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Poland during the Cold War; Radom-Sadkow, August 23 – 25, 2018

100 Years Polish Air Force, part 3; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

One of the highlight days of the Polish aviation industry and the Polish Air Force was the period of the Cold War. Poland was an important ally of the Soviet Union and would build many aircraft for the European partners of the Soviet Union in Poland. The Polish Air Force was also gigantic during this Cold War period.

The Polish Lotnictwo Ludowego Wojska Polskiego (Polish People's Army Aviation) was founded in 1943 by Polish patriots who wanted to liberate their country from Nazi Germany. This army was launched in cooperation with the Soviet Union and soon this army also got its own air force. The formation of the 1st Independent Squadron began on July 7, 1943 at the airport in Grigoriewskoje in Russia. This unit would be the basis for the 1 Fighter Aviation Regiment. Eventually there were 11 regiments formed which each had a different task. These units were equipped with Russian-made aircraft. After the liberation of Poland this would be the only real air force of the poles. As a result of the Second World War, the Polish aviation industry was completely wiped out. The facilities were completely destroyed and the means of production were no longer present in the country. Staff loss in the form of highly qualified personnel was the most painful effect the war had on industry. Countless designers and other professionals from the Polish aviation industry had decided to leave their native country through the political transformation to a Communistic regime. A group of designers led by engineer Tadeusz Sołtyk finally gave the Polish industry a new lease of life. Sołtyk later became the maker of the first Polish jet, namely TS-11 Iskra. The LWD (Lotnicze Warsztaty Doświadczalne) (Experimental Aviation Working Group) led by Sołtyk designed the first of the Polish post-war aircraft in the form of the Szpak-1. The designers used components which had been left behind in Poland and were based on the Soviet Po-2.

Sołtyk decided to design a modern and all-metal trainer which was powered by a Polish engine. The TS-8 Bies made its first flight on July 23, 1953. The aircraft achieved several records after its introduction. 250 copies were built and the aircraft was used to train military pilots. Halfway through 1949, the Polish Air Force had over 595 aircraft in operational service of the type Yak-9T/M, Yak-9P, Yak-9W, IL-2, IL-10, and Pe-2. When the Cold War erupted, the aviation industry in Poland became

completely dependent on the Soviet Union and all the work was done to meet the demands of the Soviet Union. The relations with the Soviet Union remained strong during this period and Poland would join the Warsaw Pact which was founded in response to the NATO in the west from 1955. Since 1951, the Polish Air Force was equipped with Yak-23 jet fighters and MiG-15 "Fagot" jet fighters. Later also the MiG-17 "Fresco" was purchased in 1961. Initially, these aircraft were built in Russia. However, the demand for these aircraft in Eastern Europe was enormous and these planes would be built under license in Poland as well. From 1952, the MiG-15 and later the MiG-17 were produced under license in Poland under the name Lim-1 and Lim-2 as an equivalent for the MiG-15 and the Lim-5 as equivalent for the MiG-17. These aircraft were manufactured in Poland by PZL-Mielec. In 1964 also a ground attack version of the MiG-17 was developed; the aircraft was produced under the name Lim-6. These newly designed warplanes, built in Poland, became the most important foundation for the new Polish Air Force for a few decades.

In 1954, the existing components of the Polish Air Force were merged into the National Air and Air Defense Forces (Wojska Lotnicze i Obrony Przeciwlotniczej Obszaru Kraju (WLiOPL OK)). Later in 1964 the organization was divided again into two separate organizations, each with their own tasks. These two organizations were the Air Force (Wojska Lotnicze) and the Country Air Defense Force (Wojska Obrony Powietrznej Kraju). The main bombers in service with the Polish Air Force were from 1949 of the type Il-10 "Beast". The first jet bomber which entered operation was the Il-28 "Beagle" and since 1965 the Su-7B "Fitter-A". From 1974, these aircraft were supplemented by the Su-20 and Su-22 "Fitter". The fleet of combat aircraft was supplemented in 1959 with a small number of MiG-19 "Farmer" aircraft. The work horse of the Polish fighter fleet would be the MiG-21 “Fishbed” from 1963. Unfortunately, due to political reasons, the Soviet Union did not grant the Poles permission to produce the famous MiG-21 in the country. The Mielec plant was therefore forced to produce the technologically outdated Antonov An-2. This was a big step backwards in time for the Polish industry and the factory. There were hundreds of MiG-21s purchased in numerous variations for the Polish Air Force. In 1979 the fleet of MiG-21s was supplemented with the new MiG-23 "Flogger". The last fighter of Russian origin which entered operation at the Polish Air Force was in 1989 the MiG-29 "Fulcrum".

The gliding with gliders in competition was becoming increasingly popular. Poland needed an sircraft to tow the gliders. The PZL-104 Wilga was developed in Poland in 1955 to train the Polish pilots. The Wilga was developed and built at the WSK Okęcie factory. The fuselage was designed by a team led by Ryszard Orłowski. This aircraft was used alongside the An-2 to train pilots for transport aircraft. The PZL TS-11 Iskra was developed in the early 60s; this small aircraft would be the primary jet trainer of the Polish Air Force. Besides the aircraft also helicopters would be used which were mostly of Russian origin. These helicopters were the Mi-1 "Hare", Mi-4 "Hound", Mi-8/17 "Hip" and Mi-24 "Hind". Besides the use of helicopters from Russia, there are also a number of types been built under license in the country. The Mi-1 helicopter from this list would be produced at the Świdnik factory from 1956, under the designation SM-1. This meant that Poland joint at a small group of countries which would produce helicopters on an extended production line. Soon the Mi-2 "Hopelite" was introduced in Poland. The Mi-2 was manufactured exclusively in Poland without major changes under a Soviet license from 1965 until 1986. In 1986 the PZL W-3 Sokol was designed as the replacement of the Mi-2. With this production, Poland has also been a country that had many aircraft in operational service during the Cold War.

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