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Which Second World War fighter pilot successfully completed the flight testing of Canada's first supersonic aircraft in 1958?

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A true pioneer, Janusz Zurakowski (12 September 1914 - 9 February 2004) was "considered to be the greatest test pilot of his time" and "a Polish Canadian who was at the forefront of the cutting edge of aviation technology." This Second World War fighter pilot, squadron leader, aerobatic performer and test pilot was born in Ryzawka (in today's Ukraine) and in 1921 he and family moved to Poland where he was educated. He joined the Polish Air Force in 1934 and three years later, he was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant Pilot and posted to No. 161 Fighter Squadron at Lwow, Poland. At the outbreak of the Second World War he served as an instructor at the Central Flying School, and while flying an obsolete PZL P.7 fighter/trainer scored his first success against a German aircraft in September 1939. When the Polish Army was defeated within weeks of the German invasion, Zurakowski escaped to England and joined the Polish Air Force. In the beginning of the Battle of Britain, he was fighting in the 234 and 609 Royal Air Force Squadrons along with many Polish pilots, and he was credited with destroying three enemy aircraft in combat. In April 1942 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and several months later took command of No. 316 Polish Fighter Squadron. The following year he was appointed Deputy Wing Leader of Polish No. 1 Fighter Wing stationed at Northolt. For his valour and courage in combat, he was awarded the Polish Cross of Valor and Bar in 1941 and a Second Bar in 1943 and in that same year was awarded the Virtuti Militari – Poland's highest military decoration which is equivalent to the British Victoria Cross or the American Medal of Honor.

In January 1945, after graduating from the Empire Test Pilots' School, he was posted to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Royal Air Force Station Boscombe Down testing over 40 different new aircraft from different countries. After the war, Zurakowski chose to stay in Britain and in 1947 joined the Gloster Aircraft Company as chief experimental pilot working on the development of the Gloster Meteor, Gloster E.1/44 and Gloster Javelin fighter aircraft. In April 1950 he established a new international air speed record between London-Copenhagen-London. In 1951, while flying a Meteor at the Farnborough Airshow in England, he demonstrated a new aerobatic manoeuvre, known as the "Zurabatic Cartwheel", in which he suspended the prototype he was flying in a vertical cartwheel. This was considered to be the only new manoeuvre in 20 years. In 1952, Zurakowski immigrated to Canada with his wife Anna and two sons - George and Marek, to join A.V. Roe Canada at Toronto, Ontario as chief developmental pilot. In December of that year he broke the sound barrier in a CF-100 Mark 4 fighter aircraft – the first of Canadian design to reach that speed. In 1958, he was chosen as the chief development test pilot of the new Canadian supersonic CF-105 Avro Arrow programme. On 25 March 1958, he took off from Malton, Ontario and completed the first flight of the Arrow RL 25201 prototype. On the seventh flight he exceeded 1,600 kilometers per hour (1,000 miles an hour) and in August flew the second prototype. After flying Arrow 203 on 26 September 1958, he gave up test flying for good. On Friday 20 February 1959, prime minister John Diefenbaker rose before the House of Commons and announced that the Avro Arrow aircraft and the Iroquois engine programs were to be immediately terminated, and said that the Government's intent was to acquire Bomarc missiles for air defence and Lacrosse missiles for the Canadian army - products of the U.S.A. This date is known as "Black Friday" in Canada's aviation community. With the trickle-down effect, it is estimated that about 50,000 jobs were lost. Despite lucrative offers from American aeronautical companies, Zurakowski decided to stay in Canada and opened in Barry's Bay, Ontario a tourist resort – Kartuzy Lodge that soon became a shelter for Polish tradition and culture for over forty years. It is worth noting that Barry's Bay is only ten kilometers (6 miles) away from the village of Wilno which is better known as Canada's oldest Polish Settlement, when they arrived in Renfrew County (Ontario) in 1858. Janusz Zurakowski died at his home and is buried in Barry's Bay.

Zurakowski received many accolades for his contributions to Canadian aviation. Among them, he was inducted into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973 with the following citation: "The dedication of his aeronautical skills to the successful flight testing of Canada's first supersonic aircraft resulted in outstanding benefit to Canadian aviation." In 1996, the Royal Canadian Mint released a sterling silver $20 commemorative coin of the Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck which featured an insert of him. In 1999, Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake (Alberta) Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment named its new facility in his honour. That same year he received the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. In 2000, he became an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test pilots, joining ranks of Charles Lindbergh, Neil Armstrong, and Igor Sikorsky. And as shown in the photograph, the town of Barry's Bay honoured their most famous and admired citizen and dedicated a park to him on 26 July 2003, now 88 years old and in frail health. The park includes a statue of him overlooking a replica of the CF-105 Avro Arrow, which took more than 2,500 hours of volunteer time to produce.

On this day, 12 September 2022, we commemorate the 108th anniversary of the birth of Janusz Zurakowski and celebrate more than 64 years since he conducted the first flight of the CF-105 Avro Arrow.

André M. Levesque

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