Trip Report: 56 Baza Lotnicza Open Day

Article originally published by Aviation News in August 2023

Deep in central Poland lies the City of Inowroclaw. An industrial city 120 Miles Northwest of Warsaw famous for salt mining, and home to 56 Baza Lotnicza. With the participation list only being announced 24hrs before the event, I was heading out to Poland unsure of what to expect, but going off previous open days I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. Army helicopter aviation has been present at Inowroclaw since 1963 when the 56 Pułk Śmigłowców was formed, over its 60-year history the unit has taken on many different names until 2012 when the 56 Baza Lotnicza was formed. During this time the unit has operated PZL SM-1’s, PZL SM-2’s, Mil Mi-4’s, Mil Mi-8’s and currently operates Mil Mi-2’s, Mil Mi’24’s and PZL-Swidnik W-3’s

To celebrate their 60th anniversary 56 Baza Lotnicza opened their doors to the public on Saturday 20th May . Kicking off the flying display just after 1330hrs was a duo of fast jets the first a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29UB from 22. Baza Lotnictwa at Malbork, giving a brief but punchy and exhaust filled display. The two-seat soviet fighter gave only four passes to the crowd before departing off slot, only to be followed quickly by the f-16 tiger demo team with it being the team’s first public appearance of the 2023 season.

Surprisingly there was no flying display from either the based Mil-17’s or Mil-2 instead the highlight of the flying display was a role demonstration by the polish airborne unit the 25th Air Cavalry Brigade featuring two locally based PZL-Swidnik W-3W Sokol providing top cover whilst a pair of Mil Mi-8’s deployed the ground forces after a short firefight the Mi-8’s returned to collect the troops. A Yeovilton Commando Assault Finale it was not but still none the less a great energetic set piece it was. Days after the open day the Polish military announced their intentions to replace the Mi-8’s with Leonardo AW101’s.

The Polish Navy also fielded a PZL-Swidnik W-3WARM Sokol in the flying display with a dynamic Search and Rescue demonstration, using the classic downed pilot scenario. The grey and dayglo helicopter coming in low and fast delivering the winchman/medic to assess the casualty. After a few minutes in the ground and the W3 performing a number if passes overhead the winchman/medic indicates with flares that the casualty is ready to be winched to safety. Once both safely onboard and with one more pass the Navy crew departed handing over to the Air Force with a rare and rather graceful demonstration from a PZL-Swidnik SW-4.

Closing the flying display in a slightly more Sedate fashion than was expected was the US Army AH-64E Apache Guardian from the Bravo Troop 3-17 Air Cavalry Squadron 3.CAB currently deployed to 33. Baza Lotnictwa, Powidz as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve 10. Whilst in Europe we’ve come to expect dynamic punchy Apache display from both the British Army Air Corps and the Royal Netherlands Air Force. However, with the US crew being a deployed crew and not a fully-fledged display crew, the role demonstration was limited to a however taxi, take off, circuit and return to land. Poland has agreed the purchase of 96 AH-64E’s replacing the aging Mil-24’s. As well as the Apache in the flying display another example of the type along with a Sikorsky HH-60M BlackHawk could both be found in the static display.

Away from the flying display the static display was a plethora of Polish military rotary wing assets including a surprise appearance from a Mi-14PL from the Polish Navy itself another example of soviet era equipment due to be replaced by more modern western equipment, in this case the four soon to be delivered AW101 Mk.614. Bringing things bang up to date was the PZL-Mielec S-70i Blackhawk from the Polish Special Forces unit GROM, delivered in 2019 the Blackhawk’s were procured as part of a modernisation programme throughout the the Polish Special Forces in order to meet obligations to fulfil NATO membership. A trio of training helicopters all of which rarely are seen outside the Poland also graced the static display including a PZL-Swidnik SW-4, Robinson R44 and Guimbal Cabri G2 the latter two operated with Polish civilian registration and used by the Polish Air Force University which is responsible for basic flying training for all three military services of Poland.

Throughout the day it was clear to see that 56 Baza Lotnicza means a lot to the community of Inowroclaw and the surrounding area with people of all ages queuing up to have their photo taken with a US Calveryman with their distinctive black cowboy hats or to climb into the cockpit of a Mi-2. The crowds didn’t peter out at all in-fact the base personnel had to usher people off the airfield in order to allow the visiting aircraft to depart. The crowds did hinder those enthusiasts wanting photos however with the cockpit and cabin open to the public of every aircraft in static display and no crowd barriers around any of the helicopters getting clean shots before being ushered off the airfield was a challenge.

With the polish military being heavily committed to modernising its helicopter fleet, to get the opportunity to see and photograph the soviet age helicopters prior to their retirement was one that certainly couldn’t be missed.

South West Aviation Photographers would like to thank everyone at 56 Baza Lotnicza for making this article possible

Report by Matt Sudol

© South West Aviation Photographers 2023