Finally, after many years and good intentions, I visited the Austrian Aviation Museum in Graz-Thalerhof with my Mach 2 - Aviation Experts partner and flying colleague Nathan Hildebrand. It must be noted here that the Austrians have a rather strange and odd understanding of their own history and thus also of museums, and therefore most visitors to the aviation museum come from abroad...
For me, a long-planned get-together with my old flying buddy and tarot partner Colonel (ret.) Hermann Wagner, who is one of the founding members of the museum, finally became reality. Since my retirement from active service as a fighter pilot, we unfortunately only saw each other on exceedingly rare occasions. Under the expert guidance of Hermann, we were able to spend interesting and unforgettable hours at the museum, strolling between the various (partly rare) exhibits and take some great pictures and videos.
By the way, there are also planes at the museum which I flew during my active time as a fighter pilot of the 2nd surveillance squadron in the Austrian Air Force. The Saab 35-Ö "Draken" and its two-seater trainer version of the Saab Sk-35C were probably the most demanding aircraft I have ever flown. Many memories of supersonic swings over the Baltic Sea came to mind when I saw the old "Caesar".
Technical details and dry spec sheets during a visit to a museum are one thing, but to be able to listen to the stories and first hand eyewitness accounts of one of the pilots that still flew the Saab J-29 "Tunnan" was quite exciting and made our visit more exciting.
To list all the stories here would almost fill a book of its own, which Hermann wrote anyway, and would also go completely beyond the scope of this blog post.
Some stories, however, which now go back many years, have particularly moved us. Hermann's recounted his experience during an ejector seat exit that happened during a training mission with his Saab 105. Unfortunately, there are only very few contemporary witnesses who have experienced such extreme situations. During the retraining for the new aircraft, "spinning" maneuvers were practiced on a regular basis. One intentionally brings the plane into an excessive stalling position which abruptly breaks the airflow on the wings and causes the plane to suddenly tip over in one direction.
With specific stick movements one could bring the aircraft out of a spin dive and regain control of the jet again, although with loss of altitude. Unfortunately, the 105, with Hermann at the wheel, tilted into a backspin. What makes this experience especially unpleasant is the fact that one experiences a negative load of minus 3Gs while hanging in your belts.
The Austrian version of the Saab 105 had the additional disadvantage during such a maneuver because part of the rudder that was still in contact with the airflow was blocked by the two VOR antennas, which meant that the backspin could not be recovered anymore. Hermann remembers: "Somehow I immediately had the feeling that I had to walk home by foot today". When falling below the safety altitude, the instructor gave the order: "Hermann, eject! I released the seat, and my immediate thought was: "Sh..., this won’t work!". Next thing he knew, he was already dangling from the parachute. During the explosion and brutal ejection with roughly 22 G, Hermann was briefly unconscious. 22 G means that a person weighing 70 kg briefly weighs about 1.5 tons and the entire musculoskeletal system, especially the spine, is extremely compressed.
Fritz Fuszko is a Boeing 767 long-haul captain and CRM trainer at Austrian Airlines, authorized instructor for airline pilots (ATPL) and founding partner of "Mach 2 - Aviation Experts". In his more than 30-year career with Austrian Air Services, Crossair, Lauda Air and Austrian Airlines, he flew various types of aircraft on long-haul (Boeing 777, 767) as well as on short-haul (Boeing 737, Fokker 50). He began his career on the Saab-Draken and Saab-105 fighter jets.
Nathan Hildebrand is an airline pilot, certified CRM trainer, Flight Instructor and founding partner of "Mach 2 - Aviation Experts". In his more than 30-year career as a pilot in civil aviation, he has flown the aircraft types Airbus 380, 340, 330 as well as Boeing 777, 767, 737 and Fokker 50 for Emirates Airline, Lauda Air, Crossair, Tyrolean Airways and Austrian Air Services. For 17 years he worked as captain and trainer for Emirates Airline in Dubai, where he played a key role in the world's largest Airbus 380 training program.
Hermann Wagner underwent his basic flying training in Flight Group VII and thus already belonged to the new post-war generation of Austrian Air Force pilots who had not served in the German Air Force during World War II. He thus completed his entire training from recruit to Jabo pilot within the Armed Forces. His very interesting autobiography not only highlights the development of the Austrian Air Force in the second half of the 20th century, but also brings to light the numerous and exciting episodes of a small flying elite.
Poor Hermann was four centimeters shorter after his ejection! Another recollection he shared with us was that of the tragic accident of a Saab J29 on June 17th, 1969 at Thalerhof. The plane came down too low at a fly-over during a visit of high school students at the airport. The plane crashed into the adjacent treetops, killing Hermann's friend instantly right before his very eyes and traumatizing the young visitors. Unfortunately, military aviation also has its dark moments! The vision of MACH 2: "Learning from Pilots" also reminds me of the motto at the end of Hermann's book:
"Learn from the mistakes of others. You will not live long enough to make them all yourself. And you might die on the first try". The passage is taken from Hermann Wagner's book, "Not only flying stories. As a Jabo Pilot in the Austrian Air Force", ÖFH special edition.
We were privileged to re-live special moments in the life of a fighter pilot and gain some remarkably interesting insights that only a select few are granted during the span of their career. Besides the many stories we took home with us, we also took the opportunity to take many photos, which we have published in this blog post. We would like to take the opportunity to thank Colonel Hermann Wagner for spending this unique day with us and wish him all the best, a healthy life and hope he finds the time and motivation to maybe write another book.