On the 7th of May 1933 at 23.00 Capt pilot Stanisław Skarżyński took off from Saint Louis, Senegal airfield for the historical flight.
He landed after twenty and a half hours, on a tiny airfield of a provincial city, Maceio in Brasil.
A Piece of Aviation History, which was the conquering of the Atlantic Ocean in the smallest plane ever in the history of cross-Atlantic flights, had been accomplished.
Colonel Pilot (Płk pil.) Stanisław Jakub Skarżyński - was born on the 1st of May 1899 in Warta. His father, M.Sc. Władysław Skarżyński, famili coat of arms Bończa, was owning the pharmacy. His mother wa Wacława of Kozłowski family. Stanisław's primary school was located in his nativetown.
He continued his education in Kalisz gymnasium during years 1908-1914 - that was when he took an interest in aviation - ha constructed different airplane models. Simultaneously he worked in a secret Polish independence organization.
In 1914, just after World War I broke out, Stanisław was sent to school in Warsaw, where his uncle was to to look after him. Hearing the news that his hometown, Warta was completely destroyed, Stanisław decided to return home. His mother tempted him to continue the education.
This time he was sent to Włocławek, where he soon contacted with the members of secret Polish Military Organization (POW) and during years 1916-1917 he was the trip rider for the fugitives from german prisoners of war refugees.. He conveyed them to Austrian terrains, wher they might been safe.
In 1918 he graduated from Włocławek Gymnasium and the secret non-commissioned officers school in a rank of sergeant.
In 1918 he joined Polish Army. He assisted in the disarmament of the German garrison in Warta. He was the army commandant of his home city.
Skarżyński took part in the war for independence in the 29th Riflemen Regiment (29 Pułk Strzelców Kaniowskich).
During the mission to the commands headquaters he was shot at the back and his legs were temporary paralysed. Fortunatelly, he got to his home, where he was cured carefully for two months.
He graduated from The School of Infantry (Szkoła Podchorążych Piechoty) and he took part in the Polish-Soviet war (1919-1920) as a lieutenant of 29th Riflemen Regiment . During the battle of Radzymin (16.08.1920) he suffered a severe leg injury. After two and half years of therapy and complicated surgery the leg was mended, but it was shorter than the other leg.
After many efforts, inspite of captain. doctors' advice, in 1925 he graduated from the Pilot School (Szkoła Pilotażu) in Bydgoszcz. In a short time, the instructors, with Janusz Maissner among them, estimatd him as the very talented pilot.
He began service in the 1st Air-Regiment (1. Pułk Lotniczy) in Warsaw.
In 1927 he was promoted to rank of He was intensively taking part in the life of the developing sport and general aviation.
In 1930 he was transferred from line service to The Department of Studies in The Military Ministry's Aviation Department. He was very active participant in Aero-Club activities.
From the 1st February till the 5th May 1931, together with observer lieutenant engineer Andrzej Markiewicz, he made a long-distance flight over Africa, on the route: Warszawa-Kraków-Belgrade-Athens-Cairo-Khartoum-Elisabethville-Leopoldville-Lagos-Dakar-Casablanca-Perpignan-Bordeaux-Paris-Berlin-Poznań-Warszawa, traversing a distance of 25 770 km on a Polish built airplane PZL Ł-2 (designed by PZL enginner Jerzy Dąbrowski) and became known as "the African". Skarżyński came up with the idea of cross-Atlantic flight there, during the flight over Atlantic coast.
The greatest of his sport achievements was a solo cross-Atlantic flight. He made it on a Polish sporting airplane RWD-5 bis. He got the acceptance for the flight of gen. Orlicz-Dreszer during international glider competition in Rhon.
The start took place on 27.04.1933 r. in Warsaw. Over Poznań, Leipzig, Frankfurt, Lyon he flew to Saint Louis in Senegal. On the night of 7/8th May he started the flight over the south Atlantic. After 18 hours of flight he reached Cap San Roque on the Brasil coast and went on to land in Maceio. Flying in a non-stop flight 3160 km, Skarżyński had beaten the World Record for flight in a straight line . He was awarded Bleriot medal - FAI's most precious trophy. Skarżyński was its first recipient
After completing division commander courses S. Skarżyński received the rank of Major.
In 1939 he became Deputy Commander of the 4th Toruń Aviation Regiment with promotion to the rankof Lieutnant-Colonel. In 1939 he was chosen for Secretary General of the Aero Club of Poland.
During September 1939 war he was the Chief of Staff of "Pomorze" Army Air Force, then Air Attaché in Bucarest, Romania.
He assisted Polish Air Force to France and then to Great Britain, where he became the Commandant of the Polish Flying Training School in Newton, near Nothingham. In early 1942, on his own demand, he beacame the Commander of the air-base in Lindholme, where he flew operational flights with 305 Polish Bomber Squadron "Ziemi Wielkopolskiej" stationed there.
On the night of 25th June 1942, he was taking part in a 1000 bomber bombing raid over Bremen. During the flight to the destination point his Vickers Armstrong Wellington Mk.II no.8528 was hit. Skarżyński's both legs were injured. After dropping the bombs the plane returned to the homebase. Because of the engines failures, 25 km from Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, the crew decided to ditch. Thanks to champion ditching on the North Sea surface, all the crew was saved - except for Colonel Skarżyński who was last to leave the airplane. His body, washed ashore after a few weeks, was buried with full military honours on the island of Terschelling in Holland, where it rests till now.
He was decorated, among others, with the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari (Krzyż Srebrny Orderu Virtuti Militari), four times Cross of Valour (Krzyż Walecznych), the Cross of Independence (Krzyż Niepodległości), Officers Cross of Polonia Restituta, French Legion d'Honneur, Brasillian Officers Cross of the Order of the Southern Cross, the Rumanian Officers Cross of the Crown of Rumania, the Hungarian Cross of Merit III Class. Recently the President of Poland Aleksander Kwasniewski awarded him posthumously the Commander's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta II Class and personally handed the award to his son.
What's very interesting: even in Great Britain, Skarżyński was wearing polish pilots' badge (gapa), english Wings and the badge of the 1st Warsaw Regiment (1-szy warszawski pułk Lotniczy), that was given to him by gen. Kalkus. The badge has the inscription on the reverse: "Conqueror of the Atlantic".
This modest, polite, very self-possesed and restrained in the opinions man , was a complete negation of the legend that gradually arose around him. Inconspicious, of a little gray hair, always worn in a meticulous way , ideally fit to some office atmosphere that he worked for. He had nice wife, well-organized family life, he was respected and esteemed - in one word - he had everything that an average man wants to be happy in life.
His wife was Julia Frenkiel, his son Maciej was born in 1934.
He wrote two books: "25770 km over Africa" (issued in 1931), and "Over the Atlantic on RWD-5" (issued in 1933).
THE CROSS-ATLANTIC FLIGHT
In May of 1932 Stanisław Skarżyński received permission from the Head of Civil Aviation Department of the Ministry of Transportation (Departament Lotnictwa Cywilnego Ministerstwa Komunikacji) Lieutnant-Colonel Filipowicz for a flight to attack the world record of distance in a straight line.
It was decided to wait to the end of Berlin 3rd Challenge with the airplane selection. The championchips were won by RWD 6 airplane and Skarżyński turned to the RWD (Rogalski, Wigura and Drzewiecki) constructors with his project. The sporty spirit of the RWD team was well-known so the idea reached suitable men.
The RWD 5 aircraft was chosen as the most suitable for a long-range flight. It gave the opportunity to take a heavy payload together with great travel speed, and thanks to light weight, not exceeding 460 kG, it could be treated as a Category II tourist airplane (one-seater, of mass up to 450 kG) FAI regulations. This allowed the airplane to be certified to beat the World Record. Skarżyński's intention was to fly over south Atlantic in the narrowest place - between the African coast and Brasil. The distance from coast to coast was 3100 km and it was 100 km less than the North-Atlantic route . Only the English pilots, Hinkler and Mollison, had flown over the South Atlantic on tourist airplanes so far. But, they were flying Category I airplanes (multi-seater, of mass up to 560 kG) with only one pilot, and their flights could not be classified as world records.
The modified RWD-5bis was to be the smallest airplane that ever ventured across the Atlantic Ocean!
In the Autumn of 1932 intensive flight preparations began. The RWD factory had designed and built the special, one-seater airplane, of range at least 5 times bigger than the standard. It was not easy, because it was necessary to built-in five additional fuel tanks (one big one in the fuselage and four in the wings) and adequatly strenghten the structure, still not exceeding a mass 450 kG. Practically it was necessary to design a new airplane, saving on weight wherever it it was possible. The date of the voyage was set to May, as the most suitable month because of the meteorogical conditions. The factory met the deadlines. The airplane was ready at the end of March.At the beging of April the installation was completed and the airplane had its maiden flight. The full volume of airplane's fuel tanks was 752 litres, which with an average fuel consumption of 26 l/h, provided a flight time of about 29 hours and a range about 5000 km with an average speed of 170-175 km/h. So, the reserve to the planned route was almost 2000 km.
But the attempt to fly in the assigned time did not succed. The authorities, probably taking into account the, latest crashes demanded detailed inspection of the airplane by the Aviation Tchnical Studies Institute (Instytut Badań Techniczno- Lotniczych). The airplane attitudes during take off and landing were examined during load build-up, the average speed and fuel consumption was checked, many modifications were introduced. At the Commissions demand, Skarżyński had a 10-hours test flight on the 15th of April. It was decisive proof. In spite of very bad weather conditions the airplane flew the 1650 km route without any malfunctions , and the doctors examining the pilot ascertained his ideal fettle and condition. Many discussions were undertaken about the problem of saving the aircraft from sinking. The Comission wanted to install into the fuel tanks additional valves allowing to drop the fuel during emergency ditching. But the airplane weight was already 446 kG and using those valves would increase the weight over regulatory acceptable range. Finally, those requirement were omited, taking into account that the airplane would have sufficient draudgt after 75 litre of fuel burning, that is 3 flight hours. So, on 20th of April the agreement for long-distance flight protocol was signed.
Preparations for the flight were kept secret. Officialy, it was known, that Skarżyński wanted to beat the record of flight in a straight line on the St. Louis - Lyon route. The Polish Aero Club was taking part it this. It notified the French Aero Club about the attempt to beat this route record and asked them to appoint the judges.
The take-off was early the 27th of April 1933 from Warsaw Pole Mokotowskie airfield. Only friends, colleagues and the designers were present there.
It was 6000 km from St. Louis, from where the correct flight was to begin.
The few-legs route was hard, but it proved the airplane's efficiency.
In the first leg, Skarżyński reached Lyon, where the aircraft was officially examined by French judges. The engine was examined also by the mechanic from the De Havilland factory. On the 30th of April in spite of bad weather Skarżyński flew further, to Casablanca. But he was forced to land in Perpignan - the worsening weather conditions didn't allow flying over the Pirenees. Even next day Skarżyński was still fighting with the remainder of the cyclone during the Malaga - Casablanca flight. But the airplane had resisted the attack of the jet-stream well, though the speed decreased to 100 km/h. After landing in Casablanca Skarżyński sent a telegram with two words only: "Ideal airplane !''.
On 4th of May Skarżyński reached St. Louis, where he was welcomed by the French Airline's representative, Director de Vieux, who was the record flight deputy from the French Aero Club. He had been informed about the attempt to beat the record heading north, so his amazement and horror was huge , when he was informed that Skarżyński wanted to fly to Brasil.
"...It's crazy!... Totally insane!... How could anyone want to cross the ocean in this nutshell!...
How will you navigate with no sextant, no radio?... You don't even have a parachute , nor emergency dinghy in case of a crash!!!
...it's completely... insane!...
...And, in a suit... in a hat!" - de Vieux was arguing.
He was qiute right. Actually Skarżyński had virtually no safeguards, in a suit, tie and hat. He needed a lot of time to convince the judge that a parachute would not help him, he couldn't use a sextant with one hand, he couldn't take a safety dinghy or a radio, because they weighed too much, and a man can drown as easily in a suit as in a flying suit. Finally, the judge withdrew and agreed to the flight, convinced by the wonderful theoretical route prepration, that had been made in Poland.
Finally, on 7th of May, at 23.00 hours Skarżyński took off. After 17 h and 15 min flight the little airplane reached the American coast next day between Cap San Roque and Natal in Brasil, about 15km to the left of the designated point, a remarkable feat in itself. He then flew over Natal and Paraiba, and three hours later landed on the small Maceio airfield.
It was 19.30, one hour to sunset. A lot of fuel left in fuel tanks. The International World Record for Category II airplanes was beaten and stands till today.
Skarżyński's description of his arrival in Maceio:
"When I got off the plane at the empty and sleepy Maceio airfield, I was feeling very well. Only I was not used to the ground after the twenty and half hour flight and I was swinging around like a sailor walking on a ship's deck. After a short walk and a nice cigarette , I was back on balance.
Soon, the airfield Chief's wife came to me together with the radio station Manager, looking at the small airplane with great interest.I introduced myself as a Captain in the Polish Air Force, but they were not impressed at all. Still they were interested only in the airplane. Finally, they asked:
Where are you flying from?
Last start from Saint Louis du Senegal - I answered modestly.
The all-knowing radio station Manager looked at me suspiciously, then at the airplane, then again at me, then again at the plane. He shrugged and went to his office.
Not good! I thought. Man can't impress these Americans with anything.
The Chief's wife was not impressed with my statement either, but because women have more humane hearts she asked me:
Regardless where you are flying from, would you care for some coffee?
I agreed willingly and we went to the office.
When we were walking over , the radio officer caught up with us. His phlegmatic manner had disappeared completely. He was waving a telegram and shouted:
It's true!... Everything fits!... The same registration number on the airplane!...
It turned out that he had got the message about my start from de Vieux in St. Louis , but he had thought that it had to be a huge trans-Atlantic aeroplane. The confirmation for that was for him the message from Natal that I had not landed there, but then I flew further to the south. So, when he saw my aeroplane and heard that I came from St. Louis he was convinced that I was joking with him."
On the 11th of May Skarżyński arrived in Brasil's capital Rio de Janeiro, where the official welcome was awaiting him. Welcome in Rio de Janeiro
And another surprise: "I was to arrive in Rio de Janeiro in five hours from the moment of the start, so about 12.45, but meanwhile someone said that due to the head wind and rain I will arrive at 14.00. They didn't know the airplane's cruising speed, so everybody believed the rumour and some of the waiting people had broken up to check, just in case, the contents of the canteen. In the meantime, as previously announced, at noon sharp I popped up from behind the mountain , turned a circle and landed.
There was terrible confussion then. Some of the crowd was running to the airplane, a part stayed at their places not beliveing that this little nutshell is the airplane that had flown from Poland.
I turned off the engine, got out of the cabin and I was very curious for a moment as to what I had done wrong , as everyone had such surprised faces. But I had no time to think about it, because after a few seconds I was in the warm-hearted arms of minister Grabowski.
Suddenly, among all the greetings, someone asked me electryfying question:
Why did you come not dressed right?
That's the reason for all those surprised faces! ...I looked at myself with horror, but I couldn't see any problem with my dress - I look like the others. In spite of that I asked with anxiety.
How come - not dressed right...?
We were imagining that you will be dressed at least like this lady! and they showed me a huge aviator-woman wearing a jumpsuit, wool hat, goggles and so on...
I breathed a sigh of relief and I gratefully took off the hat, not wondering about the lack in my clothing I explained that the airplane is so comfortable that anyone can fly it in winter or in summer dressed properly for the occasion on landing.
In one word, I amazed everybody because, unintentionally, it all came out differentialy to previous trans-Atlantic flights : I had flown to America without earlier advertising, I was not late in Rio de Janeiro, I was dressed like an ordinary man - in a grey suit and a hat."
After the ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro Stanisław Skarżyński was asked to return to Poland for great ceremonies, but he refused asking the authorities to fly down to Argentina to visit the Polonia, all the Polish people living there. This visit was a hudge success. The plane was then put on the ship "Avilla Star" and sailed to France. skarżyński flew the RWD-5 bis from here to Poland to the welcoming Polish public.