Edvard Rusjan
Edvard Rusjan
Photo Courtesy of
Grazia Rusjan
A Biography of EDVARD RUSJAN
Yugoslav Aviation pioneer
     On December 11, 1978, Yugoslavia Airline's first DC-10 Series 30 jetliner departed Long Beach, California, bound for Belgrade's International Airport. It landed 11 hours 20 minutes later after setting a record-breaking nonstop flight that covered 11,635 kilometers (7231 statute miles).
     That prodigious event was a striking contrast to Yugoslavia's entrance into the exciting word of air transportation some 50 years ago.
     Although Yugoslavia's close connections with the industry started several years earlier, the country's first airline was founded in 1927. Belgrade's favorable site on the Danube, linking it with Budapest and Vienna on the Famous Orient Express, made it a natural route for the airline.
     Perhaps the most significant development affecting air transport in the Danube Valley in the early 1920s was the innovation of night flying on the Belgrade-Bucharest section of the Paris-Istanbul route. Special beacons installed every 20 kilometers provided a series of lighthouses to guide pilots through the night - a feature being developed simultaneously 8000 kilometers (5000 miles) away across the prairies of the United States.
     Yugoslavia celebrated its 70th Anniversary of Aviation History this year. The entire nation paid homepage to Edvard Rusjan, the founder of Yugoslav Aviation.
     Edvard Rusjan was born in Trieste, Austro-Hungarian Empire, on July 6, 1886 (1). While still a lad, his family moved to Gorizia where he spent his youth and attended school. During his school years, he was apprenticed barrel maker and was a successful racer.
     Edvard's aviation career began in 1908 when he started designing and building model airplanes. One design, a helicopter that was strapped on like a backpack, was a portent of things to come decades later. With older brother Josiph's help, he designed a glider that became a pattern for future airplanes.
     In the fall of 1909, the Rusjan brothers began work on a powered airplane using a 3-cylinder, 25-horse-power. Anzani-model engine. The airplane was a canard-type biplane with paper covered wings with the larger part of the horizontal stabilizer forward of the wings. Flight tests, however, fell short of expectations. By relocating the vertical stabilizer aft of the wings in what has evolved as the conventional configuration, they achieve success. On November 25, 1909, on the Mila Rojice Airfield in the neighborhood of Gorizia, Edvard made the first successful powered flight in Yugoslav Aviation history in his EDA 1 airplane.
     The flight lasted about 10 seconds and Edvard traveled approximately 60 meters at a height of 2 meters. Four days later, he increased his distance to, 500 meters at a maximum altitude of 12 meters. Observers estimated that the airplane reached speeds between 50 and 60 kilometers per hours. It was a remarkable flight for Edvard - he was the first Yugoslavian to successfully fly an airplane.
     The Rusjan flights were highly experimental in nature compared with other flights conducted throughout the world. Filled with traditional Yugoslav pride, the brothers decided to continue development of their airplanes. From December 1909 to the end of June 1910, they build and flight tested five airplanes of entirely different designs. Their level of achievement in 6-months period remains untouched by aircraft designers. The speed at which they designed and built those experimental airplanes was especially impressive because of difficult times and being limited by a very modest workshop.
     First in a series of new airplanes designed by the Rusjan brothers was the EDA 2 Triplane which incorporated progressive construction techniques that helped reduce its empty weight to 90 kilograms. With the EDA 2, the pair hoped to attain an altitude of 100 meters. However, during the first flight on January 5, 1910, the airplane was damaged beyond repair. Precise chronology of the building of the next four airplanes is not known but with the help of photos and some airplane fragments from the past, it is known what those airplanes looked. During 1910, the Rusjans built two airplanes similar in principle to EDA 1, but more thorough in design and workmanship. With one of those airplanes, Edvard was able to perform maneuvers, and on March 28, 1910 made his first public flight for the citizens of Gorizia. The brothers gained aeronautical knowledge rapidly and learned that the Anzani engine was not powerful enough for the biplane, so they decided to make only monoplanes in the future. One airplane, built according to the Blériot design, made its first flight on June 25, 1910. The high-wings plane - similar to the popular Demoiselle designed by Santos Dumont - was the last and most successful aircraft the brothers built in Gorizia.
     In the summer of 1910, a new and important phase of the Rusjan work began. During one of bicycle racing, events in Gorizia, Edvard and Josiph met Mihailo Mercep, an aviation enthusiast from Zagreb. The three agreed to a joint venture to built a new airplane and later make public flights and participate in air races. In August 1910, they went to Paris and bought the best 50-horsepower. Gnome rotary engine available. They began work on the new airplane by the end of the month.
     They named the monoplane Mercep-Rusjan. With enough financing and having a powerful enough engine, Edvard and Josiph had the opportunity to build an airplane that would achieve top performance. The airplane was well proportioned with a harmonious design, and had a span of 14 meters. The framework was built of firewood and covered with rubber-treated fabrics. Controls for pitch and roll were moved by means of straps attached to the pilot's body, a unique technique for keeping the hands free.
     Construction of the airplane was completed in November and flight tests began. Early in the program, Edvard reached altitudes of 100 meters. During a public demonstration, he made several successful flights that thrilled the Zagreb citizens. Spectators carried Edvard on their shoulders and honored him with eight-leaf wreaths, a high Yugoslavian honor.
     After this successful flight demonstration, and in accord with the custom of the time, Edvard and Mercep organized a tour of European cities, the first stop being Belgrade. On January 9, 1911, despite strong gusty winds, the 24-year-old Edvard went ahead with a demonstration flight. His takeoff and flight over the town and a railway bridge over the Sava River were uneventful. However, while the airplane was returning for a landing, at an approximate height of 20 meters, a strong gust ripped off a wing and the airplane crashed against a tower wall located on the riverbank. Edvard was killed.
     Monuments to his memory are found throughout Yugoslavia today. The most moving is the latest - the country's newest addition to its airline industry, a DC-10 Series 30 which carries Rusjan's inscribed signature across the port and starboard nose section. Further tribute was paid to his contribution by scheduling the new DC-10's first production flight on the 70th anniversary of Rusjan's first aerial venture.
Biography courtesy of Grazia Rusjan

EDA I, 1909
EDA I, 1909
Photo Courtesy of
Grazia Rusjan
       After returning to Gorica, with his brother's help he built a motor bi-plane on the model of the Curtiss and Farman aircraft, which had been most successful in Brescia. Since it did not want to take off on the first attempts at the start of November, he modified it into a conventional bi- plane, which he called EDA I, and on 25 November 1909, only six years after the flight of the Wright brothers, he performed a number of motorised flights to head height and 60 m in distance. Thus began the history of motorised aviation, not only in Slovenia but on the territory of the entire former Yugoslavia.  
       By the summer of 1910, he had produced seven motorised aircraft, of different designs and construction, but all driven by the same motor. He also flew all the aircraft, for the most part until they crashed. EDA I was a bi-plane (wingspan 8 m, with paper covered wings) the longest flight of which was 600 m. Its variant, the tri-plane EDA II, crashed on the first attempt to fly; EDA III and EDA IV were again bi-planes, with a similar flying capacity as EDA I.  

     If you search for "Edvard Rusjan" using Google, (7-14-04), you will find some 550 links! If time permits, you will want to visit many of the links. However, I suggest that you start your search with the most comprehensive and authoritative website which was assembled by his niece, Grazia Rusjan.

by Grazia Rusjan
     If you search the internet using Google on "Edvard Rusjan", you will find about 271 links. The one at the top, which is available in Italian, Slovenian, and now in French and English versions, is absolutely magnificent. It was written by Grazia Rusjan, the niece of Edvard. You will find it tells the story of Edvard in great detail and is illustrated with very many beautiful and unique photographs. There are also many interesting links to stories of the other members of the family and to related subjects. You should plan to spend a long time on the site and I am sure will enjoy your visit. This site represents a monumental effort and is an extremely valuable resource to the online community. To access this wonderful site in its original Italian, Slovenian, French or English version, just click on:
Edvard Rusjan
     As of this date, 1-19-08, Grazia has begun producing a version in English. If you only read that language, and if you are visiting this site after today's date, you should probably click on the British Flag to access that section of the site. If you find that your selection is still "Under Construction," you can access the French version and have it translated in Google or one of the other machine-translation services.

       The first Serbian air meeting, which was organised on 9 January 1911, was fatal for Rusjan. In impossible weather conditions, Edvard demonstrated courageous flying to the Belgrade crowds, who had not until then seen such a thing. When he flew close to the Kalemegdan fortress, just before landing a strong gust of wind tore off the wing of his aircraft. The accident was fatal, and at 25 years old he became the first victim of flying in Serbia and the 34th victim of motorised flying in the world. His work was successfully continued by his brother Joze, who built a further 3 aircraft after Edvard's death.
     In 1960, the town of Nova Gorizia erected a monument in memory of its famous citizen. In 1999, Posta Slovenije produced an airletter - Aerogramme .

Ninetieth Anniversary of the Death of Edvard Rusjan,
Pioneer of Slovene Aviation
[January, 2001]

By Permission of
Government Public Relations and Media Office
of the Republic of Slovenia
     On January 9, it was 90 years since the death of the first Slovene pilot Edvard Rusjan. Rusjan is considered the pioneer of Slovene motorised aviation and was also the first in Slovenia and the Balkans to fly a self-made plane. This happened on 25 November 1909, when the aeroplane EDA I, made and managed by Rusjan, took off from the suburbs of the then Gorica. This aeroplane started flying just six years after the Wright brothers, and was the first such flight in this part of Europe.
     Edvard Rusjan was born on 6 July 1886 in Trieste. The family subsequently moved to the then Gorica, where he finished public secondary school and an evening course in trade. Together with his brother Joze he completed his apprenticeship in cooperage in his father's workshop, but from the very start, the brothers were more excited by flying.
     In 1900, the Rusjan brothers made a model aircraft with a propeller drive on a spring. They continued their self-education and in 1908, Edvard received his father's support for the production of the first aircraft. In September 1909, he visited an international air meeting in Brescia (Italy), where he examined the construction of the most successful aircraft and got to know the French airman, Louis Blériot, who first flew the English Channel (25 July 1909).
EDA V replica in flight at the
Cerklje Airshow 2000

Photo courtesy of
Cerklje Airshow 2000
Cerklje Airshow 2000
     At the air meeting which was held in Cerklje ob Krki on 24 and 25 July 2000, the Slovenian President Milan Kucan baptised a copy of Edvard's aircraft EDA V. Photographs of the aeroplane can be seen at: Cerklje Airshow 2000
       EDA V was a small monoplane and Edvard's best model, with which he arranged an air meeting on the meadows above Gorica and Mirno, where 10,000 viewers gathered, but it did not succeed in flying. With model EDA IV, he copied the aircraft with which Blériot had flown the English Channel. Although he managed to fly to a height of 40 m, at a 2nd meeting in Gorica on 26 June 1910, he again disappointed the large audience. EDA VII was a monoplane with a small second wing, with which from August to the end of 1910, he several times flew successfully
     The production of seven aircraft in less than a year was an achievement in the then circumstances that was only possible with careful organisation of manufacturers of individual aircraft parts and several tens of financial supporters. Since he could not realise the planned development of aircraft to commercial production in Slovene circumstances, in the middle of 1910 he concluded a partnership with the Serb, Mihailo Mercep, a well-known Zagreb photographer and cyclist, who planned the production of aircraft for the market. So the Mercep-Rusjan monoplane (a supplemented variant of EDA VI) was created in the first aircraft factory in Croatia, and it rose into the air after a record 28 metes flight - Blériot, who had been most successful until then, needed 4 metres more. Edvard successfully flew over Zagreb with it at the end of 1910.
Editor's Note:
If you have any information on this pioneer aviator
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper
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