Vol. 11, Issue No. 31/2004

 The Legend of Janusz Zurakowski - the world's greatest test pilot

In the 1930s he became a fighter pilot in WWII, and with the fall of Poland, like many other surviving military personnel, Zurakowski began an odyssey to Rumania, France, and finally England to continue his fight. Flying a Spitfire in the Battle of Britain, he emerged as a skilled and deadly fighter pilot and continued to fly as a Squadron Leader with the Polish Air Forces until 1944. Zurakowski's proficiency in the air led in the postwar, to a life as a test pilot, first with the RAF and later at Gloster Aircraft Company flying the Meteor. It was during his Gloster years, that he set world speed records, flew the first high-speed aerobatic photography flights, dazzled spectators with aerial demonstrations at Farnborough. In 1952, he came to Canada as the test pilot for the CF-100, Canada's first jet fighter, and the legendary but doomed Avro Arrow.

At 9:52 a.m. on March 25, 1958, Arrow RL-201 roars into the skies above Malton for the Avro Arrow´s first test flight. Three kilometres below, all non-essential Avro staff pour out of the plant to watch their plane circle overhead. Some 35 minutes later, the Arrow touches down and comes to a halt, braking parachutes trailing behind. Test pilot Janusz Zurakowski, who is given a hero´s welcome, complains only that the cockpit has no clock.
(Video clip of the maiden flight and more links are available at

It took about 14 years for A.V. Roe Canada to design the Avro Arrow aircraft, a supersonic defence weapon decades ahead of it time. On Friday, February 20, 1959, the Avro project was cancelled by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, most likely because of mounting costs. The cancellation meant all photographs, technical drawings and manuals were ordered destroyed. The five aircrafts on the production line were cut up and sold for scrap metal. The cancellation also caused 14,000 people to loose their jobs and many of the key scientists working on the aircraft went on to work for NASA.

Janusz Zurakowski (9/12/1914 - 2/9/2004) the first test pilot of the revolutionary Avro Arrow aircraft, has died at age 89 more than four decades after the legendary plane's inaugural flight and its controversial cancellation soon after. He tested over 100 planes. The Arrow was the last one he tested.

He was an aeronautical engineer, combat pilot, squadron leader, and an aerobatic performer. He flew over 60 types of aircraft throughout his life and is one of the few pilots to have invented an aerobatic manoeuvre.

Today, Janusz Zurakowski's story transcends war and peace in the twentieth century. His legacy includes numerous awards and accolades, including: The Polish Cross Virtuti Militari & The Cross of Valor with two bars The "Pioneer of Flight" Award, Western Canada Aviation Museum The McKee Trophy '58 for outstanding achievements in supersonic test flying Induction to Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame Canadian Flight Test Centre in Cold Lake, Alberta is dedicated to him Named Honourary Fellow of International Society of Experimental Test Pilots. The 1st Canadian or Polish pilot to belong to the Society.

[Informacja o smierci plk. lot. Janusza Zurakowskiego]

Vol. 11, Issue No. 31/2004

The Summit Times

© Copyright 2004 by Andrzej M. Salski