Polish Aviation History

ó The first successful airplane was invented and flown by the Wright Brothers in 1903. But many nations and cultures dreamed of and experimented with human flight long before that. One of those was Poland. An Italian who became a Polish citizen named Burattini experimented with a muscle powered winged craft in the mid-seventeenth century and apparently was able to become airborne.

The first manned balloon flight occurred in 1783. In 1789 Frenchman Jean Pierre Blanchard made the first balloon flight in Poland, a 45 minute flight over Warsaw and across the Wisła. A year later Jan Potocki became the first Pole to fly in a balloon, over Warsaw, with his Turkish servant and Blanchard. Three years after that Blanchard made the first balloon flight in America in the presence of President George Washington.

There is a story that Jan Wnęk devised fabric wings which strapped to his body and in 1869 died in a flight attempt from the church steeple in Odporyszów near Tarnów after traveling about 1/4 of a mile. Many other Poles built and successfully flew gliders in the late nineteenth century.

It was at this time that the first serious work by Poles on powered heavier-than-air flying machines began. Despite foreign occupation, Warsaw in the Russian partition and Lwów in the Austrian partition became centers of Polish aviation experimentation. Poles contributed aviation designs and technology to the Russian War Ministry. One of them was Stefan Drzewiecki of Podole, whose propellor designs were studied by the Wright Brothers. And in 1893 Warsaw painter Czesław Tański began work on flying models. The following year he successfully flew a small unmanned model powered by rubber cords. This was the first heavier-than-air object ever flown in Poland. He also completed several full size viable gliders that he flew from scaffold platforms. He is also credited with the world's first glider flight from flat ground, traveling a distance of 30 meters in 1898.

Stefan Kozłowski of Warsaw built and designed a plane which in June 1910 became the first heavier-than-air manned craft to be flown in Poland. With Kozłowski at the controls the biplane made six short flights a few feet above the Siekierki meadows in Warsaw. The longest was about 30 meters, some three meters above the ground.

Bronisław Głowinski in late 1910 in Tarnopol made the first controlled and sustained flight in Poland in a plane of his own design. Edmund Libański wrote and lectured about human flight, thus encouraging experimentation. Franciszek Żwirko and Stanisław Wigura won the international air contest Challenge 1932 in the RWD-6 airplane (they are shown with their plane on the stamp). Others prominent in early Polish aviation were Stanisław Kolousek, Henryk Brzeski, and the Schindler and Chlebowski brothers.

Aviation research, manufacturing and experimentation increased slowly before World War I, but once Poland regained its independence in 1918, the new Polish government funded increased activity in both the military and civilian areas. LOT, Poland's first national passenger airline, was established in 1929. Eventually Poland developed an aircraft industry that employed 12,000 men, making more than 4,000 airplanes and over a thousand gliders up to 1939. Many of the finished products were exported and their quality matched the best in the world. Unfortunately, the country's air force was underequipped in the late 1930s and it was vastly outnumbered in aircraft by the invading Germans. World War II completely destroyed the industry.

written by Martin S. Nowak
November 2007, Check all Martin's articles at Martin Nowak Corner

Read articles about May 1st, 2nd and 3rd in Polish Calendar and about The Radicalism of the May 3rd Constitution.

I recommend a wonderful book about Polish history. This overview of Polish history was written by Adam Zamoyski and it is entitled:
The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and Their Culture

This article was published in the complete paper edition of Polish-American Journal, you may subscribe to it here.

Martin Nowak is a resident of Lancaster, N.Y, a baby-boomer who was born and raised on Buffalo's Polish East Side. He attended Alfred State College in New York and is a U.S. Army veteran who recently retired after a career in the federal civil service. He has previously contributed Polish-themed articles to various publications and provided data used in a recent book on the U.S. presidents.

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