RWD-5 and RWD-5bis

  The RWD-5, a development of the relatively successful, if a bit odd-looking RWD-4, was the first Polish fully-fledged touring airplane. First flown in 1931, 20 examples of this two-seater were built, and played an important role in the development of Polish civil aviation. It earned its place in the annals of aviation history when, in 1933, Captain Stanislaw Skarzynski made a record-breaking flight over the South Atlantic in the one-seater RWD-5bis variant, the smallest and lightest plane ever to cross the ocean.

The goal underlying the development of the RWD-5 was to provide a comfortable and durable aircraft for use in Polish Aeroclubs. Only the characteristic, Fokker-type wing was preserved from its predecessor, the RWD-4, and a completely new fuselage, based on tubular steel structure, was designed. It was the first aircraft in Poland (and one of few in the world at that time) to receive a completely enclosed cockpit. To increase crew comfort, engine exhaust muffler was fitted, and a hot-air duct from engine to the cockpit was installed for heating.
The airplane had pleasant flying characteristics, its only drawback being somewhat limited visibility (to the top, and to the side during steep turns). It was generally liked by the pilots, and used for touring and rallies up till the outbreak of Second World War in 1939.

In late 1932, the Ministry of Transportation ordered a special long-range variant of the RWD-5. The rear seat was replaced by a large, 300-liter fuel tank, additional fuel tanks were also fitted in the wings. Special care was taken to use highest-quality materials during construction, so, even though the design underwent some structural strengthening, its empty weight remained virtually the same as that of the standard RWD-5. The aircraft, designated RWD-5bis, made its maiden flight on March 28, 1933.

By then, the preparations for the Atlantic flight were in advanced stages. The idea of the record-breaking flight had been born in the mind of Captain Stanislaw Skarzynski, in everyday life a modest employee of the War Ministry. In 1931, he and his friend, navigator Andrzej Markiewicz, had completed an exhausting, 26,000 km (16,000 miles) long rally over Africa, and his next goal - which he had set himself when flying over the African coast - was crossing the Atlantic.
The first RWD-5 built, SP-AGJ. was the only one to have flat front cockpit glass panels, which were replaced by curved windscreen in later examples.

The preparations for the flight were made in secret, so as to avoid undue publicity. The element of risk was substantial, and many Poles still remembered the death of Maj. Ludwik Idzikowski who, with Kazimierz Kubala, had twice attempted to cross the North Atlantic in the late 1920s. Officially, only an attempt to break the world distance record for aircraft of the FAI 2nd category (empty weight 450 kg or less) was announced. Still, the preparations were very thorough, and included, among others, a detailed meteorological study of the planned route.

The pilot, and his silver RWD-5bis, arrived safely at the starting point - St Louis de Senegal in Africa - on May 4, 1933. Here, Skarzynski finally disclosed to the astonished FAI commissar the real purpose of his flight. Despite the latter's reservations (the idea of crossing the Atlantic in a small touring airplane must have seemed no less ludicrous then, as it does now), he obtained his permission.

An RWD-5 in flight.
The take-off took place on May 7, at 11PM, and the whole flight passed without a single incident. The pre-flight navigational preparation proved excellent, and after 17 hours and 15 minutes the RWD-5bis arrived at the Brazilian coast only 15km (9 miles) from the intended point.

Three hours later, Skarzynski landed at a small airfield in Maceio, deciding not to risk a night landing in Natal, which had been the original destination. The astonishment of the Brazilian staff at the Maceio airfield was no lesser than that of the FAI commissar in St Louis, when the large transatlantic machine they had expected turned out to be a small touring airplane.

To add to their confusion, Skarzynski was dressed in a regular gray suit, and carried a hat with him - not the sort of clothing one would expect a 'heroic aviator' to wear for a transatlantic flight. After the flight, Skarzynski and his RWD-5bis remained in South America touring the continent flying on to Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires visiting the Polish communities there, to return to Poland in glory several months later.
Stanislaw Skarzynski in St Louis de Senegal, prior to his record-breaking flight.

As no further long-range raids were planned, the RWD-5bis was soon rebuilt to the two-seater RWD-5 standard and was presented to Captain  Skarzynski,  who remained faithful to the Polish Air Force. He was the Chief of Staff and C/O of NO 4 Air Regiment.  He was the last pre war president of the aero club of Poland.  In 1939, as a Lt Colonel he was made Deputy Air Attaché in Rumania and on the outbreak of war helped in the transfer of Polish airmen to France.  On the fall of France he helped with the transfer of 17,000 polish airmen to Great Britain, where the polish air force was reformed. He was the C/O of RAF Newton and then C/O of RAF Lindholme, bomber command.  

He often volunteered for combat sorties with the bomber crews of the Lidholme's 303 Squadron.  On 26 June 1942 he took part in the 1000 bomber raid on Bremen.  His Vickers Wellington had to ditch in the North Sea having been hit by anti aircraft fire and LT Col Skarzynski was wounded.  Having set down the damaged bomber on a stormy sea expertly and leaving the 'plane last, he was washed off the airplane's wing by a strong wave and drowned - by an ironic twist of fate, the sea claimed its polish conqueror."


After Poland's collapse, as so many Polish airmen, he made his way to Britain where, as the C/O of the Lindholme RAF Bomber Station, he often volunteered for combat sorties with Polish bomber crews. On 26 June 1942, in a Vickers Wellingtion of 305 Squadron, he took part in the 1000-bomber raid on Bremen. The bomber had to ditch in the North Sea due to engine failure, and when trying to board the dinghy, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislaw Skarzynski was washed off the airplane's wing by a strong wave and drowned - by an ironic twist of fate, the sea claimed its Polish conqueror.

Even though not a single example survived the war, the RWD-5 has not been forgotten in Poland. A group of enthusiasts, forming EAA Branch No.991, has undertaken the task of building a flying replica of this historic aircraft. 

Stanislaw Skarzynski's RWD-5bis SP-AJU in 1933.
  Stanislaw Jakub Skarzynski 1 May 1899 - 26 June 1942 Stanislaw Skarzynski was born in Warta on 1st May 1899. His father was the local Pharmacist. He attended school in Wloclawek and Kalisz. In 1916/17 he was a member of the Polish Military Organisation. In November 1918 he volunteered for the newly created Polish Army and commanded an action of disarming German soldiers in Warta.

He fought in the Polish-Soviet war in the infantry, being promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in 1919. He was wounded but returned to the front. During the battle of Radzymin he was severely wounded in one leg on 16 August 1920. The infected wound needed long rehabilitation and Skarzynski only just avoided being a complete invalid. He spent two and a half years in hospital and always limped thereafter. Unable to serve further in the army,
he managed to obtain permission to join military aviation.

Having completed pilot school in Bydgoszcz (1925), he served in the 1st Aviation Regiment in Warsaw. In 1927 he was promoted to Captain. Between 1st February and 5 May 1931 he flew around Africa together with Navigator Lt. Andrzej Markiewicz, in a Polish designed (J Dabrowski) aircraft PZL L-2 (reg no SP-AFA), a distance of 25,770 km.

On 7/8 May 1933, Skarzynski flew solo in a small Polish tourist aeroplane RWD- 5bis (reg no SP-AJU) across the southern Atlantic from Saint-Louis Senegal to Maceio Brazil. The flight took 20 hours 30 minutes (17 hours 15 minutes over the ocean). He crossed 3,582 km establishing a World Record for a FAI Category 2 tourist plane (weight below 450 kg).

The RWD-5bis was - and still is - the smallest aeroplane ever to have flown the Atlantic. Until the last moment plans of his flight were kept secret. It became part of a Warsaw to Rio de Janeiro flight (27 April to 10 May) a distance of 17,885 km. He then flew on to Buenos Aires.
He returned to France by ship, then flew home to Warsaw. In 1934 he was promoted to Major. He commanded a bomber squadron and in
1938 became deputy Commanding Officer of the 4th Aviation Regiment in Torun with a rank of Lt Colonel. In April 1939 he became President of the Aero Club of the Republic of Poland.

In 1939 he was sent to Romania as deputy Air Attaché. After the outbreak of World War II, he helped to transfer Polish pilots through Romania to France where the Polish Air Force was recreated. In 1940, he himself got to France and on the fall of France helped with Gen Zajac and Col Karpinski to transfer Polish airmen by ship to Great Britain. Here the Polish Air Force was rebuilt and Skarzynski became Commanding Officer, firstly in RAF Hucknall and then of the Polish Flying School in RAF Newton. He however asked to serve in a combat unit and was assigned as Commanding Officer of the RAF Lindholme Air Base and a pilot in the 305 Polish Bomber Regiment.

After midnight on 26 June 1942, returning from a great bombing mission over Bremen his Wellington was forced to land in the North Sea due to damage to the engine. Skarzynski put down the heavily damaged aircraft so expertly in the stormy sea that all the crew was saved. Skarzynski leaving the Wellington last was washed to sea and was the only crew member lost. His body was washed ashore and he was buried on the Dutch island of Terschelling.

He was awarded, among others, the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari (5th class), the Cross of Independence, the Officer Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (4th Class), the Cross of Valour (four times), the gold and Silver Crosses of Merit, the French Legion d’Honneur, the Officer Cross of the Brazillian Order of the Southern Cross, the Romanian Cross of the Crown of Romania, the Hungarian Cross of Merit etc. The F.A.I awarded him the Louis Bleriot Medal in 1936, of which he was one of the first recipients. Posthumously he was made a full Colonel
and Aleksander Kwasniewski, the President of Poland, awarded him posthumously the Order of Polonia Restituta 2nd Class.

There are numerous streets and schools named after him and he is the Patron of the AeroClub of Wloclawek and of the 13th Air Transport Squadron in Krakow. On 10 August 2009 the Minister of National Defense signed the Decree appointing him Patron of the Air Base in Balice-Krakow. A Statue of Col Skarzynski stands on the Base and one on the Main Square in Warta, his birth place. His bust stands in the Hall of Fame in Mexico City Airport.

The Polish Air Base in Krakow Poland has adopted him as their Patron and all march-pasts are held there in front of his statue where flowers are laid.  Many streets, schools and scout groups now carry his name. Stanislaw Jakub Skarzynsk was the last pre war President of the aero club of Poland and that in 1939 as deputy Air Attaché in Bucharest, Romania, he helped many of the Polish Air Force to France. On the fall of France he was instrumental in transferring 17,000 Polish airmen to Great Britain where the Polish Air Force was reformed. 

We would like to thank Maciej Skarzynski, the son of Stanislaw Jakub Skarzynsk for all his help in providing Avstop with is information.

©AvStop Online Magazine                                                                                                      Contact Us              Return To News