POLISH AVIATION DESIGNERS
Fans of aviation will be immediately familiar with Frank Nicholas Piasecki and his engineering achievements. However, who were these “other Polish designers”? They were the leading experts in their respective areas of expertise, but due to the conditions imposed upon them by history very few people will associate their names with machines such as DH-106 Comet, Westland Lynx, Caravelle, or the icon of passenger aviation: the Concorde.
These "others" are forgotten Polish engineers to whom the present exhibition is dedicated. Their talents and skills blossomed before the Second World War when the dynamic growth of the aviation industry in inter-war Poland was being shaped by deliberate policy of utilising domestic facilities. This way our aviation industry could boast a number skilled engineers who could easily compete with top foreign experts. They were graduates of Institutes of Technology in Warsaw and Lvov. They worked at Polish aviation companies, especially at Panstwowe Zakłady Lotnicze (PZL - State Aviation Works), Podlaska Wytwórnia Samolotów (PWS -Podlasie Aircraft Works) and Lubelska Wytwórnia Samolotów (LWS - Lublin Aircraft Works). We also must not forget about the scientific personnel employed by Instytut Techniczny Lotnictwa (ITL - Technical Institute of Aviation). In 1930s Poland was one of the eight exporters of aviation equipment.
Few other professional groups of Polish intelligentsia contributed so much to the material and spiritual achievements of global engineering ideas. They created and executed research programmes, courageous scientific and technical designs, and they also glorified Polish engineering ideas on all continents. Frank Piasecki was born in the New World but all the other protagonists of our exhibition were born on the old continent. The turmoil of history made it so that the Polish engineering ideas ended up mainly in the West.
When Poland lost the defensive war of autumn 1939 more than 200 engineers and approximately 800 aviation technicians ended up outside the Polish territories occupied by Germany and the USSR.
When the Polish Armed Forces were disbanded and acknowledgement of the Polish government-in-exile was withdrawn in July 1945, a new chapter in life began for them. The fight for independence of their homeland – with gun in hand or behind the drawing board – ended in failure. Someone else and according to different plans began creating a completely new air fleet in Poland. When their dreams of triumphant return home were shattered they had to face the new dilemma of what to do next. The British were reluctant to employ them at their design bureaus. “Go home” was frequently said to Poles, including engineers as well. However, Canadians and Americans saw things differently. After all, a new "cold war" had begun and they had been looking for prominent minds.
As a visionary, Frank N. Piasecki was gladly taking them under his wings, he knew and trusted them. When discussing the so-called national traits of Poles, people usually list imagination, boldness, penchant for risk, dislike for small, ineffective actions, and tendency to undertake ambitious tasks. Therefore, it is very interesting to note that the most prominent of all the great Polish engineers created their magnificent works in difficult conditions and thinking outside the box. Frank N. Piasecki had all those traits, even though he was born in America. Many famous Poles worked at Piasecki’s facilities, among others the late professor Wieslaw Stepniewski, engineer Piotr Kubicki, Bogdan Trocki, and Tadeusz Tarczynski.
Piasecki and other Polish aviation designers were involved in creation of such constructions as: H-21B Shawnee, Piasecki YH-16, DHC.1A Chipmunk, DH.112 Venom, General Dynamics F-111, Convair B-58 Hustler and many others. •
Krzysztof Mroczkowski, PhD, exhibition curator