There is a little-known gem of an aviation museum less than 40 minutes by public transport from Prague. The Letecke Museum was founded in 1968 on historic Kbely, Czechoslovakia’s first air base after the country’s formation in 1918.
To get to the museum from Prague, buy a 100-krona (about $5 Aus) excursion ticket that provides same day open travel on all the city-area train, tram and bus lines. The metro is clean, fast and frequent. Catch a Red Line metro train to its northern terminus, Letnany, then find, say, a Number 375 bus for a 10-minute ride to the museum.
MiG Alley: There are rows upon rows of battle weary-looking Russian-origin fighters.
There are other travel options, including leaving the Red Line train earlier, or even catching a Yellow Line train. The museum comes up on the right hand side of the bus and it is easily distinguished by the MiG-21 sitting on a pole by the gate. The bus stop is maybe five metres past the MiG-21.
The museum is housed in large hangars and open air displays in a corner of the old airfield. There is no entry charge and it is open from May to October, every day except Mondays, from 0900 to 1800. Cameras are permitted and there seems to be no staff to discourage really close-up aircraft inspections.
Ah! If only we had hangar control officers who could stack aircraft like this, we would have trebled our carrier aircraft potential.
Nearly all the precious museum-quality pre-WW II aircraft, including all the gliders and sectioned engines, are housed in protective hangars. However, more than half the 270-odd aircraft, including all the Russian-source helicopters, seem to be simply dumped in the open, exposed to sun, rain and snow. It is also clear that even though the hangars seem to be packed with everything that could be possibly squeezed in, there is a very large and valuable outdoors collection and perhaps an even larger “spare aircraft” jumble not on direct display but evidently awaiting attention.
The musuem also displays a number of pilot-unfriendly guns and missiles, including this SAM-2 S-75 Guideline.
Unlike Russian museums, nearly all the exhibits, indoors and outdoors, have descriptive plaques written in both Czech and English.
The museum’s emphasis, naturally, is on Czech-built and Czech-flown aircraft. With a population of only 13 to 15 million, this small land-locked country has a remarkable aviation history, including the design, manufacture and development of many revolutionary aircraft. In its latter years, its Air Force and national airline, CSA, flew mainly Russian types and this is reflected in the large number of post-WW II Russian-origin fighters, bombers, transports and helicopters at the museum.
A pleasant surprise was this immaculate ex-RAAF 3 Squadron Australian-built Rolls Royce Avon-engined Sabre Mk32, A94-923. Its increased thrust, from 6,100 pounds to 7,500 pounds, plus re-arming from six 0.5 inch to two 30 mm guns and AIM-9 Sidewinders, together with other improvements, made this version the “best Sabre of all,” according to its unbiased pilots.
The cleanest of all the outdoors aircraft is a spotless ex-RAAF Avon-Sabre. In contrast, many of the Russian types, including those flown by the Czech Air Force, look as though they just returned from a busy grinding war deployment.
One of the original Tupolev 104A airliners that helped to make the national airline the first all-jet passenger service in the world.
Not forgotten, in both inside and outside displays, are commercial aircraft flown by CSA and its predecessors. These include an 81-passenger Tupolev TU 104A, an aircraft that contributed to CSA becoming the first airline in the world flying regularly scheduled all-jet passenger transports.