Military aviation in free Poland started even before the officially recognised date of regaining independence (11 November 1918). Poland was under German and Austro-Hungarian occupation until
the armistice, but the Poles started to take control as the
Central Powers collapsed. Initially, Polish air force consisted of mostly German and Austrian aircraft, left by former occupants or captured from them, mostly during the
Greater Poland Uprising. These planes were first used by the Polish Air Force in the
Polish-Ukrainian War in late 1918, during combat operations centered around the city of
 On 2 November 1918 pilot
Stefan Bastyr performed the first combat flight of Polish aircraft from Lviv.
Polish-Soviet War broke out in February 1920, the Polish Air Force used a variety of former German and Austro-Hungarian, as well as newly acquired western-made
Allied aircraft. Most common at that time were light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft, among most numerous were French
Breguet 14 bombers, German
LVG C.V reconnaissance aircraft, British
Bristol F2B scouts and Italian
Ansaldo Balilla fighters.
Tail insignia of the Kościuszko Squadron
After the Polish-Soviet War ended in 1921, most of the worn out World War I aircraft were gradually withdrawn and from 1924 the air force started to be equipped with new French aircraft. In total in 1918-1924 there were 2160 aircraft in the Polish Air Force and naval aviation (not all in operable condition), in which there were 1384 reconnaissance aircraft and 410 fighters.
 From 1924 to 1930 the primary fighter of the Polish Air Force was the
SPAD 61 and its main bombers were the French produced
Potez 15 and the
Potez 25, which was eventually manufactured in Poland under license from Aéroplanes Henry Potez.
The first Polish-designed and mass-produced aircraft to serve in the country's air force was a high wing fighter, the
PWS-10, first manufactured in 1930 by the Podlasie Aircraft Factory.
In 1933, Zygmunt Pulawski's first high wing, all-metal aircraft, the
PZL P.7a, was designed and produced, with 150 entering service. The design was followed by 30 improved
PZL P.11a aircraft and a final design, the
PZL P.11c, was delivered in 1935 and was a respectable fighter for its time; 175 entered service and it remained the only Polish fighter until 1939, by which time foreign aircraft design had overtaken it. Its final version, the
PZL P.24, was built for export only and was bought by four countries. A new fighter prototype, the
PZL.50 Jastrząb (Hawk), similar to the
Seversky P-35 in layout, was curtailed by the Nazi invasion and two twin-engine heavy fighters, the
PZL.38 Wilk and the
PZL.48 Lampart, remained prototypes.
As far as bombers are concerned, the Potez 25 and
Breguet 19 were replaced by an all-metal monoplane, the
PZL.23 Karaś, with 250 built from 1936 onwards, but by 1939 the Karas was outdated. In 1938 the Polish factory PZL designed a modern twin-engine medium bomber, the
PZL.37 Łoś (Elk). The Łoś had a bomb payload of 2580 kg and a top speed of 439 km/h. Unfortunately, only about 30 Łoś A bombers (single tailfin) and 70 Łoś B (twin tailfin) bombers had been delivered before the Nazi invasion.
As an observation and close reconnaissance plane, Polish
escadres used the slow and easily damaged
Lublin R-XIII, and later the
RWD-14 Czapla. Polish naval aviation used the Lublin R-XIII on floats. Just before the war, some Italian torpedo planes, the
CANT Z.506, were ordered, but only one was delivered, and it was without armament. The principal aircraft used to train pilots were the Polish-built high-wing
RWD-8 and the
PWS-26 biplane. In 1939, Poland ordered 160
MS-406s and 10
Hawker Hurricane fighters from abroad, but they were not delivered before the outbreak of war.
On 1 September 1939, at the beginning of the
Invasion of Poland, all the Polish combat aircraft had been dispersed to secondary airfields, contrary to a commonly-held belief, based on German propaganda, that they had all been destroyed by bombing at their air bases. The aircraft destroyed by German bombers on the airfields were mostly
trainers. The fighters were grouped into 15 escadres; five of them constituted the
Pursuit Brigade, deployed in the
Warsaw area. Despite being obsolete, Polish PZL-11 fighters shot down over 170 German aircraft. The bombers, grouped in nine escadres of the
Bomber Brigade, attacked armoured ground columns but suffered heavy losses. Seven reconnaissance- and 12 observation escadres, deployed to particular armies, were used primarily for reconnaissance. Part of the Polish Air Force was destroyed in the campaign; the surviving aircraft were either captured or withdrawn to Romania, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia or Sweden, whose air forces subsequently employed these aircraft for their own use (in the case of Romania until 1956). A great number of pilots and aircrew managed to escape to France and then to Britain, where they played a significant part in the defence of the United Kingdom against Nazi invasion, during the
Battle of Britain.
Strength of Polish Air Force on 1 September 1939
After the fall of Poland, the Polish Air Force started to regroup in France. The only complete unit created before the German attack on France was the
GC I/145 fighter squadron, flying
Caudron C.714 light fighters. It was the only unit operating the C.714 at the time. The Polish pilots were also deployed to various French squadrons, flying on all types of French fighters, but mostly on the
MS-406. After the surrender of France, many of these pilots managed to escape to Britain to continue the fight against the Luftwaffe.
1940–1947 (United Kingdom)
Polish Air Force of France and Great Britain memorial St Clements Church London
fall of France in 1940, Polish units were formed in the United Kingdom, as a part of the
Royal Air Force and known as the Polish Air Force (PAF). Four Polish squadrons were formed:
300 Squadron and
301 Squadron flew bombers,
302 Squadron and
303 Squadron flew
Hawker Hurricane fighters. The two Polish fighter squadrons first saw action in the third phase of the
Battle of Britain in August 1940, with much success; the pilots were battle-hardened and Polish flying skills had been well learned from the
Invasion of Poland. The pilots were regarded as fearless, sometimes bordering on reckless. Nevertheless, success rates were very high in comparison to UK and Empire pilots. 303 Squadron became the most efficient RAF fighter squadron at that time. Many Polish pilots also flew individually in other RAF squadrons.
World War II progressed, further Polish squadrons were created in the United Kingdom:
No. 304 Polish Bomber Squadron (bomber, then
Coastal Command), 305 Squadron (bomber), 306 Squadron (fighter), 307 Squadron (night fighter), 308 Squadron (fighter), 309 Squadron (reconnaissance, then fighter), 315 Squadron (fighter), 316 Squadron (fighter), 317 Squadron (fighter), 318 Squadron (fighter-reconnaissance), 663 Squadron (air observation/artillery spotting) and the
Polish Fighting Team also known as the "Skalski Circus", attached to
145 Squadron RAF. The fighter squadrons initially flew Hurricanes, then switched to
Spitfires, and eventually to
North American Mustangs. 307 Squadron, like other
night fighter squadrons (such as
410 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force), flew
Bristol Beaufighters and finally
de Havilland Mosquitoes. The bomber squadrons were initially equipped with
Fairey Battles and
Vickers Wellingtons. 300 Squadron was later assigned
Avro Lancasters, 301 Squadron
Handley Page Halifaxes and
Consolidated Liberators and 305 Squadron,
de Havilland Mosquitoes and
North American Mitchells. 663 Squadron (air observation/artillery spotting) flew
Auster AOP IIIs and Vs. After the war, all equipment was returned to the British, but only some of the pilots and crews actually returned to Poland, many settling in the United Kingdom.
1943–1945 (Soviet Union)
Along with the Polish People's Army (Ludowe Wojsko Polskie) in the
USSR, the Ludowe Lotnictwo Polskie – Polish People's Air Force – was created, in defence of the Soviet Union against Nazi invasion. In late 1943, the 1st Fighter Regiment "Warszawa", (equipped with
Yak-9 aircraft), the 2nd Night Bomber Regiment "Kraków" (flying
Polikarpov Po-2 aircraft – produced in Poland as the
CSS-13 from 1949 onwards), and the 3rd Assault Regiment (flying
Ilyushin Il-2 aircraft) were formed. During 1944–5, further regiments were created, coming together to form the 1st Mixed Air Corps, consisting of a bomber division, an assault division, a fighter division and a mixed division. After the war, these returned to Poland and gave birth to the air force of the
People's Republic of Poland.
In 1949, the
Li-2sb transport aircraft was adapted into a bomber and in 1950, Poland received
Petlyakov Pe-2 and
Tupolev Tu-2 bombers from the Soviet Union along with
USB-2 training bombers. In 1950 also, the
Yak-17 fighter came into service, as did the
Ilyushin Il-12 transport and the
Yak-18 trainer. From 1951 onwards, the Polish Air Force was equipped with
Yak-23 jet fighters and
MiG-15 jets, along with a training version, the
MiG-15 UTI, and later, in 1961, the
As well as Soviet-produced aircraft, from 1952 onwards Soviet MiG-15 and later MiG-17 fighters were produced under licence in Poland as the Lim-1, Lim-2 and later the Lim-5. A domestic ground attack variant of the Lim-5M was developed as the Lim-6bis in 1964. The only jet bomber used by the Polish Air Force during this period was the
Ilyushin Il-28, from 1952 onwards. Poland used only a small number of
MiG-19s from 1959, in favour of the
MiG-21 from 1963 onwards, which became its main supersonic fighter. This aircraft was used in numerous variants from MiG-21F-13, through MiG-21PF and MF to MiG-21bis. Later, the Polish Air Force received 37
MiG-23s (1979) and 12
The main fighter-bomber and ground attack aircraft after 1949 was the
Il-10 (a training version, the
UIl-10, entering service in 1951). From 1965 onwards, Poland also used a substantial number of
Su-7Bs for bombing and ground attack, replaced with 27
Sukhoi Su-20s in 1974 and 110
Sukhoi Su-22s in 1984.
Propeller-driven training aircraft, the
Junak-2 (in service since 1952), the
TS-9 Junak-3 (in service since 1954) and the
PZL TS-8 Bies (since 1958) were later replaced by a jet trainer, the domestically built
TS-11 Iskra. Another Polish jet trainer, the
PZL I-22 Iryda, was used for some time but, because of continuing problems, all machines were returned to
PZL for modification and did not resume service. The
Yak-12 was used as a multirole aircraft from 1951, the
An-2 from 1955 and subsequently the
Transport aircraft used by the Polish Air Force during this period included: the
Il-14 (first in service in 1955), the
Il-18 (first in service in 1961), the
An-12B (first in service in 1966), the
An-26 (first in service in 1972), the
Yak-40 (first in service in 1973) and the
Tupolev Tu-154. A number of helicopters were used by the Polish Army: the
Mil Mi-1 manufactured under licence), which was a multirole helicopter, in operation since 1956; the
Mil Mi-4, multirole, since 1958; the
PLZ SM-2, multirole, since 1960; the
Mil Mi-2 and
Mil Mi-8 (later also
Mil Mi-17), multirole, since 1968 and the
Mil Mi-24, a combat helicopter, since 1976. Also the
Mil Mi-14, an amphibious helicopter, and the
Mil Mi-6, both used as transports.
In 1954, the Polish Air Force was merged with the Air Defence Force, creating the Air and Country Air Defence Forces (Wojska Lotnicze i Obrony Przeciwlotniczej Obszaru Kraju – WLiOPL OK), a military organisation composed of both flying and anti-aircraft units. In 1962, the WLiOPL OK were separated back again into their two original component bodies: the Air Force (Wojska Lotnicze) and the Country Air Defence Force (Wojska Obrony Powietrznej Kraju).
Standard of the 9th Fighter Squadron regiment
After political upheaval and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and a consequent reduction in the state of military anxiety in the whole of Europe, the Polish Air Force saw reductions in size. On July 1, 1990, the Polish Air Force and the Air Defence Force were merged again (Wojska Lotnicze i Obrony Powietrznej – WLiOP or WLOP). The attack capability of this force consisted primarily of
Su-22s. The remaining Lim-6bis were withdrawn in the early 1990s, followed soon afterwards by the withdrawal of the remaining Su-20 aircraft. The small number of remaining MiG-23s were withdrawn by 1999. Throughout the 1990s, Poland had not purchased any new combat aircraft and only managed to acquire further MiG-29s from the Czech Republic in 1995 and from Germany in 2004. MiG-21s were finally withdrawn from service in 2003. In 2004, the only remaining combat aircraft flown by the WLiOP were the
MiG-29 and the
Su-22. As of 2010, the fleet of Su-22s is in need of modernization to retain any value as a combat aircraft and its future is unclear
In 2002, the
F-16C/D Block 52+ from the American company Lockheed Martin was chosen as a new multirole fighter for the WLiOP, the first deliveries taking place in November 2006 and continued until 2008 under
Peace Sky program. As of 2011 the Polish Air Force has three squadrons of F-16s: two stationed at the
31st Tactical Air Base near
Poznań and the
10th Tactical Squadron at the
32nd Air Base near
Łask. The acquisition of the US F-16 was not without fierce competition from European aerospace companies; the sale was hotly pursued by the French company Dassault, with their
Mirage 2000 and by the Swedish company Saab, with the
JAS 39 Gripen. The Polish Block 52+ F-16s are equipped with the latest Pratt and Whitney F-100-229 afterburning turbofan engines, and the avionics suite includes the
APG-68(V)9 terrain mapping radar system and the
ALQ-211(V)4 electronic warfare suite. All Polish F-16s can carry modern US precision ordnance, ranging from the JDAM/JSOW to the latest in export-certificate-authorized air-to-air weaponry (including the
In the aftermath of the
presidential Tu-154 crash in 2010 and later Polish-led investigation, the
36th Special Aviation Regiment, responsible for transporting the President and the Polish Government, was disbanded, while the defense minister resigned.
 A new unit, the 1st Air Base, replaced the 36th regiment. Between June 2010 and December 2017 most official flights were served by two leased
Embraer E-175 operated by the
LOT Polish Airlines.
 On 14 November 2016 the Defense Ministry ordered two
Gulfstream G550 VIP planes.
 On 31 March 2017 a deal with
Boeing Company was signed to supply two
Boeing Business Jet 2 and one
Boeing 737-800 for the head of state and the government transport.
On 27 February 2014 Poland signed a €280 million contract with
Alenia Aermacchi for 8
M-346 Master advanced training jets.
 The first two Masters arrived in Poland accompanied by
Team Iskry on November 14, 2016.
On 11 December 2014 Polish officials signed a contract with the United States for the purchase of 70
AGM-158 Joint Air to Surface Stand off Missile, for $250 million USD. Also contained in the contract are upgrades to the fleet of Polish F-16s to be completed by Lockheed Martin.