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Romanian Warbird
The Romanian-built IAR-823 shares its looks—and many major components—with U.S.-designed GA airplanes.

By Frederick A. Johnsen

When you only produce 80 or so military aircraft, you have a built-in scarcity factor. Once 50-plus of them fall into the hands of eager American warbird buyers, you have a rare club within a rare club.

That's the Romanian IAR-823 in a nutshell. Two of them arrived at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2012 and are parked in the Warbirds area, where they cause more than a little head-scratching. Owner Steve See says the airplane looks like it was designed by a committee. The tail resembles that of a Mooney. The wing shares the same NACA airfoil as a Piper Comanche. The propeller is an American Hartzell, and the engine is a throaty Textron Lycoming IO-540-G1D5 six.

Put all that together and you have a low-wing, four-place trainer that handles aerobatics as well as cross-country jaunts. Steve and his wife, Mary, both avid workers in Warbirds during AirVenture, have logged about 800 hours in their IAR-823, signaling a warming up to the Romanian warbirds Steve initially thought "were the ugliest airplanes I had ever seen."

After meeting another IAR-823 owner, Steve recalls, "One thing led to another." He and his wife were in the market for something like a Cessna 182; the going prices suggested they could either buy a 1960s-vintage Cessna or a 1980s-built IAR-823. "The attraction for me is it is four-place, aerobatic, and has a stick," Steve says.

He figures he burns 16 gallons an hour at 145 knots.

The quirk of the IAR-823 is its multiple personality: The engine, prop, and wheels are American; original instruments are eastern European, and the airframe uses metric measurements and fasteners. Steve says some American owners have put American instruments in their Romanian airplanes' panels. Airframe structural repairs can require metric components; some enterprising owners have adapted SAE or AN standards to make them work, See says.

The tricycle gear retracts without doors, which can be a quirky blessing in the event of a wheels-up landing.

Steve and Mary See went all-in after flying their Romanian warbird, buying two shipping containers of spare parts that they vend to other owner/operators.

First deliveries to the Romanian air force were in 1974; the last aircraft rolled out in 1983. Some were transferred from Romania to Angola. The IAR-823 has under-wing hard points and can carry small bombs, missiles, or guns, although it was not originally envisioned as a combat aircraft.

So is it a general-aviation aircraft that looks like a warbird, or is it a warbird that makes a nice four-place cross-country airplane? "It's definitely a warbird first," Steve says.

The IAR-823 is a head-turner and potential bar-bet winner, and it is here at AirVenture.


FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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