By Dave S. Clark
If you’re flying in or out of Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport and have a strange curiosity with the odd, old and decrepit, or with aviation or architecture, you’ll be intrigued by the Belgrade Aviation Museum (Muzej Vazduhoplovstva), just steps away from the airport’s main terminal.
A few minutes walk from the departure’s lounge, sits the giant UFO-shaped monstrosity that houses the museum. The geodesic oddity is worth a look itself. As I mentioned in my post on communist architecture in New Belgrade, I have a fascination with these types of structures that many write off as gaudy. I was in awe of it. I wanted to live inside it. After taking in the bizarre shape of the museum itself, I spent a good 20 minutes walking around the grounds, admiring all of the aeronautic relics that are sprinkled around the building for the outdoor exhibit.
The first plane you’ll notice sitting right in front of the crumbling tile steps is the Soko J-21 Jastreb, a fighter jet designed and built in Yugoslavia. The weathered old fighter is an amazing sight with the museum dominating the background. The Soko J-21 was used in the Bosnia War and was also in service in the Libya’s and Zambia’s airforce.
Near the back of the building sits a very derelict Douglas C-47, which gave me a few chills when I looked at it. The only other C-47 I’d seen was the crashed remains of a US Navy plane in Iceland’s Sólheimasandur black sand beach. The example at the Belgrade museum was a much finer example, but I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to seeing the shattered shell sprawled out in the creepy Icelandic volcanic sand.
I also enjoyed the J-21’s neighbour, a Mil Mi-4A Hound helicopter, built in the USSR in 1960. The aircraft I spent the most time admiring was the MiG-21 with its distinctive red nose cone that looks like a giant pylon. I had never seen a MiG in real life before and it was exciting to be able to get right up close to it.
One plane I would never want to be buckled up in was the Junkers Ju-52, which sits closest to the airport. I wouldn’t want to fly in it firstly because it’s called a Junkers, but secondly because it just looked terrifying. The German-built, Second World War-era transporter sports many straight lines and square edges and looked so archaic that I had difficulty actually picturing it in flight.
On the far side of the museum, there’s a boneyard of old planes and fighters that I’m guessing will either be used for parts or eventually be restored. If you climb up the stairs and look to your right, you’ll get the best vantage point to see where old Yugoslav planes go to die, or perhaps get a new life.
Due to some poor planning, I didn’t have time or money to actually go inside the museum, but if you’re short on time like I was, just seeing the building and walking the grounds is worth the short trek over. It had taken our bus a lot longer than anticipated to get to the airport and when I got the museum, I was informed that it was cash only. We had just used the last of our Serbian Dinars and the few spare Euros we had left were in our checked luggage, which we’d already turned over to the airline. So bring cash and arrive early!
I was disappointed not to go inside as I was eager to see the wreckage of a US Air Force F-117 Nighthawk, more commonly known as the Stealth Fighter, which was shot down over Serbia during the NATO bombings of the country in 1999. It’s the only Stealth Fighter to ever be lost in combat, shot down by a surface-to-air missile after the aircraft was picked up on radar when the bomb door opened. There is also wreckage from an F-16 Fighting Falcon that was shot down during the same operation.
To find the museum, walk out the main doors of the terminal and turn left. Follow the road until just before you see a tiny gas station. Right before the gas station, turn right and the giant UFO will appear on your left hand side. It takes about seven minutes at a decent pace to get to the museum from the terminal building. As of 2015, entrance is 400 RSD, which is a little over 4€.