Polish Army Museum
PZL-130 'Orlik' and TS-11 'Iskra' outside the 'Muzeum Wojska Polskiego'
Continuing our theme of unusual aircraft in ‘off the beaten track’ locations, this month’s contribution, The Polish Army Museum, breaks the chain but only so far as its superbly accessible location on Warsaw’s central Al Jerozolimskie, close to the Vistula river. Warsaw houses many moving relics, museums and monuments, especially those relating to the harsh experiences and brave acts of its people during World War Two and is well worth a visit from anyone interested in that era. On entering the Polish Army Museum, however, one is greeted by the much more modern Mig 29 ‘Fulcrum’, which is still in service with the Polish Air Force; indeed its impressive display at last year’s ILA Berlin used little more sky than our own CAP10 at the same display!
Mig 29 Fulcrum
Russian influence is obvious with aeroplanes, tanks and artillery pieces from WW2 and earlier intermingled with missiles and helicopters from the Cold War era. Native Polish aircraft are the modern PZL130 Orlik turboprop trainer, the jet TS-11 Iskra and Poland’s first post war aircraft to use a Polish engine, the TS-8 ‘Bies’. It has to be said that these aeroplanes are starting to suffer the effects of outside storage. On a previous visit to Warsaw, Jacek Mainka was kind enough to host a visit to the nearby airfield at Konstancin, where his Tiger Moth and Auster share an immaculate hangar with an equally immaculate TS-8 and where a TS-11 is being restored to airworthiness.
PZL130 Orlik, TS-11 Iskra & TS-8 Bies
Passing the display of howitzers, the front of the museum is dominated by the former state VIP aeroplane, the 3-engined Yak 40 ‘Codling’. Not quite hidden under the wing of an Antonov An-26 ‘Curl’ is a real rarity, the I-22 Iryda 1980s-era jet trainer, a Polish design whose looks bear more than a little resemblance to the Franco-German Alpha Jet of the same period.
Yak 40, An-26 and I-22 'Iryda'
For me, the real gems of this collection were the rare if not aesthetically-pleasing collection of 1930s and 40s Russian-designed machinery. The Petlyakov Pe-2 was one of the outstandingly successful Russian aircraft of WW2 and can be viewed as the Russian equivalent of the Mosquito and Junkers 88. Vladimir Petlyakov had been imprisoned in 1937, but continued to work on the design of the VI-100 high altitude fighter. The Blitzkrieg campaigns of 1939 and 1940 moved Russian focus to the need for a tactical bomber and thus the Pe-2 was born, with Stalin insisting that it flew before the end of 1940. Stalin was sufficiently impressed with the design that Petlyakov was freed from prison and his name allowed to be used for the Aeroplane. The design was improved continually throughout WW2 and a total of 11400 produced. With the conscription of his skilled workers into military service, Petlyakov was concerned about a reduction in quality of production aircraft and protested to the Soviet leadership. He was on his way to Moscow in a Pe-2 in 1942 when the aircraft crashed; Petlyakov was killed.
The IL-2 Sturmovik dive bomber is one of the most famous aircraft of all time, with over 36000 being produced during WW2. Stalin once described the Sturmovik as being “as essential to the Red Army as air and bread”. Its successor, the heavily-armoured Il-10, was designed too late to make a significant contribution to WW2, but remained in production into the 1950s, being used by the Polish Air Force between 1949 and 1957.
The Yak 9 is one of the ultimate late WW2 piston fighters, while the Tu-2 ‘Bat’ was a high performance bomber designed as an equivalent to the Junkers 88. Andrei Tupolev had been imprisoned along with Petlyakov in 1937; he was released in 1941 but was fully rehabilitated only during the post-war Krushchev era, when he produced, amongst many other things, the famous Tu-95 ‘Bear’ turboprop strategic bomber, which probes the UK’s air defences to this day.
Warsaw’s history is not always obvious or easy to find but is always worth the effort; the Rising Museum and the Gestapo Museum in particular pack strong punches. The Army Museum provided an unexpected introduction to Polish military aviation history and has prompted the addition of the Polish Air Force Museum at Krakow and the Russian Air Force Museum at Molino to the Finest Hour ‘must do’ list…