Hungarian Air Force / Magyar Légierö
By Paul van der Linden
One of the three former Warsaw Pact countries who joined NATO in 1999 was the Hungarian air force. By 1956, the year of the anti communist rebellion, the Hungarian air force reached its peak with large numbers of MiG-15's, MiG-17's, Il-10's and Tu-2 bombers. After a short period of being grounded following the Soviet incursion, operations resumed in 1957 with a much-reduced complement of aircraft making it one of the smallest air forces of the Warsaw Pact. On strength in 1958 were some three squadrons of MiG-15's, a squadron equipped with the Yak-18 and in addition also small numbers of Li-2 transports, Mi-4 helicopters and Il-28R's were also in service.
In the years to follow the inventory was drastically expanded with the arrival of one squadron of MiG-19PM's to replace the MiG-17PF in the interceptor role. In addition a regiment equipped with the MiG-21F-13 was established. Other types in use by this time were numbers of Mi-1 and Mi-4 helicopters as well as Li-2 and Il-14 transports. Followed during the nineteen 60's by a number of MiG-21PF's, L-29 trainers and Mi-8 helicopters replacing part of the MiG-15, MiG-17PF and Il-28 fleet.
The first half of the nineteen 70's saw the retirement of the last Il-28's, Li-2's (which was replaced by the An-26) and MiG-19's and the arrival of more Fishbeds of more modern types by means of MiG-21MF's Fishbed-J's followed later by MiG-21bis Fishbed-K and Fishbed-N's. These were followed in 1979 by twelve MiG-23MF Flogger-B and three MiG-23UB Flogger-C trainers. Types, which were introduced in the course of the early 80's, were twelve Su-22M-3 and three Su-22UM-3's and Mi-2's and Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters as well as small numbers of An-24 and Let 410 transport aircraft.
By the early 90's at the time of the Warsaw Pact the Hungarian Air Force, by 31 March 1991 called the Magyar Honvédseg Repülö Csapatai (MHRCS) consisted of one fighter wing at Taszár air base, the 31. 'Kapos' Harcászati Repülo Ezred (31.HRE) equipped with two squadrons of MiG-21bis and MiG-21UM and one with the Su-22M-3/UM-3, one fighter wing based at Pápa being the 47. 'Stromfeld Aurél' Harcászati Repülo Ezred (47.HRE) equipped with one squadron MiG-23MF/UB and one with MiG-21bis/UM and a fighter wing at Kecskemét air base, the 59. 'Szentgyörgyi Dezso Harcászati Repülo Ezred (59.HRE) with two squadrons MiG-21MF and UM's. One mixed transport regiment, the 89. 'Szolnok' Vegyes Szállito Repülo Ezred at Szolnok with one squadron with An-26 Curl transport aircraft and two squadrons with Mi-8S and T Hip helcopters. Additional helicopter regiments were based at Szentkirályszabadja were the 87. 'Bakony' Hercihelikopter Ezred was operating two squadrons of Mi-24D/V Hinds, one with Mi-8T Hips and one with Mi-17's transport and a small number of special mission equipped Mi-17PP as well as one single Mi-9 command and control helicopter. Based at Börgönd was the 'Asbóth Oszkár' helikopter regiment with Mi-2 Hoplites. Finally the 93. 'Vitéz Háry László' Vegyes Repülo Osztály was based at Tököl and had two An-24V, four Let 410 and four Zlin 43's on strength for transport and liason duties.
The 1990's saw the dramatic demise of the MHRCS which resulted in the situation as it exists today. The first victim was the helicopter regiment at Börgönd, which was disbanded, in the early 90's and its Mi-2's reassigned to Szolnok. The war in the former Yugoslavia saw the relocation of the 31.HRE from Taszár to Pápa in 1996 in order to make space for US troops which were to be stationed at Taszár. 31.HRE eventually disbanded in 1997. The disbandment of the regiment coincided with the retirement of the Su-22 and the MiG-23 while large numbers of MiG-21's were put in storage. The 47.HRE itself was disbanded in 2000 with all remaining Fishbeds being retired. One additional unit which was disbanded in 2001 was the 93.VRO at Tököl which was disbanded after all An-24's, L-410's and Z-43's had been retired in the 1990's. The unit continued to operate two An-26's until its disbandment. On a slighter positive note the MHRCS acquired 28 MiG-29 Fulcrums from Russia as part of the payment of Russian debts to Hungary. The Fulcrums replaced the MiG-21MF with the 59.HRE at Kecskemét. The majority of these Fishbed-J's were retired but some soldiered on with the 47.HRE at Pápa for some time untill also their remaining flying hours had been used up. Unfortunately only a very small number of MiG-29's remain active today. Plans exist however to upgrade about a dozen in order to let them soldier on for the foreseeable future. Another positive but also rather controversial fact was the establishment of an air academy at Szolnok. Controversial because of the costs and the large number of surplus pilots in Hungary. Twelve Yak-52's were acquired from Romania as well as twenty L-39ZO's from former East German stocks. The latter are now based at Kecskemét.
After long consideration on 23 November 2001 a contract was signed for the lease of twelve single seat JAS-39A and two JAS-39B Gripen fighters. The contract was altered into more modern JAS-39C/D's which have entered service in the spring of 2006. Four An-26 were overhauled during the first half of the decade as well as about half of the L-39 fleet. One additional An-26 was purchased in Ukraine. Fourteen MiG-29s were also refurbished to enable them to remain in service around 2010. All the refurbished Fulcrums received a new grey colourscheme. For training of new pilots the Hungarian air force joined the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) program.