This Is Not About Bikes…

… but hopefully interesting for those into lightweight design. Yes, you guessed it, it´s about planes again.

On a business trip to the beautiful Polish city of Cracow I managed to take time off to visit the Muzeum Lotnictva Polskiego, the Polish Aviation Museum. First thing to be said: Don´t try, like I had to, to make do with an afternoon – there´s enough exhibits for a week, I´d say. The museum is situated 7 km to the East of the city centre and can be reached with trams No. 52 or 10 inside 20 minutes from Wawel for PZN 7.20 per return journey, which is fantastic. On the way you also see a different Cracow – modern buildings, some reaching back to Socialist times. You get off at the Muzeum Lotnictva stop, and from there it´s an easy 5 min walk until you see this:

The futuristic main building of the museum. From above it looks slightly like a propeller.

So you pay your PZN 15 entry fee (about 4 EUR/$/£), and right away you´re greeted by a hall full of exquisite exhibits like:

a 1947 Yak 23, one of the earliest jet planes, and the Soviet Gloster Gladiator if you wish, or

a Blériot 11 on the ceiling, a late model, but never mind, or

a 1917 Albatross that was used in the Polish airforce until WWII, or

a Me 109 people dragged from some lake a few years ago, or lastly

a late model Spitfire in the colours of a Polish RAF Squadron. In recent years Poles have remembered about their countrymen who fought so valiantly and successfully in the UK even after fascist Germany conquered their country. One of the main bridges crossing the Wisla is called Monte Cassino bridge – check out on the the net why.

So the hall´s been a good start.

But then you leave the main building and stumble upon some very sad sights. Sorry to be so straightforward, but to the visitors´ view the MiG Alley, as it´s called, is little more than a collection of rotted out planes that might have been a great attraction if housed somewhere out of the reach of the inclement Eastern Polish weather:

The 21 U is a rarity in itself, and the incomplete 29 is an open invitation to anyone to help themselves to some magnificent titanium parts. A near complete collection of MiGs – from the earliest to a 29, out in the open – sorry, can´t do anything with that. No more snaps of that tragedy.

But the outside drama goes on. The AN 2 stored in the open is replaceable, I guess,

but a Belphegor, the only jet propelled biplane, is just a sad sight with cracking perspex and UV damaged seat upholstery.

Worse still: An Amiot AAC.1 Toucan, a Ju52/3m knockoff, made ca. 1946 in France, where the Germans had hoped to use French aircraft production facilities to make their less modern aircraft in greater numbers, thereby delivering to the French f/o/c all the tools and know how necessary to produce one of the more rugged cargo planes of aviation history. The poor beast is also sitting out in the open. Its completely unoriginal paintwork, an embarassment to say the least, is best bleached by the sun, but its substance also is suffering.

At some point a Junkers pair of rudders must have found its way onto the Toucan, as betrayed by this plate:

But on the other side of the plane its counterpart has already supposedly been nicked:

Luckily this French 1952 revision plate is still there.

A 1943 Li 2 is suffering still more.

Strangely enough, I was touched most by one of my childhood favourites´ fate. I have no idea why and when, but I started being fascinated by planes at a very young age, and one of the planes I always found fascinating is a SAAB 37 Viggen. Lo and behold, there´s a 1977 AJSF one at the Muzeum Lotnictva. But in what sad state of neglect.

I took some time to check the thing out in detail, hence the number of snaps. There´s always the possibility to just scroll down 🙂

This one is a recce version. The wonderful Matra cameras are still in place.

The rest of the Viggen photos can speak for themselves.

It´s such a great plane, oozing build quality and original design ideas. I wished I could have taken it home to some sort of shelter.

OK, on to some more stuff.

The Museum prides itself in a unique collection of Pioneer Aircraft. Thing is, most are unrestored, unlike this admittedly beautiful Sopwith camel with its Humber built engine:

Many old planes are left in as found condition (no comment here why that´s the case, you can find out about it on the net), but I hope I won´t be eaten alive by readers if I say that I prefer it this way: It´s not every day that you can see underneath the surface of pre-WWI planes.

So this Etrich Taube may look like it came straight from the bin,

But it is fascinating to see how it was designed. Also some details of planes can be observed well as there is no limit to where visitors are allowed to to go, short of climbing onto the exhibits (it really says so on boards).

A bungee cord suspension. Foolproof, lightweight – great.

Same is true for one of the other planes which ranks high in my most fascinating list, the Levavasseur with its Antoinette engine. The competitor of Blériot when attempting the first crossing of the English Channel by plane was, to my mind, the FAR nicer machine. I mean, look at that 50hp, liquid cooled Vee-eight engine. This one is incomplete and damaged (accident?), also it´s not the one with the light alloy cylinder heads, but it´s there to be looked at. What wouldn´t I give to hear it running…

And this is where it went: The bow, literally, of a German license built Levavasseur plane. The engine goes onto the gunwale like rounded rests.

The fuselage was built like a boat, complete with name on the bow.  The rest of the woodwork also is really nice:

It´s so intricately designed, and the woodwork is fascinatingly well executed. Bad lighting conditions precluded me from taking more detailed pics.

This is the cockpit.

The handrails are wood, the spokes are cast light alloy.

There´s some fascinating original footage of Antoinettes being built on youtube.

What else? The main exposition hall contains rarities such as a Sea Vampire and some Soviet WWII planes, but also, if I got it right, Ernst Udet´s personal Curtiss Hawk II:

AFAIK, this is one of the first planes which used the Townend Ring. Again, cramped and badly lit conditions…

Then on to the engine collection. There´s one hangar literally choc a bloc with the choicest engines.

Starting with the earliest rotaries like this Clerget,

carrying on to radials,

from flimsy to brutal like the BMW 801 which could be changed as a complete unit,

not forgetting early in-lines like this airship Maybach,

passing onto early Vees (and even Ws), like a Liberty,

and of course a whole array of thirties engines, like a rare Kestrel,

some Jumos, and then the superbly looking 12 series Hispano Suiza:

I´m fully aware that all Jumo 2xx, Mercedes 60x, RR Merlins and later the Griffons, their Packard offsprings, the US Allisons, Soviet Vee 12s were engines for warplanes and that people being killed by planes equipped with them didn´t care at all what these engines looked like, but I can´t help thinking that of all the liquid cooled Vee 12s, the Hispano 12 series must be the best looking. Contrary to the block like Jumos especially I think there was someone at Hispano´s who cared about the looks of their products.

If you have ever been puzzled by a drawing of the internals of a Bristol Hercules and wondered how the hell it was working, who was crazy enough to be able to design it and if there can possibly be a more intricate engine, you´re in for a shock. This Jumo opposed piston Diesel engine is just the worst. I spent ten minutes of my precious time in front of this cutaway specimen and didn´t understand much of what it tried to tell me.

Why simple when it can be complicated.

Lastly, in a museum like the Cracow one, where visitors can come really close to exhibits, there´s always some surprise to be had, like this warranty certificate which expired nearly 100 years ago:

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