Tag Archives: Polish Air Force

Vipers, Fulcrums and Fitters: Tactical Exercise at Poznan-Krzesiny Airbase

We attended a tactical exercise of the Polish Air Force involving all fast jet types that remain in the service. F-16s and MiG-29s were tasked with providing fighter escort for the Su-22 attack aircraft.

On Mar. 13 we visited Poznan-Krzesiny airbase where Polish Air Force fast jets were taking part in a tactical exercise. As Polska Zbrojna reports, the operation involved both 1st and 2nd Tactical Aviation Wings of the Polish Air Force.

Noteworthy, what’s unique about the operation in question, is the fact that the said exercise involved the Su-22s and MiG-29s operating from the Poznan-Krzesiny airbase. Usually such operations see the pilots operating from their homebase which made it possible to integrate the planning and briefing processes, which could be considered a simulated deployment of all assets to some undefined operational theatre.

One of F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 52+ of the Polish Air Force taking off.

Not only did the operation cover fighter-escort capabilities, as the pilots also conducted CAS operations and scenarios, attacking the simulated targets around the Polish military ranges. The ground attack portion involved the Fitters, with Fulcrums and Vipers acting as the escort. Some of the jets simulated the adversary, in an aggressor role. Notably, the Fitters, to prolong their playtime probably, were carrying 4 external fuel tanks each.

Su-22 close up. The Fitters flew in the attack role.

Polish Viper thundering on take off from Poznan.

In order to extend their endurance, the Su-22s flew with four external fuel tanks.

Meanwhile, Vipers were taking off in waves, 4 aircraft per each wave.

Polska Zbrojna outlet notes that the operation is a part of preparation before the NATO Tiger Meet exercise planned to happen in May. The Aviationist is planning to attend this annual meeting of the NATO Tiger squadrons, and provide you with a report from the operation.

Polish MiG-29 Fulcrum.

Black Su-22 Fitter (305)

F-16D on the go. The Vipers escorted the Soviet-era Su-22 and MiG-29 attack planes.

All Images: Jacek Siminski

Many thanks go to Bartosz Torbicki and Sebastian Walczak, for taking care of logistics and formalities related to the visit at the base.

Polish Air Force’s 100th Anniversary – Part II: Kościuszko Squadron: American Aviators in the Polish-Soviet War

In the premiere episode covering the history of the Polish Air Force we made the readers acquainted with the Polish Air Force’s “Checkerboard”. Today we will tell you a story of one of the best known symbols associated with the Polish Air Force squadrons abroad – the “Scythes”. And the associated story of the American aviators who fought in Poland.

Never did the Poles come to terms with the fact that they lost their identity, following the loss of independence when back in 1795 Germany, Russia and Austria had partitioned their weaker neighbour. Throughout the period of partitions numerous political attempts and uprisings were organized to regain the Polish freedom. Only after WWI came to an end did circumstances emerge in which a political approval was obtained to resurrect the Republic of Poland. The Polish patriots involved in the unsuccessful attempts were often persecuted (exiled deep into Russia or Siberia) or forced to emigrate. Paradoxically, the above made it possible for the Poles to make contributions to science or culture (Maria Skłodowska-Curie, Frederic Chopin) and to support other nations in their struggle to regain freedom. Tadeusz Kościuszko and Kazimierz Pułaski were the best known of the group because they made significant contributions to the struggle undertaken by the Americans, driven towards gaining of the independence of the USA.

For Your Freedom…

Kościuszko, who was a talented officer educated in Poland and abroad, considering the impossibility of serving for Poland decided to help the Americans. Once he found out that the North American colonies stood up to the British to gain independence and sovereignty, he moved to North America.

Tadeusz Kościuszko. (Image Credit – Wikimedia)

As a military engineer and architect he utilized his expertise building fortifications. His efforts and ambitions did not go unnoticed by the top commanders. To express their gratitude, the Americans let Kościuszko work on fortification of West Point by the Hudson river. Then, he returned to Europe as a general. He used the financial award he received from the Congress to buy freedom to slaves and educate them. Furthermore, he decided within his testament that Thomas Jefferson would be the person who would manage the Kościuszko’s property after he passed away.

After his return to Europe he led an unsuccessful national uprising against Russia, as a result of which Poland disappeared from the European maps for almost a century. The aforesaid uprising involved numerous countrymen of the Krakow area, who used scythes placed vertically on the sticks as their weapons. The scythes were to become a basis for the most recognizable symbols of one of the Polish Air Force’s squadrons later on.

Kazimierz (Casimir) Pułaski is another Pole who made significant contributions to the American struggle for independence. Before he emigrated to North America, he was involved in an armed action undertaken by the Polish noblemen against Russia and Stanisław August Poniatowski (Stanisław II Augustus), the King at the time, who endorsed the Russian effort. After the Confederation lost the battle, Pułaski was sentenced to death for his attempt to kidnap the King. He was forced to become an exile. Living like a nomad and traveling around Europe he received an invitation from General Lafayette to come to North America, with the United States being born at the time. He was actively involved in the US War of Independence (American Revolutionary War), saving George Washington from inevitable death on Sep. 11. 1777, during the Battle of Brandywine.

Casimir Pułaski (Image Credit: Wikimedia)

Kazimierz Pulaski, back in the US, became a close friend with John Cooper, one of the Scottish immigrants. Pułaski shared his fencing skills with Cooper, while the latter, following the Battle of Savannah, transported the wounded (lethally) Pole to the US Ship named “Wasp”. When Pułaski was dying, Cooper made a promise to himself: America is going to pay the debt owed to Poles, for their effort and involvement in the US struggle for independence.

Why are we mentioning the aforesaid Poles who were quite significant for the American history? Well, 150 years later the US citizens would repay the debt and show their gratitude for Poles who fiercely fought with their ancestors, in order to gain the US independence.

Polish-Soviet War – 1919-1921

Regaining the independence in 1918 was not the end of the Polish efforts to reestablish the national identity, as it was required to unify territories that had been previously separated between the powers that partitioned Poland. This created a great deal of problems, as areas that were culturally diverse, with different economies, richness and mentality, had to be brought together and fused into a coherent body. One should also mention that the WWI front moved through the now Polish territory at least twice. The parties involved killed, plundered and destroyed the economic potential available in the region. In the light of the developments above, the threat of communism emerged – the Soviet Russia wanted to expand its influence and reach the West of Europe.

Following the Russian Revolution, Lenin stated that not only was Warsaw a center of the Polish bourgeoisie, it was also a center of imperialism per se. Lenin wanted the Ploretaryat revolution to spill around the whole of Europe. After the Germans withdrew from Poland, war broke out. It ended in 1921 with a peace treaty signed in Riga, with the Poles being declared the victors. Later on the said conflict became known as the 1919-1921 Polish-Soviet War.

For Our Freedom…

A Squadron (Escadrille) of aircraft flown by the US aviators took part in the Polish-Soviet War. Merian Caldwell Cooper, who was a great grandson of John Cooper, the friend of Kazimierz Pułaski, made a promise to himself: America will reciprocate the Polish effort undertaken in the struggle for the US independence. Cooper was the person who paid the debt back. How did it happen?

American Relief Administration which worked towards mitigating the results of WWI, led by Herbert Hoover, helped the nations in their efforts to secure their borders and protect themselves from the adversity that could emerge in case of other states. Hoover, leading the ARA mission, sent Capt. Merian Cooper of the United States Air Force to besieged Lvov in 1919. Cooper, being aware of the relationship between John Cooper and Kazimierz Pułaski, and after obtaining the approval of General Tadeusz Rozwadowski (Chief of the Polish Military Mission in Paris) and the Commander in Chief – Józef Piłsudski, decided to enlist himself in the Polish Army.

Cooper (Image credit: Wikimedia)

With an approval to form an Air Force unit formed by foreign pilots, Cooper met Major Cedric Fauntleroy in Paris. He convinced Fauntleroy to join him in his effort. General Rozwadowski also issued a recommendation for two American Colleagues who, respectively, in ranks of Captain (Cooper) and Major (Fauntleroy) became members of the newly born Polish Air Force. Later on the US aviators were given a lot of freedom when it came to the recruitment process – they were trying hard to reach volunteers who would later on fight for the Polish independence. Most of the effort was done via phone and telegraphy.

Faultneroy portrait on the vertical stabilizer of the Polish Fulcrum. (Image Credit: Wojciech Mazurkiewicz)

Wearing the blue uniforms of the “Blue Army” (Haller’s Army – a Polish military contingency created in France during the latter stages of World War I; the name came from the French-issued horizon blue military uniforms worn by the soldiers), the group arrived in Warsaw travelling by train. It included: Lt. George M. Crawford, Lt. Kenneth Shrewsbury, Cpt. Edward Corsi, Lt. Edwin Noble, Cpt. Arthur Kelly and Carl Clark. The unit was also joined by two new volunteers: Lieutenants Edmund Graves and Elliott Chess. The Escadrille was commanded by Fauntleroy, with Cooper acting as his deputy. Later on, the pilots listed above were sent to Lvov to become a part of the 7th Fighter Squadron (Escadrille), with Tadeusz Kościuszko becoming its patron. As mentioned above, Kościuszko was one of the Polish national heroes who, together with Kazimierz Pułaski, were involved in the American War of Independence.

Cooper portrait worn by the contemporary Polish Fulcrum. Image Credit: Wojciech Mazurkiewicz

Eliott Chess was the person who designed the distinctive emblem of the Squadron, so-called “scythes”. The emblem features a “rogatywka” cap, which is a traditional Polish folk headwear. The background includes seven red stripes placed on a white background (six white stripes). Not a lot of people are aware of the fact that the emblem is derived from the US national flag. The whole layout is complemented by crossed scythes and thirteen stars, associated with the first 13 states of the United States of America. The “rogatywka” and scythes refer to the Kościuszko uprising, when the Poles armed with scythes made an attempt to gain freedom for the country, fighting against Russia and Prussia. The emblem was placed on the aircraft flown by the American pilots.

Coming back to the Polish-Soviet War – the 7th Escadrille also had Polish pilots. This, which also bears a certain degree of relevance, created a language barrier. The Escadrille, at the beginning of its existence utilized aircraft taken over from the nations who had partitioned the Polish territory during the preceding period, as we mentioned in the first episode of our series. The 7th Escadrille also utilized the only Polish Air Force’s Sopwith Camel, brought by Kenneth Murray, privately.

The Escadrille was acting as a liaison element, to evolve into a reconnaissance and attack unit later on. Dogfights were not a part of the operations, since the enemy did not utilize any aircraft. Between 1919 and 1920 the pilots involved were mainly delivering the orders and reports to the forward positions which eliminated the need to use teletype – here the messages could have been easily intercepted. At the time, Lt. Graves died tragically, during an air display in November 1919. He was replaced by Lt. Harman Rorison. Later on, on Apr. 25., Lt. Noble was wounded, which ends his involvement in the war. Cooper also ended his efforts, but he became a POW. He spent 9 months at a POW camp, then made a successful escape attempt and reached the Polish land. Kelly was also KIA. Crawford, on the other hand, left the unit. This rendered some serious problems for the Escadrille, suffering from pilot shortage at the time. Fauntleroy issued a message, and six new pilots joined the element as a result of his attempt to reconstruct the unit: T.V. McCallum, Thomas Garlick, John Maitland, Kenneth Murray, John Speaks and Earl Evans. McCallum is the only pilot of the group who lost his life in combat on Aug. 31. 1920.

7th Escadrille in all of its glory. Unique historic photograph featuring the American aviators next to Ansaldo A.1 Balilla (most probably wearing bort no. 6.). From the left: on the landing gear: Władysław Konopka, Kenneth M. Murray; on the ground: Jerzy Weber, Antoni Poznański, Zbigniew Orzechowski, Edward C. Corsi, George M. Crawford, John C. Speaks, Elliott W. Chess, Earl F. Evans, John I. Maitland, Aleksander Seńkowski, Thomas H. Garlick. (Image Credit: Małgorzata Punzet’s Private Collection)

Ultimately the Poles reached Kiev, to push away the Eastern invaders further away. Operationally speaking, the “Kościuszko” Escadrille was involved in flying within area between Lvov and Kiev, successfully eliminating the Semyon Budyonny’s Army from the main battle.

What is interesting, after the war the US pilots were still policing the Polish airspace, until the moment when a peace treaty was signed in Riga, on March 18th 1921. The Americans were monitoring the enforcement of the ceasefire. They were decorated with high military decorations, including Virtuti Militari, Cross of Valour, Haller’s Medal and Cross of the Polish Soldiers of America.

After the war, Meriam Caldwell Cooper returned to the United States, where he worked as a journalist. He was also a passionate traveler, visiting exotic locations all around the world. He became a film producer in Hollywood, also working on documentaries. Inspired by the lives of gorillas, Cooper wrote a screenplay and co-directed the King Kong blockbuster in 1933. Cooper starred in the film, flying an aircraft attacking the giant ape. He remained close to aviation for the rest of his life. During WWII he first served as the Chief of Staff for Gen. Clarie Chennault of the China Air Task Force, and then as the Chief of Staff of the Fifth Air Force’s Bomber Command, to become a Deputy Chief of Staff of USAAF in the Pacific operational theatre. In 1950 he became a General. He took a great pride of his relationship with Poland and the Poles, getting in touch with the RAF Squadron 303 continuing the heritage provided by the 7th Escadrille, also working together with the pilots who left Poland for the United States of America after the war. Cooper passed away in 1973.


After the war came to an end, the 7th Air Escadrille commanded by Cpt. Jerzy Weberwas transferred to the Mokotów Field in Warsaw, being incorporated in the 1st Aviation Regiment as the III Squadron. The fact that the personnel were leaving the squadron after the war led to circumstances in which major rotation of human resources could have been witnessed. The airplanes also were not what you would call “state of the art”. The Escadrille was flying the Italian Ansaldo Balilla airplanes which, due to the poor quality and defects, were referred to as the “flying coffins”. At the beginning of 1925 the aircraft were replaced with SPAD 61s. In the spring of 1925 a new number is associated to the Escadrille. Between 1925 and 1928 it is referred to as the 121st Fighter Escadrille. Another change of numbering, which is also the last one, took place on Aug. 14. 1928. In the Spring of 1933 the unit receives modern, all-metal Polish made fighter aircraft – the PZL P.7. In 1935 they also receive the PZL P.11, a new type which later on saw combat during the beginning of the WWII, in September 1939, fighting against the Nazi German invaders. By that time the Escardille had been transformed into the 111 Fighter Escadrille, which took part in the defense of Poland as a part of the Pursuit Brigade. As such the Squadron’s pilots scored several air-to-air victories, succeeding against the enemy who had technological and quantitative advantage, suffering own losses which were minor – only 3 pilots were wounded. We will be mentioning the aircraft they flew in detail in the next episode of our series, covering the Polish aviation of 1920s and 1930s.

PZL P.7 (Image Credit: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive – Flickr/Public Domain)

Kościuszko’s Scythes during WWII

The loss of the defensive campaign of the September 1939 did not translate into the end of the war efforts made by the Poles against Germany. The Poles joined France and England and organized the Air Force on foreign land, enhancing the allied defense potential. Squadron 303 was the best known of the Polish units, formed abroad, in 1940, in Northolt. The unit proved its usability and the fighting spirit of the Polish pilots in an impressive way during the Battle of Britain. The Squadron was undoubtedly the deadliest of the Polish units. It adopted, succeeding the Squadron 303, the traditions and heritage of the 111th “Kościuszko” Escadrille.

Post-War Period

After WWII Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain. Poland, being within the zone of influence of the Soviet Union, broke off its contact with the West, while the Armed Forces, organized on the basis of the Soviet structural model, did not cultivate its pre-war heritage. As mentioned by Andrzej Rogucki, one of the Polish pilots who was flying in the Air Force of the People’s Republic of Poland as well as in a NATO setting, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s, it was decided that heritage should be brought back to life, with patrons and unique names being associated with the military units.

Pilot’s social facilities at the 23rd Tactical Air Base in Minsk Mazowiecki, with the scythes placed on the wall, replicating the shape of the emblem. (Image Credit: Wojciech Mazurkiewicz)

The “Kościuszko Scythes” became associated, back in 1993, with the 1st “Warszawa” Fighter Aviation Regiment, stationed in Minsk Mazowiecki. The unit obtained an approval of the former Squadron 303 pilots, to use the emblem of the famous Polish Escadrille.

Backstage shot, depicting the process of painting the Chess’s emblem design on the back of the Fulcrum. (Image Credit: Andrzej Rogucki)

After a period of restructuring, the tradition lives on at the 23rd Tactical Aviation Base. The Kościuszko emblem is still worn by the Polish fighter aircraft – currently, the supersonic MiG-29s. One should mention the fact that the Polish Fulcrums wear portraits of the distinguished pilots of the 7. and 111. Escadrilles and the Squadron 303, this includes the founders of the “Kościuszko” Squadron – Merian C. Cooper and Cedric Fauntleroy.

Polish Fulcrum with the Scythes on its back! (Image Credit: Wojciech Mazurkiewicz)

Post Scriptum: The “Kościuszko” Badge

When speaking of the “Kościuszko” squadron, one shall also mention the badge. Here we present photos of the original badges used by one of the pilots of the unit, during the interwar period. They belonged to Antoni Poznański – who is also depicted in one of the photographs above.

Kościuszko Squadron badges worn by its pilots. The set depicted here belonged to Antoni Poznanski. (Image Credit: Małgorzata Punzet/Private Collection)

As historians argue, there’s no clear division between the badges.

Paweł Tuliński, one of the reputable authors working in the field of Polish aviation history, told us the following:

The 7th Escadrille badges were not divided into silver and gold ones, when it came to the color. They were only silver. However, some of the examples made out of brass and silver-coated have lost their coating, and they appear as if they were originally gold. This could have resulted from cleaning or oxidation.

There are two types of the 7th Escadrille badges: 1) Multi-part, two-toned badge with a silver surface and overlays (stars, scythes, cap); 2) Single part badge (One should remember that both types of badges featured a metal element with red material forming the background for the front portion of the badge). Unfortunately, no information has been obtained so far with regards to the rules ascribed to provision of the badges.

It is usually stated that the ones exhibiting better quality belonged to the officers, while privates and NCOs used the badges that looked “cheaper”.

The set that belonged to Cpt. Antoni Poznański (presented above) may be a contradiction to this. Most probably the pilot in question was in possession of two badges, one used with dress uniform, with the second one utilized for other purposes.

The officers also were buying the badges themselves. In case of privates and non-commissioned officers, the circumstances were not uniform, depending on the periods and units. Thus, almost always, the badges were delivered in “rich” and “economical” variants. And this is, in my opinion, the primary reason for the division. Despite the above, collectors like to divide the badges (without any reference point in the sources) into the ones used by the officers, NCOs and soldiers.

Badges belonging to the members of the 111th Escadrille and of the 303 Squadron – (Private Collection of Paweł Tulinski)

Written with Michał Wajnchold.

Top Image: Polish Air Force’s MiG-29 Fulcrum during the service’s 100th Anniversary photoshoot. Image Credit: Michał Wajnchold.

Polish Air Force’s 100th Anniversary – Part 1: The Checkerboard

In 2018 the Polish Air Force is to celebrate its 100th Anniversary. Let’s celebrate the Service’s flamboyant and rich history through a series of articles.

It seems appropriate to start a series of articles covering the 100th Anniversary of the Polish Air Force with getting our readers acquainted with the circumstances related to the birth of the Polish Air Force’s equivalent of a “roundel”, that has been accompanying the Polish aviators throughout the last 100 years. Here we are referring to the white-red checkerboard which, as you probably know, is not round, contrary to the insignia worn by the aircraft of most air forces.

The story of applying national markings on aircraft dates back to WWI. The dynamic development of aviation per se, and of military aviation in particular, was the main factor that made it indispensable to introduce signs that would allow for quick and unambiguous aircraft recognition. The French were the first to introduce a roundel, back in 1913.

The history of Polish aviation actually began back in 1910, when the first aircraft was built on the territory that once belonged to Poland, which, for 120 years, belonged to the occupants: Germans, Russians and Austrians. The said aircraft was reportedly built in Cracow.

During WWI the storm of battles was going through the Central European land and it did not leave it unscathed. The Poles were often forced to join the armies of the invaders and occupants, which led to a situation in which in fact they were fighting for all of the parties to the conflict.  Also in a role of the troops working within a newly established service – the Air Force.

The events during which Poland regained its independence are closely tied to the ending of WWI, on Nov. 11, 1918.

According to the bible of historians who are passionate about the Polish Air Force, “Polski Samolot i Barwa” [“Polish Aircraft and Color”], authored by Tadeusz Królikiewicz, the story of the checkerboard dates back to November 1918. This was also related to the process through which the Polish military was taking over the equipment and airfields left behind by the invaders. Frequently the Polish pilots were defecting (from Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian Armies to join the newly born Polish military), taking their aircraft with them. These airframes were later to become the cornerstone for the Polish military aviation. This also created a new problem: the use of aircraft markings which would designate their affiliation with the newly born state. The aircraft were sporting roundels of the former enemies, the camouflage schemes differed, the planes also featured personal badges of the pilots flying them.

Before the Polish checkerboard was ultimately selected as the designation of choice, the aircraft often featured spontaneously painted white-red graphic elements, following the national color scheme. Nonetheless the form of the symbols ranged from heraldic badges divided across (Warsaw squadrons), through white-red stripes (Lvov squadrons) with red Z letter placed in a white square to finish with (Cracow squadrons).

Warsaw, Lvov and Cracow squadrons roundels.

However, the white-red checkerboard was to ultimately become the sign of choice for the Polish aviation. It is usually claimed that the history of the symbol began with Lt. Stefan Stec – a Polish pilot flying for the Austro-Hungarian Army. On Nov. 15. 1918, Lt. Pilot Stefan Stec flew to Warsaw in his Fokker EV (D VIII), delivering a report from Lvov that was under siege at the time. His aircraft wore the personal badge of the pilot – a square divided into four symmetrical fields in contrasting national colors – white and red.

Stefan Stec was quite an experienced aviator who, when the war for the Polish independence began, had already scored a couple of aerial victories flying for the Austro-Hungarians during WWI. At the end of WWI, on Nov. 15. 1918, he went to Lvov.  Operating from there under the Polish command, he conducted combat sorties delivering reports to the staff officers during the fights against the Ukrainians. On Apr. 29, 1919 ,Stec won the first air combat engagement in the independent Poland, downing an enemy plane.

In 1919, Stec was transferred to the Paris Ecole Superiore d’Aeronautique where he obtained an engineering degree. Following that Stec became one of the persons who drove the development of the Polish aviation industry. Stec died in an aircraft crash, on May 11, 1921.

Stec’s aircraft – Fokker EV (D VIII) – arguably the first ever airframe to wear the checkerboard. Again, you can note the lack of layout’s consistency. Image Source: Tomasz Kopański’s book. “7 Eskadra Myśliwska im. T. Kościuszki” [T. Kościuszko 7th Fighter Squadron]

Coming back to his appearance in Warsaw – after Stec arrived, Lt. Col. Hipolit Łossowski, the commanding officer of the Polish Air Force at the time, came to a conclusion that the checkerboard conformed with all of the criteria ascribable to a roundel equivalent that could be utilized in case of the Polish aircraft.

Order issued on Dec. 1. 1918, designating the checkerboard to become the official symbol for the Polish military aviation.

On Dec. 1, 1918, the Chief of the General Staff of the Polish military, Div. General Stanisław Szeptycki, issued the order no. 38 also published as a Regulation on Dec. 7. 1918, within the Journal of Regulations of the Ministry of Military Affairs. The order read as follows:

“Polish military aircraft shall be, in the future, featuring, within the areas that were valid for this purpose so far, a square sign with width of 60 cm, divided into four equal fields. Upper left and lower right fields shall be of crimson color, lower left and upper right fields shall be white.”

Scanned Journal – the document which ultimately defined the Checkerboard to be the Polish Air Force insignia.

One may also wonder about the shape of the roundels used by most of the countries which, as the name suggests, were usually round, while the checkerboard took on a square form. Within his work, Królikiewicz suggests that this had reasons which were pragmatic for the most part. The new symbol could be easily painted on the wings and fuselages of the aircraft. The square shape was better suited to be placed over a myriad of markings on German, French, British or even Italian aircraft that became a part of the Polish Air Force.

Initially, the roundel was painted in a way that it covered the whole width of fuselages, wings and vertical stabilizers. The checkerboard layout’s interpretation also varied. Even though the aforesaid regulation was quite unambiguous defining the matter. Back in 1921, Manual No. 15 of the Air Force (General Technical Conditions for the Aircraft) introduced changes to the “checkerboard’s” layout, as reverse-color frame had been added to the primary colors of the symbol.

Further changes were introduced by the President of the Republic of Poland on Mar. 13, 1930, formally approving the checkerboard as a means for recognition of the Polish military aircraft, on the basis of a decree “Regarding the issue of flag and aviation markings”. The very same decree also regulated the “frame” of the checkerboard, as it was to have a width following ratio of 1:5 in comparison with the length of the square sides. In essence, the sign in this form remained in existence for another 70 years, until 1993.

PZL P11C – Polish indigeneous fighter design of the 1930s, wearing the checkerboards. Image Credit: Wikimedia

Two things are worth of noting. In the 1930s the lower portion of the wings of the aircraft featured checkerboards painted solely with the use of red color. The white color was replaced by the color of the airframe: this was the beginning of what can be compared to today’s low-vis aircraft markings. Another rule which was also quite significant was that small checkerboards were painted on top of the wings, in order to deform and camouflage the aircraft shape.

During WWII, the checkerboard also remained present on every frontline around the world at war, maintaining the reputation of the Polish aviators flying in the foreign air forces. Both in the East and West fronts, the aircraft used by the Poles were marked with the allied markings, supposedly for safety reasons. However, during the French campaign of 1940 the aircraft were wearing checkerboards or fusion of the checkerboard and the French marking. Then, extra “checkerboard” was painted on the aircraft, usually in the nose area – in cases of the Eastern and Western fronts, as well as in case of the Battle of Britain – the best known episode of the Polish WWII aviation.

Spitfire wearing a checkerboard marking, clearly visible in the front portion of the fuselage. Image Credit: Marcin Parzyński

In the postwar period the communist authorities were not bold enough to replace the checkerboard with a red star – as happened in Romania, Bulgaria or Hungary. The checkerboard was painted on the vertical stabilizers, fuselage, and on the bottom part of the wings. The form of the marking remained unchanged until 1993, when the order of the fields was switched. The argument here was to recover the heraldic correctness of the checkerboard. Obviously, some exceptions did happen, throughout the several years of the symbol’s existence. There are some photographs depicting aircraft wearing the checkerboards without the white fields, or with the colors switched. This may be explained as an effect of errors emerging after overhauls were carried out abroad or simply as a ramification of human error.

Even though the regulations were in place, the checkerboard issue was still confusing – as we can see on this shot of a Su-22M4 Fitter, sporting the symbols in two layouts. Image Credit: Andrzej Rogucki

Here we can see a pack of jets hailing from the “Pyrlandia Air Force” [name of the fictious country involved in the Orli Szpon ‘97 exercise] during their ferry flight to attend the VIP Day held at the Powidz Air Base following the training conducted (note the white stripes that allow for force identification). This photo was taken on Sep. 18. 1997. Again, it is clearly visible that the checkerboards do not match. Image Credit: Andrzej Rogucki

Currently, the shape, color and way the checkerboard is placed on the airframes is defined by the provisions of Chapter 5, Article 22 section 1 of the Act of Feb. 19, 1993, on the Marks of the Armed Forced of the Republic of Poland, the “mark of the military aircraft is a white-red aviation checkerboard […] divided into four equal fields […].”

A Checkerboard layout on the helicopters is also different, when it comes to its positioning – it is usually placed in the rear part of the fuselage. The pic presents the Polish Mi-17 and Kaman SH-2G helicopters during the Kapar exercise – Image Credit: sierż. Patryk Cieliński | Combat Camera DO RSZ

Furthermore, the Act assumes that the checkerboard shall be placed on both sides of the vertical stabilizers (or on the external side, if the aircraft uses two surfaces as such) and on the bottom part of the wings. Back in 2012, extra regulations were introduced. According to the new legal framework, the symbol was also to be painted on the top of the wings. In case of the helicopters the checkerboard is usually placed in the back section and on the bottom of the fuselage. The edges need to be parallel to the longitudinal axis of the aircraft. It is permissible to place the checkerboards on moving surfaces too, this possibility was used in case of the Polish Fitter. In this case, there is one more condition – the checkerboard must be placed, in its entirety, on the moving surface. When the checkerboard is placed on white or gray surface, the symbol needs to be distinguished from the background by a gray surface, the width of which is defined as 1/6th of the dimension of the frame stripes of the checkerboard.

Team Iskry – Polish Air Force Aerobatic Team with their checkerboards on. Image Credit: sierż. Patryk Cieliński | Combat Camera DO RSZ

Noteworthy, the Polish law does not envisage any option of using low-vis markings on the Polish military aircraft. However, back in the past markings as such were used in case of the W-3 helicopter that was operated by the Polish GROM special forces unit.

A symbol which is similar, but not identical to the original checkerboard, is also used by the Border Guard aviation. It is a roundel, divided into four fields, identical to the ones in case of the military checkerboard. The whole round symbol is placed on green, square background. The Border Guard is a civil service, and thus it cannot utilize military markings. Back in the past similar symbols were proposed to be used in case of aircraft used by other uniformed services, with the background color being the differentiating feature. Police was to use blue, and fire service was to use red background. However, besides the border guard, the symbols in question were never used. Paradoxically, the Border Guard checkerboard features the historically original color layout.

Polish Border Guard’s Stemme motor-glider, wearing its own, checkerboard-based symbol – Image Credit: Marcin Parzyński

And finally, another interesting fact worth of mentioning is that during the Sochi Winter Olympics, Kamil Stoch, a Polish ski jumper, with an authorization issued by Czesław Mroczek, the Deputy Minister of Defense, used the checkerboard on his helmet, also winning the Olympic ski jumping competitions on Feb 9. and 15.

We hope that this article brought you closer to knowing the history of the Polish Air Force. Expect the next episode in February.

Written with Michał Wajnchold.

Top Image Credit: Michał Wajnchold

Polish F-16 Jets during the 10th Anniversary photo sortie back in 2016 – Image Credit: sierż. Patryk Cieliński | Combat Camera DO RSZ

Five Companies Interested In Poland’s Next Generation Fighter Program “Harpia”

Contenders could be F-35, Eurofighter Typhoon, Gripen, Advanced Super Hornet and second-hand F-16 jets.

According to a news piece published by Dziennik Zbrojny today, five entities have expressed their will to participate in the market analysis initiative concerning the potential procurement of new fighter aircraft, referred to as “Harpia” (harpy eagle).

The operational requirement for this program is defined as “Enhancing the capability to carry out missions within the framework of offensive and defensive combat against the enemy air power, as well as missions carried out for the purpose of supporting land, naval and special operations – “Multi-Role Combat Aircraft” and “Airborne Electronic Jamming Capabilities.”

The companies that expressed their interest in the Multi-Role Combat Aircraft portion of the initiative include: Saab AB, Lockheed Martin, Boeing Company, Leonardo S.p.A. and Fights-On Logistics. Meanwhile, the Airborne Electronic Jamming segment of the procurement would see involvement in case of three potential contractors: Saab AB, Elbit Systems EW and SIGINT – Elisra Ltd., and Griffin working together with Elta Systems Ltd, as Tomasz Dmitruk of Dziennik Zbrojny reports.

When it comes to multi-role combat aircraft, the only true versatile platform operated by the Polish Air Force is the F-16: 48 jets of this type have been used by Poland for more than a decade now; MiG-29 Fulcrums are used primarily in an air-to-air role, while Su-22 Fitters are tasked with air-to-ground missions. Dziennik Zbrojny suggests that the new aircraft sought by the Armament Inspectorate of the Polish MoD (Polish armament procurement organ), would replace the legacy Soviet designs heading towards the ends of their life-cycle, with replacement of the Su-22 being more critical.

It seems that the participants would offer the following designs to the Polish Air Force: F-35 (Lockheed Martin), Advanced Super Hornet (Boeing), Eurofighter (with Leonardo leading the consortium bid), Gripen (Saab AB), and second-hand F-16s.

However, putting the matter into a wider perspective, we cannot think of procurement of new fighter aircraft to be certain in Poland. The Polish military still needs to enhance its air/missile defense systems, within the scope of Wisła, Narew and Noteć programs, for instance. Wisła program has a price tag of whooping 10.5 Billion USD, defined as the maximum procurement value by the US DSCA agency which deals with the FMS (Foreign Military Sales) procedure management.

Furthermore, the Polish MoD is also looking forward to acquiring Orka next generation submarines, Homar rocket artillery systems, attack and multi-role helicopters – even though no procurement has been launched with regard to these requirements, this does not mean that the need disappears.

If one adds Płomykówka (SIGINT) and Rybitwa (Maritime Patrol Aircraft) procurements to the list, it seems that the priority shall not go first to the multi-role combat aircraft. And the above programs are just the tip of the iceberg – as land forces and newly-established Territorial Defense service of the Polish military also have significant equipment-related requirements.

Taking all of the above factors into account, it remains probable that Harpia would be significantly delayed, and we will not be seeing new fighter assets in the Polish Air Force anytime soon. If acquisition of new multi-role combat aircraft is accelerated, then this should be done with the use of funding provided outside the Polish defense budget (as happened in case of the F-16s a decade ago), or priorities ascribed to the ongoing procurement initiatives shall be redefined and evaluated once again. For instance, Warsaw would have to resign from acquiring helicopters or submarines, to have funds that would be sufficient to procure the new jets.

Image Credit: Filip Modrzejewski / Foto Poork

Polish Air Force MiG-29 Crashes in Minsk Mazowiecki. It’s The First Ever Crash Of A Polish Fulcrum

The pilot survived the first Polish MiG-29 crash since July 1989.

A Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum (“67” Blue, formerly known as “67” Red – the number was repainted after the overhaul) has crashed in the vicinity of the Minsk Mazowiecki airbase, while landing there on Dec. 18.

Police and Fire Department were dispatched to conduct the SAR operation. The pilot survived the accident, suffering minor injuries. Some sources suggested that the Fulcrum driver did not eject, contrary to the official statement from the Polish MoD, according to which the pilot successfully ejected from the aircraft.

Due to the fact that the crash took place in the middle of the forest, the SAR operation took some time, stated the commander of the 23rd Tactical Airbase, Col. Piotr Iwaszko. Iwaszko announced that at least 200 persons were involved in the SAR effort. After 90 minutes, the pilot was found. According to the report issued by Interia.pl the weather was too bad to use the SAR assets available at the Minsk airbase.

Contrary to some claims made by some journalists via Twitter, according to official sources, the MiG-29 involved in the accident was neither on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) duty nor did it carry any missiles.

Polish National Commission for Aviation Accidents Investigation is bound to start the investigation of the event today.

Notably, this is the first ever crash of a Polish Air Force Fulcrum in history. The jets, have had a flawless track-record in the service, so far, flying with the Polish Air Force for nearly 3 decades. Along with the Soviet-era Su-22 Fitters, the MiG-29 Fulcrums will be replaced by the new multirole combat plane procured within the “Harpia” program, launched on Nov. 23, 2017.

Image Credit: Jacek Siminski