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12 UAB Dolna Mitropolia,  30 April 2015

12 UAB (12th Training Air Base) Dolna Mitropolia, located in the north of Bulgaria is the home of the 'Georgi Benkovski' Air Force Academy of the Bulgarian Air Force. The academy operates two types of aircraft; the Pilatus PC-9M and the Aero L-39ZA Albatros.


Airbase or Racing circuit?

Already in 1939 the Bulgarian Air Force Fighter School was located at Dolna Mitropolia, at that time not more than a grass strip. During World War II it operated the Czechoslovak build Avia B-135 Ljastovica, a fighter trainer of which only 12 were build by Avia. In 1948 the name of the Fighter School changed into Air Force School. and later in changed again in Higher Air Force School. The 12 UAB based at Kamenets was moved to Dolna Mitropolia after the closure of Kamenets Airbase in 2006. Despite the difficulty to find funds to improve the airbases infrastructure, the Ministry of Defence and General Headquarters authorized the construction of a new ATC tower in 2008. Party located on the airbase the Dolna Mitropolia Racing Circuit is located. The circuit hosted a few MotoGP races and won various prices for best circuit.


Modernization in progress

While operating out of Kamenets Airbase the 12 UAB operated the Aero L-29 Delfin of which a total of 62 examples were acquired from the manufacturer in 1964. The last L-29's were retired in 2002. As replacement a total of six Pilatus PC-9M's were delivered from the manufacturer in November 2004. Pilatus worked closely together with the Bulgarian Air Force to write a syllabus with the PC-9M as a lead-in trainer. After the grounding of the L-39ZA Albatros in 2007, both the basic- and advanced flying training is done by the PC-9M. During our visit in April 2015, only two of the six PC-9's were in flyable condition. The "664" was waiting for a new ejection seat, "667" was waiting for a new prop, and "668" was had a slightly damaged wing after a birdhit. The "665" is also still waiting for repair, after a landing mishap on November 29th 2010.


The Albatros is flying again

Between 1986 and 1990 a total of 36 Aero L-39ZA Albatrosses were delivered to the Bulgarian Air Force and based at 12 UAB Kamenets. From 1996 half of the L-39's were detached to various fighter bases to operate alongside the fighters, for advanced pilot training, and in light attack roles. When various airbases closed in 2002 due to heavy budget cuts, these detached L-39's went to 3 IAB Graf Ignatievo. Meanwhile six L-39's were sold to Cambodia and six others went under civil registration to the USA.


When Kamenets Airbase closed in 2006 all remaining L-39's relocated to Dolna Mitropolia. Twelve L-39's remained in active service until 2007, when they were withdrawn from use due to shortage of funds for space parts. A few years later the Bulgarian Air Force was able to overhaul some L-39's of which the first entered active service again in 2013. Nowadays the Bulgarian Air Force operates six L-39's out of 12 UAB Dolna Mitropolia, and has four more L-39's in flyable storage at this base. These four L-39's are checked twice a year, including an engine run, to maintain their servicability.


Visiting 12 UAB Dolna Mitropolia

During our visit on April 30, 2015 we were able to take photos of the flying aircraft from various locations. When we entered the base in the early morning, flying activity already started, with two PC-9's and three L-39's. During our visit of a total of five waves were flown of different lengths. We started our visit close to the ATC tower, but as the position of the sun wasn't ideal at from this position, we moved closer to the flightline to take some taxi shots. Later in the morning we crossed the active runway by foot, and positioned ourselves only 35 meters from the runway to take take off and landing shots. This resulted in some very spectacular shots in beautiful light conditions. At the end of our visit we visited the stored L-39's and the PC-9 hangar, but we were not allowed to take photo's there. Before we left, we took some shots of the preserved aircraft which can be found at the base HQ. Close to the airbase, in the village Gorna Mitropolia another L-29 Delfin is preserved, so we quickly stopped here for some photo's.   (Click here for a full log)





A big thanks goes out the our guide Major Plamen, Commander of the PC-9 Squadron and the crew of 12 UAB Dolna Mitropolia.

Thanks Mark Verstraaten for the two small films you see above, both shot during our visit.




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