Macedonian Air Brigade history
Seven months after Macedonia declared its independence from Yugoslavia, the Army of the Republic of Macedonia (ARM) was established on April 10, 1992. The development of the Macedonian Air Force and Air Defence Forces started from scratch because the former Yugoslav Army had taken all the weapons and equipment which Macedonia had accumulated, including 35 aircraft like the J-22 Orao and J-21 Jastreb.
On June 10, the first air force (officially named the Aviation Brigade of the Army of the Republic of Macedonia) flight took place using a UTVA 75A 21 basic training and utility aircraft that was leased from the Macedonian Aeronautical Union. Because of this historic fact, this date is now celebrated as the Day of the Air Force.
We spoke to Colonel Robert Malezanski, commander of the air force brigade. He has flown Mig-21 and Super Galeb before returning to Macedonia to be an instructor on the Zlin 242. He tells us about the history of the squadron: “The air force was formed with a combat helicopter squadron, a transport helicopter squadron and an aviation squadron for fixed wing. The first helicopters, Mi-17 were bought in 1994. They were white ones because, at that time, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) imposed an embargo from purchasing weapons and military equipment. But because the Mi-17 is the civilian version of the Mi-8, they could be purchased.” The embargo was lifted in 1995, and the white Mi-17s were painted in their distinguishable camouflage patterns and were provided with military serial numbers.
In February 2001, a militant group called the Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) began attacking the security forces of the Republic of Macedonia. In order to increase its capabilities during this conflict, the air force fleet was substantially expanded in a short amount of time.
The first big-quantity delivery of new aircraft to the Macedonian Air Warfare and Air Defence Forces was made on March 23. That day, Ukraine donated four Mi-8MT combat helicopters, that served with Ukrainian contingent of KFOR to Macedonia, and as a part of old agreement delivered additional two Mi-24V Hind-E combat helicopters. Solidarity of Greece with the Macedonian Government was also shown that day with the delivery of two UH-1H Huey helicopters to the Macedonian Air Warfare and Air Defence Forces. Later that year eight more Mi-24’s followed from Ukraine. In December 2001, the Macedonian Air Force received two Mi-24K Hind-G2 (photo-reconnaissance and artillery spotting version of the Mi-24) helicopters from Ukraine.
The Ohrid Framework Agreement, which was signed on 13 August 2001, made an official end to the armed conflict. In the succeeding years, the Air Brigade was reorganized. The former Greek UH-1s were taken out of service. One of the helicopters was flown to Greece for a major overhaul but is stored at Stefanovikio in Greece due to financial restraints. The other aircraft has been stored at Skopje Air Base for several years now.