Intrepid airman who fought with the wartime RAF's Polish squadrons and later became a test pilot renowned for his flying skills.
One of that resolute band of Polish flying men who escaped from their country after it had been overrun by Germany in 1939 and eventually made their way to England,
Credited with three combat victories during the Battle of Britain, he went on to have a distinguished career as a test pilot after the war, first with Gloster in Britain, and then in Canada, where he settled, with Avro Canada.
Zurakowski was renowned throughout the aviation world for his astonishing acrobatic skills, one spectacular manoeuvre in the Gloster Meteor - which was unique to him - being named the Zurabatic Cartwheel. In Canada he flight-tested many marks of the CF100 jet fighter, which had long service with the RCAF. He also made the maiden flight of the Avro Arrow, an advanced Mach2 interceptor, which was later cancelled by the Canadian Government.
Janusz Zurakowski was born in 1914 in Ryzawka, which had been a city of the Russian Empire since the partition of 1795. The city became part of the Soviet Union after the 1921 Treaty of Riga, which established the Russo-Polish frontier after the war of 1920 between the two states. After that, the Zurakowski family left their home and escaped into Poland.
Zurakowski was educated in Lublin where he learnt to fly gliders while at high school. In 1934 he began training at the Polish Air Force Cadet School in Deblin, passing out in 1937 and being posted to 161 (fighter) Squadron at Lwow. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 he was a fighter instructor at the Central Flying School in Deblin.
When the German Blitzkrieg struck his country on September 1, Zurakowski took to the air in a PZL P7, a high-wing fighter type of early 1930s vintage. His mission was to attack a formation of Dorniers that were bombing Deblin. He successfully intercepted the raiders, but with his top speed of barely 200mph he was unable to keep up with them, although he did damage a Do17. His aircraft was damaged by return fire from the bombers (which were better armed), but he managed to land it safely.
When further Polish resistance became futile, with the Soviet Union invading the country from the east, surviving Polish air force personnel were ordered to make for Romania. From there Zurakowski escaped in a Greek ship to Beirut and thence to Marseilles. From France, early in 1940, he came to Britain where, after a conversion course at an operational training unit, he was posted to 234 (Spitfire) Squadron.
He was soon heavily engaged in the Battle of Britain and had
his first combat victory, over an Me110, on August 15, over
the Isle of Wight. He shot down an Me109 on September 5 and
a second on the 6th. Later that day his Spitfire was damaged
by a burst of fire from an Me109, and he had to make a forced
landing at Middle Wallop. These were the days of maximum
strain in the battle, as the Luftwaffe concentrated its attacks
on Fighter Command's airfields. No 234's squadron commander and
Zurakowski's flight commander were both killed on the same day,
September 7. On September 29 Zurakowski shared in the destruction
of an Me110.
In early October he was posted to 609 Squadron and flew with it
in the battle's final days. He was then rested from operations
and spent much of 1941 as an instructor at operational training
units, before returning to the front line in December that year
with the Polish 315 (Deblin) Squadron, with which he flew on
fighter sweeps over occupied Europe. In April 1942 he became a
flight commander with 306 (Torun) Squadron and in June was
appointed to command 316 (Warsaw) Squadron. He was later
appointed deputy leader of the Northolt Wing, which he led on
46 occasions on sorties over occupied Europe. For his wartime
service he was twice mentioned in dispatches and awarded the
Polish Virtuti Militari and the Polish Cross of Valour.
In 1945, having previously passed through the Empire Test Pilots
School, he was posted to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental
Establishment at Boscombe Down. Among his duties there was the
evaluation of fighters for the Fleet Air Arm. For this he had to
put in some quick practice on carrier deck landings, first at the
aerodrome dummy deck landing facility at East Haven, near Arbroath,
before the real thing, which involved landing a Seafire (the naval
version of the Spitfire) on the short deck of an escort carrier.
Converting to jets, Zurakowski also flew the Vampire.
As a result of the decisions made by Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill
at Yalta, there was to be no freedom for Zurakowski's homeland after
the war and no victorious homecoming for the 150,000-strong forces
who had fought with the Allies against Germany. By 1947 the Polish RAF
squadrons had been disbanded, and most of their members chose to
remain in the West, often having to do relatively menial work. But
Zurakowski was able to continue his flying career.
After Boscombe Down he joined Gloster Aircraft as a test pilot, working
on the development of the Meteor. In 1950, flying a Meteor, he set up an
air speed record for the flight from Copenhagen to London, covering the distance in 1hr 11 min at an average speed of 500.721mph. The following
year, while demonstrating the aircraft at the Farnborough air show he
thrilled the crowds by performing a series of vertical cartwheels, which
he achieved by climbing the twin-engined fighter steeply until it was
virtually hanging motionless in the air, and then cutting off one engine.
The Zurabatic Cartwheel, as the manoeuvre was named, made him famous in
and beyond the flying community. He later took part in the development
of the Javelin delta-winged fighter.
In 1952 he emigrated to Canada and joined Avro Canada at Toronto as chief test pilot. That year he broke the sound barrier in the CF100 fighter, the first aircraft of Canadian design to do so. The CF100 Canuck, of which 692 were made in various marks, was to serve with the RCAF for almost 30 years. It was to have been replaced by the CF105 Arrow, an exciting, high-tech, supersonic interceptor, which Zurakowski piloted on its maiden flight on March 25, 1958. But the Canadian Government (in common with a number of others) felt that the days of the manned fighter were past and cancelled the contract for the Arrow, while testing was still in progress. On his seventh flight in the aircraft Zurakowski had exceeded 1,000 mph.
In 1960 he retired to settle in a part of rural Ontario which was inhabited by the descendants of 19th-century Polish immigrant peasant farmers. There, enjoying a terrain that reminded him somewhat of his childhood in eastern Poland, he liked building sailing craft and trying them out on the local lakes.
Zurakowski was to live to see the rebirth of a free Poland, with the collapse of the Soviet Union after 1990. In 1992 he took part in a gathering in Warsaw of Polish airmen who had returned home for the occasion from all over the world. On that day the airmen witnessed the return of the Polish air force colour, which had been made by Polish women under occupation in 1940 and smuggled via Sweden to England, where, for 45 years, it had been in the safe keeping of the Polish Institute in London, awaiting return to a free Poland.
Shortly before the outbreak of war in 1939 Zurakowski had met and fallen in love with the 17-year-old Hanka Danielska. The war parted them, but he carried her photograph with him throughout hostilities. After many vicissitudes, including the murder of close relatives by the Russians at Katyn and the Nazis in Warsaw, she made her way to France where she studied Romance languages in Paris. There, she and Zurakowski were reunited after eight years. They were married in the Polish Church in Paris in May 1948.
Hanka and their two sons survive him.
Squadron Leader Janusz Zurakowski, Polish Battle of Britain pilot, was born on September 12, 1914. He died on February 9, 2004, aged 89.
One of the most accomplished pilots in the world, Jan Zurakowski earned enduring fame for his brilliant war record, being the first to break the sound barrier in a Canadian designed aircraft, the Avro CF-100; and as the first pilot to fly the Avro Arrow.
Raised in Poland, he flew gliders in high school and joined the Polish Air Force in 1934. He escaped to England in 1940. A superb fighter pilot, cool and systematic, Zurakowski's destruction of three enemy aircraft in the Battle of Britain won him decorations and promotions.
After the war, he tested Britain's first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor and, in 1951, invented the amazing "Zurabatic Cartwheel," an air show-stealer to this day. Immigrating to Canada in 1952, he became Avro Aircraft's chief development pilot, winning the 1958 McKee Trophy for his experimental work in aviation.
After the 1959 scrapping of the Avro Arrow, a design years ahead of its time, Zurakowski retired from flying to run a tourist lodge.
Beloved husband of Anna. Loving father of George and Mark. Father-in-law of Julie and Susan. Dear brother of Bronislaw and Justyna. Cherished grandfather of Krysia, Paul, Tamara, Robin and Paige. Predeceased by his sisters Jadwiga and Kazimiera and brother Adam. Janusz will be fondly remembered and sadly missed by his extended family, admirers and friends, here and abroad but especially by those, both young and old for whom he has been such an inspiration. Friends may visit at O'Reilly Funeral Home, Barry's Bay, Ontario on Wednesday February 11, 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Funeral Thursday February 12, 2004 to St. Hedwig Roman Catholic Church, Barry's Bay, for Mass of Christian Burial at 11:00 a.m. Spring interment in the parish cemetery. Those desiring may make memorial donations to the St. Francis Memorial Hospital "Landscape of Life".
BARRY'S BAY -- Janusz Zurakowski, the first test pilot of the revolutionary Avro Arrow aircraft, has died at age 89, more than four decades after the plane's inaugural flight and its controversial cancellation. Zurakowski died Monday evening after a two-year battle with leukemia, his family said yesterday.
"I think he served as an inspiration and continues to serve as an inspiration to young people, especially (those) who looked up to him and who are thinking perhaps of becoming pilots themselves and read about some of his exploits," said George Zurakowski, 54, the eldest of the late pilot's two sons.
A decorated Polish-born ace aviator, Zurakowski fought for Poland in World War II before settling in Canada.
In 1952, Zurakowski was recruited by the Avro Aircraft company as a test pilot for the Arrow, Canada's first supersonic jet. But soaring costs and the development of competing missile technology prompted the government to cancel the project in 1959.
And though he vowed never to fly again after development of the Avro Arrow was suddenly cancelled 11 months later, his reputation as an accomplished pilot and gentleman continued to soar.
His decision to stay on the ground capped a long and daring career: He fought in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War; stunned British spectators at a 1951 air show by performing the first new aerial manoeuvre in 20 years Zurabatic cartwheel and became the first to break the sound barrier in a Canadian aircraft.
"Jan was different from other test pilots I met," Jim Floyd, the director of engineering at Avro when the Arrow was cancelled, once told The Globe and Mail in an interview. "He combined superb skill with tremendous courage...and he was a classy human being."
Mr. Zurakowski died peacefully at his home in Barry's Bay, Ont. on Monday evening. He was surrounded by his wife of 55 years, Anna, and two sons George and Mark. He also leaves five grandchildren. Mr. Zurakowski had been battling a rare blood disorder called myelodysplasia for nearly two years, succumbing to the illness at 89.
Despite his countless achievements in the air, he was cherished by friends and colleagues for being down to earth.
"I've known him for 15 years and I never saw any conceit," said Marek Kusiba, the pilot's friend and biographer.
Mr. Zurakowski once showed Mr. Kusiba a news article that had been published in The Toronto Telegram in 1952 -- the year the pilot moved to Toronto from Britain to work for A.V. Roe Canada Ltd.
In it, Mr. Zurakowski was described as "small, balding and anything but a test pilot," Mr. Kusiba recalled. "He just laughed about it, and said 'according to this report I should be a Hollywood macho man, like Gary Cooper or Ernest Hemingway.' After being through so much in his life, he always knew how to put things in perspective."
Janusz Zurakowski was born on Sept. 12, 1914 in Ryzawka, Russia, the third child of a Polish doctor and a young housewife. When he was six, the family fled Soviet Russia and settled in Garwolin, a town south of Warsaw.
As a boy of 15, Mr. Zurakowski took his first ride in a glider and was completely enchanted. He then resolved to spend the summers of his youth at the Polichno-Pinczow Gliding School in southern Poland, where his fondness for flying only deepened.
The young adventurer next set his sights on airplanes, much to the annoyance of his father, who had envisaged him becoming a doctor.
He applied to an aviation school, but was rejected for failing the medical test as the result of a "mysterious" illness, eventually discovering that his father had asked colleagues to rig the results.
Still, Mr. Zurakowski remained adamant about flying, and at 20 joined the Polish Air Force. Five years later, and a day after Hitler invaded Poland, he engaged in his first air combat.
The following summer he and members of the Polish Squadron fought in the Battle of Britain, in which he shot down three German planes and received the British Cross of Valour and bar.
He was known for a quirky habit he developed of planting gardens at the air bases where he was posted, his wife once told the Globe. Even when his colleagues remarked that it was pointless because the base was so transient, he insisted the plants could still be enjoyed by others.
After war's end, he was eventually posted at the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment in Boscombe Down, where he tested Britain's first jet fighter, the de Havilland Vampire.
In 1952, the Zurakowskis decided to move to Canada, where Janusz worked as a test pilot for A.V. Roe Canada Ltd. "It's a great loss to the Gloster Aircraft Co." the Gloster Bulletin in Britain wrote, "he will be missed by everyone."
After successfully unveiling the CF-100 and the CF-105, or Avro Arrow, Mr. Zurakowski was forced into yet another transition when the Diefenbaker government put a sudden end to the Arrow project. Though he had received lucrative job offers following the Arrow's cancellation, his heart had been broken by the industry and he opted for a life without flying.
He and Anna and their sons moved to a remote area in northern Ontario and built a tourist lodge called Kartuzy, where Mr. Zurakowski would spend the next 44 years until his death.
Despite being chastised by his friends and colleagues for dropping out of aviation and retreating into the woods, he shrugged off their criticism and relished the simpler life, designing and building boats and working in the garden.
Still, Mr. Zurakowski's contributions to aviation could not be buried.
In 1973, he was inducted into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame and in 1996, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a $20 coin bearing his cameo. Last summer the residents of Barry's Bay built the Zurakowski Park and Museum in his honour.
A day after his death, his 20-year-old granddaughter Krysia reflected on the immense influence the late pilot had on her life.
"He was a role model, but he was also a grandpa," she said. "He was someone to look up to for his great skill in aviation, but he never showed the slightest bit of arrogance."
As a young girl Ms. Zurakowski and her grandfather spent hours immersed in conversation about flying, an interaction that inspired her current pursuit of a university degree in aerospace engineering as well as her role as an officer with the Cadets Instructor Cadre.
"I wanted to take him in a glider with me, but I never got the chance to do it before he got sick," Ms. Zurakowski said. "Every time I go into the air, I'll think of him."