Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Kraków Air Museum

No change in the weather; drizzle alternating with downpours. An opportunity to drive to Kraków (a ghastly mistake in itself - the city, though beautiful, is the road infrastructure black hole of the country that is the road infrastructure black hole of the EU).

The museum is an eclectic mix of old Soviet aircraft that once served with the Polish People's Air Force (LWP), the NATO types that once faced them down across Cold War borders, Polish-designed gliders and sports planes and, for me the most interesting, WWII types flown by Polish airmen in the west. Above: A Tiger Moth, the British basic trainer on which most Poles flying with the RAF got their first taste of flying in. Behind it, an American Piper Cub. (Another Polish Tiger Moth photo in this post). Tripod is a must for hangar photography - huge depth of field without having to use flash. These pics all taken with aperture at f22.

Above: The PZL P 11c fighter. The plane that formed the front line air defence of Poland 70 years ago. Its magnificent manouevrability could not overcome its weedy two light machine gun armament and its low top speed (weedy engine, fixed undercarriage). Its brave pilots gave as good as they took, screwing the maximum out of the aged airframes to take a pop at the Hun.

It was only when the same pilots, who'd managed to make it to England via France, were seated in Hurricanes and Spitfires (eight guns, top speed double that of the P 11c, oxygen, radios, retractable undercarriage), did they show their true worth. They were used to having to get up really, really close to the Nazi planes before opening up. When they brought four times the firepower to bear on the enemy from that distance, they shredded the opposition.

This needs to be remembered. Polish pilots fighting in the Battle of Britain were not 'kamikazes'. They were highly skilled survivors, the best of the best, given first-rate equipment and organisation. As a result, Polish 303 Squadron had the highest kill rate of any Allied squadron in the Battle of Britain.

Sadly, the museum's Spitfire was covered up with plastic sheeting as a nearby exhibit was receiving a re-spray.

Old Soviet kit is two a penny in Polish museums. Soviet factories churned out so much of this stuff on the basis that should the Cold War turn hot, they'd need 50-1 numerical superiority to overcome NATO's superior determination, aircraft, weapon systems, avionics and ground control (anyone who doubts this should read about what happened over the Beqaa Valley in June 1982). Many Warsaw Pact junk jets grace the car parks of Poland's petrol stations, motels and roadside restaurants.

The strangest exhibit here is the world's first and only jet biplane. The is the Polish-built PZL M-15 Belphagor agricultural aircraft. Chemicals were contained in two tanks between the wings. It was not a success. To my surprise, I learn that 175 of these weird beasties were built.

Much of the museum's inventory is stored in the open air; if the collection of MiGs and Sukhois oxidises into dust, that's no great loss, but the unique stuff needs to be housed better. So we were delighted to see new buildings going up.

In the meanwhile, the entrance to the museum is a muddy track full of huge puddles. Below: Eddie attempts to get back to the 'car park' (mud by the side of the road).

A good day out despite the weather and the awful traffic into and out of Kraks. Tickets (5zł children, 7zł adults, nothing extra for photography) are extremely cheap - too cheap in fact; a bit more on the ticket price could go into more effective protection of exhibits.


Bartek Usniacki said...

meanwhile three hundred kilometres north I got sunburnt(!), today it was unearthly hot and sultry in Warsaw and the ordeal was put to an end by a huge downpour and electrical storm...

I saw the ad of your workshop at BPCC, that would really come in useful for many Poles. But regarding the participation fee - it is not too cheap for sure, but that's an investment into the workforce on the other hand. Plus it would let many of them avoid being misunderstood, etc. I'd be keen to take part (no plans for 22th July yet, for sure I'm not going to celebrate!), but there's no sponsor on the horizon...

Have you read Jacek's book "Tip of the Week or a wry look at improving the use of written English"? That what I can afford at the moment ;) - does it cover more or less the same issues as your training?

jan said...

The PZL-11c had a very interesting afterlife which serves as a contribution to the history of Polish conservatism. A number of derivatives of PZL-11c (known as the PZL-24) were delivered to Romania in late 1930's to be eventually used as a basis for designing of a new fighter. In fact the Romanians only reengineered the old design, fitting it with new wings that replaced "the Polish wing" which persisted from the 7 and 11 types. They also added pressurized cockpits and new engines - and the IAR-80 was born. It was a superb plane, on par with much later versions of Spitfire and Messerschmitt 109s, and it successfully served the Romanian Air Force till 1950s.

Of course, Romania back then was even more backward than Poland, and the modification wasn't really that difficult to do. So it is interesting why didn't WE do it (and we could have done that easily already in early 1930s). Well the answer is that the design of "the polish wing" was so original and so much praised for its manouverability that it became a holy cow of the aviation industry together with Z. Puławski who designed it in 1920s and the dogfight doctrine of Polish Air Force that gave priority for manouvers over speed...

Andrew Nathan said...

Rather like the Railway museum in Warsaw - cheap admission fee but no investment.

Gerald said...

War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.