Is this futuristic jet the replacement for the Polish Sukhoi Su-22 Fitter?

Sep 11 2013 - 2 Comments
By Jacek Siminski

During the recent  Kielce Defense Fair, the Polish Air Force Technical Institute (ITWL – Instytut Techniczny Wojsk Lotniczych) has announced that it continues to work on the Grot-2 airplane.

The Grot-2 is a twin-seater that should have flying characteristics similar to those of fifth generation combat planes, and will be considered in the upcoming bids for the Polish Air Force.

Due to the fact that the project is in its infancy there is no chance for it to become a fourth player in the LIFT (Lead-In Fighter Trainer) competition to replace the ageing TS-11 Iskra jets. The companies that take part in the trainer bid are KAI/Lockheed Martin with T-50, Alenia Aermacchi with M-346 and BAe Systems with their Hawk.

Nevertheless the airplane is considered, most notably, as a replacement for the Polish Su-22 Fitter fighter bombers.

The priorities for the programme are to create an airframe that would be cheaper than its fifth generation counterparts whilst maintaining the same combat and training capabilities. What is more, the little jet is to be created in two versions – manned and unmanned one.

The unmanned version is a response to the Ministry’s of Defence’s rather brave project to replace the Su-22’s with unmanned aircraft.

The Grot’s airframe is to be made mainly from carbon fibre. The ongoing market analysis is yet to point to the engine manufacturer and  the first airframe is to be built within the next 2 years.

This is not the first attempt of Polish industry to create an indigenous jet trainer or assault aircraft or even a fighter. Nevertheless some of these designs never made it beyond the test-flying stage.

In the last decade Marganski & Mysłowski aviation works proposed a concept prototype of EM-10 Bielik Fighter-Trainer. Bielik was to be a cheap trainer for military pilots. It was also referred to as Iskra II, after the TS-11 trainer that was successful and is still used e.g. by the Polish White Red Sparks aerobatic team.

The aircraft, built with stealth principles in mind, was made of composite materials, propelled with the J-85 turbojet engine and was to feature fly-by-wire controls.

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Image Credit:  Marek Czerpkowski 

The airplane flew but never made it into production. The mock-up of Bielik can be seen in the Polish Aviation Museum in Cracow.

PZL-Mielec (Polish Aviation Works) back in the 1970s tried to create an indigenous jet-trainer, I-22 Iryda, largely inspired by the French Alpha Jet. Iryda was to be a replacement of the TS-11 Iskra trainers.

The design stage of Iryda lasted 4 years, from 1976 till 1980. Then the project was approved and Iryda made its maiden flight on Mar. 3, 1985.

The process was painful: test pilot Jerzy Bachta died during flatter tests.

Nonetheless, in 1992, Iryda M93K with PZL K-15 engines flew and later, M93V prototype with Rolls-Royce Viper engine, also made it in the air. M96 prototype featured a redesigned wing with Fowler Flaps and new avionics.

In the period between 1992 and 1996 8 Irydas were used in the 58. Aviation Training Regiment of the Polish Air Force. 19 were to be produced, not all of them were completed.

Iryda even made an appearance on RIAT show back in 1994 as this video shows.

The sole remaining airworthy Iryda is now owned by the Air Force Technical Institute. Lacking the certificates it is unfortunately not flown on a regular basis at all.

Most of the remaining jets can be seen in Museums all around Poland.

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Image Credit: Polish Ministry of National Defence

Another interesting airframe Polish aviation industry tried to develop was the PZL-230 Skorpion.

This design never made it beyond a stage of wooden mock-up. It was being developed during the 1990s in the Warsaw PZL facility.

Skorpion comes from the late 1980s. It was to be a lightweight close air support aircraft. Poles did not invent what was needed – they new what happened in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

The model 230 was to be agile, heavily armed and to possess STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) capabilities. What is more, the airframe was to be constructed in modules, that would make maitenance fairly easy.

In the beginning, the plane was to be a cannard turboprop able to carry 2 tonnes of armament. The engines were to be mounted on top of the aircraft, just like in A-10 Thunderbolt. The STOL capabilities were crucial. Take-off was to be completed on 250m runway, landing. Five barrell 25mm cannon was to be the fixed weapon.

The most peculiar feature was the way that the wing pylons were designed. Due to the political reasons the plane had to be able to carry both Soviet and Western armament.

Airframe was designed to be built of composite materials and the aircraft would feature fly-by-wire controls.

In the year 1990 the project requirements were changed by the Army. The top speed of the plane had to be higher – 1000 km/h and the plane had to be able to carry 4 tonnes of load.

The design was significantly changed. The agility was traded for weight and performance, as the turboprop engines were replaced with the Lycoming LF507 jet engines. The airframe was flat. This was done in order to provide basic stealth features to the plane.

In this way PZL-230F was born.

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A wooden mock-up of the plane was created in 1992, and in 1993 need for such a design was verified by the military. The plane was verified by vice-prime minister of Poland at the time, Henryk Goryszewski. The outcome was positive and financing was approved.

Nonetheless, the next government cut the funds – I-22 Iryda project being realized at the same time makes it highly probable that the government simply ran out of money.

Desert Storm operation also had its impact on the Skorpion. Success of the A-10 Thunderbolt has shown that the concept of an assault plane ought to be simplier, than the ambitious design proposed by the Polish engineers.

Experts argue whether the PZL-230F was a design that could be realized, as Poland at the time did not have the technology needed to create such advanced design. Notably, the airplane is a bit similiar to the Iranian F-313 Qaher. Nevertheless the Poles never claimed the mock-up to be flyable.

Going back into the past there was another airplane that never made it into the skies and was cancelled.

After the TS-11 Iskra trainer was created, the design teams in Poland had to get a new project to carry out. In the 1958, the leader of the OKB-1, Tadeusz Sołtyk, Docent BSc, started to think about a transition jet that would get the pilots prepared to the supersonic area of the flying envelope before they start to fly the real thing. At that time MiG-21 Fishbed was the main fighter in the Polish Air Force.

The TS-13 Grot project was issued in 1959 and was very similar to F-101 Voodoo due to the trapeze wing shape.

It was to be propelled by two SO-2 jet engines with the afterburners. It was in the April that T-38 Talon made its maiden flight in the U.S., and it was very similar to the Grot airframe. The airframe, under the Talon’s influence was redesigned and proposed to the Air Force.

There were some political problems though.

The Air Force suspected that the name of the plane comes from the pseudonym of general Stefan Grot Rowecki, who was the chief commanding officer of AK (Armia Krajowa – Home Army), that was a resistance movement in Poland during the WW2. It had a communist counterpart, AL (Armia Ludowa – People’s Army). The AK officially disbanded on January 19, 1945 to avoid armed conflict with the Soviets and civil war.

Nonetheless the AK was still faithful to the Polish Government in exile, in Britain. The history has shown that Poland was to face a different fate, and that the authority that fled to the UK was not the one to rule the country after the War.

The armed forces also had objections towards the TS-13 name, and they forced the designer to change the name to TS-16.

The new airframe was to feature delta shaped wings with 45 degree of sweep. Two versions were planned – B version, a trainer, and an assault fighter – A version. The armament was to be the same as of the early Fishbeds. Due to the fact that the engines design was still lagging behind, Grot was redesigned to use RD-9B engine from MiG-19. The thrust was similar to the power of two SO-2 engines that were to be the Grot’s power plant.

The plane was named TS-16RD, and the design was ready in mid-1960. At the same time a twin-seater mock-up was also created.

The aircraft did share some design traits with the Soviet aircraft, e.g. the landing gear was to be retracted inside the fuselage, similarly to the MiG-23.

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Image Credit: konstrukcjeinzynierskie.pl

There are many speculations about the reasons why the project was dropped.

Within the period between 1961 and 1963, a design ready for production was created. Nevertheless, The Mighty Integral as Todd Wolffe, the author of The Right Stuff book, referred to the Soviet authority, decided to cancel the project and limit the capabilities of the Polish design bureaus.

The Polish aviation industry was to focus on producing licensed plane of Soviet design rather than invest its efforts in creating an indigenous supersonic aircraft.

The project was not cancelled at the time yet, but it was hampered. The bureau dealing with Grot employed just 40 people, while it needed over 200 professionals to finish the project.

Nonetheless, Grot was sent up to the government for being accepted.  The Scientific Council of Defence Ministry decided that the project should be consulted with the USSR authorities. This was an end to Grot as the Soviets being afraid of Poles creating an independent fighter jet decided the project should be cancelled.

Despite all of the above, Grot would – no doubt about it – have been a revolutionary design, being the second supersonic jet trainer ever created.

It is yet unclear whether the Grot-2, that took the name after the unlucky predecessor, will make it beyond a stage of a wooden mock-up or prototype, or even an early production stage.

Nevertheless there is no doubt that creating an independent military jet in Poland would be a major step for Warsaw’s aviation industry.

Jacek Siminski for TheAviationist

Top image credit: Jarosław Chęciński, aerospotter.com

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  • Shane Metzger

    Amazing article. Never knew any of this stuff

    • http://twitter.com/JacekSiminski Jacek Siminski

      It’s a pleasure! Reading such comments makes me see the sense in my work!