By Predrag Jelic
Precision display flying in Yugoslavia started during 1930s when Royal Yugoslav Air Force pilots like Ercigoj, Poljanec, Zelenika and Bjelanovic flew aerobatic programs on Avia BH33s, Hawker Furies and indigenous Rogozarski SIM XI aircraft.
After World War II and during late 1940s, many air displays called "aero meetings" were held across Yugoslavia and a few pilots flying Bucker Jungmanns and Jungmeisters demonstrated their aerobatic skills. Later, one overall red and one yellow-painted Yak-9P were typical aerobatic performers while pilots of the 44th Air Division displayed their formation flying skills using four Ikarus S-49As.
The first jet display team was formed at the end of the 1959 by the pilots of the 204th Fighter Aviation Regiment based at Batajnica airfield. Their first public appearance was during the visit of the president of Sudan in July 1960. The following month, the team performed an aerobatic program with their four yellow and blue Canadair CL-13 Mk-4 Sabre's in Leskovac, Serbia in front of a crowd of 80.000 spectators. They next performed for a crowd of 200.000 spectators attending the Belgrade Air show held at Zemun airport. In 1961, a group consisting of five aerobatic Sabres made appearances at the air shows held at Brnik airport near Ljubljana, Slovenia and at Pleso airport near Zagreb, Croatia. The team performed aerobatics on heights 30-1500 m and at a speed range of 300-950 km/h. Unfortunately, this display team was disbanded in 1964 but a short documentary film was made about the team called «Pet pilota» («Five pilots»).
In the 1967, a new display team was formed at the Air Force Academy at Zemunik Air Base near Zadar, Croatia. This group was initially equipped with four, and later five, SOKO Galeb G-2A jet trainers and they performed for the first time at Ljubljana in July 1968. These Galebs wore standard grey/green camouflage colors and flew without tip tanks. Later, the aircraft received a new white/red color scheme, more appropriate for display team.
It should be mentioned that another display team existed in parallel with the jet display team. This was the so-called «Mala akro grupa» («Little aerobatic team»), an non-official ad-hoc group formed at the beginning of 1980s, consisted of enthusiastic Air Force Academy flight instructors flying three colorful ZLIN 526 Trener Master aircraft. This group performed at just a few public shows. It is interesting that this was also the first Yugoslav Air Force display team that performed abroad i.e. at the Venice Airshow, Italy in 1979.
In 1985, the jet display team of Air Force Academy was officially named the "Flying stars". This team flew seven SOKO IJ-21 Jastreb light attack/reconnaissance aircraft which wore very distinctive yellow, blue, white and red color scheme for which they were nicknamed «Kanarinci» (Canaries). These aircraft were disarmed and customized for aerobatic flying at the aircraft overhaul facility «Zmaj», Velika Gorica near Zagreb.
In 1990, SOKO G-4 Super Galeb advanced jet trainer/light attack aircraft replaced the Jastrebs. These new aircraft were painted in blue/white/red - the colors of Yugoslav flag, and were equipped with smoke generators under fuselage. They made their public debut on May 20, 1990 at the Air Show held at Batajnica Air Base.
When the civil war in Yugoslavia started in 1991, the "Flying Stars" relocated from Zemunik to Golubovci Air Base near Podgorica, Montenegro while the old «Canary» Jastrebs, although in pretty bad shape, were flown to Ladjevci Air Base near Kraljevo, Serbia.
On October 9, 1996, a decision was made to reform "Flying Stars"; this time as part of the 172nd Air Brigade of FR Yugoslavia Air Force. These new "Flying Stars" were seen in public for the first time at the Batajnica air show on June 15, 1997. On September 27/28 1997, the "Flying Stars", and their An-26 support aircraft complete with the ground crews and ground handling equipment, appeared at the Bulgarian air show at Plovdiv Airport – Krumovo Air Base in front of more than 50,000 spectators. In 1998, the team participated in 7 local shows and one international air show - the Czech International Air Fest at Hradec Kralove (July 29/30). In March 1999, during NATO air raid on Golubovci Air Base, a laser-guided bomb hit the entrance of an underground aircraft shelter and started fire which destroyed all 7 G-4s of the "Flying Stars" team along with a dozen of G-2A Galeb trainers from the 251st Fighter-Bomber squadron.
On August 2, 2000, pilots of the display team held their last performance flying standard G-4 aircraft painted in regular camouflage schemes. After the team was disbanded, some of the pilots continued aerobatic flying as test pilots of Flight Test Center - VOC (now Flight Test Section of Technical Test Center - TOC) performing solo demonstration flights on one Super Galeb at airshows in Serbia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia and Romania.
In 1997, a helicopter display team was formed at Golubovci. Founded by the pilots of 897th Mixed Helicopter Squadron, this team was called Stršljeni (Hornets). It consisted of four SOKO SA341 Gazelle helicopters equipped with smoke generators which were flown by pilots wearing yellow coveralls. Their first public performance was at the Batajnica air show on June 15, 1997. By the end of 1999, this team had been disbanded.