Classified as “national heritage” to prohibit dismembering it or taking it out of the country, the former presidential aircraft found a buyer at the end of disputed auctions.
The plane of the fallen Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, which symbolized his independence from the Soviet Union, was sold for 120,000 euros at auction Thursday in Bucharest, after having accompanied the turbulent history of Romania for decades.
About 150 aviation enthusiasts quarreled in the evening, on the phone or via the internet, this vestige offered at 25,000 euros, according to Alina Panico, the spokesperson for the Artmark auction house, which has its headquarters in Bucharest.
It was a “foreign collector interested in Romanian history” who won the bid.
During the same sale, a luxury Paykan Hillman Hunter car donated in 1974 to Ceausescu by the Shah of Iran was bought for 95,000 euros by a Romanian enthusiast.
Stamped “Socialist Republic of Romania”, the medium-haul “Rombac Super One-Eleven” had left a factory in Bucharest in 1986, the fifth of a total of nine designed under license from the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC).
Romania thus became the first country in Eastern Europe to manufacture jets, outside the USSR. What “to crown the industrial independence” wanted by Ceausescu vis-a-vis the Soviet power, recalls Artmark.
“For the Romanians, it was a pride to produce this type of device at the cutting edge of technology,” remembers AFP Gheorghe Mirica, a former army pilot who was able to test the Rombac at the occasion of a break-in flight.
In order to meet the dictator’s demands, the cabin had to be fitted out to include a bedroom and an office, so that he and his wife Elena could play backgammon, their favorite pastime, confided under the guise of anonymity a former pilot who had flown with the couple.
But the one who had ruled Romania with an iron fist since 1965 was overthrown by an anti-Communist uprising and executed by bullets on December 25, 1989, alongside Elena.
The unusual history of this plane dates back to 1978: during a stay in London, a great first for a communist leader, Ceausescu signed a contract worth 300 million pounds endorsing the manufacture in Bucharest of the model. Rombac.
Perceived at the time as a personality apart within the Soviet bloc, he was received with honors: he was notably entitled to a golden carriage ride to Buckingham Palace alongside Queen Elizabeth and to a banquet of ‘State.
For the BAC, which had more and more difficulty in selling its efficient planes but considered too noisy, this pact had been a godsend, says the former pilot.
The British also wanted to “break the ice with the Communist countries thanks to someone who distanced himself from Moscow”, especially during the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 by the Warsaw Pact troops, believes Mr. Mirica.
Among the nine examples of the Rombac manufactured in Romania, some flew under the colors of a small company, LAR, created in the 1970s by the communist regime with the sole destination of Tel Aviv.
The only country in the Soviet bloc to have maintained diplomatic ties with Israel after the Six Day War in 1967, Romania was also the only country to operate flights to this destination.
Languishing in the garage
Bucharest had pledged to manufacture 80 devices in total, but the fall of Ceausescu in 1989 would quickly spell the end of the ambitious project.
The presidential plane with blue motifs is then taken over by the state-owned company Romavia, which will lease it to the Pakistani company Aero Asia, before letting it languish in the garage. She will go bankrupt in 2014 and it is her property that is now sold.
Others will be leased to the low-cost company Ryanair, before being dismembered or abandoned at airports around the world.
To prevent the famous plane from ending up in the scrapyard, a handful of enthusiasts obtained in March that the aircraft be registered by the authorities in the “national heritage”.
“It cannot be dismembered, nor modified and above all cannot leave Romanian territory,” explains Adrian Ciutan, a former Rombac technician behind this campaign.
But you can turn it into a museum and it can still fly, provided the new owner agrees to a significant investment to replace the engine, he says.
However, even though Artmark claims that Ceausescu flew aboard the craft, several AFP-interviewed airmen say he preferred … the Boeing 707.