POLISH AVIATION MUSEUM
The oldest and leading Polish museum dedicated to aviation technology and history ranks among the most original attractions of the Krakow region in southern Poland.
The Museum is located in the former Polish capital of Krakow, famous for its numerous historical monuments preserved as UNESCO heritage. Apart from the marvels of medieval and renaissance architecture and art, the city happens to host an old Rakowice-Czyzyny aerodrome which is a cradle of Polish aviation.
First established by Austro-Hungarian army as observation balloons base, in 1912 the Rakowice field became an aerodrome for military airplanes and subsequently experienced continuous expansion during WW I. In 1918 the field was taken over by Polish authorities which presented one of the earliest events of the struggle for independence of the country.
Subsequently, the field became a base of one of Polish aviation regiments, then a civil airport and Krakow Aero Club field as well. Enlargement programs resulted in the construction of new hangars and other facilities. This period of blossoming ended abruptly with the German invasion in 1939 and subsequent occupation of Poland.
Although the damage done by bombing in September 1939 was repaired and the airfield reused as a major Luftwaffe airbase, the retreating Germans conducted a thorough demolition of airfield facilities in January 1945. Only one hangar was rebuilt by the communist authorities of postwar Poland and the airfield never returned to its former status.
Further east the development of a vast industrial and residential district of Nowa Huta was initiated making the airfield operations increasingly problematic. Finally, in 1963 a decision was made to close the field. Yet at this moment several aviation enthusiasts' efforts led to establishment of an aircraft collection in the remaining hangar.
The exhibits included aircraft from the Technical Museum stores plus several obsolete machines of the Polish Air Force. Among these were surviving examples of prewar Polish constructions, experimental designs of postwar designers, military aircraft used by contemporary Air Force, and wrecked remains of German Aviation Collection abandoned in Poland and retained in accordance with international law.
Prior to 1989 the Museum had never received adequate support from the communist authorities, because Polish aviation heritage was perceived as having ‘bourgeois’ prewar and wartime provenance. Largely unknown, the collection was nevertheless preserved until 1989 transformation of Poland into a democratic state.
For the last 20 years the Museum has been vastly expanded and part of the former airbase was recreated as a park open to the public and brought back to an airfield status, allowing sports planes and helicopters. Every Summer a widely popular airfest is held, as well as many other cultural events (concerts, fairs, local community celebrations), utilizing an airstrip which is now registered as a historical monument.
The Museum itself boasts one of the most valuable collections of aircraft in Europe including many unique examples. Starting with pioneering constructions, through WW I and interwar planes, veterans of world war II and early jet age to contemporary combat and civilian planes and helicopters, the exhibits of Krakow’s old airfield present a comprehensive display of aircraft technology from the hundred years of the history of powered flight.
Most notable items in the collection include Levavasseur Antoinette, an early French design from 1909; Sopwith Camel and Halberstadt CL.II of World War I fame; sport and military aircraft from interwar Poland; German experimental Me 209; Word War II icons Supermarine Spitfire and Lisunov Li-2 (license-built DC-3). There are numerous examples of post-WW II aircraft, including military jets of Warsaw Pact and NATO, crop dusters and air ambulances. There is an interesting collection of gliders and sport planes, including several experimental constructions.
Yet the institution is a museum of aviation, not just a museum of aircraft. A separate exhibition comprises one of the world’s most impressive collection of aircraft engines, allowing technology geeks to explore scores of ideas, solutions and innovations that testify to advancement in propulsion technology of the last 100 years. There are anti-aircraft weapon systems, airfield devices and vehicles that illustrate various aspects of flying. There are scores of other objects pertaining the matters of the air: flight uniforms and gear, instruments, personal possessions of memorable aviators. Last, but not least, there is a vast archive and library.
Visitors to the Polish Aviation Museum can enjoy its landmark Main Building with its award-winning architecture, educational facilities, exhibition space and regularly held cultural events. Then there are several indoor exhibitions, providing different perspectives on various aviation themes. Finally, there is an outdoor exhibition, which offers an opportunity to fully experience the climate of an old airfield with its hangars and planes surrounded by alleys of trees and fields of green. Combining education with recreation constitute the idea behind the Polish Aviation Museum experience.
The Polish Aviation Museum is an institution of Malopolska (Krakow region) Voivodeship, a part of the country which is the most attractive both in terms of historical substance and beautiful landscape. One of the most populous and developed regions ever since the beginnings of Polish history in 10th century CE, Malopolska is famous for the city of Krakow with its medieval Old City, ancient salt mines of Wieliczka and Bochnia, fancy karst formations in the highlands and picturesque Carpathian rigdes. The Polish Aviation Museum, even though concerned with aviation traditions of the country as a whole, acts as another tourist attraction of the region and adds to its cultural potential.
Still, the Museum aims at, so to say, reaching behind the horizon. Aviation has connected people and made the world smaller, and local traditions of aviation have always been intertwined with that of the wider world. Therefore the Museum aspires to establish and deepen cooperation with partners worldwide in order to exchange knowledge, enlarge the collection and promote common heritage.
In the year 2012 there were two notable examples of such projects, both made in cooperation with American partners. First the American Year in the PAM was inaugurated. It comprised two temporary exhibitions, one of which was concerned with WW II operations of USAAF over Poland, the other with American and Polish women aviators. There was a screening of a series of rare American aviation movies, educational activities and several other events.
The other example is the exhibition in the Museum of Flight which the Polish Aviation Museum is proud to present. “Frank Piasecki and Other Polish Aviation Designers” is an exhibition which was first shown in Krakow in 2011. Now it has arrived to Seattle in order to reach American public as well.
The subject of the exhibition perfectly suits the PAM’s intentions of promoting Polish aviation as a part of the global advancement of aviation technology and organization. All the people whose biographies and achievements the exhibition promotes had Polish roots, but their input in aviation is of a universal nature. Which is exactly what accounts for a message the Museum labors to promote: wherever someone comes from, when they take to the air, they become involved in a common world.