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Once upon a time, there was a Hungarian Air Force…

After (the so-called) communism ended, so many things changed here, in East/Central Europe…for example the various national armies and forces’ attitudes towards a possible war and in addition with that change there happened a re-thinking about the type and number of the used warmachines and it was often followed by a serious decreasing of their amounts. Every country made its own decisions determined by its own possibilities, needs and stupidity of its politicians. There are good examples around, which show that with a reasoned reducation and with some modernisation it is still possible to maintain a quite good, or even at least functionable air force without building a new one from scratch costs a fortune. Let me say, the hungarian way was maybe the most “brutal”, unmatured solution which caused the complete waste of almost all equipment of the former, way bigger than now (OK, too big to the country’s size) air force, doing this only by economical and political reasons. If there could be a symbol for how to turn into [email protected] a quite strong air force then I’m afraid you couldn’t find a better one than this place which I’m telling about in this article.

Long story short, after this long preface (I just thought you may need a little background for better understanding)… On a sunny autumn Friday three of us (two journalist and me) visited this not-so famous and not so well-known abandoned plane graveyard which you can find in the grass, next to the Pápa Air Force Base’s former auxillary runway. Somewhere in the mid ’90s it made clear for the hungarian goverment, that it wasn’t possible to operate more that air force which was tailored to fit into the Warsaw Pact’s needs…and they made the craziest decision I’ve ever heard…which was, literally “okay, throw them away, all of them!”. So from 1994 to 2000 hundreds of various Mig-21 variants, including the most modern bis versions and smaller amounts of Mig-23s and Su-22M3s were withdrawn from service, most of the air force’s squadrons were disbanded, two important bases, Taszár AFB and Pápa AFB were closed (Taszár AFB was later used by NATO forces at the time of the Yugoslavian campaigns, Pápa AFB is the home of SAC’s (Strategic Airlift Capability) two C-17 aircrafts nowadays). Some of these airplanes (approx 80-90) were put to this abovementioned runway in a decorate and strict row, and after the Mig-21’s last flight (that was on the 31st of August, 2000) they were only waiting for their surely not so bright future. Important to the fact, that most of them was still usable at that time, with many possible flying hours and some of them were just right after their midterm main maintenance (like all Mig-21UM two seaters and every Su-22 M3s for example). I mean no conservation for the future, no modernisation plans (we had the same offers as for example Romanians had for their LanceR Migs) just put them into the middle of nowhere right below the sun and let them die. Some planes were sold to museums, galleries and collectors to almost every places of the globe, just 35 remains. These 35 which you can see on the grass in my pictures. I don’t know the exact date when they were relocated from the runway to this place but I know, they were barbarized and literally destroyed for never fly again (yes, they were still usable at that time and most important still usable from a military point of view!). Their fueltanks and engines were filled with a kind of concrete-sawdust mixture which made them incredibly heavy (this is why all the Su-22s are sit so badly to their tails and some of their gearlegs are broken) and because of that weight all the aircrafts just slowly sink into the soft mud of the area.

In this place there are the following aircrafts:
28 Mig-21bis (once belonged to the Griff, Turul and Boszorkány squadrons, Pápa and Taszár AFBs)
2 Mig-21 UM two-seater trainer (once belonged I think to Griff squdron, Pápa AFB)
5 Su-22 M3 (once belonged to Fürkészdarázs squadron, Taszár AFB).

Honestly I can say, this place is somehow sad (as usually graveyards are…) and forces you to think about lots of things. It is completely abandoned and unguarded – honestly, there are a kind of electic wire, the one is used to take cows in place, but its not a big deal to get behind. Its like a 4-5 kilometers walk from the closest village (which mostly you take on the still abandoned runway with its bunkers and strongholds from the left and the right) and it is really a weird feeling when all of a sudden you are right in front of these aircrafts in the middle of the grass. Back entrance and the main runway of Pápa AFB is about 1000 meters, and it is a working airfield at the moment and we were lucky, because two C-17s were in continuous hoping on and off which made a huge contrast, among these Migs on the ground and those huge planes just fly over and over our heads (and it was like a spotters paradise).

Sorry for the way too long text but this thing is kinda emotional for me…if you think, just skip my words and see the photos, I’m sure they tell more and better. One more thing…i didn’t mention the exact location of this place, and this isn’t just a coincidence. In the past few years skilled hands were started to barbarize these planes for having and selling memorabilias for collectors. At now the small but omnipresent destructions on almost every plane is really visible and this is why enthusiast but respectful people don’t really tell where this place is and how to get there. Of course you can easily find it by using Google Earth of even if some of you are in Hungary, I’ll be glad to help to find it or organize a guided tour if needed. Just respect and don’t destroy these planes that’s all I can ask.

Thanks for your time!

27 additional images. Click to enlarge.

21 responses to Once upon a time, there was a Hungarian Air Force…

  1. So could I just buy one if I wanted and get it shipped to the U.K. ?

    • hello Neil, I’m not sure about…I had the same idea just for a moment, but we couldn’t find anyone who could have answered this question clearly…but I’m afraid with their tanks filled with this concrete-based stuff, they are way too heavy to move even detached into parts too; anyways HuAF starts selling all of their Mig-29s (23 pieces) so it’s your time to get one 🙂

  2. hello Neil, I’m not sure about…I had the same idea just for a moment, but we couldn’t find anyone who could have answered this question clearly…but I’m afraid with their tanks filled with this concrete-based stuff, they are way too heavy to move even detached into parts too; anyways HuAF starts selling all of their Mig-29s (23 pieces) so it’s your time to get one 🙂

  3. Kind of a shame, really, that the airplanes were simply left to rot and not at least a few of them preserved in a museum.

    • hello Craig, many airplanes found their way in different museums, some of them in a really decent, nicely preserved way but these 35, yeah, they had different fate…I’m still thinking about, how to make possible even a little museum or just kind of a memorial site there

  4. Just amazing. I’m surprised they didn’t cut them up for scrap, and sell it. Putting that “stuff” into the fuel tanks really settled that. Sic transit gloriae mundae.

    • hello Bernard, cut them away might have needed workers, time, money and proper organisation…threw them away and let them to rot (as Craig said, I cannot imagine a better phrase to cover this situation) was a way cheaper and easier solution…blackmarket memorabilia collectors really love that 🙁

  5. Great shots, Milan…it’s always good to see old Warsaw Pact aircraft, although it’s not so good to see them in such a sorry state.

    Have you had a chance to view the Hunavia site? Hunavia has lots of pix of aircraft used by the Hungarian Air Force, showing aircraft in operational condition, before they were left to rot:

  6. What can I say, its all so very sad, we have the same situation here in South Africa, the funny thing is, is that the tax payer will end up carrying the burden in the long run.

    • hello Marc, yes that’s the thing, my country spent a real fortune to build a new air force almost from scratch after throwing away almost every plane we once had. the sum is almost ten times bigger than for example the whole cost of some of our neighbouring countries’ modernisation programs which is a situation you can’t really decide whether laugh or cry about. I almost don’t know anything about the last 20-25 years of the SAAF, but it’s an interesting subject, would be good to know more, maybe you should write sometimes an article about…

  7. I’ve been there once. Really sad place. 🙁

  8. What a sad waste.

  9. I’m with the rest of the folks here: such a sad waste of interesting aircraft.

    Milan, don’t worry. Your narrative here is just fine and not a bit too long. What we CAN see is that this comes from your heart. As Robert said, “What a sad waste.”

    • hello Jeffry, thanks, yes, it really came from my heart…this story is really emotional for me…and personal a little…at that time when this happened (in the late 90s) I wanted to learn at the army university to became a pilot in the air force, so somehow I felt this whole madness on my own skin. (and anyways I was always quite good about writing long essays and was always bad about writing short&quick articles :))

  10. Hi Milun, thanks for posting this interesting article, a subject obviously very close to your heart. It’s always sad to see such a waste, but that’s what politicians are good at! In someways it’s disheartening to think that the super powers still need armed forces in the 21st century. Let the leaders fight it out instead in a good old fashioned duel, Donald vs Kim with swords, or maybe armoured knights on horseback, now, that would make good TV, and save us poor tax payers a lot of money.

    • hello George, yes, that duel indeed a good idea, people should work on to make it happen 🙂

      • I think they should make it more personal than mounted combat or even swords: they should arm wrestle! THEN they might get a better – more personal feeling – that what their actions REALLY do to affect their people and often ruining their lives!

        But that will NEVER happen. Politics and/or religion will continue to cause tension and eventually fighting somewhere rather than working toward a unifying state of peace and harmony which could then advance humanity much further than it is … beyond the stars.
        (Written in late September, 2018 – long after it was originally posted. However, I give no apologies because this is a subject near and dear to many of us. I spent the better part of 8 years guarding the East-West German Border near Fulda, {then} West Germany waiting for a war which, thank God never happened.)
        Milan, this is truly excellent work. As said before, this is NOT too long. It is easy to see the depth of feeling you have for this subject. Yes, it was a huge waste of YOUR money, but it is still MUCH better – and less expensive in both money and lives – than a conflict between nations! All these wonderful aircraft are now wasted … but not forgotten.

        Thank you for sharing your photos and your thoughts.

        • hello Jeff, that must be an “interesting” (it’s definately not the right word I think) time spent on the then two-Germany’s border…and I totally agreed with you, thanks for any and every Gods that these times mankind successfully managed to avoid a war between the two sides, which I think could have destroyed almost everything. anyways, this site and these planes meant a huge inspiration for me, after we (me and a photographer friend of mine) visited this place we decided to start a website dealing mostly with the history of the hungarian air force for never be forgotten (here it is: – but unfortunatey it’s only in hungarian).
          thanks for your comment and time! cheers, milan

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