Polish Aviation History

TS-16 Grot (1958)

The TS-16 Grot (Arrowhead or Spear) was a next generation, supersonic trainer designed in the 1958 by Tadeusz Sołtyk design-bureau. This ambitious project remains relatively unknown in the west.

During the 1950s flight at supersonic speeds was considered extremely difficult and dangerous. Pilots therefore required specific training, and learned this art only in the operational unit. Pilots at training schools graduated without executing a single flight at supersonic speed. In the US by 1955 the Northrop T-38 Talon supersonic trainer aircraft performed the first flight, and was built starting in 1959 in about 900 copies. About 1958 the command of the Polish Air Forces called for a supersonic trainer.

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As for the new construction, the decisive requirement was the maximum speed, of Mach 1.3. The type of propulsion was decided to be of Polish construction. A valid application was developed for the engine from the TS-11 aircraft. But in order to achieve adequate power two engines were needed, which had to be equipped with an afterburner. The engine for the new aircraft was redesignated SO-2. The aircraft takes off without afterburner, and only used them for the implementation of a short flight at high speed.

The aircraft was fitted with a delta wing and all moving horizontal tail unit equipped with modern navigation system and a radar for the air to air operation. One novelty was the so called damage and failure simulator, quite new of concept of its time. Single-seat combat and two-seat trainer versions were envisioned.

To minimize the risk of the program the design had to be completed with proven solutions. Therefore, the aircraft had to be developed in classic layout. Angular wings, with leading edge beveled edges around 40 degrees, to obtain the small resistance while at the same time, sufficient strength of the superstructure. The classic layout also featured angular and horizontal panels.

Design work began in 1958, and the composite was completed in December 1959. The TS-16 was designed to operate from grass-covered airfield, and to carry out combat operation including the CAS (Close Air Support operations). The mock-up of the single-engined version of the TS-16RD for evaluation by the state-commission was ready in 1963, and that year it was presented at Paris Air Show where attracted attention of many visitors. However the planned SO-2 turbojet was not ready in time so a single RD-9B taken from the MiG-19 “Farmer” was used on the prototype instead.

The plane was successful but cancelled nonetheless in 1964. Officially, the reason were economic. Documentation of the aircraft and its models were destroyed. The team of Professor Tadeusz Soltyk was dissolved, and he himself was moved to building ships and automation devices. There is no doubt that the primary cause was the reluctance of the Soviet authorities and some of the Polish. The interruption of the work on the aircraft was extremely and surprisingly quick. The Polish authorities concluded that the production of the Jet in Poland would be unprofitable. This idea agreed with the views on the development of the Polish aviation industry, presented by the Soviets. It’s likely the USSR applied political pressure to kill the project. Furthermore 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 – Homeland 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 Soviet warplane industry used PZL as a “dumping ground” to license-build trainers and transports freeing up factory space at home, and the USSR likely was not thrilled at having this resource replaced by a competitor to MiG and Sukhoi. Some believe that the head of the coalition against the Polish construction was probably General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who in 1962 had been appointed Deputy Minister of National Defence.

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

PZL I-22 Iryda (1970)

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 Iryda planes 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.

PZL 230 Skorpion (1990)

Another interesting air-frame 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.
The model 230 was to be agile, heavily armed and to possess STOL (Short Take-off and Landing) capabilities. What is more, the air-frame was to be constructed in modules, that would make maintenance fairly easy.

In the beginning, the plane was to be a canard 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 250 m runway, landing. Five barrel 25 mm 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.

Aircraft 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.

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 simpler, 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 similar to the Iranian F-313 Qaher. Nevertheless the Poles never claimed the mock-up to be flyable.

EM-10 Bielik (2003)

In the 2003 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.

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