Polish Aviation Museum, Krakow, Malopolskie Voivodeship, Poland

The Krakow Aviation Museum took over a few buildings and part of the grounds of the Rakowice-Czyżny airfield, one of the oldest military airfields in Europe. Formed at Czyżny in 1964, the museum preserves and exhibits aircraft, engines and other items of importance to the world’s aviation heritage and these form a premier European collection.

The museum airfield was, at the end of the 1800s, home to a balloon detachment of Garrison Artillery 2nd Regiment of Krakow Fortress. Then, in 1912, the Austrian headquarters of the aviation unit called Flugpark 7 was formed there. During 1914, aircraft from Rakowice took part in the defence of Krakow Fortress and then, from 1915, as the war front moved on, the airfield was employed to train crews and repair aircraft for the front-line units.

After the war, 1918 saw the airfield become one of the staging points for an airmail service between Vienna and Kiev/Odessa, the first such scheduled service in Europe. On the 31st October 1918, the Polish Military Authorities took over the command of the airfield thereby making Rakowice the first airfield of Poland, which was still awaiting the Independence. A week later, the first Polish aviation unit, known as the 1st Combat Squadron, was formed there.

During the 1920 Polish-Soviet War, the 1st Lower School for Pilots was located on the airfield, training new airmen for the rapidly expanding Polish Air Force. The aviation repair workshop even started started some limited manufacture of new aircraft, a tribute to their skills. In 1921, using these initial skills as a foundation, the 2nd Air Regiment was formed at Rakowice. By the late 1920s, the airfield was the second largest Polish Air Force base and so, in common with all the other bases, received much German bombing when the Second World War began in September 1939.

Later in the war, the Germans extended the runway eastwards to Czyżyny and they employed the airfield for supplying the Eastern Front. Towards the end of the war, in January 1945, the advancing Russians took over the airfield and they assigned it to the Polish authorities a few months later. Then, as often happens to metropolitan airfields, the encroachment of residential building (and the new steel works) made the airfield less than ideal and so the Polish Air Force left Rakowice and re-located at Balice, 10 miles to the west. Finally, airfield activity ceased in 1963 when the airline LOT departed.

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