Alex Papana and Bü133 Jungmeister YR-PAX

Alexandru “Alex” Papana was born in Romania in 1905. Perhaps today best remembered for his aerobatics aviation achievements, Alex Papana practiced fencing, tennis, bobsled and motoring, the flying only crowning the list of sports he succeeded in. He was Romanian National Bobsled Champion in 1928 and 1931; World Bobsled Champion in 1933 and he set a car speed record on the route Bucharest - Brashov in 1936. He participated in the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid and in the 1936 Winter Olympics in Oberschreiberhau (Germany), but after 1936 focussed his attention on aviation competitions.

Alex Papana obtained his pilot license in 1928 and already in 1931 he was setting altitude records. During the aerobatics competitions held during the 1936 Summer Olympics, Alex Papana was the only representative of the Romanian team. Competing against 20 other world elite pilots, Alex Papana was the youngest contestant and flew a very new aircraft at the time, a Bücker Jungmeister with the registration YR-PAX. The aerobatics trials, which were considered a world championship, were won by Count Hagenburg. Papana achieved 12th place and the recommendation to attend the Los Angeles Aerobatics Championship of 1936.

In August 1936, Alex Papana and his Bücker Jungmeister YR-PAX were carried over the Atlantic aboard another legendary aircraft, the airship Hindenburg, flying the route Frankfurt am Main to New York. Arriving in America, Papana immediately succeeded in taking a first place in the flight New York to Los Angeles. In the Los Angeles aerobatics trials of September 1936, within the National Air Races, Papana came first in the general classification – Count Hagenburg, the world champion, came second. Papana continued by winning the Miami – Havana race in December 1936.

During the Cleveland Air Races of 1937, both Papana and Count Hagenburg competed in Bücker Jungmeister aircraft – Papana in YR-PAX and Count Hagenburg in D-EEHO. The two pilots were engaging in a showmanship contest. Papana made a low level inverted pass in front of the grandstands, and Hagenburg, not wishing to be outdone, repeated the manoeuvre at no more than a few feet above the ground. But as he pushed forward to climb out, the vertical fin hit the ground slowing him sufficiently to cause the plane to crash. Fortunately, Hagenburg was not injured seriously. Papana offered his Jungmeister, YP-PAX to Count Hagenburg, who a few minutes later he was back in the air completing his performance in Papana's Jungmeister and winning the competition.

The Bücker Jungmeister of Alex Papana, YR-PAX, is one of only two Bü133B aircraft – the later volume production version was the Bü133C, which differed in details such as the engine cowling and the top of the rear fuselage. Alex Papana was the first owner of the aircraft, owning it from 1936 to 1940. In January 1940 YR-PAX was severely damaged by the propeller of a Boeing P-12 at Chicago airport. Fortunately, Alex Papana was able to leave the aircraft in time to avoid being the victim of this incident.

The aircraft was acquired by Col. Mike Murphy, who had already flown it to win the American Aerobatic Championship at the Miami All American Air Manoeuvres in 1938. Fitted with a new Warner radial engine, a metal propeller replacing the wooden one, plus reinforced undercarriage and fuselage, he flew it to victory again in 1940 and flew it in all major USA meets and competitions until retiring.

Ex YR-PAX was re-sold in 1946 to another American pilot, Beverly “Bevo” Howard. Re-painted white and red, and with the new American registration N15696, the aircraft became a star of many demonstrations in low inverted flight at various air shows. Bevo Howard won the 1946 and 1947 aerobatic championships with this Bücker Jungmeister and flew it in all major air meets since that time, including meets in France and Germany in 1950. On October 17, 1971, while flying at a show in Greenville, North Carolina, Bevo Howard had a fatal accident.

The Jungmeister was almost demolished, but was rebuilt by Bevo Howard’s family and company and donated to the National Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian) in June 1973. The airplane is now located in the new Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington at Dulles Airport, which is part of the National Air and Space Museum. It can be seen in the colours of “Bevo” Howard, displayed in the inverted flying condition which made him famous!