Aviation Historian 34
M.Wickstead - Czechoslovakia's "Carefully Serving Airline"
In June 1949 CSA received the first of its Ilyushin Il-12Bs, an example of which, OK-DBN, is seen here at Stockholm in the early 1950s. A Soviet design for a DC-3 replacement, the Il-12 was not much of a leap forward, being unpressurised and powered by Shvetsov M-82 engines, very similar to the DC-3’s Pratt & Whitney R-1830S.
From 1957 CSA took delivery of an updated, pressurised version of the Il-12, licence-built in Czechoslovakia as the Avia 14P (P for passenger variant). This example, OK-MCL, seen here at Heathrow in September 1958, remained in the CSA inventory until 1984. Note the revised tail surfaces compared to the Il-12B.
Ilyushin Il-18V OK-NAA, named Ostrava, joined the CSA fleet in early January 1960, the type offering long-range turboprop services. This aircraft was damaged in a collision with a CSA Tu-134 at Prague on January 2, 1977, but was repaired and returned to service. It was retired in 1981 to become an exhibit at the Kbely Aviation Museum.
Into the jet age with the Tu-104A - a detail from a mid-1950s CSA timetable.
The cover of an April 1958 CSA promotional brochure celebrating the airline’s entry into the jet age with the introduction of the Tu-104A from late 1957.
In 1951 CSA established its LAO subsidiary as a form of corporate air taxi service, connecting industrial centres within Czechoslovakia by means of a fleet of twin-engined light aircraft, including Aero 45s, as seen here, and Let L-200 Moravas. The work was demanding and at times dangerous, often because of hijacking attempts.
Seen here at Copenhagen in the late 1940s or early 1950s, OK-WDU (c/n 9798) was one of CSA’s many ex-USAAF C-47As, joining the airline’s fleet in September 1947. This aircraft went on to have a remarkably long career, later serving in France as F-GEOM and operating as G-OFON and G-DAKK in the UK until the early 2000s.
The cover of CSA’s May 1947 timetable carried an attractive design in which a plan view of a Douglas transport is arranged to represent an arrow from a bow. When CSA was reactivated after the war, the airline took delivery of a large fleet of DC-3s, most of which were from USAAF surplus supplies.
In 1968 CSA began operating the Ilyushin Il-62 on its long-haul routes, initially using a pair leased from Aeroflot, although the following year the airline began receiving its own examples. Named Kosice, OK-ABD joined the fleet in December 1971 and is seen here coming in to land in April 1986, four months before its retirement.
Wearing the airline’s distinctive “OK jet” colour scheme of the 1970s, Tupolev Tu-134A OK-EFK taxies out at a European airport sometime after its delivery in November 1974. The Tu-134 was designed as a replacement for the short-range Tu-124 and was similarly rugged, although it was not economically efficient and was extremely noisy.
With everything hanging out, CSA Tupolev Tu-154M OK-SCA, named Mesto Piest’any, comes in to land in May 1989. The handsome tri-jet served as something of a workhorse for CSA through the late 1980s and 1990s until the type’s retirement in 2000.
In 1964 CSA introduced the Tupolev Tu-124V into service. Essentially a scaled-down version of the Tu-104A, with turbofan engines replacing the latter’s turbojets, the Tu-124 could carry up to 56 passengers over short-range, mainly domestic routes. This example, OK-TEB, was delivered in November 1964 and was written off after landing with its undercarriage still retracted at Zurich on August 18, 1970.
In January 1964 Bristol Britannia 318 OK-MBB became the second example of the type to be leased to CSA from Cubana, with which it had been registered CU-T671. The two Britannias - the first, OK-MBA, had been leased the previous year - operated a Prague-Havana service via New York and Prestwick. After five years of CSA service, OK-MBB was returned to Cubana in January 1969.
Of the 18 production Saro Cloud amphibians completed, only one was built as a civil aircraft, G-ACGO making its first flight on July 23, 1933. It was acquired in August 1934 by CSA, which re-registered the aircraft as OK-BAK and replaced its original 340 h.p. Armstrong Siddeley Serval III engines with similar Walter Pollux radials.
Douglas DC-2 OK-AIB was one of five operated by CLS, along with four DC-3s, all of which were used on scheduled international services until Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, when both CSA and CLS were forced to cease operations. The CLS fleet of Douglas transports was transferred to Deutsche Luft Hansa, none seeing service in Czechoslovakia after the war.
CLS acquired its fleet of Douglas DC-2s - including OK-AIA, seen here at Prague circa 1936 - and DC-3s via Fokker before the war.
The Aero Letnany A.10 single-engined biplane was the first commercial aircraft to be designed and built in Czechoslovakia and made its maiden flight on January 3, 1922. Five examples were completed, all serving with CSA in the airline’s early years.
Karel Brabenec made the first scheduled CSA flight on October 28, 1923. By the end of the year the more suitable Aero A-10 was replacing the A-14.
The first of CSA’s fleet of four Airspeed Envoys, Mk I OK-BAL arrived in Prague in August 1935, followed by Mk I OK-BAM the following month. The two remaining Envoys, Mk IIs OK-BAN and ’BAO, were delivered in 1936, all four of the airline’s Envoys being powered by Czechoslovakian-built 340 h.p. Walter Castor II radials.
During 1935-36 CLS acquired two Fokker F.XVIII trimotors - OK-AIQ and OK-AIR - from KLM, the pair operating on the airline’s Berlin and Vienna services until 1938. The type, capable of carrying 12 passengers, was a refinement of Fokker’s standard trimotor design, with wooden wings and a welded steel-tube fuselage.
The three-engined Letov S.32 made its first flight in 1931, all five examples built - OK-ADA to OK-ADE - operating with CSA on the airline’s Prague - Marianske Lazne - Karlovy Vary route. Although perhaps not the most elegant of airliners, the rugged S.32 was nevertheless a sturdy workhorse capable of operating at night.
In 1928 Czechoslovakia’s civil registration prefix-letters changed from L-B to OK-, the former L-BAAD, an Aero A.23, becoming OK-AAD, as seen here. CSA operated seven A.23s, each powered by a single 420 h.p. nine-cylinder Walter Jupiter IV radial engine and incorporating a six-passenger cabin. The type remained in the CSA inventory until the mid-1930s.
Three Airbus A321s were leased by CSA in 2005, including OK-CEC, seen here in April 2006, and used until 2012. In 2021 the severely depleted post-Covid CSA fleet comprises one A319 (OK-REQ), one A320 (OK-HEU), one Boeing 737-800 (OK-TST) and two ATR 72s (OK-NFU and ’NFV), with the latter pair due for imminent retirement.
With a new colour scheme by the early 1990s, and liberated from its commitment to buy Soviet types, CSA set about modernising its fleet, acquiring ATR 42 and 72 turboprop regional airliners for its short-haul routes. This ATR 72-201, OK-XFD, named Mlada Boleslav, joined the fleet in May 1992 and served until it was sold in 2011.