was present at the 5èmes Championnats du monde de vol à voile, held in France in June and July of that year. Impressed by the finish of the Blaník, many pilots soon nicknamed this prototype the Cadillac, after the magnificent, dare I say ginormous, flamboyant, extravagant, delirious and decadent American automobiles manufactured by the eponymous division of General Motors Corporation, an American giant mentioned since March 2018 in some issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

The Czech government having handed over the Blaník to another Czech aircraft manufacturer, the state-owned company Let Národni Podnik, the engineers of the latter examined its plans and made some modifications. The first production Blaník flew towards the end of 1958. It soon attracted the attention of many gliding clubs. The Blaník indeed proved solid, performing, durable and comfortable. Better yet, it was easy to fly, easy to maintain and relatively inexpensive.

Produced up to 1978, with just over 2 600 examples made, including more than 2 000 sold abroad, Blaník was / is one of the great success stories of the Czech aviation / aerospace industry. In fact, for decades and perhaps still in 2019, this aircraft was / is the most common glider in the world.

Blaníks have flown / fly in more than 40 countries all over our good old Earth, including Canada. In fact, the export success of the Blaník went far beyond the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and its satellite countries. Indeed, would you believe that the United States Air Force Academy used for several years a number of Blaníks, designated TG-10, in other words an aircraft produced by a satellite of the sworn enemy of the United States, for the basic training of future pilots of the United States Air Force? Some other air forces, including that of the USSR, have also made / are also making use of this aircraft.

It should be noted that civilian glider pilots set not less than 12 world distance and altitude records and an indeterminate number of national records during the 1960s. In 1964, a Chilean pilot crossed the Andes, the second highest mountain range on Earth – a first for a glider which earned this man a medal from the Fédération aéronautique internationale, the Paris-based world governing body for all manners of aeronautical records mentioned several times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since January 2018.

A derivative of Blaník, the Let L-23 Super Blaník, flew for the first time in 1988. It was produced in 300 or so examples between 1988 and 2006.

Twenty Blaník were in the Canadian civil aircraft register as of 2019. The first glider of this type registered in this country arrived no later than 1964. Dare yours truly suggest that the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario, consider the possibility of acquiring a Blaník?

A detail before I forget, the Blaník whose photograph was / is at the beginning of this article was one of the first gliders of this type to leave the factory. Registered in June 1959, it apparently flew over the site of the XXIIIe Salon international de l’aéronautique, held at Le Bourget, a suburb of Paris, in June. It suffered there some undetermined damage. This Blaník was removed from the Czech civil aircraft register in January 1964. I must admit I do not know if this was because of an accident or of its sale to a foreign pilot or agency.

This concludes our peroration of the week, and…

What is it, my reading friend? You do not understand why yours truly entitled this article That’s me on the left, etc., etc.? Profuse apologies. The fact is that I used these few words for a very personal reason. You see, in the very late 1980s or the very early 1990s, I forget the exact date, I’m old, yours truly took a short flight aboard a Blaník of the Gatineau Gliding Club of Ottawa. Yes, yes, a short flight. My first and only glider flight as 2019 comes to a close.

An employee of the National Aviation Museum, today’s Canada Aviation and Space Museum, (Hello, JB!) was then kind enough to organise short glider flights for 3 employees of said museum, a female student and a male student present for a summer and yours truly. If I remember correctly, the female student ultimately decided to stay on the ground to observe what took place.

What is it, my reading friend? Is it skepticism that I see on your face? If I may quote, in translation of course, Captain Bonhomme, born Jean Yannick William Nicolas Bonhomme, a very colourful fictitious character who was featured in children’s programs of Télé Métropole Incorporée, a private television broadcaster in Montréal, Québec, mentioned in June and November 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee, skeptics will be confounded, ded, ded.

Yours truly aboard a Let L-13 Blaník of the Gatineau Gliding Club, Plantagenet, Ontario. This aircraft completed in 1973 and delivered to this club that very year still flew in 2019, it seemed.

Yours truly aboard a Let L-13 Blaník of the Gatineau Gliding Club, Plantagenet, Ontario. This aircraft completed in 1973 and delivered to this club that very year still flew in 2019, it seemed.

I know, I know. I could then count on a slightly more fleshed out hair cover than the one that remained in place in 2019.

I will not tell you anything you did not know by telling you that it was in a television series in which Captain Bonhomme appeared that the clown Gregor Patof made his appearance, in January 1972. That was a poorly written sentence, was it not? Télé Métropole entrusted this fictional character very popular with children with a show called Patofville, aired between 1973 and 1976. Mentioned in another November 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee, this show was the first of 3 animated by Patof.

To my very great shame, I must confess to having convinced my parents to buy me a pair of Patof shoes. Even today, I wonder how a person can walk with thick-soled and high heeled shoes without stumbling at every darn sidewalk curb.

If you have no question, I will close this article with my best regards, and my wish you only buy comfortable shoes.

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Rénald Fortier