In 1897, Emil Plage founded the Factory for Building Machines and Boilers in Bronowice, Lublin. In 1899, he formed an alliance with Teofil Laśkiewicz and the factory was renamed into Mechanical Works E. Plage & T. Laśkiewicz (Polish: Zakłady Mechaniczne E. Plage i T. Laśkiewicz, ZMPL); that was a mechanical workshop and steam boiler manufacturer. The Russian Army retreating in 1915 set their premises on fire yet those were restored.
On the initiative of the Polish Air Force, Mechanical Works E. Plage & T. Laśkiewicz in Lublin began to produce aircraft in 1920. The firm owners were engineers Kazimierz Arkuszewski and Roman Laśkiewicz. It was located in the south-western district of Lublin, at Fabryczna st., 26, near the aerodrome. Teofil Laśkiewicz was managing director, Engr. Witold Rumbowicz worked as technical director, Engr. Stanisław Cywiński headed the technical office and the production preparation office was headed by Engr. Kazimierz Kazimierczak.
The Works occupied the area of 14 ha. That territory comprised: a building housing the company’s management and construction offices, a joinery, a fitting shop, a tin shop, a tool shop, mechanical workshops, an upholstery shop and a paint shop, a propeller shop, a final assembly department, hangars, warehouses, a laboratory and a dope shop. Next to those were buildings of non-aviation departments producing boilers and, later, car bodies. In 1921, the factory employed 500 people.
On February 17, 1920, the Polish Air Force concluded an agreement with the Works for the provision of 300 aircraft: fighters Ansaldo Balilla and combat biplanes Ansaldo A.300 that would be constructed under the Italian licence within 1,5 years. In August 1920, Ludomił Rayski delivered a sample copy of Ansaldo A.300 from Italy (Turin) to Lublin by air. On June 15, 1921, the first Ansaldo A.300 built in Lublin performed a test flight and on July 21, pilot Adam Haber-Włyński running the test flight of the first Ansaldo Balilla plane died because of his too daring pilotage.
During two years since receiving the order, they only produced 100 planes. A.300 aircraft manufactured in Lublin were called ‘flying coffins’ because there were several cases when wings were torn off as they were heavier and weaker than examples built in Italy. The reasons were thicker plywood of the poorer quality used in their construction and improper execution. At the beginning of 1924, Gen. Armand Leveque suspended the production. In total, 75 Ansaldo A.300 planes and 57 Ansaldo Balilla planes had been built by then.
Irrespectively of the licensed production, the Works had to develop their own designs. In August 1921, Stanisław Cywiński created the project of a two-seater reconnaissance aircraft Arla-1 (shortened Arkuszewski and Laśkiewicz) which was later sent to the military authorities for approval. That was a monoplane with braced mid wings and 300hp engine Fiat A.12bis. The project was not realised. However, in 1923, S. Cywiński built two gliders at the factory – the Lublin I and Lublin II that participated in the First Polish Glider Contest in Białka near Nowy Targ.
In April 1924, the factory received an order from the Aviation Department of the Ministry of Military Affairs for licensed production of French combat planes Potez XV; to assist in starting the production, French engineers were brought. In September 1924, a flight of the first Potez XV led by Col. Serednicki came to Poland from France; a few among them were to be used as sample copies by aerospace manufacturers. In the middle of 1925, the first Potez XV planes of the Lublin production were ready.
Meanwhile, the firm’s board was being changed. Starnawski was managing director for a short time, Tadeusz Piasecki was his successor and, eventually, Engr. Zygmunt Zakrzewski took that position. A French engineer Rastoul became technical director and Engr. Władysław Świątecki succeeded him. Engr. Jan Dębowski acted as administrative and commercial director, Engr. Jerzy Rudlicki headed the construction office and Jan Luboiński headed the production preparation department.
In 1927, the factory started to build licensed reconnaissance bombers Potez XXV; 100 were constructed in 1928-1929 and 50 more in 1932. They produced 20 three-engine bombers Fokker F.VIIb/3m under the Dutch licence in 1929 and 11 Fokker F.VIIb/3m airliners (10 for LOT Polish Airlines and 1 for export to Belgium) in 1930. Working on Potez planes enabled them to build fuselages welded from steel pipes, while production of Fokkers allowed to construct cantilever wooden wings skinned with plywood. In addition to manufacturing, the factory also provided repairs of Potez XVs and XXVs.
Since 1927, they started working on their own prototypes. Those were designed by J. Rudlicki and his team of more than a dozen people including engineers Marian Bartolewski, Jerzy Dąbrowski, Antoni Uszacki, Janusz Lange, Jerzy Teisseyre, Witold Grabowski, Jaworski and others.
The factory’s first own product was a reconnaissance bomber Lublin R-VIII built in 1928. Its airliner variant, the R-IX, was constructed in a short while. In 1930, they produced a pilot series of 5 Lublin R-VIIIs, 3 of which were converted to seaplanes in 1932. At the beginning of 1929, they performed a test flight of a liaison aircraft prototype designated R-X; a pilot series composed of 5 examples was built in 1931. Prototypes of the Lublin R-IX airliner (1929) and Lublin R-XI airliner (1930) as well as its improved variant, the R-XVI, failed to meet the requirements of LOT Polish Airlines so the production was not started. However, 5 examples of an air ambulance variant R-XVI were built in 1933-1934. In 1931, they created the R-XII sport aircraft that was not put to use.
In 1930, they created the R-XIV trainer aircraft, a development of R-X. A reconnaissance variant, the R-XIII (1931), became the factory’s biggest success. In 1932-1936, 273 R-XIIIs including 19 examples of a seaplane variant on floats were produced. The last design introduced by the factory was a prototype of a two-engine torpedo bomber aircraft R-XX (1935).
Engr. Rudlicki was also running his experiments. He had the idea of a tail configuration called Rudlicki’s V-tail or a butterfly tail. They tested it in 1931 on the Hanriot H-28 and in 1933 on the R-XIX, a development of the R-XIII. Some Rudlicki’s projects were not realised. Those were an army cooperation plane R-XV (1931), a reconnaissance bomber R-XXI (1932) meant to be a development of the Potez XXV with landing gear retractable in wings and better fuselage skinning; there were also projects of a two-engine bomber biplane R-XVIII (1933) with Rudlicki’s V-tail sent to the contest and competing with planes Żubr (Bison) and Łoś (Moose), an observation aircraft R-XXI (1934) and a torpedo seaplane R-XXII (1934) – an improved R-VIII variant.
It is worth noting that the concept of the R-VIII was similar to the Potez XXV. Likewise, the arrangement of wings on R-XI and R-XVI high-wing airliners and on the R-XX torpedo seaplane was undoubtedly based on Fokkers’ wing configuration.
In 1935, the factory employed up to 1100 people; 800 of those worked at the aviation department. Since 1934, Col. Józef Zajączkowski was managing director. Adam Haber-Włyński, Stanisław Pawluć, Antoni Mroczkowski and Władysław Szulczewski worked as test pilots.
At the end of 1935, Air Command willing to nationalise the factory cancelled the order for 50 R-XIIIFs, some of which were near completion. The aircraft were estimated as scrap and the factory declared bankruptcy on December 7, 1935. Then it was nationalised and the renewed order for the R-XIIIF enabled them to operate without debts and losses, now with a new name – Lublin Aircraft Factory.
Lublin Aircraft Factory
Upon their nationalisation on February 1, 1936, Mechanical Works E. Plage & T. Laśkiewicz in Lublin received the name Lublin Aircraft Works (Polish: Lubelska Wytwórnia Samolotów, LWS). Formally, it was a private limited company 98% of which belonged to the Podlasie Aircraft Factory (Polish: Podlaska Wytwórnia Samolotów, PWS) and 2% to Maj. Aleksandr Sipowicz so it was actually owned by State Aviation Works (Polish: Państwowe Zakłady Lotnicze, PZL). They leased the premises from Plage & Laśkiewicz, a debtor. In 1936, the factory employed 600 people and in 1938-1939 that number was 1100-1400. Maj. Aleksandr Sipowicz was managing director, Engr. Zbysław Ciołkosz was technical director replaced by Engr. Ryszard Bartel in autumn 1937; Zbysław Ciołkosz headed the study department (the construction office). Since autumn 1937, that position was taken by Engr. Jerzy Teisseyre; Władysław Szulczewski was experimental pilot.
During a short time, LWS continued testing a prototype of a seaplane R-XX; the project of a serial variant received the designation LWS-1. In 1936, the factory completed 50 R-XIIIFs building of which had been started before the nationalisation. In the same year, PZL passed to LWS the documentation on the bomber PZL.30 Żubr (designed by Ciołkosz), the first prototype of which crashed in November 1936. The plane was designated LWS-6 Żubr. Its floatplane variant, the LWS-5 for the Naval Air Squadron in Puck, was not built. They constructed another prototype, LWS-6 Żubr, and produced 15 LWS-6A in 1938-1939. In 1937, they drafted a project of a light fighter aircraft designated LWS-4 (PZL.39). In the same year, the factory completed rebuilding 47 Potez XXVs, on which they installed Jupiter radial engines instead of Lorraine-Dietrich engines. In 1937, the factory finished a prototype of the LWS-2 ambulance plane designed by Z. Ciołkosz and J. Teisseyre.
In 1938, LWS started the licensed production of the RWD-14 Czapla (Heron); 65 examples were built in 1938-1939. In 1938, they introduced a reconnaissance plane prototype LWS-3 Mewa (Seagull) designed by J. Teisseyre and Engr. Władysław Fiszdon according to the project draft by Z. Ciołkosz. In 1939, the factory started the serial production of 200 planes of that type; 30 planes was proudly announced in the middle of the year. By the end of August, some Mewas were near completion and two were ready. The factory’s last project, the LWS-7 Mewa II, was at the final stage of development when the war broke out.
In spring 1939, the expansion of the factory was started.
The army cooperation plane
As the term ‘army cooperation plane’ was non-typical, critical remarks about the Lublin R-XIII could be made: such a kind of an aircraft did not exist in the other countries’ air forces. Meanwhile, during WWII, they all used liaison-observation aircraft classified similarly to the R-XIII: the Fieseler Fi 156 Storch in Germany, an armed variant of the Polikarpow U-2 (Po-2) in the USSR, the Piper Cub in the United States Air Force and Auster Taylorcraft in the Royal Air Force. The R-XIII had already been in service in Poland in 1932, whereas the other countries only implemented their aircraft in the course of the war.
Being used by the side that had advantages in the air, observation-liaison aircraft were able to fulfill tasks yet they were defenceless against fighter planes of an adversary. That is why the R-XIII did not play a big part in September 1939, not because they were obsolete. When an adversary had more power in the air, reconnaissance operations had to be carried out by quick reconnaissance aircraft. Nowadays, the role of observation-liaison aircraft is performed by helicopters, drones and satellites.
The aircraft concept
The concept of an infantry cooperation aircraft was developed on Marshal Józef Piłsudski’s request, when troops were in use during the May coup in 1926. In the guidelines by the General Inspectorate of the Armed Forces on organisation and use of aviation dated October 13, 1926, they outlined the importance of adjusting the aviation to ‘to the changing conditions of the civil war’. That was also stated that ‘in the course of the war, working to ensure intelligence and communication must be the first priority of the aviation’. On October 14, 1926, it was stated in the report of the Polish General Staff about the guidelines fulfillment:
1. ‘At present, infantry and cavalry divisions lack aviation. A battle squadron is unsuitable for the inherent aviation of these divisions. That is typical army aviation.’
2. ‘Therefore, besides the mighty Air Force and Commander-in-Chief, it is necessary to implement light aviation, cheaper and more manoeuvrable, that would not require ideal aerodromes and hangars and involve less trained personnel. The tasks for this aviation are: cooperation with the divisional artillery and accompanying the infantry. An inherent unit for an infantry or cavalry division would be a platoon of 4 planes.’
A military aircraft of this type also had to solve the problem of limited funds for aviation within the military budget.
In Memoriał w sprawie lotnictwa (Memorandum on aviation) of March 12, 1928 prepared for the General Staff, the chief of the Aviation Department colonel Ludomił Rayski demanded to create the army cooperation aviation, the first three squadrons of which had to be formed in 1929.
Col. Marian Romeyko, who described the genesis of army cooperation aviation on the pages of Przegląd Lotniczy (Aviation Revue) in 1930, says that they wanted ‘an aircraft that would be able to land almost on any airfield, would be easy to maintain, easy to transport, would not require a tent hangar, would be cheap to construct and use and simultaneously have appropriate speed, lifting capacity and service ceiling’. He specifies that it had to be a two-seater metal high-wing plane with folding wings and very broad and durable landing gear, unable to turn over and capable of taking off and landing shortly. Also, it had to have a place for a radio station.
In 1927, the Aviation Department of the Ministry of Military Affairs announced a contest for an aircraft of that kind and specified requirements for it. In the technical requirements, it was stated that a plane had to be powered by a 162kW (220hp) engine Wright J. 5, armed with an observer’s machine gun and have the maximum speed of 170 km/h, be capable of a short takeoff and short landing at an unprepared airfield, have folding wings and be pullable by an automobile moving its own chassis. At the end of 1927, two factories became interested in the competition: the Podlasie Aircraft Factory located in Biała Podlaska and Mechanical Works E. Plage & T. Laśkiewicz in Lublin. State Aviation Works in Warsaw was also supposed to enter it in December 1927. On March 28, 1928, Podlasie Aircraft Factory received an order for 2 prototypes and 5 aircraft of pilot production, whereas Mechanical Works E. Plage & T. Laśkiewicz started designing the aircraft at their own risk.
Three aircraft were introduced for the contest: the PWS-5, the PZL Ł.2 and Lublin R-X.
At Podlasie Aircraft Factory in Biała Podlaska, Engr. Aleksander Grzędzielski and technician Augustyn Bobek (who later changed his second name to Zdaniewski) designed a wooden biplane PWS-7 that soon received a new designation, PWS-5. The first prototype of PWS-5 flew for the first time on December 28, 1928, whereas the second one, a little improved PWS-5a, was flown in February 1929. In spring 1929, the planes were sent to the Institute of Aviation Technical Research (Polish: Instytut Badań Technicznych Lotnictwa, IBTL) in Warsaw for testing. Simultaneously, they started pilot production of five PWS-5t2 planes modified according to conclusions about their prototypes testing. In autumn 1929, the factory delivered five PWS-5t2 planes to the Air Force. PWS-5 aircraft had military numbers type 51 as well as serial numbers from 51-1 to 51-7. At IBTL, the PWS-5 aircraft received negative evaluation as its takeoff distance was long, it had a low rate of climb and its landing was long so it could not be used on unprepared airfields.
Using the experience of testing his trainer biplane PWS-12, the designer of PWS-5 quickly created the improved project, PWS-6, at the beginning of 1930. The prototype equipped with slats was built in 1930 but it could not compete with other aircraft because of the worse handling qualities.
State Aviation Works in Warsaw had privileges. In the second half of 1928, Jerzy Dąbrowski who had already gained the experience of designing the R-X in Lublin joined the factory’s construction office. Being consulted by Władysław Zalewski, he and Franciszek Kott were commissioned by PZL to design the PZL.2 liaison aircraft (later designated PZL Ł.2) intended for entering the contest in 1927. As a state manufacturer, the factory had big chances of receiving orders on a priority basis. The PZL Ł.2 had the all-metal construction: its fuselage was welded from steel pipes, its wings and empennage had a duralumin skeleton and were covered with canvas. A PZL Ł.2 prototype with the military number 55-1 (that later received a registration SP-ADN) rose into the air at the end of 1929, after both competitive aircrafts had been tested at IBTL. That enabled fixing some drawbacks of the PZL Ł.2 found in the aircraft mentioned by making changes in the course of construction. The aircraft passed tests at IBTL at the beginning of 1930. The comparison of the aircraft revealed that the PZL Ł.2 had considerably better performance indicators. The PZL Ł.2 took first place in the contest, the R-X came in second and the PWS-5 was disqualified. The factory received an order for 35 PZL Ł.2. In 1930, they completed 10 aircraft, among which the example no 55-10 was made as a civil sport variant and received a registration SP-AFA. Flying Captain Stanisław Skarżyński and eng. Andrzej Markiewicz flew it around Africa (February 1-May 31, 1931), a total distance of 25,000 km. In 1931, another 25 PZL Ł.2a were completed. Yet the exploitation showed that the aircraft could move well at low speed but it also entered a spin, which led to two accidents. As the factory was commissioned the PZL P.7 fighter aircraft, the manufacturing of the PZL Ł.2 stopped soon and they were written off fairly quickly.
On account of good results demonstrated in 1929 by a sport aircraft RWD-2 designed by Stanisław Rogalski, Stanisław Wigura and Jerzy Drzewiecki, the Polish Air Force requested its liaison variant with folding wings, which received the designation RWD-3. Its prototype performed the first flight in April 1930. However, this construction turned out to be heavier than expected. Using the engine of the power of 59 kW (80 hp), its payload was too small. The aircraft was not qualified for comparison tests.
In December 1927, at the Lublin factory, Jerzy Rudlicki started designing the Lublin R-X two-seater liaison aircraft that would eventually be able to function as a mail plane. In 1928, an airframe example for static tests as well as a prototype were made. Only upon their introduction, the Aviation Department of the Ministry of Military Affairs commissioned the plane. The static tests took place in December 1928 and January 1929. The prototype number 52-1 was flown (with a wheeled chassis and skis) on February 1, 1929 at the Lublin aerodrome. The aircraft had military markings.
On both sides of the fuselage, the prototype had exhaust pipes with silencers reducing the engine noise very effectively. In spring 1929, the aircraft passed the tests which proved its ability to manoeuvre. Its performance and weight were distinctly worse than designated: the empty weight constituted 900 kg instead of 650 kg expected, its maximum speed was 160 km/h instead of 180 km/h and its service ceiling was 3400 m instead of 6000 m.
In spring and summer 1929, the Plage & Laśkiewicz factory completed a pilot series of five R-Xa ordered by the Air Force; those received numbers from 52-2 to 52-6.
Those aircraft had a rotary machine gun in the rear cockpit. Initially equipped with wooden propellers and, later, with a Townend ring protecting its engine and a metal propeller, the R-X was being tested at IBTL from summer 1929 until November 14, 1929.
In June 1929, one R-X was introduced at the Universal National Exhibition in Poznań. In spring 1929, the last R-Xa with the serial number 52-7 was built, that was a sport variant which received a registration SP-ABW; it was equipped with a fuel tank for 15 hours of flying. Its distinctive feature were individual exhaust pipes for each cylinder. On September 25, 1929, an engineer and pilot W. Makovski along with a flight engineer B. Wieman flew that plane non-stop from Poznań to Barcelona (1800 km) via Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and France carrying greetings from the Universal National Exhibition to the Iberian-American Exhibition in Barcelona. The return trip with landings in Paris and Poznań ended on September 3, 1929, in Warsaw.
In September 1929, lieutenant S. Massalski piloting an R-X military variant took tenth in Kraków in the Tour of Southwestern Poland (Polish: Lot Południowo-Zachodniej Polski). Upon completion of the flight tests in the Air Regiments nos 2, 4 and 6, R-Xa were used in units, among other things, in the 2nd Air Regiment in Kraków and at the Aviation Training Centre in Dęblin in 1930-1932.
At the end of 1929, after completing comparison testing between the R-X, PZL Ł.2 and PWS-5 and concluding that the R-X had demonstrated the best short takeoff and landing, very good stability and controllability at low speeds and satisfactory performance, the Polish Air Force chose the latter.
However, the R-Xa did not go into series production as the designer created a refined model designated R-XIV; production of a better-performing development of it, the R-XIII, was approved.
In 1931, they rebuilt rear cockpits, removed rotary machine guns and installed comfortable seats on three R-Xa. Those functioned as staff planes, or liaison aircraft for commanders.
In the same year, flying captain S. Karpiński, who was planning a trip to Australia, chose the R-X for training races. On July 3, 1931, he flew 1,650 km around Poland; the plane had a registration SP-ABW. On September 23 – October 7, 1931, S. Karpiński and Engr. J. Suchodolski made a journey around Europe on the route Warsaw – Bucharest – Constantinople – Rome – Turin – London – Warsaw, a total length of 6,450 km.
In 1932, the aircraft was modified at the factory by adding a Townend ring, a metal propeller and spatted wheels. It received fuel tanks for 18 hours of flying. That model was designated R-Xa bis. On October 2-24, 1932, the crew comprising S. Karpiński and W. Rogalski took a trip on it to Africa and Asia on the route Warsaw – Sliven – Istanbul – Aleppo – Baghdad – Tehran – Herat – Kabul – Tehran – Baghdad – Cairo – Jerusalem – Aleppo – Istanbul – Lublin – Warsaw, a total length of 14,390 km and duration of 108 h 50 min.
Then the plane was sent to the 34th Combat Escadrille in Poznań as the business aircraft of S. Karpiński. It crashed on October 26, 1934 and was written off. Seven R-Xs were built.
The wingspan of the R-X was 13,5 m. Its length was 8,33 m, its height was 2,98 m and its bearing surface was 25,96 m2. Its empty weight constituted 900 kg, the operating weight was 466 kg and gross weight was 1,366 kg. The plane’s maximum speed was 161 km/h, the cruising speed was 140 km/h and minimum speed was 65 km/h. Its rate of climb was 2,4 m/s, its service ceiling was 3,400 m, its range was 670 km. It required the 40m takeoff distance and the 80m ground run. A sport variant had the operating weight of 700 kg and gross weight of 1,750 kg; its maximum speed was 176 km/h and its range was 2,500 km.
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