About 150 collectors and aviation enthusiasts competed at auction, Thursday 27 May in the evening, over the phone or via the internet, the presidential plane of the former Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The Rombac 1-11, which was priced at 25,000 euros by the auction house Artmark, was finally sold for 120,000 euros.
Stamp “Socialist Republic of Romania”, the medium-haul « Rombac Super One-Eleven » was released in 1986 from a factory in Bucharest, 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. About what “Crown industrial independence” wanted by Ceausescu in the face of Soviet power, recalls Artmark.
The plane had been used by the ex-dictator between 1986 and December 1989, including during his last trip abroad, to Iran, a few days before being run over and shot dead on December 25. Since that date, it has been stored in a hangar owned by the state-owned company Romavia, which went bankrupt in 2014 and whose assets are on sale.
In order to meet Ceausescu’s requirements, the cabin had to be upgraded to include a bedroom and an office, so that the dictator and his wife Elena could play backgammon, their favorite pastime, one said on condition of anonymity. former pilot who had flown with the couple.
Official visit to London
During a stay in London in 1978, Nicolae Ceausescu had signed a contract worth 300 million pounds for the construction in Romania under license of 25 BAC 1-11, a British jet airliner of short range 1960s and 1970s designed by Hunting Aircraft.
Perceived at the time as a personality apart within the Soviet bloc, he had been received with honors: he was notably entitled to a golden carriage ride at Buckingham Palace alongside Queen Elizabeth and to a banquet of ‘State.
For the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC), which was finding it increasingly difficult to sell its efficient planes which were deemed too noisy, this pact had been a godsend. The British also wanted “To break the ice with the communist countries thanks to someone who has distanced himself from Moscow”, especially during the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 by Warsaw Pact troops, says Gheorghe Marica, a former army pilot who was able to test the Rombac during a break-in flight.
In the end, only nine devices were assembled 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 of 1967, Romania was also the only country to operate flights to this destination.
Prevent the device from ending up in scrap
After Ceausescu’s death, the presidential plane was taken over by the state-owned company Romavia, which will lease it to the Pakistani company Aero Asia, before leaving it to languish in the garage. Romavia having gone bankrupt in August 2014 and it is her property that is now sold.
To prevent Ceausescu’s aircraft from ending up in the scrapyard, a handful of enthusiasts secured in March that the aircraft be listed by authorities in the “National heritage”. “It cannot be dismembered or modified and above all cannot leave Romanian territory”, explains Adrian Ciutan, former Rombac technician behind this campaign.
But you can turn it into a museum and it can still fly, as long as the new owner agrees to a significant investment to replace the engine, he says. However, even if Artmark affirms that Ceausescu flew aboard the machine, several aviators questioned by Agence France-Presse assure that he preferred… the Boeing 707.