Avioane Tricolore

Romania's Aircraft Production.
The First Twenty-Five Years

A sneak preview of the book "Rumanian Air Force-The Prime Decade" by Bernád Dénes

The first schools
From one war to another
The peaceful twenties
The leading trio
I.A.R., the peak of Romanian aircraft production
The first I.A.R. fighter, the first failure
Early I.A.R. fighters
Civilian interlude
I.C.A.R.,the latest and smallest
Hydroplanes over the Black Sea


         The Romanians can look back proudly at their aviation heritage. Since 1909, airplanes of various shapes, performances and origin had continuously soared on Romanian skies, both in war and peacetime. A handful of Romanians were among the first aviation pioneers and added their creativity to the evolution of one of the most impressive invention of our troubled century, the flying machine. Vuia, Vlaicu, Coanda are personalities who indisputably contributed to the progress of early aviation.

        Soon after the first aeroplanes appeared over Romania, a mid-sized country lying at the confluence of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, several attempts were made to indigenously build heavier-than-air flying machines. These more or less successful experiments eventually led to the Vlaicu 2, which took off in the air for the first time in April 1911, being the first noteworthy aeroplane to be designed, constructed and flown in Romania. Aboard this aircraft, its inventor, the Transylvanian-born Aurel Vlaicu, a graduate of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of Budapest, won the first international acclaim for his adoptive Romania at the Vienna-Aspern aviation race held in June 1912.

        The continuous progress that followed the appearance of these early aeroplanes culminated in the 1930s, when a broad range of fighters, trainers and sporting planes were designed by Romanian aviation engineers. This evolution peaked in the well shaped, sleek I.A.R. 80 and its successor, the I.A.R. 81. This fighter, more than 450 of which were manufactured at the I.A.R.-Brasov plants, became the pride of Romanian aeronautical industry. However, the road that eventually led to this remarkable fighter plane, first flown in April 1939, was not even and trouble free, being equally marked by both successes and failures.

        The intention of the following study is to retrace for the very first time, for English-language readers, the evolution of early Romanian aircraft constructions, covering the first twenty-five years. The purpose is to focus on both Romanian and foreign designed aircraft manufactured in series. Therefore only important prototypes will be discussed in detail. Gliders and private-venture prototypes are all ignored.   

 The first schools

         The first Romanian flying school was established by Mihail Cerkez, a lawyer educated at Paris, in the summer of 1910. Alongside the aerodrome, five hangars, two grandstands and other buildings, he built a small repair shop on a deserted field near the Chitila suburb of Bucharest.

        As soon as the infrastructure had been finished, Cerkez brought four aircraft from France; two early Farmans, a Wright type 'A' biplane and a little, engineless Santos Dumont "Demoiselle," the latter being employed for ground training. Besides these planes, Cerkez also purchased the licence rights of the Farman III (type 1909), with the intention to build it in his facilities. Making good use of his widespread connections and good negotiation skills, Cerkez successfully applied to the Romanian Ministry of War to finance his pilot training programme. Funds were also raised to build four Farmans at Chitila and to enlarge the existing aeroplane park in use to form the first Romanian military pilots. In April 1910, six Engineer officers were posted to the Scoala de pilotaj (Flying School) of Chitila, they being joined by a young relative of Cherkez, Polihroniade (Poly) Vacas, of only 18. The training programme was first conducted by a French instructor named Guillemin, followed by Michel Molla and Charles Viaillard, who were joined in May 1911 by Louis Martinez-Rex. At the end of 1911, all four Farmans, powered by a Gnome rotary engine of 50 h.p. (37 kW) output, were completed and successfully tested by the Frenchmen. However, following several accidents the training programme was suspended. Disagreements between Mihail Cerkez and Maior Ion Macri, an influential senior officer within the High Command and leader of the pupil officers, led the Ministry of War to abruptly suspended all financial assistance in early 1912. These unfortunate circumstances eventually lead to Cerkez's bankruptcy, forcing him to close its pilot school and subsequently cease all activities connected with aviation. In spite of his brief activity, Mihail Cerkez's reputation is secured by his founding of the first pilot school and work shops, where the very first aircraft were repaired, later manufactured and employed on the behalf of the fledgling Romanian aviation.

        At the suggestions of Major Macri a new flying school sponsored by the military was opened at Cotroceni-Bucharest, where already existed a tiny flying school, established in the previous year by prince George Valentin Bibescu. With the help of four Blériot XI "La Manche" monoplanes, three officers were trained as pilots. In early 1912, the Ministry of War took over Bibescu's institution, transforming it into a military flying school. All available airplanes and matériel from both existing civilian schools were taken over by the military and put under the command of Major Macri. Alongside the acquisition from France of further Farman biplanes and Blériot monoplanes, the licence rights for the Farman IV (type 1910) were purchased as well. Equipped with a more powerful Renault engine of 70 h.p. (52 kW), six of this advanced type were manufactured at the work shops of Scoala militara de pilotaj (Military Flying School) of Cotroceni-Bucharest. With the help of these biplanes ordered by the Ministry of War, a record number of officers were trained at Cotroceni in 1913. Until the year's end, fifteen of them passed successfully the theoretical and practical exams, increasing the number of licenced Romanian military pilots to twenty.

From one war to another

         For the very first time in Romanian history, these Farmans, sided by a number of Blériots, took part in the annual military manoeuvres of the army, held in 1911 in Southern Moldavia. This première proved to be very useful two years later, during the Second Balkan War.

        In June 1913, Romanian troops crossed the Danube and attacked Bulgaria. This operation was preceded by aerial reconnaissance missions performed by Blériot XI monoplanes supported by the handful of Farmans, including those built in Romania. Although the Bulgarian Army also had a small Aeroplane Troop, consisting of ten airworthy aircraft most of which were the same Blériot types employed by the Romanians, the two sides used them only to reconoître the front lines and the enemy's troop movements. No combat encounters were recorded involving airplanes of the two warring sides.

        In August 1914 the First World war erupted. However, the Romanian government decided not to side with either of the major blocks but to wait until an opportune moment. Accordingly, Romania declared neutrality. The long awaited moment seemed to arrive at the end of August 1916. On 27 August, Romanian troops crossed the Carpathians and invaded Southern Transylvania, part of Austria-Hungary. After a few limited successes, however, the offensive came to a quick halt, which was followed by a hasty retreat. By the end of November 1916 the Romanian army had been defeated. On 6 December Bucharest surrendered to the victorious German and Austro-Hungarian troops, and the Romanian government retreated into the north-east province of Moldavia.

        In the Summer of 1917, heavy battles erupted in Southern Moldavia. During these battles the tiny Aeronautica Regala Româna (Royal Romanian Aeronautics, abbreviated ARR), reinforced with French Nieuport, Farman, Bréguet-Michelin and Caudron warplanes, was extremely active; alongside with the Russians, the Romanians battled firmly the German, Hungarian and Austrian airmen.

        The aircraft received from France as part of a broader military aid programme, were damaged during transportation. All these planes were gathered at Iasi, the temporary capital of the unoccupied part of Romania. There, at the workshops of Rezerva generala a aeronauticii (General Depôt of the Aeronautics), between 1917-1918 a total of 242 French-origin aircraft were assembled and partly repaired, being subsequently sent to the front. During the war, 545 aero-engines were repaired and maintained as well.

        On 9 November 1918, two years after the first defeat, just before the end of the "Great War", Romania declared general mobilization and attacked Hungary once again. This time, however, the international situation was favourable for the Romanians. As the result of a rapid advance, when no substantial resistance was encountered, they conquered and annexed Transylvania within months, in August 1919 defeated the demoralized Hungarian Red Army and entered Budapest. This unexpected military success not only assured the annexation of the whole Transylvania, but provided also an abundant war booty. Among the captured military matériel were hundreds of aircraft and aero-engines of the disbanded Austro-Hungarian K.u.K. Fliegerkorps, partly inherited by the Hungarian Vörös repülöcsapatok (Red Air Troops). The major aviation factories situated around Budapest were plundered, too. This rich spoil laid down the grounds of the future Romanian aviation industry.

The peaceful twenties

         After the victorious conclusion of the 1918/1919 campaign, the Royal Romanian Army and Air Force had found themselves unnecessarily oversized and swamped with a wide variety of surplus military material, including dozens of outdated warplanes of low serviceability. The necessity of a radical weed-out and basic re-organization according to peace-time requirements became apparent. Accordingly, in 1920, the ARR took a new shape. The aircraft park was assigned to five newly formed specialized groups, a hydroplane flotilla and a balloon company. A variety of new and used aircraft were ordered at advantageous price from overcrowded French war stocks. As a consequence, in the early twenties, Romania had the largest and best equipped air arm in Eastern Europe.

        In November 1919, the Rezerva generala a aeronauticii had been transferred from the temporary capital, Iasi, to the liberated Bucharest. Led by the veteran Major Dipl.-Eng. Stefan Protopopescu, holder of the Romanian pilot licence No. 1 issued on 9 July 1911, the new unit was subsequently renamed Arsenalul aeronauticii (Arsenal of the Aeronautics) on 1 July 1920, and become the main repair and maintenance facility of the ARR. Together with Depozitul central de materiale (Central Matériel Depôt), the Arsenal was put under the command of Directia 10 aeronautica (10th Aeronautical Division), a special branch directly supervised by the Ministry of War.

         To complete the existing inventory of the central flying school, at Tecuci, in Southern Moldavia, in late 1921 the Ministry of War placed an order at Arsenalul aeronauticii for a significant number of Hansa-Brandenburg C.I trainers to be built locally. Dozens of these well tried and trusted biplanes, formerly employed by the Austro-Hungarian and later the Hungarian Red air arms, had been captured by Romanian troops in the previous campaign. Beside these seized airplanes and spare parts, a large variety of machine tools, raw material and production drawings necessary for full-scale manufacturing were also recovered from Hungarian aircraft factories. Hundreds of Austro-Daimler and MARTA-Benz aero-engines were also declared captures and hurriedly sent to Romania.

        The series-production of the Brandenburgs started in early 1922, and by May 8 the first ten airframes had been rolled out from the Bucharest-Cotroceni plants. In less than two years a total of 120 Brandenburgs were manufactured, powered by a large variety of captured engines of 160, 200 and 220 h.p. (119, 149 and 164 kW) output. As armament, a 7.92 mm Parabellum machine gun had been mounted in the rear cockpit, manned by the observer. These Brandenburgs received serial numbers in the 1-120 sequence, painted in black on the fuselage sides. They represented the main trainer type of the twenties, and the last survivors remained in active service until the beginning of World War Two.

        Alongside the series production of the Brandenburgs, Arsenalul aeronauticii took over all major maintenance work on the wide range of aircraft and aero-engine types employed by the ARR. Instruments, armament and aerial cameras were repaired here as well.

        In 1924, a number of surplus de Havilland D.H. 9A bombers, powered by an Armstrong Siddeley Puma in-line engine of 230 h.p. (151 kW), were converted by Arsenalul aeronauticii into passenger and cargo aircraft. These biplanes had been handed over to the recently established civil section of the High Command of the Aeronautics, a division of the Ministry of War, forming the embryo of future Romanian civil aviation.

        One of the largest Austro-Hungarian engine-manufacturing factories was MARTA (Magyar Automobil Részvénytársaság, Hungarian Autovehicle Joint-Stock Co.), situated in the western-Transylvanian town of Arad, which in 1919 become part of so-called "Great Romania." Production, interrupted by the post-war events, was quickly raised to its previous capacity by the new owners. In 1922, the first Romanian-manufactured aero-engine was completed there.

        Beside the inherited MARTA engine plant, in 1923 an aircraft manufacturing unit had been formed within the existing ex-Hungarian MAVAG railway-wagon factory, renamed by the Romanians ASTRA-Arad. The first aircraft to be built here was the ASTRA-Sesefski, a two-seat biplane, manufactured to the design of Dipl.-Eng. Stanislav Sesefski, the Polish-origin chief-designer of the ASTRA Works. After successful ground trials, a six-cylinder, in-line MARTA-Benz engine of 250 h.p. (186 kW) was fitted to the airframe of the ASTRA-Sesefski prototype. This powerplant proved to have good reliability in the subsequent trial flights performed on the 420 km long Arad-Bucharest route, and a limited series-production was initiated. As soon as the flying trials had been completed, the airplane, designated as a short-range reconnaissance and advanced training aircraft, was sent to several air units stationed throughout the country, where it was test flown by a number of experienced, war-hardened pilots. Their opinion was, however, generally critical, therefore, shortly after the second prototype was finished, the programme was scrapped.

        The decision was largely influenced by a significant order for 25 Proto-1s, placed in early 1924 by the Ministry of War. This reconnaissance aircraft was the second design of Dipl.-Eng. Major Stefan Protopopescu, head of Arsenalul aeronauticii-Bucharest. The Proto-1 flew in 1922 only as a single prototype in the hands of its designer. In the next year, during an extended trial flight, the aircraft's wing structure failed and the Proto crashed in the Mures river killing the pilot, 1st Lt. Ioan Sava. The lessons learned were well used in the design of its enhanced successor, the Proto-2. The wings were reinforced and a second pair of struts was introduced. Despite the experience gained with the Proto-1, the flying characteristics of the upgraded Proto-2 reconnaissance and advanced trainer biplane still barely met the standards set by the Ministry of War. Its top speed of only 179 km/h, 4 km/h less than the Proto-1's due to increased aerodynamical drag, was far from satisfactory. Nevertheless, the decision to order 25 Proto trainers was already taken.

        The limited capacity of Arsenalul aeronauticii however did not permit even small-scale manufacture. Therefore the production was transferred to the ASTRA-Arad, already experienced in aero-engine and autovehicle manufacturing, and better equipped with machine-tools necessary for a series-production run. Following its expansion, in early 1924, the aircraft-manufacturing unit gained its independence from the railway-wagon plants and was renamed Fabrica de avioane ASTRA-Arad (ASTRA-Arad Aircraft Factory). Nevertheless, the first and only significant production at ASTRA-Arad was the manufacture of the 25 Proto-2s. The last aircraft had been completed by the end of 1924 and the batch allocated to Scoala militara de pilotaj si antrenament (Military Flying and Training School) at Tecuci, the main Romanian pilot forming unit. After a few years of employment, the unpopular Protos were quickly replaced by French types of superior performances.       

        In 1925, following the completion of the Proto-2 series, ASTRA-Arad built another reconnaissance biplane, the ASTRA-Proto, but recalling the unsatisfactory results of its predecessor, the Ministry of War did not order series-production. The project thus was not developed and remained only in prototype stage. On 1 November 1925, the activity at the Arad factory was terminated. ASTRA was incorporated into the newly established I.A.R.-Brasov, which eventually became the centre of the prosperous Romanian aviation industry of the inter-war period.

        In early 1935, Arsenalul aeronauticii-Bucharest was re-equipped with new machine tools and re-organized. Shortly after, the projects of a new design, called Aeron, had been completed by the engineering team, led by Capitan Cristea Constantinescu. Two versions of the Aeron biplane were built. The first construction, powered by a 105 h.p. (78 kW) Cirrus, featured an unequal wing schematic, the lower plan being situated ahead of the top one, with no wing struts used to reinforce the structure. The second version of similar wing configuration was fitted with a more powerful Salmson 9Ac of 120 h.p. (89 kW). No series-production followed however.

        This unusually looking prototype, Romanian forerunner of the canary-type constructions, proved to be the last Arsenalul aeronauticii design. On 1 June 1939, just three months before the war broke out, the first Romanian aeroplane factory ceased its independent activity and merged with the state-run Administratia stabilimentelor aeronauticii si marinei (Administration of the Air and Navy Establishments, A.S.A.M.), specialized in repair work on the behalf of the Romanian Navy and Air Force.

The leading trio

        The mid-twenties marked the appearance of two main aircraft manufacturing centres, S.E.T. established in the capital and I.A.R. formed in Brasov, in the bend of the Carpathian mountains. These plants, joined later by a third one, I.C.A.R., eventually dominated the Romanian aeronautical industry, performing an uninterrupted manufacturing process over the following twenty years or so, throughout World War Two and well beyond, until the entire Romanian aviation industry succumbed under the hands of the new communist regime, backed by the victorious Soviets.  

        The first of this trio to be born was the S.E.T., or Societatea pentru exploatari technice (Technical Development Society). In 1923, at the initiative of Dipl.-Eng. Grigore C. Zamfirescu, the S.E.T. had been founded in Bucharest as a general technical manufacturing plant. Early next year, similarly to the ASTRA-Arad, a section had been established for aircraft repair works, specialized in the Proto-2 series.

        In early 1925, encouraged by its success in this first task, and taking advantage of the experience gained with the Proto trainers, the engineering team of the aeronautical division, headed by the recently transferred Stefan Protopopescu, initiated design of a new trainer. In May 1925, an order for two prototypes was placed by the Ministry of War, speeding up the design process. In 1927, the aircraft, called Proto-S.E.T. I, was finished and the first series of static tests had been successfully completed. The second prototype, intended for flying trials, initially designated as Proto-S.E.T. II, later renamed S.E.T. No. 1, took off in mid-1927 in the hands of the redoubtable Capitan aviator (Captain aviator) Romeo Popescu. The first flight suffered a mishap when the Lorraine-Dietrich engine caught fire in mid-air. The experienced pilot, however, succeeded in landing and jumped from the burning airplane while it was still taxiing on the ground. This incident cut short the life of the very first aircraft designed and manufactured at S.E.T.

        The misfortune did not dampen the ambitious plans of Grigore Zamfirescu and his team. They soon began work on another trainer aircraft, the S.E.T. 3, powered this time by a Salmson 9Ab radial of 230 h.p. (171 kW). The Ministry of War gave them another chance by ordering two prototypes in early June 1928, one for static tests and another for in-flight trials. In mid-1928, the second S.E.T. 3 prototype stood ready to take off. This time the test flight was a success, the new aircraft displayed an adequate flying performance and good handling characteristics. The first trial was followed by a series of meticulous tests, closely followed by representatives of the Ministry of War. It took almost a year to complete the programme, but at the end the military was convinced of the S.E.T. 3's qualities and in early December 1929 they placed an order for 10 more airplanes. Production was started immediately, the last aircraft rolling out next year. All S.E.T. 3s were delivered to Scoala militara de pilotaj si antrenament, Tecuci.

        In 1929, during the national aviation meeting held on the airfield of the I.A.R. plant, the chief test pilot of S.E.T., Gheorghe "Gogu" Stefanescu was placed first in the aerobatics class while flying an S.E.T. 3. The success was repeated later in the year by Locotenent aviator (1st Lieutenant aviator) Octav Oculeanu competing with another S.E.T. 3 in the "Aviator Mircea Zorileanu Cup," held at Bucharest-Baneasa airport. These successes were followed by a substantial order for 50 trainers of various types placed in December 1930, that greatly helped the S.E.T. Works in reaching profitability. From that year, S.E.T. specialized exclusively in aircraft manufacturing and repair, being renamed by its owner Fabrica de avioane S.E.T. inginer Grigore Zamfirescu (Dipl.-Eng. Grigore Zamfirescu S.E.T. Aircraft Factory). Subsequently, the number of employees was substantially increased, new facilities were built and a separate paint shop was developed as well. State-of-the-art machine tools and specialized equipment were imported from abroad.

        The fifty new biplanes ordered on 16 December 1930 by the Ministry of War were wrapped in two separate purchase orders. The first one called for ten S.E.T. 31s, identical with the S.E.T. 3 except for a slight difference in performance and a reinforced undercarriage featuring two independent wheels; completed by other ten S.E.T. 4s, essentially similar to the S.E.T. 3/31 series but armed with a fixed, forward-firing Vickers and a twin Lewis machine gun, the latter manned by the observer. Another order, issued the same day, called for 30 unarmed S.E.T. 7s equipped with the stronger Jaguar 3 radial engine of 365 h.p. (272 kW), to be employed on advanced training and liaison duties.

Set 7 airplane

        This considerable order kept the relatively small S.E.T. plant busy for more than a year. Besides the day-to-day production, the engineering team developed several special-purpose aircraft for record-breaking attempts, by modifying existing airframes taken off the production line. Such prototypes were the S.E.T. 31G (G for Ghica), named "Foisor" (c/n 61, CV-XYZ), flown by Ionel Ghica between 30 March-16 April 1932 on the Bucharest-Saigon route, covering 9,350 km in 62 hours and 25 minutes; the S.E.T. 41 (c/n 60, s/n black 9) night-flying trainer prototype, equipped with additional landing lights, bomb racks and radio set; the S.E.T. 41R (R for Record) flown in July 1933 by Locotenent-comandor aviator (Major aviator) Gheorghe Banciulescu, who had artificial legs, in a nine-day European tour and, finally, the S.E.T. 41S (S for Special) designed as advanced trainer for fighter pilots.

        The most successful S.E.T. design was the S.E.T. 7 advanced trainer, liaison and army co-operation aircraft, powered by a British Armstrong-Siddeley "Jaguar" IIIA radial of 365 h.p. (272 kW). Including all prototypes and sub-versions, a total of 123 were built between 1931-1937, an impressive number for the inter-war aeronautical industry of Romania, a country whose economy was largely based on agriculture, and virtually without any industrial traditions. In early 1932, as soon as the initial batch of 30 S.E.T. 7s had been completed and delivered to pilot schools, another order was issued for 20 additional aircraft. In January 1934, it was followed by a request for 20 improved S.E.T. 7K observation and training aircraft, to be equipped with a more powerful engine, the Romanian version of the French Gnome & Rhône 7Ksd (hence the suffix) radial of 380 h.p. (283 kW), designated I.A.R. K7 and upgraded to 420 h.p. (313 kW). The next sub-variant was the S.E.T. 7KB (B for Barbieri-type bomb racks), followed by the final development, the S.E.T. 7KD (D for Divizionar, i.e. employed by an army division). This latter version was stripped of its armament, except for the twin Lewis guns, and was used mainly in the liaison rôle.

        Despite a tight schedule, the engineering team of S.E.T. also found time and resources to design and build several noteworthy prototypes. In 1932, two prototypes of an experimental  trainer, the S.E.T. 10 were built, followed by a pair of the similarly numbered S.E.T. X fighter trainers. Although certain sources mention that a total of 20 such airplanes were built over 1932-1933, no clear evidence has surfaced yet proving that this batch was actually ordered or production undertaken and delivered.

        The next S.E.T. products were two more biplane fighters. Originally, both the SPAD-S.E.T., completed in 1933, and the much improved S.E.T. XV, rolled out the next year, were planned to compete for the new fighter type sought by the Romanian air force. In 1934, however, the ARR fighter competition, marked by closed-door tacit agreements and bribery scandals, had long before been decided in the favour of the gull-winged Polish P.Z.L. P.11. Indeed, the P.11 outclassed its rival Romanian and foreign competitors in many aspects, including manoeuvrability and speed.

        Undoubtedly, however, the S.E.T. XV, the last fighter born on the draft boards of S.E.T., represents the most advanced design to be built at Societatea pentru exploatari technice. In spite of its biplane configuration and fixed undercarriage, the prototype embodied several modern features, such as all-metal construction with fabric skinning, enclosed cockpit, oxygen installation for high altitude interception flights, radio set and NACA-ring around the radial engine. The powerplant, a Gnome & Rhône 9Krsd nine-cylinder radial of 500 h.p. (373 kW), offered an impressive 340 km/h maximum speed at 4,000 m and 9,400 m ceiling. The wings were arranged in a sesquiplane configuration, having different spans, a fashionable design of the early thirties. The upper wing was 9.40 m wide, while the lower was 6.70 m, offering a total of 18.65 m² wing surface. The length of the streamlined fuselage was 7.00 m, the height was 3.05 m. Empty weight was 1,150 kg while, all-up, the airplane totalized 1,550 kg. As armament, the standard two 7.7 mm Vickers machine guns were installed on the front fuselage, firing through the propeller arc. In spite of prolonged trials performed with Escadrila de experiente (Experiments Squadron), based at Pipera-Bucharest airfield, the ARR had shown no interest in the aircraft and subsequently it was abandoned.

        From 1937, production was mostly shifted from S.E.T.'s own designs to the licence-production of various Romanian (I.A.R. 27, I.A.R. 39) and foreign (Fleet F-10G, Nardi F.N.-305) non-combat aircraft types. In 1938 a mutual agreement had been reached between S.E.T. and the Ministry of Air and Marine. The convention stated that a substantial number of aircraft would be ordered in the following five years, with the production to be taken over by new facilities to be built in Moldavia, called Industria nationala aeronautica (National Aeronautical Industry, or I.N.A.). The outbreak of war, however, hindered the realization of this plan. Instead, the production capacity of the main Bucharest plant was enlarged and  reserved exclusively for licence-made aircraft.

        The S.E.T. briefly survived the war, continuing to manufacture and repair aircraft, until 1946, when the plant shifted to "peacetime production," unrelated to the aircraft industry. 

I.A.R., the peak of Romanian aircraft production

         On 6 August 1925, the Romanian state, the ASTRA company and a group of Romanian and French investors agreed to create a joint-venture company, specializing in aeronautical constructions. From the Romanian side the capital investment was offered by the state in the form of land and construction materials, the ASTRA-Arad aircraft factory contributed with its specialized machine-tool inventory, and a group of Romanian credit banks. The French contribution was made by Blériot-Spad towards the fuselage section of the future factory while Lorraine-Dietrich sponsored the aero-engine department.

        On 1 November 1925, Societatea autonoma industria aeronautica româna (Romanian Aeronautical Industry Autonomous Association, abbreviated I.A.R.) came into being with the head office at Bucharest and the factory site at Brasov, in Southeast Transylvania. General Constantin Coanda was nominated as President and Colonel Andrei Popovici as General Director. They were assisted by Dipl.-Eng. Elie Carafoli as the head of the "Avioane" (airframes) department, and Dipl.-Eng. Petre Carp as the head of the "Motoare" (engines) department. Among other personalities involved was Louis Blériot, the famous French pilot and aircraft designer. The first step in creating a Romanian aeronautical giant has been taken. 

        In the autumn of 1927, the construction work was completed. Two main sections were created, the airframe factory and the engine factory, each located in a separate building and having its own design and test department. Later on, an accessory department was created to assist production. 

        On 11 October 1927, the I.A.R. works, at that time one of the largest in Europe, was officially inaugurated. Long before production could start, on 23 February 1927, a first batch of 43 Potez-25-14 had already been ordered by Directia superioara a aeronauticii (DSA), or Superior Division of the Aeronautics, a specialized branch within the Ministry of War. Soon after the official opening, series-production of the first aircraft type was begun. However, for some reason, it was not the Potez-25 but the Morane-Saulnier MS-35 EP2 trainer, ordered more than a month later than the Potez, that entered production as the first aircraft to be built at I.A.R. Thirty of these airplanes of parasol wing configuration, powered by a Gnome & Rhône nine-cylinder rotary engine of 80 h.p. (60 kW), had been built by mid-1928, when production was switched to the Potez-25. The contract signed by I.A.R. and the ARR allocated a production of 100 Potez-25 reconnaissance and light-bomber aircraft per annum. The papers stipulated that the airplanes had to be made of Canadian lumber. This unnecessary and rather curious term, motivated without doubts by corruption of senior officials, raised the aircraft's unit price well above the planned sum, causing a serious delivery delay and distortion of the production plan. In early 1929, the first 43 completed fuselages sat still undelivered in the main hangar, causing a temporary halt of production. Following prolonged debates and high-level intervention, funds were finally transferred to  I.A.R. which, in turn, was able to pay the Canadian partner thus avoiding an imminent bankruptcy. The completed fuselages were quickly fitted with waiting Lorraine-Dietrich 12Eb engines of 450 h.p. (336 kW), thus enabling deliveries to the ARR to start. The second Potez-25 to be manufactured at Brasov, powered by an L.-D. engine, c/n 18105, passed the I.A.R. acceptance tests on 4 May 1929, and was promptly handed over to Flotila 1 aviatie (1st Aviation Flotilla), headquartered at Iasi, in Moldavia.

        In early June, after the turmoil had settled and deliveries began, DSA ordered another, albeit smaller, batch of 15 Potez-25-14R A2 reconnaissance aircraft, with the express condition that this time they should be made of indigenous lumber, which was cheap and available in quantity. This contract was promptly honoured, so until late 1933 a total of six further orders were placed, calling for almost 200 Potez-25s. Although efforts had been made to regularize the production flow, deliveries to the air force did suffer delays for various reasons. Thus, on 13 October 1933, Potez-25 No. 207 was received by the ARR acceptance commission, but No. 189 had to wait until 27 November to be finally accepted. No. 215 was delivered late in the year, on 15 December.

        When the last Potez biplane left the production line in early 1934, a total of 250 had been built at the Brasov facilities of I.A.R., which had been greatly enlarged and updated in the intervening six years. With the last Potez-25 completed, the "French era" of I.A.R. came to an end. Subsequently, production was diversified, focusing both on I.A.R.'s own designs and foreign types manufactured under licence agreements.

The first I.A.R. fighter, the first failure

        In early 1930 a contest was called by the ARR for a new fighter type to equip its squadrons, in order to supersed its outdated Spad S.61s and Fokker D.XIs. During July and October, seven foreign types were tested at an airfield near Bucharest. No decision was made, however, since none of the contenders reached the minimal speed limit set by the requirements at 300 km/h. Despite the inconclusive results, the favourite plane seemed to be the chunky-looking Polish P.Z.L. P.1/II prototype, registered SP-ADO. During the same period, the air force commission was informed that a new fighter prototype had been completed at I.A.R., and it had reached an impressive 319 km/h top speed during initial test flights. This fact, combined with the initial failure in reaching a verdict, prompted the ARR leaders to set up a new, five member committee to decide the choice of fighter type to be introduced into Romanian service. After several months of inquiries and test flights, the commission, undoubtedly influenced once again by personal interests, finally decided 4 to 1 in favour of the P.Z.L. P.1 and against the faster but less manoeuvrable, spin-prone I.A.R. C.V. 11. With this rather unexpected outcome the hopes of I.A.R. for a substantial order were ruined, causing a temporary setback to the fighter programme under way. The first aircraft wearing I.A.R. trademarks proved to be a failure.

        Its start had been promising, however. Built according to the plans of Dipl.-Eng. Dr. Elie Carafoli, a talented designer of Macedonian origins, and Lucien Virmoux, a Frenchman enrolled in 1928 by I.A.R. as technical consultant, who had had previous experience with the SPAD S.91 and Wibault 210/220, the I.A.R. fighter was an advanced construction. Named the C.V. 11 after its designers, it had a mixed metal-wood structure and cantilever, low-wing configuration, all modern features, soon to be adopted by all major aircraft manufacturers. The French influence was dominant, however. The C.V. 11 looked like a combination of a Wibault 210 with a Couzinet-type tail...

I.A.R. CV-11

        The front fuselage structure was made of duraluminumin tubes, while the rear part was of pine wood. The engine nacelle and the fuselage up to the cockpit were covered by duraluminumin sheets, the aft part by plywood. The rear part of the fuselage merged with the tail without a substantial cross section change, giving the aircraft a rather unusual arrow-like look. Due to its unconventional fuselage configuration the overall length come to less than 7 m, while the height was only 2.46 m. The 11.50 m span wing was made up by three sections of combined duraluminuminpine wood construction,reinforced by steel cables. The centre part housed the main wing fuel tank. The unbalanced control surfaces, which proved to be too small during trials, were made entirely of wood, covered by fabric. The powerplant chosen was a Lorraine-Dietrich 12Fa "Courlis" with 12 cylinders arranged in a W configuration. Its maximum output was an impressive 600 h.p. (447 kW) but it proved to be too heavy for the small and light fuselage, which weighted only 1,100 kg, and caused a dangerous tendency to fall into a spin at low speed. This shortcoming could not be eliminated, so the prototype, officially designated I.A.R. C.V. 11/W.8, had finally to be abandoned.

        In the meantime, a second prototype was completed at I.A.R. This time a less powerful but sensibly lighter Hispano-Suiza 12Mc engine, with 12-cylinder in V, had been fitted to essentially the same fuselage. Although weaker than its predecessor, this engine gave a superior maximum speed of 328 km/h at sea level and 295 km/h at 5,000 m. The armament of two 7.7 mm Vickers machine guns firing through the propeller arc had been retained from the first prototype. An O.P.L. type gunsight helped the pilot to aim its guns. After initial test flights, the second prototype, designated in French style I.A.R. C.V. 11 C1 (Chasseur monoplace), had been shipped to Istres, in France, where it arrived in January 1931. During the following two months further trials were conducted involving French specialists as well. The final report, however, did not have any significant impact on ARR commission members. Therefore, once the prototype returned to Romania, as a last measure, the I.A.R. team decided to make an attempt to break the speed record on a 500 km closed circuit. The record of 306,696 km/h in effect at that time for this category had been set up by the Frenchman Joseph Sadi-Lecointe in 1924, with a Nieuport-Delâge airplane.

         The record-breaking attempt was scheduled for the morning of 9 December 1931 on the Bucharest-Fetesti-Bucharest route. With the famous Capitan aviator Romeo Popescu at its controls, the C.V. 11 took off from Pipera-Bucharest military airfield at 11.30 a.m. The first 370 km were made without any trouble at an encouraging average speed. Close to Lehliu railway station, however, the overheated Hispano-Suiza engine suddenly stalled, forcing the pilot to try an improvised forced landing with the now vicious airplane. Cpt. Popescu approached a nearby open field, but at contact with the thick snow cover one of the main wheels collapsed and the fighter turned over, crushing the pilot under the fuselage. Romeo Popescu, an experienced test pilot and holder of three Romanian national aviation records, died instantly. The investigation following the incident concluded that the lubrication of the overstressed engine, working at maximum power, was insufficient, causing seizure. Until that fatal moment, during an hour and thirty-four minutes of flight, an average speed of 319 km/h had been recorded by the onboard instruments, thus a good chance had existed od achieving the goal set by the temerarious pilot.

        However, by that time the dies had already been cast. Months before, in September 1931, General Constantin Lazarescu, the new inspector of DSA, decided not to consider the I.A.R. design any more, but to purchase the Polish P.Z.L. P.11, an upgraded version of the initial P.1, with a top speed of 340 km/h at 5,000 m. The choice seemed to be the right one as the Polish fighter was highly manoeuvrable, and its all-metal construction advanced for its time. The typical gull-wing configuration, however, hindered the visibility of the pilot and the armament was considered insufficient as well. Following the arrival in 1933 of the fifty P.11bs ordered from Poland, a further decision was made to manufacture this airplane locally under licence. Ironically, the order for 95 P.Z.L. P.11Fs was handed over to its main national rival for the same contract, namely the I.A.R.-Works.

Early I.A.R. fighters

        The failure of the first fighter designed at Brasov did not discourage the energetic team of the I.A.R. Works. Even before the second prototype of the C.V. 11 was disqualified from the fighter contest, the first details of its successor had already been laid out by Engineer-in-Chief Carafoli. This time he had done the work alone, since following the failure of the first and only C.V. design the disillusioned Virmoux had left to France. A new tail with enlarged rudder was fitted to essentially the same fuselage, giving a more conventional look and offering better control during flight. As a consequence, the overall height increased by more than a meter, i.e. 40% of the original dimension. Unlike the Virmoux design, the wing tips were rounded, and the span had been increased as well, giving a 19.80 m² wing area compared to the original 18.20 m² of the C.V. 11. An anti-crash pylon with a minuscule Venturi-tube installed at its top appeared behind the cockpit to protect the pilot in case the aircraft overturned. Tragically, such a feature on the C.V. 11 C1 could have saved the life of Cpt. Popescu on that fatal day in early December 1931...  

        The powerplant chosen for the new aircraft, named I.A.R. 12, was again a Lorraine-Dietrich 12Eb, that offered 450 h.p. (336 kW) at 1,900 r.p.m., similar to the type fitted to the first C.V. 11. However, due to the increased aerodynamic drag, the maximum speed at ground level decreased to 294 km/h. This unsatisfactory result, combined with poor handling characteristics experienced during early test flights, constrained Carafoli to improve the construction and try a new engine. The next project, called I.A.R. 13, was essentially similar to the abandoned '12', except for the fin-and-rudder. Its surface had been reduced and instead of a rounded shape it became oval. The fuselage, wings and the anti-crash pylon had all been retained, while the undercarriage suffered minor changes. The engine fitted to the airframe was a Hispano-Suiza 12Mc of 500 h.p. (373 kW) output at 2,200 r.p.m. that operated a two-blade, all-metal Ratier propeller. The more powerful engine helped to boost the top speed to 330 km/h, which meant a significant 12% increase. The overall flying characteristics were improved as well. Nevertheless, these significant results and the demonstration flights performed by Locotenent aviator Eugen "Puiu" Pârvulescu in 1933 did not impress the senior ARR leaders, still resistant to the new idea of a low-wing monoplane fighter. Firm orders for aircraft still avoided the I.A.R. plants.

        However, Romanian officials did not want to discourage eventual national aircraft production. Therefore, one day in early 1933, an unofficial message coming from top levels was forwarded to Brasov, essentially indicating that a small number of fighter-trainers would be purchased by the air force. The I.A.R. team immediately began to work on a new type, designated I.A.R. 14, still based on the experience gained with previous designs. The rectangular section fuselage was again of mixed metal-wood configuration, with the front half covered by duralumin sheets and the rear part with pine plywood. The same wings employed on the earlier models, made of three main sections, were fitted to the airframe. The tail had been modified once more and the control surfaces were balanced. The pilot's head rest was not fitted with the anti-crash pylon, typical to the precedent prototypes. Due to time shortage and lack of adequate engine supply, the 450 h.p. (336 kW) Lorraine-Dietrich 12 Eb, manufactured under licence at I.A.R., had been retained, thus the performances were similar to the unsuccessful I.A.R. 12. The first in-flight trials, that took place in June 1933 in the hands of Lt. Pârvulescu, were disappointing. The maximum speed could not even reach the "magic" 300 km/h, falling short by 6 km/h, and a mere 263 km/h could be attained at 5,000 m. It took 10 minutes and 27 seconds to reach this altitude, the ceiling being somewhere near 7,500 m. The standard pair of 7.7 mm Vickers machine guns synchronized with the propeller rotation were fitted to the lower sides of the front fuselage, each having 500 rounds supply.

        On 30 August 1933, Dipl.-Eng. Radu Irimescu, the new head of Subsecretariatul de stat al aerului (The State's Sub-secretariat of the Air, SSA), the institution that replaced DSA, ordered General Dipl.-Eng. Gheorghe Negrescu, in charge of the I.A.R.'s affairs, to mount an investigation into the new I.A.R. 14. Despite the prototype's mediocre qualities, Negrescu's report, completed in only three days, was generally favourable. In consequence, in September 1933 a batch of 20 I.A.R. 14s was finally ordered. The small-scale production suffered several problems, as incoming rush orders were giving priority. Thus deliveries were scattered through six years, until the late 'thirties. Incredibly, I.A.R. 14 Nos. 14, 15 and 20 were flown at Brasov by test pilot Lt. Emil Droc, a member of the I.A.R. military acceptance commission, only in early September 1939, at the same time as the vastly superior, recently received superb Heinkel He 112B fighters. These last aircraft was finally handed over to the ARR in the autumn of 1939, shortly after the outbreak of W.W. II.

        Nevertheless, in mid-1933 the ice had been broken, and the first firm order for an I.A.R. design was finally placed. The sustained efforts of Elie Carafoli and his team paid dividends. With production started and a small profit secured, Dipl.-Eng. Carafoli decided to take a clean sheet of paper and try something new. The result, called I.A.R. 15, became undoubtedly the most elegant of the Carafoli sextet. The employment of a classical in-line engine, with cylinders in V or W configuration, was abandoned and instead a radial powerplant was considered. Accordingly, the front fuselage suffered major redesign. The cross section became round, a NACA ring covered the Gnome & Rhône 9Krse engine, which offered a maximum output of 600 h.p. (447 kW) at 4,000 m. The new nine-cylinder radial could propel the aircraft to a top speed of 375 km/h at 4,000 m and climb to 5,000 m in only 8 minutes. The ceiling was pushed up to 10,500 m and the radius of action of 600 km was adequate as well. The I.A.R. 15 could intercept any major bomber type in service at the time, that was likely to operate in the region.

        Alongside the new front fuselage section, other structural changes had been implemented as well. The cross section of the rear fuselage was enlarged and reinforced. The tail profile was once more redesigned, this time becoming a triangle shape. The wings were more rounded and shortened to 11.00 m, giving a 19.00 m² total area. An aerodynamically improved single strut undercarriage featuring elegant wheel spats was fitted near the wing roots and a small wheel replaced the previous tail ski. Instead of the crash-pylon featured on earlier models, a rounded knob appeared behind the pilot's head rest. In all aspects, the I.A.R.-15, test flown in early 1934 by 1st Lt. Alex. Papana, was a good match for other monoplane fighter types of its time, such as the Dewoitine D.500 of L'Armée de l'Air, the Boeing P-26 "Peashooter" of the U.S. Army Air Corps or the Polikarpov I-16 of the Voyenno-vozdushnyye sily. In spite of its advanced features and notable overall characteristics, Aeronautica Regala Româna, already having the Polish P.Z.L. fighter in service, did not order it in quantity. In the end, apparently only five such aircraft left the assembly line in 1934-1935. They differed from the prototype only in that a three-blade metal propeller was fitted to the G&R engine, replacing the original two-blade wooden airscrew, and additional instruments appeared on the instrument panel.    

        Developed in parallel with the I.A.R. 15, the model '16' featured for the first time an all-metal airframe structure, covered with duralumin sheets, plywood and fabric. It resembled the I.A.R. 14 more closely than the I.A.R. 15, being inferior to the latter. The fuselage outlines followed the '14's, as did the wings, although their area was increased to 20.30 m². The tail section, as usual, was redesigned, the rear part this time becoming rounded. The two-strut undercarriage of the I.A.R. 14 was retained as well, and the tail ski appeared again. A new British radial engine, the Bristol Mercury IV S2, of maximum 560 h.p. (418 kW) output at 4,500 m, was experimented with. The powerplant was covered with a narrow Townend ring and individual exhaust pipes were fitted to each of the nine cylinders. The typical feature of this model was a large propeller cone fitted to a Bristol-made two-blade wooden airscrew. Due to the larger wings and all-metal fuselage structure the empty weight increased to 1,430 kg, giving a relatively high, 70.14 kg/m² wing load, that increased further during flight, taking also into consideration that the all-up weight was 1,650 kg. The usual armament, comprising two 7.7 mm Vickers machine guns, featured on all early I.A.R. fighters, was employed, this time placed in the wings and firing outside the propeller arc. The British engine offered an impressive maximum speed of 342 km/h at 5,000 m that could be reached in 6 ½ minutes, while the ceiling was established at 10,000 m.

        The I.A.R. 16, first flown in 1934, remained in prototype stage. Its only significant achievement was the improvement of Romania's national altitude record. Piloted by Locotenent aviator Papana, on 16 July 1935, the I.A.R. 16, featuring an enclosed cockpit, took off from Pipera airfield at 17.48 p.m. Forty-seven minutes later it established a new altitude of 11,631 m (at that time, the world altitude record was held by the Italian Cdr. R. Donati, who reached 14,433 m on 11 April 1934, while flying a Caproni 161), beating the previous 10,518 m set up by the late Romeo Popescu. The prototype was still seen in 1935-1936 at various air shows, where Alex. Papana performed high-level aerobatics to the delight of the spectators.

        With model '16', the row of I.A.R. fighters, conceived by the unfortunate Elie Carafoli, came to a temporary end. The break lasted five years, until the morning of 20 April 1939, when the prototype of the famous I.A.R. 80 took to the air...

Civilian interlude

        In the early 1930s, parallel with the ongoing fighter programme, the I.A.R. team designed several non-combat aircraft intended for various record breaking attempts and long-range endurance flights. These two-place, single-engine, low-wing prototypes, with their I.A.R. factory designation assigned in the 20 series, fit well into the trend of the thirties to build airplanes with ever superior performances, in order to push the limits of manned flight to previously impossible-looking horizons.

      The first aircraft in this series was the I.A.R. 21. Little is known about this early airplane. It was a mixed metal-wood construction, its general dimensions give the impression of a small aircraft. It featured two open cockpits, one behind the other. Concerning its powerplant, the available sources agree only in that it was powered by a 120 h.p. (89 kW) engine. One document gives its manufacturer Armstrong Siddeley, other ones Walter or Lorraine-Dietrich... The maximum speed reached was 190 km/h, while the ceiling was 5,500 m. Its possible registration could have been YR-IRA, but this is not confirmed. Apparently it was test flown sometime in 1933. One fact is certain, that on 28 March 1934 the unregistered I.A.R. 21, equipped with a "Tiger" engine, was present at Scoala de vânatoare (Fighter school), Buzau, when Sublocotenent aviator (2nd Lieutenant) Emil Friderik Droc performed a short test flight. The airplane's subsequent fate remains uncertain. 

        The following airplane in the series, the I.A.R. 22, was a much more successful construction. It was an evolution of the '21', with similar open cockpits and a wide-section fuselage. Registered YR-INA in honour of its pilot, airwoman Irina Burnaia, it was fitted with a de Havilland Gipsy Major IV in-line engine of 130 h.p. (97 kW). On 3 January 1935, the I.A.R. 22 with Ms. Burnaia and Lt. Petre Ivanovici, a flight instructor, on board began a daring long-distance flight to Capetown, South Africa. To reduce total weight, they even took the rather risky decision not to take parachutes with them. Due to continuous engine troubles, their attempt ended near Lake Victoria, close to the equator. After further endurance flights and participation at various national sports events, the all white I.A.R. 22, carrying the name Astur on its engine nacelle, ended its career in a graveyard near Bucharest, where it was photographed as a souvenir shot by German soldiers entering Romania in late 1940. Reportedly, another prototype of the I.A.R. 22 was completed in 1934 but no information is available on its subsequent career.

        The next civilian I.A.R. was a touring aircraft of improved performance. Powered by a 340 h.p. (254 kW) Hispano-Suiza 9Qa that offered a 245 km/h top speed but only 4,100 m ceiling, the I.A.R. 23 was fitted with an enclosed cockpit for two airmen, the first such feature to appear in an I.A.R. design. Appropriately registered YR-IAR, it served on a long-range tour made in September 1934 by Locotenent-comandor aviator (Major aviator) Gheorghe Banciulescu, who had artificial legs, assisted by Maistru mecanic (Technical NCO) Constantin Oprea, from Bucharest to Warsaw and back, flying 2,400 km in a single-day. In the same month, another single-day tour was performed by the same pilot, this time between Bucharest and Prague, reaching an average speed of 240 km/h. A third flight, with destination Paris, was completed later the same year.

        Utilizing the experience gained with the 'model 23', the I.A.R. team improved the design and completed another airplane. Officially named I.A.R. tip 24 nr. 1, it preserved all main features of its predecessor except the engine, which was replaced by a 350 h.p. (261 kW) Gnome & Rhône 7Kd radial. Due partly to the slightly improved engine performance, the top speed increased to 280 km/h and the ceiling rose to 4,500 m. As a further improvement, thanks to six auxiliary fuel tanks placed in the fuselage and wings, the range was extended to 2,300 km. The enclosed cockpit for two was somewhat shortened and elegant wheel spats were added to the two-strut main undercarriage. From 1935 on, the all-white I.A.R. 24, registered YR-ACI, took part in several long-range tours throughout Europe and beyond.

        The I.A.R. 24 was to be the last in the series of civil aircraft designed and built at Industria aeronautica româna in the peaceful early 1930s. The shadow of the war to come and a rush of military orders hindered the I.A.R. team from completing further projects intended to serve the flying as a sporting event.

        Among the twenty-five aircraft types built at I.A.R. in its twenty years of existence*, the described ten models, eight of which remained in the prototype stage, represent only a fraction of the total production of more than 1,200 aircraft, which included at least 624 of I.A.R. design. Nevertheless, these early airplanes proved to be an important way to gain experience in the field of aeronautical constructions and a step forward into the design of much more complex aircraft of superior performance, which reached a peak with the I.A.R. 80/81 family and the licence production of the sophisticated Messerschmitt Bf 109G fighter and the Savoia J.R.S. 79B bomber.

        Sadly, with the end of the Second World War, the uninterrupted evolution of Industria aeronautica româna, the pride of the Romanian aeronautical industry, was broken and aircraft production was scaled down, then halted at Soviet demand. The I.A.R. Plant located at Brasov, renamed in the early 1950s "Orasul Stalin" ("Stalin-city"), one of the largest factories in Eastern-Europe, turned its manufacturing capacity to build... tractors for  agriculture, production that continues to our day.    

*  Besides aircraft, I.A.R. licence-manufactured ten aero-engine types too. Their performances ranged from 130   h.p. (97 kW) to 1,475 h.p. (1,100 kW), the latter representing the Daimler-Benz DB 605A assigned to the  licence-made Messerschmitt Bf 109Ga-4 and Ga-6 fighters. In I.A.R.'s early period covered by this study, a  total of 370 Lorraine-Dietrich 12Eb [maximum of 450 h.p. (336 kW) output at 1,860 m] and 50 Gnome &   Rhône 7Kfs [known as I.A.R. K7 of 450 h.p. (336 kW) at 1,440 m] were manufactured.

I.C.A.R., the latest and smallest*

        Of the trio of Romanian pre-war aircraft manufacturers, Întreprinderea de constructii aeronautice române (Enterprise for Romanian Aeronautical Constructions, or I.C.A.R.) was to be the last founded. Established in 1932 by Dipl.-Eng. Mihail Racovita in the outskirts of Bucharest, I.C.A.R. started its production with small sporting airplanes, designed by the Bayerishe Flugzeugwerke (BFW), owned by Willy Messerschmitt.

        The first type to be manufactured there was the Messerschmitt M.23b two-seat, low-wing school, trainer and sporting aircraft, powered by a Siemens-Halske Sh 13b five-cylinder radial of 82 h.p. (61 kW) performance. Starting from late-1932, a total of ten I.C.A.R. M.23bs were built and delivered to A.R.P.A. (Asociatia româna pentru propaganda aviatiei, or Romanian Association to Promote Aviation) clubs. All of them bore registrations in the CV- series** and the name of a city that had sponsored each plane.

*  Taking into consideration that the article of Mark Axworthy (published in AE No. 56) discusses only briefly the production at I.C.A.R.-Bucharest, this study will cover the company's whole activity, well beyond 1935

** Initially, the C—R registration, followed by three letters for individual identification, was allocated to  Romania by the FAI. In 1928 these letters were changed into CV—, while from 1933 all Romanian civil  airplanes have borne the YR— group of letters

       One of these Messerschmitts (CV-TAD) was specially equipped with a pair of floats making it suitable for take-off and landings on water. In 1932, flying with this airplane, re-designated I.C.A.R. M.23bH (H for Hidro), Cpt. Mihail Pantazi and Gheorghe Grozea set up a new world record for a duration flight in a floatplane of less than 500 kg by staying aloft for 12 hours and 2 minutes.

        In 1933, six Romanian airmen aboard of a trio of I.C.A.R. M.23bs (YR-AAP, YR-ABL and YR-ABO) took off from Bucharest for Capetown, South Africa. Their attempt ended, however, in Malakal, Sudan, due to extremely harsh weather and various technical problems experienced with the airplanes.

        In 1934, largely based on the M.23b, I.C.A.R. designed its first aircraft, the I.C.A.R. Universal apparently to a special order from Princess Marina Stirbey. Fitted with a seven-cylinder Siemens-Halske Sh 14a radial engine of 150 h.p. (112 kW) covered by a NACA ring, the aircraft preserved the general lines of the original Messerschmitt design (wingspan 11.85 m, length 6.75, height 2.50 m, empty weight 450 kg, all-up weight 825 kg). The new powerplant, fitted with a two-blade wooden Heine propeller, offered a maximum speed of 180 km/h, while the ceiling was 4,000 m. Due to the new engine, the front part of the fuselage was slightly modified, the first cockpit suppressed and replaced with an auxiliary fuel tank increasing the flying time to more than 6 hours. The rear cockpit was arranged for the pilot and a little aerodynamic bulge appeared on the top of the fuselage, behind the seat. The large but narrow main wheels had been replaced with smaller, balloon-type tyres, permitting the airplane to operate from soft ground. With this aircraft, specially registered YR-MAI (MArIna) and possibly painted red overall, Princess Stirbey made a solo flight on the Bucharest-Reval-Helsinki-Copenhagen-Berlin-Bucharest route during August-September 1936. In the late 1930s, YR-MAI was re-arranged as two-seater and alongside other I.C.A.R. sports planes took part in various aviation meetings.

        The success of I.C.A.R.'s light, easy-to-handle and manouevrable sports planes prompted A.R.P.A. to order three special versions of the Universal suited for aerobatics. Named I.C.A.R. Universal Acrobatic, all three airplanes were delivered in 1934, bearing the registrations YR-ACA, -ACB and -ACC. The construction was similar to the previous Universal, except that the original M.23b wheels had been re-adopted and fitted with aerodynamical spats. The all-red aircraft were assigned to three well-known sport pilots, Mihail Pantazi, Petre Ivanovici and Maximilian "Max" Manolescu. Beginning from 1934, the trio, named "Dracii rosii" ("The Red Devils"), was a regular attraction at various aviation displays throughout Romania, that were extremely popular in the 'thirties. On one occasion, on their way to the airfield at Constanta harbour, where they were scheduled to appear at an A.R.P.A. air show, all three I.C.A.R.s daringly flew one by one beneath the large bridge over the Danube at Cernavoda.

Icar Universal

         Another version of the I.C.A.R. Universal was a two-seater aircraft re-engined with a de Havilland Gipsy Major IV of 130 h.p. (97 kW), manufactured under licence at Brasov as the I.A.R. 4GI. Named I.C.A.R. Universal Biloc (Two-seater), it was ordered in March 1934, apparently by the ARR as a training/communications aircraft. Apart of the two separate cockpits, these Universals were recognizable by their glazed cockpit doors, which helped entry and exit. Deliveries began a year later and the last one was completed in the second half of 1936. Although they received military serial numbers 1 to 10, painted in white on the fuselage sides and black on under wing surfaces, later on some of them were re-registered civilian (e.g. YR-ACL, -AEL, -AEY). Three of these I.A.R. 4GI powered Universals, registered as civilian airplanes but flown by military pilots, performed a long-range flight from Bucharest to Capetown and back in April 1934, reaching at last the destination long sought after by Romanian pilots. They covered a total of more than 22,000 km in 127 hours of flight. Alongside other Romanian sporting planes, the all-silver YR-AEY took part in the contest of the Little Entente, held at Prague-Ruzyn airport in 1937.

        With this series of various-purpose Universals, I.C.A.R. gained significant experience and established itself as a competent company, coming abreast of the other two Romanian aircraft manufacturers, I.A.R.-Brasov and S.E.T.-Bucharest.

        In June 1933, with the global depression at its worst, Rakan Kokothaki, commercial director of Bayerishe Flugzeugwerke (BFW), arrived to Bucharest with the hope of obtaining orders for his unemployed company. Following several rounds of negotiations with the I.A.R. leaders, a general plan for a monoplane, single-engine, passenger aircraft began to take shape. Even the designation I.A.R. 36 was given to the planned airplane. After further talks, however, the parties could not reach an agreement and negotiations were broken. Nevertheless, Kokothaki did not give up, and went to Bucharest to see the other existing aircraft manufacturers. S.E.T., being overloaded with ARR orders, was not interested in the German's offer. The third and final hope was I.C.A.R. The timing was excellent, I.C.A.R. had the production capacity but had no design experience. This time the negotiations were quick and successful. According to the agreement, the Romanian company asked BFW to design a high-wing airplane of all-metal structure, with a capacity of six passengers and two crew-members, powered by a 450 h.p. (336 kW) Gnome & Rhône 7K engine to be purchased from I.A.R.-Brasov. This commission resulted in the Messerschmitt M.36 project. The final airplane was, however, powered by a weaker Armstrong Siddeley Serval Mk. I radial of 380 h.p. (283 kW), since I.A.R. presumably refused to sell the engine to its competitor.

        The passenger aircraft, the first such type to be build in Romania, was designated the I.C.A.R. Comercial*. Registered as YR-ACS, it performed its first regular service in 1936. Later on, the passenger cabin was re-arranged for five passengers and two separate luggage compartments. The original engine was substituted with a 300 h.p. (224 kW) Lorraine-Dietrich Mizar 47. The all-blue Comercial had a 220 km/h cruising speed and served on the internal routes of L.A.R.E.S. (Liniile aeriene române exploatate cu statul, or Romanian Airlines Operated with the State) until 1940. Following the success of the Comercial, I.C.A.R. planned a tri-motor version, but in the end the project was not realized.

        Alongside the Comercial airliner, other civil types were also built at I.C.A.R. In 1935, a little biplane left the assembly line of the factory. Intended as a special purpose aircraft, fit for high-level aerobatics, the I.C.A.R. Acrobatic was manufactured under licence from the reputable Czechoslovakian Avia factory. Powered by an Armstrong Siddeley Lynx Mk. IV radial engine of 225 h.p. (168 kW), it could reach 215 km/h maximum speed. General construction data were: wingspan 8.40 m, length 8.50 m and height 2.60 m. Almost every leading personality in the Romanian aviation tried the Acrobatic, registered as YR-ADN, in flight, appraising its handling characteristics. Prince Constantin "Bâzu" Cantacuzino, 1939 champion at the Romanian national aerobatics contest and future ace of the wartime ARR, reportedly had a special attraction to this sturdy airplane, flying it on many occasions. The Acrobatic, bearing the serial number '0' usually allocated to prototypes, had been tested at the I.A.R. as well, where it was present on 4 July 1938. Purchase Order Nr. 2623/9 February 1940 called for two new Acrobatics, s/n 1 and 2, to be built at I.C.A.R. According to another document, the order was fulfilled on 16 May 1942, but the actual fate of these two airplanes is uncertain.

        The last engine-powered civil airplane to be built at I.C.A.R. was a four-seater light commuting monoplane, that was completed in 1937. As was customary at the company, the prototype received no numerals as its serial, but a name denoting its purpose. This time the design was named I.C.A.R. Turing and reportedly two prototypes were completed, one being an engineless frame for static tests. The engine fitted to the second airframe was a 90 h.p. (67 kW) Pobjoy Niagara that offered 182 km/h top speed and 3,000 m ceiling. Registered YR-XYZ, this extremely light airplane, allegedly weighting when empty only 378 kg (sic!), was flown only occasionally, being seldom spotted on Romanian airfields.

        Following the successful delivery of the ten two-seater Universals to the ARR, on 30 October 1935, a more significant order arrived from the air force headquarters. It was not the number of aircraft to be built that made the event an important step forward, but the size and complexity of the task. The incoming order specified the manufacturing of main component parts for three Savoia-Marchetti S.62bis hydroplanes, to be assembled later in Constanta. This order was followed by another one, dated 7 July 1936, which called for parts for two other Savoias. As soon as the request was fulfilled the hydroplanes were assembled and test flown at S.T.C. (see next chapter).

* There is a good possibility that not one but two different passenger airplanes were actually built at I.C.A.R.,     having given the same Comercial designation. A document mentions the purchase order No. 2623, dated 9    February 1940 (!), sent to I.C.A.R., according to which a Comercial, among other airplanes, was ordered from    the company. Moreover, it states that the aircraft's serial number is '2'. The "History of Romanian Aviation,"   published in Bucharest in 1984, mentions on page 229 that the Comercial built at I.C.A.R. was a licence of the Messerschmitt M.18b, a statement not backed by German sources. A German book covering the early production of civil Messerschmitt aircraft mentions that of the total of  25 M.18s built at BFW, two went to Switzerland and one to Portugal, but none were sold to Romania. However, this statement is contradicted by a photograph depicting a Romanian M.18b, registered CV-RAL and having the serial number 1 written on its tail beneath the Messerschmitt (and not I.C.A.R.) factory name. Therefore the possibility exists that this photograph depicts the original Comercial, and the other airliner, YR-ACS, is, in fact, the second Comercial. For a definitive answer, however, further research is necessary...

        With this task successfully taken, more substantial orders began to arrive at I.C.A.R. In 1938, the air force ordered 20 Fleet F-10G trainer and liaison aircraft, followed next year by another request for 70 additional Fleets. In August 1940 65, in July 1941 50 and in 1942 a further 50 Fleets were ordered by ARR, the latter one being cancelled due to lack of materials and component parts. Instead of the last Fleet order, in the spring of 1942 I.C.A.R. received an order for 50 Grünau-9 gliders.

        From 1943 on, as soon as the Fleet orders had been completed, I.C.A.R. started the production of the Fieseler Fi 156Ca-3 various purpose airplane. A total of 174 "Storchs," including 24 Fi 156Da-1 Sanitara (Casevac version), were ordered by ARR in 1941-1943, but by the August 1944 defection of Romania to the Allies only some ten had actually been completed. The total I.C.A.R. "Storch" production was 94 aircraft, of which 70 were C and 24D sub-variants. The last one had been withdrawn from service by the late 1960s.

        In 1947, the very last Fieseler rolled off the production line. It represented the end of aircraft manufacturing, as I.C.A.R's production was radically restructured, and only a separate aviation division was now dedicated to aircraft. It performed repair and overhaul work for both the Romanian and Soviet Air Forces, and later for sporting planes. The manufacture of the I.C.A.R. 1 (Grünau 9 licence) basic-level gliders was continued.

        I.C.A.R.'s aviation activity ended in 1951, when the production of the remained division was shifted to industrial ventilation systems.

Hydroplanes over the Black Sea

        In the inter-war period, there also existed an aircraft manufacturing unit specializing in seaplanes. Societatea de transport Constanta (Transport Society of Constanta, shortly S.T.C.), had been founded in 1923 at Constanta, Romania's largest Black Sea port. The following year, ARR placed an order for a small number of hydroplanes to form the nucleus of the recently established Escadila de hidroaviatie (Hydroaviation Squadron). The first prototype, named the R.A.S. Getta after its constructor, Dipl.-Eng. Radu Stoika's daughter, was built between 1 June and 15 August 1925, largely employing components of ex-Austro-Hungarian Hansa Brandenburg hydroplanes, captured from Hungary in 1919. Reportedly, the fabric used to cover the Getta still preserved the original Austro-Hungarian Kreuz until overpainted with Romanian markings. The engine was also captured, namely a 220 h.p. (164 kW) Hiero, mounted beneath the upper wing in a pushing powerplant formula á la Savoia. It had a sesquiplane configuration, the larger upper wing measuring 16 m, while the fuselage was 10.50 m long. The 2,045 kg hydroplane could reach 160 km/h maximum speed, its endurance being approximately 8 hours.

        The initial flight of Getta No.1 took place on 15 August 1925 at Constanta, on Romania's "Navy Day", in the hands of the Cpt. Romeo Popescu, assisted by a navigator and an on-board mechanic. The performance was well below expectation, and several major problems occurred during following trials. Nevertheless, the necessity of creating a potent Romanian seaplane unit to counterbalance the embarrassingly persistent Soviet presence over the Black Sea pushed forward the production. Finally, three more Getta school and training hydroplanes (Nos. 2-4), this time powered by 220 h.p. (164 kW) Austro-Daimlers, were completed and delivered in 1927 to the solitary seaplane squadron. Their operational life was very short, as on 15 August 1928 the first four recently arrived Savoia-Marchetti S.59bis were "baptized" by the unit's "popa" (Romanian orthodox priest), and immediately entered service.

        Following its unsuccessful début, S.T.C. did not receive further orders until 1936, when the first Savoia-Marchetti S.62bis* (from 1930 on, a total of 14 Savoia-Marchetti S.62bises were imported directly from SIAI-Milan - Nos. I-XIV) was assembled at the company's Constanta site. In 1936, as a consequence of an extensive wear during service and a series of fatal accidents involving Savoia floatplanes, Ministerul Aerului si Marinei (Ministry of Air and Marine) decided to overhaul the entire hydro fleet at the I.A.R. Works and to additionally order five new S.62bis airframes from national aviation companies. The hulls, floats and other main component parts of these reconnaissance and light-bomber hydroplanes were manufactured at I.C.A.R.-Bucharest, additional equipment coming from I.A.R.-Brasov. Original Italian S.I.A.I. spare parts were used as well. The airframes were fitted with Isotta-Fraschini Asso engines of 750 h.p. (559 kW) from the available stocks and taken from the damaged planes. The all-silver S.T.C.-Savoia S.62bises, wearing black serials XV-XIX, entered service with Flotila de hidroaviatie (Hydroaviation Flotilla) in 1938, one of them being written off in accident in the same year. The original Italian S.62bises were withdrawn in early 1941, but the four surviving Romanian Savoias soldiered on into 1943, when the newly arrived Heinkel He 114s superseded them in combat service.

        Shortly after the completion of the assembly work, S.T.C. ceased to exist due to a lack of further orders.