Mokotów Airport. 2016

Warszawa 2016-01-02

Former Mokotów Airport - Pole Mokotowskie.

Geographic coordinates: 52.211N 21.008E. Elevation 110 m.

The former Pole Mokotowskie airport on the map of Poland. Work by Karol Placha Hetman
The former Pole Mokotowskie airport on the map of Poland. Work by Karol Placha Hetman

The beginnings of Polish Aviation.

Nowadays, few people remember that in Mokotów in Warsaw there was one of the most important airports for the Polish nation. It was here that Polish Aviation and the Polish Aviation Industry were born, at a time when Poland was under partition. When writing about Polish Aviation, we must go back to the beginning of the development of aviation. It is common knowledge that the first successful heavier-than-air flights on December 17, 1903 were made by the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright. However, very quickly, France took the world lead in this new sport. We used the word sport because few people saw it as a new era of space conquest. Most people saw aviation as a hobby and entertainment, as much as horse racing and balloon flights. The situation changed when on July 25, 1909, Louis Blériot, an aviation pioneer, inventor and manufacturer, flew the English Channel on his own airplane, Blériot XI. Then the airplane began to be treated as a means that could be practically used. The military noticed this and began to consider using aircraft for reconnaissance and rapid transport of mail and people.

Blériot XI replica. 2017 year. Photo by Karol Placha Hetman
Blériot XI replica. 2017 year. Photo by Karol Placha Hetman

In the first years of aviation, the leading country in the production of airplanes was France. It had eight large factories and several smaller factories. The most important ones include: Blériot, Dewoitine, Nieuport, Farman, Hanriot, Voisin, Breguet, Morane. In addition, there were several factories in France producing car and aircraft engines. At that time, the Germans had only two plants: Albatros and Awiatik. England (Bristol) and Austria had one production plant each. Therefore, it was France that dictated the conditions and set the directions of development. It was in Paris that the FAI organization was founded in 1905 - Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, i.e. the International Aviation Federation, which to this day issues standards and regulations for aircraft construction and air sports. Organizes aviation events and competitions. The FAI approves results and records.

It was in France that the rules for obtaining aviation licenses, organizing schools, and certificates for aircraft structures were issued. As a result, each company had its own plant building and renovating aircraft, its own workshop facilities and hangars, its own pilot school and sold its own products. The companies had their own test pilots. They built planes according to their own ideas and plans, which were the company's secret. The obtained pilot license was valid only for a given type of aircraft. If someone obtained a pilot's license from Hanriot, it was only valid for Hanriot aircraft. In 1910, licenses were standardized and certified by the Aero Club of France.

In the first period of aviation, gliders and airplanes were built by the designers themselves, accompanied by two or three assistants. Often these were family members; brothers or cousins. Most designers had solid technical knowledge because they came from wealthy families and could afford to obtain education at renowned polytechnic schools. They often traveled observing others. No technical innovation escaped their attention. Barns and sheds served as their workshops. They used their own meadows and meadows as flight fields. Airplanes were built using various raw materials and materials. The base was wood, but metal pipes and metal fittings were also used. Some people have already used hollow wood or bamboo to reduce the weight of the structure. They used canvas, plywood, and even cardboard, cardboard and paper. In their designs, they used a simple seat for the pilot and even bicycle saddles. All to reduce weight. They used large amounts of wire in construction to stiffen the structures. They often used piano and harp strings because they were light, strong and long. They often used bicycle wheels as landing gear, which turned out to be durable and light, although they were often deformed during landing because initially no suspension was used. The biggest problem was the power unit: engine and propeller. The success or failure of the project depended on these elements. The engines were purchased from manufacturers who were already building them on a mass scale for the automotive industry. Propellers were often made by themselves.

Poles, despite their lack of statehood, quickly joined the countries interested in the development of aviation. In 1908, the first Poles obtained aviation qualifications: Count Michał Scipio del Campo in France, and Rudolf Warchałowski in Austria. Two aviation centers were established almost spontaneously: in Warsaw and Lviv.

In 1884, the Aeronautical Society was founded in Lviv. In 1909, people associated with the Polytechnic School, later the Lviv University of Technology, established a company called Awiata, the aim of which was to popularize aviation through lectures, exhibitions, shows, and, above all, supporting people who built their own airplanes. Before the Great World War, several aircraft designs were created in Lviv, the tests of which were met with varying degrees of success. Various places were used as flight fields, including Pola Kulparkowskie and Błonia Janowskie. In turn, the shows took place at the horse racing track near Persenówka.

In 1909, the Warsaw Aviation Society Awiata, commonly called the Aviators' Circle or simply Awiata, was established in Warsaw. The initiator of Awiata was Prince Stanisław Lubomirski, a financier, industrialist, propagator of automobiles and aeronautics. At the same time, aircraft model shops began to emerge. Awiata had three main contributions to the development of Polish Aviation. First of all, Awiata's achievement was the establishment of the first take-off field in the Kingdom of Poland, which became an airport. Secondly – Organizing the first pilot school. Thirdly – Launching the first aircraft production factory in Poland. All this at Pole Mokotowskie.

Pole Mokotowskie.

It is worth realizing where in Warsaw the Mokotowskie airport was, of which there is no trace now. The name "Pole Mokotowskie" was taken from the nearby town of Mokotów. The area was intended for exercises of the tsarist army from nearby barracks and for various parades and shows. In 1887, in the north-eastern part of the field, a new horse racing track was organized by the Horse Racing Society. The eastern border of Pole Mokotowskie was Polna and Puławska Streets (from Plac Politechniki, through Plac Unii Lubelskiej, to the crossroads with Rakowicka Street). Already at the end of the 19th century, an electric tram ran from Plac Unii Lubelskiej through Marszałkowska Street to the center of Warsaw. At 2a Puławska Street in 1904, an Orthodox church was built, which exists to this day as an Evangelical church. The southern border of the Pole was Rakowiecka Street, where there were tsarist barracks built between 1898 and 1900. The northern border of the field were the streets running from Politechniki Square towards the west: Nowowiejska, Topolowa (now a part of Ludwika Krzywicki Street, it was then lined with poplars on both sides) and Filtrowa. There was a tsarist military hospital on Nowowiejska Street, as well as Warsaw drinking water filters, launched in 1886. Nowowiejska Street, as a dirt road, ran until the exit route from Warsaw towards Krakow. The western border of the Field has not been precisely defined. The area overlooked agricultural land and wasteland. The natural border of the Pole, from the north and east, was the narrow-gauge access railway track, which was used by freight and passenger trains. Currently, Warsaw trams run on this route.

It must be said that power in Warsaw was exercised by a governor appointed by the tsar. Successive tsarist governors made sure that Warsaw was a provincial city and did not develop. Most of the initiatives of Warsaw residents were already nixed in the bud. The consent to establish the Polish Warsaw Aviation Society Awiata resulted only from the tsarist army's desire to have airplanes, because until 1914, Moscow was an aviation desert.

The horse racing track at Pole Mokotowskie was built in 1849. The main facility, an oval-shaped running track, was placed parallel to Polna Street. It was approximately 2,300 m long and contained a rectangle measuring approximately 800 m x 300 m. Three large wooden stands were built on Polna Street, which turned out to be not very durable. Huge poplars grew on the western side. The horse racing track was connected with stables, of which there were several, not counting the military stables. The track in Mokotów survived until June 1939, when it was moved to Służewiec.

The horse racing track became the site of the first air shows in September 1909. Awiata has concluded an agreement with the French Farman label in Boulogne-Billancourt near Paris. This company agreed to send the disassembled Farman-Voision airplane, factory pilot George Leganeux and a mechanic to Warsaw by train. The whole project was expensive, but profits from ticket sales were expected. Numerous advertisements appeared in the Warsaw press. The show was to be assessed by judges in order to possibly record further records. The current time for one flight was 2 hours 20 minutes 23 seconds and a distance of 180 km. The show is scheduled for three consecutive days: September 16, 17, 18. On the first day (September 16, 1909), the Frenchman made only two short flights of only 100 m and was booed by the audience. On September 17, 1909, the Frenchman made three flights, but in none of them exceeded even 1.5 minutes. Moreover, he almost crashed the plane. Of course, as in the Polish saying - even the hem of her skirt bothers a bad ballerina - Frenchman Georg Leganeux complained about too small a field and an unruly audience. You need to know that horse racing tracks were standard places for airplanes to take off. The third show took place without an audience, but in the company of Tsarist officers and the tyrant of Warsaw, Governor General Georgy Skałon, on whom there had already been four unsuccessful assassination attempts. The neighboring streets were heavily guarded because Skałon did not want another attack, and he rarely left the Royal Castle. This time, Georg Leganeux performed a 3-minute flight, at an altitude of 20 m, covering a distance of 3,500 m. The French's air shows were not spectacular, but they sparked widespread interest in aviation.

Already on November 15, 1909, further shows took place. A Belgian, Baron de Caters, who had his own Farman-Voision plane, came to Warsaw. Unfortunately, the track was soft and the pilot was advised not to take off. However, he decided to try and... crashed the plane. The airplane got stuck during the take-off roll and did not gain enough speed. Further shows took place in 1910. There were also shows on the meadows near Siekierki. On June 28 - On July 4, 1910, the first aviation competition was organized on the Mokotów track. Five pilots from Western Europe took part in them, one Russian and two Poles.

The Tsar's governor allocated a part of Pole Mokotowskie on the western side of the race track to the Awiat company. Stretching from Topolowa Street to the fence of the tsarist barracks and Rakowicka Street. The western border has not been defined. In the fall of 1909, workers entered the construction site. Behind the military hospital on Topolowa Street, two brick buildings were built, housing offices, a school, workshops and warehouses. One of these buildings survived until the 1980s. A little further, two wooden assembly halls were built, and behind them four wooden double hangars. All buildings had wooden gable roofs covered with felt. Heating was provided by metal stoves. The area was not paved, even in front of the hangars. There were no roads marked out either. Social conditions were less than modest. The water was from a water tanker. Physiological needs were met in wooden latrines. In the following years, the number of objects increased. Hangars were rented to aviation enthusiasts who built their own airplanes. One of the hangars, which was then called the fire station, was rented by Czesław Tański, a great aviation enthusiast and designer. Another hangar was rented by Czesław Zbierański. This is what the first Polish aircraft building plant said.

Pole Mokotowskie - plan from 1911 year. Work by Karol Placha Hetman
Pole Mokotowskie - plan from 1911 year. Work by Karol Placha Hetman

The plant was opened on May 21, 1910. The ceremonial opening of Pole Mokotowskie took place a year later on June 17, 1911. The host of the event was Konstanty Lubomirski, brother of Stanisław Lubomirski. During his speech, Konstanty Lubomirski mentioned that the plant had already built several airplanes and employed 50 employees. At that time, "Awiatic" type aircraft were produced by Awiatic. In fact, these were French planes of the Farman-III and Farman-IV type, which were built on the basis of a "license with a license" obtained from the Germans. Aircraft built by Awiata were commonly called Farman-Awiata. In the first eight months, 8-10 aircraft were built. Already in September 1911, the first two planes were delivered to the Russian Navy. In October 1911, two more planes arrived in St. Petersburg.

According to available literature, 10 aircraft were built in Awiat: 1. Farman-Awiata III, Argus engine 50 HP/37 kW, first flown in April 1911. 2. Farman-Awiata IV Argus engine 50 HP/37 kW, first flown in June 1911. 3. Bleriot XI Anzani engine 25 HP/18 kW, first flown in July 1911. 4. Farman-Awiata VII, Gnome engine 70 HP/51 kW, first flown in August 1911. 5. Bleriot XI bis Gnome engine 50 HP/37 kW, first flown in October 1911. 6. Farman-Awiata VII, Gnome 70 engine, 50 HP/37 kW, first flown in October 1911. 7. Bleriot XI bis Gnome engine 50 HP/37 kW, first flown in November 1911. 8. Farman-Awiata IV Argus engine 50 HP/37 kW, first flown in November 1911. 9. Farman-Awiata IV Argus engine 50 HP/37 kW. 10. Farman-Awiata IV Argus engine 50 HP/37 kW.

Farman IV.

Description of the structure. Engineer Henry Farman, together with the Voisin brothers, in 1907, developed an airplane that became a model for airplanes from the first years of aviation. The success of the design was ensured by the ease of operation and piloting. Farman III / IV is a three-dimensional structure, without a separate hull. Dimensions: span 10 m, length 12 m, take-off weight 550 kg. A 7-cylinder Gnome radial engine with a power of 50 HP (37 kW) drives a wooden, two-blade pusher propeller. Max speed 60 km/h.

Bleriot XI.

Description of the structure. In general, the Breliot XI airplane's layout resembles a standard, modern airplane. Single airfoil, enclosed fuselage, front engine with pulling propeller. Poplar wood structure stiffened with lashings. The plane had no ailerons. Their role was played by the flexible ends of the flap. Anzani 3-cylinder engine, 25 HP. The great advantage of the engine was its continuous smooth operation for over an hour. The plane had a sprung landing gear, which was new. The plane first flew on January 23, 1909. After the successful crossing of the English Channel, over 100 aircraft were built. Dimensions: span 7.79 m, length 7.62 m, height 2.69 m, empty weight 230 kg, max speed 75 km/h.

Awiat pilot school.

The Awiata pilot school was run by Henryk Segna. A good pilot and organizer. Conscientious and honest. Dedicated to Awiat's company. After less than a year, he was replaced by Count Michael Scipio del Campo, whose noble title added splendor to the school, but there were misunderstandings between the pilots. As a result, Henryk Segna left Awiata. Farman-Aviatic and Breliot XI aircraft were used in the training. Awiata issued approximately 10 pilot certificates. Russian officers obtained the most certificates.

In most flight schools, training was conducted on single-seat aircraft. This is what happened at Pole Mokotowskie. The training consisted of theory and practice and lasted several weeks (6-8 weeks), but it depended on the student's abilities. The price of the course was about 400-450 rubles, which was probably not too high, because the price for a 15-minute sightseeing flight was 100 rubles. The problem was that the student had to pay for any damage to the plane. The theory discussed the structure of the aircraft, the construction of the engine, the engine control system and the movement of the control surfaces. There were elements of flight mechanics and atmospheric conditions, with particular attention paid to the movement of air, i.e. wind. The practice included checking the machine before the flight, starting the power unit and the first taxiing. All under the supervision of an instructor who was in the plane, on an additional seat behind the student, but did not have separate controls. Then there were the first independent taxiing and jumps with the maximum engine speed blocked. When the instructor decided that the student was ready and could make the first circle over the airport, the first solo flight took place. Landing took place after bringing the plane onto a straight line towards the take-off field, descending the flight to 0.5-1 m above the ground and turning off the engine. The instructor monitored the entire flight from the ground and then discussed any errors he noticed. As we can see, the instructor did not risk his health or life. Airplanes were simple at that time, but that doesn't mean they were primitive. They were considered the pinnacle of technology because they allowed humans to soar above the ground like birds.

Probably at the end of August 1911 (the exact date is unknown), Count Michał Scipio del Campo made a test flight of the first successful Polish airplane built by Czesław Zbierański and Stanisław Cywiński. The pilot gave a very good opinion about the plane. He only stated that the 40 HP engine was a bit too weak and too heavy. The designers couldn't find a better engine. Unlike the Farman IV plane, Zbierański's plane already had a front engine, with a pulling propeller. There was no frontal wing. At that time, Kozłowski and Tański also built their own planes at Pole Mokotowskie. However, these structures turned out to be unsuccessful. Czesław Tański's plane, named "Łątka". Despite several attempts by various pilots, the plane did not leave the ground. It was probably too heavy because it was built entirely of wood, and the engine was too weak. Presumably, the designer also made mistakes in the aerodynamic system.

In 1911, the Awiata plant wanted to expand its offer. A new Farman-Awiata was created with a 70 HP engine. However, during the flight to St. Petersburg for the show, the engine failed. The pilot made a forced landing and the plane crashed. It was a blow for Awiat, because the company was already having financial problems.

At the beginning of 1912, Awiata's estate was taken over by the Russian army, and the society was dissolved by order of the tsarist governor. During its operation, Awiata built 10-12 airplanes. In addition to the Farman-Awiata planes, there were Breliot XI and Etrich Taube designs. The latter two were built based on original French plans. The production capacity was about 15 pieces per year. The opening of the first Russian DUX aircraft factory near Moscow also contributed to the fall of Aviata. Someone might think that the production capacity of 15 aircraft per year was small. But those were the statistics back then. The largest manufacturers in France built up to 25 airplanes a year. So Awiata's result placed the plant among the top.

Etrich Taube.

Etrich Taube is the most popular Austrian and German aircraft of the period before the Great World War. The plane's designer was Igo Etrich. The word Tauube means dove. The plane was produced in many plants, including Awiata (at least 1 piece). These planes were also called Rumpler Taube, after the German plant that built most of them. It was the first successful two-seat aircraft. The shape of the "Zanonia macrocarpa" plant seeds, which are carried very far by the wind, was used in the construction of the plane. First, glider models, gliders, and finally airplanes were created. Front-engine monoplane arrangement with a pulling propeller. The engine is encased in sheet metal to improve aerodynamics. Construction of metal tubes or mixed construction from other manufacturers. The outline of the wings resembles bird wings. The plane had no ailerons. Their role was played by the flexible ends of the flap. The plane was very safe. It tended to level out and was extremely stable. It was cheap to produce and operate. At least 200 machines were built. Due to the unregulated formal and legal status and the lack of a license, the plane was copied many times. Because the plane was built by different companies, different technical data can be found. Dimensions: span 13.5-14.5 m, length 12-14 m, engines with a power of 50-100 HP.

Etrich Taube. 2017 year. Photo by Karol Placha Hetman
Etrich Taube. 2017 year. Photo by Karol Placha Hetman

Before the outbreak of the Great World War, air shows were organized at Pole Mokotowskie for the inhabitants of Warsaw several times. But no one officially mentioned Awiata anymore. Awiat's word disappeared from the press.

In March 1912, the Russian invader closed down the airplane production plant. Only the aircraft renovation and repair workshop was left, which served the newly opened flight school of the Russian army. It was a branch of the aviation school in Gatchina (45 km southwest of St. Petersburg). Due to the much better social and living conditions in Warsaw and better flying conditions in the Kingdom of Poland than near St. Petersburg, on November 17, 1912, the entire Military Aviation School in Gatczyn was moved to Pole Mokotowskie. The school staff consisted of 32 officers, 50 soldiers and several pilot instructors. The training was conducted for five months, until the end of March 1913. There is no information as to why the school ceased to function. It is possible that an attempt was made to organize a balloon squadron at the airport.

The Great World War.

In 1914, the international situation was extremely tense. On July 31, 1914, Germany declared war on the state of Moscow. Already in May 1914, the Russians began to evacuate the airport and plants to St. Petersburg. Machine tools, tools, materials and raw materials were taken away. The headquarters and quartermaster's office were evacuated. Many Poles associated with Awiata and the Mokotów airport also left for St. Petersburg. At the end of 1914, the Russians tried to organize the 19th squadron equipped with six French Nieuport planes at the airport. However, the task was not completed and the squadron was moved east to Moscow. It is possible that the planes were initially moved to the Modlin area and then to Brest-Litovsk. On August 5, 1915, the German army entered Warsaw. The inhabitants of Warsaw, with the help of the spontaneously organized Citizen Guard, protected post-Russian military property. On August 8, 1915, the Mokotów airport was taken over from the Citizens' Guard by the German army. At that time, Germany had the largest fleet of airships in the world. On Pole Mokotowskie, almost in the very center, they placed a hangar for medium-sized airships. Soft-type airships "Parceval" were based here. However, in warfare over land, airships were ineffective and suffered huge losses. The remaining airships were handed over to the German Navy. The airship hangar at Pole Mokotowskie was demolished in 1917. The occupiers at the airport began to organize an observer school.

It is worth paying attention to the crew of two-seater planes at that time. During the Great World War, the primary task of aircraft and their crews was reconnaissance. The crew consisted of a pilot and an observer. The observer operated the camera. He used binoculars and maps. He made notes on his observations. He was an officer who had received full military education and was the commander of the plane. The pilots were usually civilians who obtained their licenses with their own money. After short military training, they became soldiers and piloted military planes. The information collected was extremely valuable, so fighter planes launched relatively quickly against the reconnaissance planes. Initially two-seater with a crew consisting of a pilot and a gunner who operated a movable machine gun. Some even took stones on board to try to hit their opponents. But it quickly turned out that single-seat planes equipped with one or two permanently mounted machine guns were much more effective. The aiming was done with the entire plane. Theoretically, it seemed more difficult, but the reality exceeded all expectations and this arrangement is used to this day. Single-seat fighter planes began to wreak havoc among reconnaissance planes. That's why reconnaissance planes began to fly escorted by fighter machines.

In 1917, the Germans began to adapt the airport to the needs of an observer school. First, they occupied the barracks at Rakowiecka Street. Nearby, on the side of the take-off field, they built new, larger hangars. They had a mixed structure; brick and wood. The doors to them were multi-segmented. Wooden roofs, covered with galvanized sheets. Several wooden barracks were built to serve as warehouses and workshops. The squares in front of the hangars were paved and connected by a paved road. A large warehouse of propellants and lubricants was built at Topolowa Street. The military hospital at Nowowiejska Street was also expanded.

The Germans also opened an Albatros aircraft factory in Warsaw. Ściele was a branch of the German Albatros plant, whose production halls were opened at Kolejowa Street in Ochota. Components for aircraft were produced here and transported by rail to the parent plants in the Germanic area. The branch operated from 1917 to 1918. In the spring of 1918, the branch was closed and the qualified staff was transferred to the aviation workshops at the Mokotów airport.

The end of a senseless great world war was approaching, in which there were no real winners or losers. The Russian army fell into disarray. Austria-Hungary had more and more internal problems and its army gradually gave up fighting. The army of the Second Reich already had low morale, but huge supplies of weapons and could continue to wage war for many years. According to eyewitnesses, there were about 100 planes in the hangars at the Mokotów airport. The warehouses were full of spare parts and the propellant depot was fully stocked. At the end of October 1918, news reached Warsaw that the Rakowice airport in Krakow had been taken over by the Polish authorities. On November 10, 1918, Brigadier Józef Piłsudski arrived in Warsaw by train, to whom power was transferred by the Regency Council. On the same day, workers working at the Mokotów airport informed that the Germans wanted to leave the Mokotów airport, but first they wanted to destroy everything: buildings, planes and stored supplies. It was impossible to delay any longer.

Early in the morning of November 11, 1918, a group of unarmed Polish officers supported by students entered the airport through two gates; from the side of Unii Lubelskiej Square and from Topolowa Street. They were stopped by the guards and machine guns appeared in the windows of the buildings. A delegation of officers was allowed to visit the commandant, who was found destroying documents. The commandant took a gun from the drawer, as an attribute of power and strength. Polish officers were not afraid and demanded that the airport be handed over to the Polish authorities, bluffing that the airport was surrounded by armed troops. They argued that the Germans' situation was hopeless and that the Polish side guaranteed a safe return to the Reich. The interview was conducted in German. The commander played for time and claimed that he had to contact Berlin or the Soldiers' Council. After a few hours it subsided. The Germans were disarmed and the students armed themselves. On November 14, 1918, most of the German soldiers were loaded into wagons and sent to Germany.

Written by Karol Placha Hetman