Patrick, our globetrotter/photographer, takes us this time to Krakow to visit the Polish Air Force Museum. The city of Krakow is the 2nd largest city in Poland before Lodz (pronounced wudje), or Katowice (katovitcé), depending on the number of inhabitants living on the outskirts of these municipalities. It dates back to the 7th century, and has an admirably well-preserved architectural heritage. The historic city is situated at the foot of the Wawel hill and was the capital of Poland before Warsaw.
The museum is located on the outskirts of the city and is the most important aviation museum in Poland. It occupies part of the grounds and buildings of the Rakowice military airport – Czyżyny, and is easily accessible by a very dense public transport network. From the city centre, lines 4, 5, 9, 10, 52, 64, 72 and Z64 will take you there. If you have decided to drive to the museum, it is very easy to park in the museum car park. The entrance fee is 15 Zlotys (about 4 euros). Please note that the museum is closed on religious holidays, as Poland is still a predominantly Catholic and religious country. The museum’s website (www.muzeumlotnictwa.pl) regularly updates the closing dates.
The richness and diversity of the aircraft on display are exceptional. Whether the planes, helicopters, gliders, motor gliders or engines on display, everything has been carefully restored. The collection of aircraft from the former Warsaw Pact is sumptuous. You will be surprised by unique pieces, almost unknown in our western countries.
At the entrance of the Museum and in front of a very modern building, a TS-11 Iskra is waiting for us. This jet trainer was developed in 1958 by the Tadeusz team Sołtyk. The prototype was flown in 1960. Series production was carried out by WSK PZL Mielec in 1963, four speed records were broken in 1964.
Let’s now enter the museum. Opposite us, a first series of exceptionally restored aircraft, including the legendary Spitfire of the 303rd Squadron of the RAF, a squadron composed solely of Polish pilots. Kosciuszko’s squadron is the one that shot down the largest number of German aircraft during the Battle of Britain (September-October 1940). The “303” is the most famous of the 15 Polish squadrons operating within the RAF (including eight fighter squadrons, four bombing squadrons, two fighter reconnaissance squadrons, etc.). It will be disbanded in December 1946.
Another legendary aircraft of the Second World War, the Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 of the Luftwaffe, which was stored close to the Spit, was another legendary aircraft of the Second World War. This version of the single-seater metal fighter with low wing and retractable landing gear was the most produced version of the Bf 109G. Production began in the spring of 1943 and was completed in the autumn of the following year. In addition to the German Luftwaffe, Messerschmitt Bf 109G fighters also flew in the Bulgarian, Croatian, Hungarian, Finnish, Italian, Romanian, Slovak and Swiss air forces. The Bf 109G belongs to the most famous group of aircraft in aviation history.
A few meters away from these two mythical machines, we discover two aircraft from the factories of the former USSR, such as the Yak-23, the first jet fighter used by the Polish military aviation, and the very rare Yak 17.
The Yakovlev Yak-23 was considered the culmination of the development of the Yak-15. The aircraft was equipped with a fully retractable tricycle landing gear, unlike its predecessors. Propulsion was provided by a 1,590 kgp RD-500, which had a maximum speed of 923 km/h.
The Yak-17, although also a derivative of the Yak-15, was also equipped with a retractable tricycle train, and benefited from many newer interior features compared to its predecessor.
We continue our visit by accessing the different rooms, including the one of the no less famous Italian Lockheed F-104S Starfighter (in its evolved version ASA/M). At the end of the 1980s, most of the Italian F-104S were included in the ASA’s avionics modernization program, adapting the aircraft to the Aspide 1A missile, an upgrade by the Italians of the Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles (enhanced version of the AIM-9L). In the 1990s, the Aeroautica Militare Italiana (AMI, the Italian Air Force) planned to replace the Starfighter with the Eurofighter Typhoon multi-role aircraft, but as the latter’s construction programme was falling behind schedule, the Italian Air Force was obliged to programme a further upgrade of the avionics of its Starfighter, ASA-M, consisting of integrating new navigation and radio equipment from the AMX aircraft.
The serial number MM 6876 on display in the museum was donated by the Italian Air Force. It served in the 9th (storm) fighter wing “Francesco Baracca” in the Grazzanise base near Naples. During his service he underwent two modifications to his avionics.
As we wander around, we arrive in a veritable Ali Baba’s cave where many aircraft engines are stored, each of them having equipped fabulous machines, most of which have been put into a well-deserved retirement.
The third part of the exhibition is devoted to the very numerous foreign aircraft, we will mention a few of them including the SAAB AJSF 37 Viggen (Thunder, in Swedish). This multi-role aircraft designed and built by Sweden in the 1960s is characterized by a delta wing, duck plans, and a thrust reverser system allowing short landings.
Another example is the Republic F-105 Thunderchief, a supersonic fighter bomber designed by the United States in the late 1950s. It was part of the first generation of fighters known as the Century Series Fighters. It was used exclusively by the Americans, and carried out the majority of the bombing missions at the beginning of the Vietnam War. It was the only American fighter aircraft to be retired from service due to excessive wear and tear.
Aircraft from the Nordic countries are also present and carefully displayed in the museum’s outdoor area, which is very wooded and pleasant to wander among the aeronautical treasures. The parks and gardens which the Poles are very fond of are places frequented with delight. As you can see, Poles love nature. So it was there that we came across many other planes, a Danish Lockheed F-104S ASA-M Starfighter and a Swedish J 35J Draken.
The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter is an American single-engine, supersonic jet fighter built in more than 2,500 units from 1954. It was used by the United States in the USAF (United States Air Force) from 1958 to 1969, then by the Puerto Rico National Guard until it was abandoned in 1975.
The Saab 35 Draken (Dragon) is a fighter aircraft designed and built by Sweden. It was the successor to the Saab J 29 Tunnan, and is characterized by a double delta wing, which can reach Mach 2 speed from the J 35D version. About 600 Draken were built in total and put into service in 4 different air forces (Denmark, Finland, Austria and the USA) until the early 2000s.