This year, Polish Air Force will celebrate its 100th anniversary as part of the national centenary of independence. Yet on that distant day, 11 November 1918, some Polish aviation units had already been formed and become active. The first combat sortie was flown on 5 November 1918, as Lieutenant Stefan Bastyr and Flight Observer Janusz de Beaurain took off from the Lewandówka airfield in the southeastern city of Lwów. Within less than a month, the white-and-red chequerboard, borrowed from the personal coat of arms of another pilot, Lieutenant Stefan Stec, would become the identification sign of Polish military aircraft and would endure in that role to this day. Polish pilots flew this sign to nearly all theatres of World War II and then in peacetime, their achievements invariably bringing pride, respect and inspiration to generations of Poles.
Today, nearly 30 years after the fall of the communism, the Polish Air Force is flying a mix of tried and tested indigenous designs, some fearsome aircraft dating back to the Soviet Union and an ever expanding fleet of state-of-the-art western-built aircraft. After a long history of top-notch pilots having to fly less-than adequate technology, this is the first time that the Polish Air Force has met the highest worldwide quality standards, which it often confirms in international exercises and combat missions.
On the 100th anniversary of the PLAF, an idea from a handful of aviation enthusiasts inspired the General Command of Armed Services to launch an unprecedented photographic project. The aim was to photograph all aircraft types in Polish service air-to-air against typical Polish landscapes. I had the honour to be invited to be part of a group of select photographers tasked with the job. The photos that resulted from the project offer the best possible illustration of Polish Military Aviation on its centenary.
F-16 Block 52+ Fighting Falcon
This multi-role F-16 fighter is the pride of the Polish Air Force. This ruthlessly efficient and immensely popular design used worldwide entered in Polish service in 2006 in the then-latest version Block 52+ Advanced. The ‘Vipers” are based at 31st Tactical AFB at Krzesiny and at 32nd Tactical AFB at Łask.
The MiG-29 continues to be a formidable opponent, as well an unquestionable beauty. It is very popular and appreciated by pilots. MiG-29s have been guarding Polish skies since 1989 flying from two Tactical AFBs: No. 22 in Malbork and No. 23 in Mińsk Mazowiecki.
Su-22M4 / Su-22UM3K
The Su-22 remains in intensive use as a workhorse of Polish AF bases. It is famous for its classic, monster-like posture and an exceptional afterburning roar. The Su-22s have been in service since 1984 and are stationed at the Tactical AFB Świdwin.
The TS-11 Iskra (Spark) is a Polish designed and built two-seat tandem jet trainer. Polish pilots have been training on it since 1961. The Iskras fly from their 41st Air Training Base in Dęblin. The TS-11s are also flown by the PLAF “Iskierki” Aerobatic Team.
The CASA C-295M is a new-generation multi-role, robust and reliable airlifter. More than just cutting a beautiful silhouette in the sky it has proven its worth many times during missions, including in risky international environments. In service since 2004, the C-295M is stationed at the 8th Air Transport Base in Krakow.
The C-130E Hercules is the largest airlifter serving with the PLAF. Since 2009, these aircraft have been supporting Polish soldiers in military, humanitarian and exercise missions worldwide. They are based at 33rd Air Transport Base in Powidz.
The Polish Navy has four variants of the M-28 Bryza. The turboprop is used for reconnaissance, target cueing and SAR missions. The Bryza joined the force in 1994 and has been based at the 43rd Navy Air Base in Gdynia and at the 44th Navy Air Base in Siemirowice.
PZL-130 TC-II ORLIK
The PZL-130 TC-II Orlik is a Polish designed turboprop covering basic to advanced training phases. It has been in service since 1994 and is based at the 42nd Air Training Base in Radom. The PZL-130 TC-II Orlik is flown by the “Orlik” Aerobatic Team.
The SW-4 Puszczyk is a Polish designed light helicopter used for basic to advanced training, utility transport, liaison and reconnaissance missions. The SW-4 has been in service since 2006 and is stationed at the 41st Dęblin Air Training Base.
The W-3 Sokół is a multi-role helicopter of Polish design. Its numerous guises have been used by the Polish Military Forces since the early 1990s. The Sokół is primarily used for utility transport and rescue missions. They have also proven themselves in combat conditions.
The Hockey, a nickname by which the Mi-24 is known to pilots and enthusiasts, has been with the Polish Army for more than 30 years. Its core task is close air support missions, which they normally fly from the 56th Air Base in Inowrocław and the 49th Air Base in Pruszcz Gdański.