Eleven million to one, was Jovica Nikolić’s chance to get an apartment in the “Take the bill and win” prize game. In a statement, after received the grand prize, Jovica modestly said that he was a military pilot. But behind his back was a picture of a pilot with a helmet and a “Miga-29”. Only the best fly on “twenty nines”, which was a sign that Jovica is not just an “ordinary” pilot, but that he has a great flying career behind him.
His statement that he wanted a car, and that is why he sent envelopes, was also impressive. Interesting – someone who flew at supersonic speeds wants a car … As he said, his is already old and it’s time to replace it. He lives in a small apartment with his wife and daughter who is a student. Although he deserved a larger apartment due to his merits and rank, he never got it.
What people distorted, fate corrected: he got an apartment, in Zemun, where he says that he spent the best days and to which his family is attached.
When we invited him to arrange an interview for the RTS portal, when asked if he was Jovica Nikolić, the former commander of the 127th Hunting and Aviation Squadron “Knights”, he proudly said: “That’s me!”.
From Pirot to Mostar, then to meet the clouds
He was born in 1956 in Pirot. As he said, his desire to fly came to him at the end of elementary school. His eyes lit up when he saw the competition for pilots. His brother did not manage to enroll in military school, so he decided to try his luck.
“The first examination was in Pirot, the second in Zemun. Since then, my connection with Zemun has begun. And I was admitted to the high school in Mostar,” Jovica explained.
He had his first flight in the second year, on a sailboat in Nikšić. He remembers instructor Olga Šoškić on June 19, 1973. who tattooed himself on his arm that day, at a hotel.
“It was wonderful. I was towed by a sports plane, the glider was behind. We got up, the cable came off and then we flew, circling over the airport,” he stated.
Then Jovica was educated in Bitola, Zadar, Pula, Podgorica. After graduating from the military academy, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant as a pilot of subsonic drum aviation. At that time, pilots were needed for “moments 21”, and until then, Jovica had experience only with “seagull” and “hawk”.
He passed the checks and examinations and arrived in Batajnica, first for theoretical training, and then he started flying on, until then, the best plane that was part of the Yugoslav Air Force. He describes the feeling as special.
“I was already an experienced pilot. But there is a huge difference in speeds, in landing, taking off.” Galeb “lands slower than 200 kilometers per hour. This lands at 300. And I was good. I also got some awards, I progressed regularly. acts, “Jovica pointed out.
“Mig 29” as a completely new experience
In 1987, Yugoslavia was the first country in Europe to acquire “Moments 29”. All the successes during his previous career also nominated Jovica to start retraining for the type of aircraft that is still part of the Serbian Air Force today. Flying on it, Jovica will experience the crown of his pilot career, but also the most difficult days.
He remembers when the planes landed at the airport in Batajnica.
“We all came and watched. The difference is huge compared to ‘mig-21’. He was taller, he had big wings, two tails …”, he describes his first encounter with a powerful aircraft.
He completed his retraining in 1988, and describes flying at “twenty-nine” as a pleasure and a completely new experience.
“‘Mig 21’ is perhaps among the most difficult planes to fly. Especially for landing. It does not allow any deviations and mistakes. It is a rocket. Without an engine it falls like a rock. And ‘Mig-29’ is completely different. It has wings, two engines. It suffers much higher loads. It has much better flight characteristics, “he tells us.
Arrival at the head of “Knights”
The new planes then became part of the 127th Fighter-Aviation Squadron, and Jovica had the honor of being its commander from 1993 to 1996. It is interesting that in that period, the squadron was given the famous name “Knights”.
Jovica remembers that the famous sign of the squadron, the eagle with the sword and the helmet was made by the pilot, who was also a painter – Predrag Milutinović, in cooperation with the air force command. Milutinovic is known as one of the heroes who took off during the 1999 bombing. He escaped several NATO planes, but in the end his “mig-29” was hit and Milutinović catapulted.
As the squadron commander in 1994, Jovica Nikolić deserved the highest flying recognition – the golden flying badge, which was awarded to me by the then commander of the air force, General Ljubiša Veličković.
However, before the award, Jovica had a small incident. On one occasion, the technicians, while pushing the plane into the capon, hooked the “Miga 29” wing. The general criticized Jovica, but soon gave him recognition.
Jovica also remembers an impressive flight with the famous pilot Ilya Arizanov, who was shot down in 1999 over Drenica and who spent two days and two nights passing through the areas controlled by the KLA, to the airport in Pristina.
“I was sitting in the back as a teacher, he was in the front cabin. I didn’t ask to be addressed as ‘Mr. Major’, we were all friends. He tells me – Joco, the ‘right engine fire’ alarm went off. I tell him “Iljo, you know the procedure, turn off the engine. He says – I know, but where to turn it off. He still turned it off and we landed,” says Jovica.
He adds that one engine can be switched off freely, and that he was a test pilot, so he alternately turned off one engine after another during the flights.
Return to Batajnica and the war in 1999
During the period when he was the squadron commander, his deputy was the famous Milenko Pavlović, who succeeded him in that position.
Jovica then spent some time in the General Staff School and in the corps in Banjica. But when the bombing of the FRY was certain, he was returned to Batajnica. At that time, Milenko Pavlović had already become the regiment commander, and this time Jovica was his assistant.
Just before the attack began, Jovica made a test flight, during which, as he pointed out, everything was clear to him.
“The plane came out of the workshop. I checked everything when it comes to engines. And I land, I need to sign the booklet. I tell the technicians that everything is fine, but that I didn’t check the radar because I didn’t have a grip. There were no planes around. We “When we do a test flight, we always find a civilian plane or something in the vicinity, but there was nothing anywhere. And that was on March 24, 1999, around four in the afternoon, before the bombing,” Jovica said.
He points out that it was the most difficult year in his career.
“I may have moved to ‘number one’ the most. What is ‘number one’? You sit on a plane and wait for your command to take off. Guaranteed the most, since I was the assistant commander for flight operations. I moved. But lo and behold, I didn’t I was lucky to take off, or I was lucky so I didn’t take off, “Jovica said, referring to the months of air strikes on the FRY.
Of course, the most difficult moments for the unit were the loss of human lives. The pilot Zoran Radosavljević was the first to die, who flew in the direction of BiH in a pair with Slobodan Perić.
“When Zoran was killed, I was at the command post. He did not answer then. I heard Slobodan Peric and I ordered him to jump out of the plane. And they beat Zoran so that he had no chance,” Jovica remembers.
A non-working day and the death of Milenko Pavlović
On May 4, 1999, Commander Milenko Pavlović also died heroically, who, when the order arrived, threw his younger colleague out of the cabin and flew into a flock of NATO planes himself. Jovica remembers that he took a day off that very day.
“And so I go home. I go back to the apartment, my neighbor tells me that Paja died … If it had been different, maybe I would have been in that situation as well. It turned out that way only because Monday was a non-working day,” says Jovica and adds: “They put so much pressure on him. The rocket launchers shot down one plane, we haven’t done anything yet. He was sitting with us in ‘number one’, we were waiting. They put so much pressure on him that he said – when is the first take-off, I have to go”.
Jovica also describes the period when he waited on the plane to see if he would take off. He says that he sometimes waited for two hours. When asked if he was afraid, he points out that every normal person had some fear, but that none of the pilots who flew had any dilemma: “You are waiting to take off, so yes or no.”
He also remembers daily contacts with his family, to whom he reported that everything was fine. Jovica’s wife Nevenka said that he did not call her on one occasion and how much she worried. That was when General Ljubisa Velickovic was killed, who was hit by a projectile while touring the position of air defense missile batteries in the village of Omoljica.
She says that Jovica called her that day later than usual and that she remembers the uncertainty.
How “mig 29” was towed along the Ibar highway
Exactly at that time, Jovica was in Kraljevo, where Major Bora Zoraja landed after a long flight, although several devices on his plane failed. That “moment 29” remained in Kraljevo, but according to Jovica, everything was destroyed there and the plane had to be constantly moved. They only had a small tractor towing it.
The relocation was inconvenient, and on one occasion the wheel fell into the soft ground and the wing tilted with the missiles attached.
“I called the commander of the airport, they gave me a crane. The people gathered, because there were houses around. When the planes started circling above us, everyone ran away, me and the technicians stayed to secure the plane. The next day we pulled it out on the Ibar highway. “, described Jovica.
He also states that “Mig 29” could not pass through the gate of the airport, so the masters had to cut the fence, which is why, says the commander of the airport, he was angry.
“We had to move that plane every half an hour, the militia was subordinated to the army in a state of war. I called them to close the highway from Lađevac to Mrčajevci. he was towed by a tractor. Afterwards, they repaired the runway, and managed to return the plane to Batajnica, “he said.
His gaze remained fixed on the sky
For the heroes who took off in 1999 to defend the country, the equipment on the planes often failed and they really had no chance against a numerically superior enemy.
“It happened that everything was fine on the ground, and the radars canceled when they took off. We didn’t have the right maintenance. The planes were in flight condition, but not in combat condition. But it wouldn’t have helped much if the radars were correct. With our “We had to get much closer by plane to launch rockets. And they are shooting at us from 60-80 kilometers,” Jovica said.
The memory of the last flight on “moment 29” is also alive. It was a short flight with Abdul Emeti. The only two-seater that remained after the war was transferred for overhaul from Batajnica to Surcin.
Jovica Nikolic retired as a colonel in 2003. Since then, he has spent most of his time in a cottage in Grocka. He is engaged in fruit growing and makes brandy.
He says he initially missed flying. Now he enjoys seeing “moments” flying over and preparing for military exercises and rallies. He says that those who are part of the Serbian Army today are modernized and have better weapons.
When he crosses with his wife and daughter in Zemun, his gaze will probably be focused on the clouds even more often, because the pilots always remain staring at the sky.
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