The T–101 was to become famous for several world records, the best known being the distance flight from Prague to Al-Khartoum. However, ironically the T–101 was not constructed specifically for any of the records and it was only due to a sequence of events that the aircraft was eventually used for the attempts. This aeroplane was not designed straight from scratch, rather it was the result of several lengthy developments.
In 1937 a wing was produced, which after tests of its properties was intended to serve as a basis for the Tatra T-002, a small twin engined transport. The wing was mated to the fuselage of the Tatra T–001, OK–TAN. Flight testing was then undertaken to determine the wing’s behaviour, and also to test the effectiveness of the control surfaces.
In 1937 a prize was offered for a distance flight accompolished with an aeroplane of Czechoslovakian origin. This was seen as a good reason to use the presently tested experimental wing. After the tests, the aeroplane was dismantled and the fuselage of OK–TAN was connected again with its original wing. The final test flight of the reassembled T–001 took place on the 15th September 1937.
It was decided to design and build a new airframe for the experimental wing, which although similar to the T-001had the cockpit shifted 7cm forward, and a tail unit of all-new design. This was to be the Tatra T–101. On the 17th January 1938 pilot Matena took the aircraft on its maiden flight – exactly 4 months before the record distance flight. The aeroplane received the registration OK–TAO.
Intensive testing continued into March, with small modifications being made to the ailerons, fuel installations, and propeller. The T-101 was granted an airworthiness certificate on the 5th March, and by 23rd March 7 hours and 27 minutes of test flights had been logged since the maiden flight in January.
The enlarged wing surface meant that the aeroplane was able to carry higher loads than the T-001, and its potential for higher-altitude flight was also not ignored. Confirmation of the aircraft’s potential was not long in coming – the T–101 immediately attempted two world height records without any great preparations or modification.
On the 15th March 1938 an unofficial altitude record of 6, 280m was set over Studenka, with Matena and Kos on board. On the morning of the following day, the aeroplane was flown to Brno airport, where the official attempts at the world altitude record were to be made.
In the morning of the 16th March, the T–101 took off from Brno airport for its first attempt at the FAI altitude record for category III (with engine capacity from 2 to 4 litres) single and multi seat aeroplanes. The flight lasted two hours and the aircraft reached the altitude of 7 113 m, with Major Brazda and J. Vala as pilot and observer respectively. With that, the new world altitude record for single seat and two-seat aeroplanes was set (the old two-seat record being 5 935 m). That the aircraft broke the single-seat record with two people on-board demonstrated the T-101’s great performance for its class.
In the afternoon, Major Brazda took off again to try for the official single seat record. He took off at 2:48 p.m. and landed at 4:21 p.m. According to the cabin altimeter he reached the altitude of 7 470 m, which was almost 1000m higher than the existing record (the morning flight was not set as an official single seat record as there were two persons aboard.)
This was the crowning technical test of the T–101 aeroplane, and it was now thought ready to try for the record distance flight. Ten fuel tanks with the total capacity of 500 litres were installed in the aircraft, the main tank in the fuselage (with capacity of 125 litres) being supplemented by four tanks (with capacity of 340 litres) in each wing and a so-called emergency supply of 35 litres in the luggage space. All tanks were made of welded aluminium sheets. With this, the aeroplane was prepared for the 5000 km flight, estimated to be of some 30 hours duration. The preparation of the aeroplane for the record flight lasted four months. The last test before the record flight was a flight on a triangular closed 100 km course, which the crew of Ambrus and Matena repeated twenty times. This last test flight was carried out on May 6th 1938, and lasted 12 hours and 30 minutes.
The famous distance flight was undertaken on the 17th May 1938 from Prague to Al-Khartoum, covering a distance of 4 340 km. On its return, Tatra T–101 participated in an air race around the states of Small agreement, which began on the 29th August 1938. The T-101 finished second, just behind the victorious Tatra T–201.
The last known flight of this machine was from Studenka to Olomouc on the 7th October 1938.