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Belgrade Aviation Museum

  
  - darkometer rating:  3 -
 
A museum near Belgrade's airport about Yugoslav aviation, civilian as well as military, featuring various more or less rare planes as well as some trophy bits and pieces from shot-down US planes from the 1999 war with NATO, which are probably the most interesting items from a dark tourism perspective. 

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

 

What there is to see: primarily, lots of planes, as you would expect – some looking a bit battered (especially the ones outside), others in pristine condition (those inside). For the dark tourist, though, the main reason for coming all the way out here is more likely to be the parts of shot-down planes from the 1999 war.
 
In order to find the relevant section first thing, ignore the suggested circuit, which is more or less historically chronologically ordered. When you arrive at the top of the stairs up from the foyer and immediately turn left and then into the central area of the circular exhibition hall. You'll see a semi-wrecked white US "Predator" drone (unmanned remote-controlled reconnaissance plane) hanging from the ceiling in front of a modern Yugoslav jet fighter, which is the largest exhibit in here. The drone was shot down over Kosovo in May 1999.
 
To the right, almost directly underneath the tail of the drone there's a piece of the tail and cockpit canopy of a USAF F-16 jet shot down over Serbia.
 
Opposite, i.e. to the left, the inconspicuous piece on display is the casing of what was an unexploded JDAM guided bomb used in the (allegedly "accidental") NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in May 1999 – above it is a photo of the damaged embassy building (see also under Belgrade and NATO bombing scars).
 
To the right inside the inner circular hall are the "star pieces" of this type, in particular the canopy, parts of the wing and other bits from the F117A "Night Hawk" stealth fighter that Yugoslav air defence forces managed to down on March 17, 1999 – the first and so far only time this has been achieved. Allegedly this was through the clever use of some ancient Soviet radar gear, modern mobile phones and, eventually, surface-to-air missiles. It's clearly still much cause for pride on the Serbian part! On the cockpit canopy you can still read the name of the unfortunate pilot (although it may actually have been flown by someone other than that name). Charts with the specs of the plane, photos of the crash site as well as a scale model augment this recent crown jewel of sorts.
 
There are more parts from the downed F-16 too, including the ejection seat used by the pilot. By the way: both pilots survived and were picked up by combat search and rescue teams ... not that this receives particular emphasis at the Aviation Museum.
 
On the other side, to the left of the way into this section, there's also a shot-down Tomahawk cruise missile, and in the glass display cabinet behind it some more pieces of weapons/missiles – including one bearing the cross of the German air force. Indeed, the Luftwaffe did also take part in the NATO campaign – it did so in an actual war mission for the first time since WWII. This was quite controversial within Germany.
 
The rest of the museum is more classic aircraft museum fare, with lots of planes of various ages and origins. There are some rare WWII-era planes including Russian Jak-3 and Iljushin Il-2, as well as the world's only surviving Fiat F50. Brits may marvel at the Spitfire and Hurricane planes – even though the markings on the wings and fuselage are just off the usual rings-of-blue-white-red RAF symbol, namely in that the red centre is in fact a star, and thus forming the Yugoslavs' Air Force, not the RAF's symbol, though it is indeed strikingly similar at first sight.

In addition to Soviet-built military aircraft such as the ubiquitous MiG-21, the machines designed and built at home in Yugoslavia are somewhat more remarkable for the Western visitor. The shiny star piece in the centre of the main hall is the star piece here: a SOKO J-22 Orao.

On the gallery ringing the hall on a level above, there are mostly smaller exhibits, some civilian, some military, including some big surface-to-air missiles. One section is about the Yugoslav (now Serbian) airline JAT – and the exhibits make it clear that it has seen more glamorous times, when it even flew as far as New York or Cairo. Today it operates just a small fleet of 15 planes and maintains a network of destinations mostly within Europe (plus a couple in North Africa / Arabia).
 
One dark-ish but still glamorous piece of JAT history was written by Vesna Vulovic. She was the sole survivor of plane crash in 1972 (presumably caused by a bomb – though the case remains unsolved) and was subsequently entered in the Guinness Book of Records as holder of the title of having survived the highest fall without a parachute ever: over 33,000 feet (10,000 m)!!. This made her a very unlikely national hero.
 
The museum also features a shop with all manner of flight-associated souvenirs, from model planes to books and T-shirts.
 
The open-air part of the museum is also worth a look, for two reasons mainly: a) for the larger size of the planes on display out here compared to those indoors, including a veteran pre-WWII J-52 and one of the first jet passenger planes, a French-built Caravelle. There are also more Soviet-built MiGs, a few double-rotor Kamov helicopters as well as some partly overgrown SAM batteries. The parts round the back of the museum looks like, and presumably is, an plane cemetery. Here, decommissioned military aircraft are just left to rot. Under the overhanging structure of the museum's flying-saucer-like building broken-up planes in various stages of disrepair are dotted around, including just bare engines and wingless rusting rumps of fuselages – it all looks more like a junkyard than a museum here. But that gives it some quirky character not seen in many such institutions in the west …
 
In sum: for the dark tourists it is really just those exhibits from the war in 1999 that make the journey here worthwhile, though perhaps not for all. The rest of the exhibits will only excite aviation buffs. At least a passing interest in planes is required here ... without that you'd be largely bored. Personally, I found it quite endearing – and the 1999 exhibits pretty cool. Also for the expected propaganda element involved in their display (e.g. always calling the NATO attacks "aggression"), although in that respect the Military Museum in the city centre beats the Aviation Museum, which focuses much more on the pure technology.  
 
 
Location: just a few hundred yards to the west of Belgrade's  Nikola Tesla International Airport terminal buildings, a good 10 miles (16 km) out from the city centre.
 
Google maps locator: [44.8193,20.2858]
  
 
Access and costs: way out of the centre, but reachable by public transport (airport bus); more expensive than other Belgrade museums, but still comparatively affordable.
 
Details: The museum's out of town location requires some determination to get to, but fortunately the airport bus provides cheap access at least, if not the quickest or most frequent: Bus line No. 72 goes from the hub at Zeleni Venac near Belgrade's city centre all the way to Nikola Tesla International Airport, departing between half-hourly and hourly. The single ride only costs 50 RSD if you have a pre-purchased ticket, or 100 RSD if you buy the ticket from the driver. Remember to punch your ticket in the yellow manual machines by the doors. The ride is a long one, taking ca. 45 minutes each way, and it passes through Novi Beograd, including the most depressing of the drab prefab housing estates (but also past the Palace of Serbia – see under Belgrade). Further into the journey, the bus even goes through a bit of near-open countryside. Once the countryside bit ends and the buildings look like parts of an airport get out at the next stop immediately after the bus takes a 90 degree turn – that's the penultimate stop (used by airport employees, mostly). But if you miss that (easily done) then just walk a quarter of a mile or so back to the previous stop. From there walk up the road leading away from the airport towards that weird looking UFO-like structure – which is the museum's main building. Watch out for car traffic – there is no pavement for most of the way.
  
Opening times: daily 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
 
Admission: 450 RSD (for foreigners, less for locals and children)
 
The open-air part on the southern side of the museum can be viewed for free. The other side, which looks more like a junkyard or aircraft cemetery (which it basically is), is out of bounds for visitors, but you get a decent view from the elevated entrance to the museum building.
 
 
Time required: If you just come to see those trophy exhibits, a mere 10-15 minutes would do. If you're a real aviation technology buff, then you can probably spend up to two hours here. I was somewhere in the middle. Getting there and back takes the most time in any case.
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: none nearby – but back in the centre of Belgrade, the Military Museum in the Kalemegdan Fortress also has some pieces of those shot-down planes, plus evidence of NATO/US use of controversial cluster bombs and depleted uranium ammunition.
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: none – unless you're into small airport arrival halls and drab support facilities buildings … better go straight back to Belgrade.
 
 
 
  • Aviation Museum 01Aviation Museum 01
  • Aviation Museum 02 - an old JAT CaravelleAviation Museum 02 - an old JAT Caravelle
  • Aviation Museum 03 - Kamov double rotor chopperAviation Museum 03 - Kamov double rotor chopper
  • Aviation Museum 04 - open-air part resembling a junk yardAviation Museum 04 - open-air part resembling a junk yard
  • Aviation Museum 05 - overgrown anti-aircraft missilesAviation Museum 05 - overgrown anti-aircraft missiles
  • Aviation Museum 06 - insideAviation Museum 06 - inside
  • Aviation Museum 07 - a cluster of exhibitsAviation Museum 07 - a cluster of exhibits
  • Aviation Museum 08 - old MiG-21Aviation Museum 08 - old MiG-21
  • Aviation Museum 09 - WWII-era stuff too - imcluding a SpitfireAviation Museum 09 - WWII-era stuff too - imcluding a Spitfire
  • Aviation Museum 10 - 1-2-3 fireAviation Museum 10 - 1-2-3 fire
  • Aviation Museum 11 - contemporary partAviation Museum 11 - contemporary part
  • Aviation Museum 12 - the 1999 war trophy sectionAviation Museum 12 - the 1999 war trophy section
  • Aviation Museum 13 - wreckage parts of first and only ever shot-down F117 stealth fighterAviation Museum 13 - wreckage parts of first and only ever shot-down F117 stealth fighter
  • Aviation Museum 14 - parts of shot-down USAF F-16Aviation Museum 14 - parts of shot-down USAF F-16
  • Aviation Museum 15 - propagandistic lingo as expectedAviation Museum 15 - propagandistic lingo as expected
  • Aviation Museum 16 - controversially the German Luftwaffe was involved tooAviation Museum 16 - controversially the German Luftwaffe was involved too
  • Aviation Museum 17 - shot-down droneAviation Museum 17 - shot-down drone
  • Aviation Museum 18 - funny planeAviation Museum 18 - funny plane
  • Aviation Museum 19 - gift shopAviation Museum 19 - gift shop
  
 
 
 
 
  

© dark-tourism.com, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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