|First flight||November 1976|
|Primary users||Yugoslav Air Force
Serbian Air Force
The Soko J-22 Orao (Eagle) is a twin-engined, subsonic, close support, ground attack and tactical reconnaissance aircraft, with secondary capability as low level interceptor. It was built as a single-seat main attack version or as a combat capable two-seat version for advanced flying and weapon training. It was developed as a joint Yugoslav-Romanian project in the 1970s for the air forces of both nations, SOKO building it in Yugoslavia, and Avioane Craiova as the IAR-93 Vultur in Romania.
On 20 May 1971, the governments of Romania and Yugoslavia signed an agreement for the formation of YuRom, a joint R&D venture. The program was headed by Dipl. Dr. Engineer Teodor Zanfirescu of Romania and Colonel Vidoje Knezević of Yugoslavia. The aircraft was intended as a replacement for the lightly armed Soko J-21 Jastreb (Hawk) and the Republic F-84 Thunderjet, then in the JNA arsenal.
The requirements called for a light aircraft to be built on a simple structure, using locally produced equipment and avionics (but compatible with western components), tough (able to operate on grass or damaged runways), easy to maintain and reliable. The aircraft was of conventional twin-engine, high mounted wing monoplane configuration with all flying surfaces swept. The designers originally planned a single-engined supersonic aircraft, but Britain would not authorize the license for the engine the designers wanted (due to Romania being in the Warsaw Pact), so the less-powerful Rolls-Royce Viper was chosen as the powerplant, as Soko had experience with license-building this engine. It was originally intended that an afterburner would be developed for the Viper engines, but there were prolonged difficulties with this project, meaning that none of the pre-production aircraft featured it, and neither did early production examples. During the 1980s, both countries developed slightly different versions to take advantage of the after burning engines that had since become available.
The third aircraft, numbered 003, a pre-production two-seater version, made its first flight on 4 July 1977, but was lost almost a year later due to tail flutter problems. However, construction continued, and the first batches of pre-production machines were delivered in 1978 to the Air Force Aircraft Testing Facility in Belgrade, with serial production being set-up in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On 22 November 1984, Orao 25101 piloted by test pilot Marjan Jelen broke the sound barrier in a shallow dive over Batajnica Air Base, becoming the first Yugoslav-designed aircraft to exceed Mach 1. The aircraft, however, is incapable of breaking the sound barrier in level flight, so it is classified as subsonic.
The J-22 is a twin-engined combat jet aircraft for close air support, ground attack and tactical reconnaissance warplane with limited air-defense capability
Standard communication and navigation equipment, plus (fire control and weapons management) Thompson-CSF VE-120T HUD replacing the original Ferranti ISIS D-282 gyro sight (defensive sensors and systems) Iskra SO-1 RWR and provision for up to three chaff/flare dispensers and P10-65-13 passive jammer pod, and (navigation) Honeywell SGP500 twin-gyro platform; there is also provision for an optical/IR reconnaissance pod or an optical reconnaissance/jammer pod
The first SFR Yugoslav Air Force unit which received J-22 aircraft was the 351st (reconnaissance aviation squadron) from 82nd Aviation Brigade, Cerklje. Until the war, there were only three squadrons fully equipped with J-22 attack aircraft and NJ-22 trainer-attack aircraft. Those units were the 238th (fighter-bomber aviation squadron) from 82nd Aviation Brigade, 241st and 98nd Aviation Brigade and 242nd and 127th Fighter-Bomber Regiment, Golubovci Airbase. There were also about three squadrons partly equipped with J-22 aircraft.
At the beginning of the Yugoslav wars, in Slovenia, J-22s flew over in a show of force, but did not drop any bombs. The first offensive action by the J-22 was in 1991 when the Yugoslav National Army used them to strike targets in Croatia. They were used in attacks on arms dealers which were smuggling weapons into Croatia. During the first year of war only three J-22s were shot down, NJ-22 flown by Lieutenant Colonel Muse Begić who ejected safely and a J-22 flown by Major Z.Tomić (KIA) from 238th After the withdrawal of the JNA from Slovenia, 82nd Aviation Brigade was relocated from Cerklje to Banja Luka Zalužani air base. In 1992 when the Bosnian war started, the JNA left one squadron of J-22s to Republika Srpska Air Force, that squadron was the 238th. Those aircraft were used in few combat operations at the beginning of war.
In 1999, Yugoslav J-22s saw limited combat against the KLA flying 20 combat missions at treetop level with no air-to-air losses to NATO aircraft. However, one J-22 was lost after being hit by ground fire. In addition, 11 aircraft were destroyed on the ground, most at Ponikve airbase when a NATO air strike hit one hangar with six J-22 and two MiG-21 aircraft.
Most produced J-22 aircraft were withdrawn from use and 16 of them are currently owned by aviation museums.
Three view of the Orao
Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1993-94