Almost every day people living in Bielsko-Biała, Poland would hear the roar of a radial engine airplane towing a glider aloft. I would walk across several fields and open roads to find myself on the east side of the airfield. With a quick run across the grass I would find myself at the aero club buildings and the hangars in which airplanes and gliders lived. A very exciting experience for a young, aspiring pilot!
But even more exciting yet was what was located on the other side of the fence that ran alongside of the glider hangar. It was a PDPS PZL Bielsko, also known as an SZD Bielsko. SZD Bielsko was a company engaged in glider design and manufacturing, and in December of 1976 their brand new glider flew for the very first time; the SZD 50 Dromader.
The SZD 50 Dromader was later renamed SZD 50 Puchacz. It was a basic and aerobatic trainer that underwent multiple changes and improvements. These changes were made as a direct result of SZD Bielsko’s willingness to listen to Puchacz pilots, and especially to flight instructors who used the aircraft.
A few years later, I found myself employed at SZD Bielsko. I had a chance to personally meet some of the greatest minds involved in the glider design, manufacturing and testing processes at that time. The SZD Bielsko design team began composing a list of Puchacz shortcomings and soon it became obvious that there was a need for a new glider design, not just another improved SZD 50. I left my job at the Bielsko factory in the fall of 1986, but before leaving, I had asked my boss, the late January Roman, if there were any definite plans to design and build a new glider. He gave me a very vague answer, but I gathered at the time that either there were talks about it or the designers had already begun working on a new design.
In Poland there was a need for two place glider designed for performance flying. The ultimate goal had been from the very beginning of the SZD project to design and build a glider which could be used for advanced cross country soaring as well as a basic training.
Adam Meus came out of the retirement to become the lead engineer of the team that designed the SZD 54 Perkoz. SZD Bielsko built two glider prototypes. The first flight of the first prototype was flown by Jerzy Śmielkiewicz. The glider had a brand-new wing design based on the excellent NN-8 airfoil. The designers incorporated reduced forward sweeping wing angle and by doing so they improved the handling during aerobatic flight. Furthermore, the tail boom was modified to achieve improved stiffness and reduced mass. In 1996 the newly designed glider was given to the flight instructors at the Mountain Flying School Żar for evaluation. Again the factory listened to the instructors and incorporated additional minor changes into that prototype. Unfortunately, the end of the Twentieth Century was not kind to SZD Bielsko and bankruptcy prevented further development of this promising glider. Eventually the flying prototype was sold to an individual and is currently flying in Colorado.
In 2000 a new company was formed in Poland in the same place, consisting mostly of the same people as the old SZD Bielsko group, but this time under new and completely privatized structure and management. The new company, Allstar PZL Glider, is continuing production of the SZD 55-1, SZD 51-1 Junior, the SZD 59 Acro and, the venerable SZD 50-3 Puchacz. Additionally, the second Perkoz prototype was discovered “in the basement” at Allstar Glider in 2006. A decision was made to “modernize” the Perkoz to current standards. The new Perkoz prototype was taken to the Aero Friedrichshafen and received quite positive reviews. Allstar has not only heavily redesigned the SZD 54 Perkoz, they also decided to conduct an all-new flight-testing regime, in spite of thorough flight-testing previously conducted. Flutter tests have been accomplished and the Allstar Glider is expecting full EASA certification. The new flight manual has been completed as well, and submitted to the Polish ULC for approval.
I had previously made plans to visit Poland, and in August of 2011, being from Bielsko-Biała, and given my previous employment with the old Bielsko factory, I found it impossible to avoid a visit the factory. I contacted Allstar Gliders, and made an appointment with Mr. Andrzej Papiorek, who is managing its daily activities. My plan was to go to my old place of employment and simply see the new glider and maybe “try it on for size” in the rear cockpit. I have long been in the market for a two-seat sailplane and having flown several different kinds available here in the US. This had given me a pretty good idea about the size of cockpits and flight handling in other two-seaters and I was curious to compare notes. Another important factor for me was to ensure that, as a glider flight instructor, I could spend a substantial amount of time in the “back office” and at the same time have my questions answered regarding visibility, ease of operation and quite simply the safety of the new glider.
Prior to my visit, Mr. Papiorek advised me that the glider would be used in the 2nd World Advanced & 14th Glider Aerobatic Championship, which subsequently took place in Toruń, Poland, flown by a French pilot. I wanted to make sure that the glider would be available for viewing during my visit.
On Thursday, August 11, I pulled into the parking lot at Allstar Gliders. I was pleasantly surprised to find I was indeed expected. The guard at the gate invited me to park my car inside of the factory, and once there, accompanied by my wife and oldest son, Mr. Papiorek personally and warmly greeted us.
The hospitality of our host was outstanding. After a cup of coffee we walked to the hangar that housed the SZD 54 Perkoz. It was here I was quite surprised to find that the Perkoz, with an initial design that specified a 17.5 m wingspan, is that and more. The Perkoz can be used for initial flight training and acro configured at 17.5 m and for advanced soaring training, including cross-country training, with a 20 m wingspan. In 17.5 m wing configuration, it can be flown with a standard wing tip or fitted with very nice winglets. The standard tip is recommended for aerobatic flight. In the aerobatic category this ship can be stressed at +7 and –5 G’s, which I find quite impressive. Configured with the 17.5 m wing, the L/D is a respectable 37, and 42 with the 20 m extension panels. The Perkoz is exciting because it is truly a unique design. It is not a basic trainer, an acro, nor a cross-country glider. It is all three in one! As a result, it has every characteristic a club needs to properly train aspiring pilots in whatever aspect of the sport piques their interest. Much to my amazement and joy, Mr. Papiorek offered me a chance to fly this very ship. At that point I was sorry I had not brought my logbook to obtain a signature from the factory pilot, but that realization quickly changed to excitement at the prospect of flying this all-new design. As I watched the glider towed from the factory hangar in which I spent a few years as an employee of this remarkable company, I had a chance to inquire about the handling properties, vices and such. Mr. Papiorek’s only reply was, “This is a very good glider. You will like it!” OK. Fair enough.
Take off was a bit embarrassing, because my flying skills and experience on a short towrope were, in a word, non-existent. Add to this some nice green grass and I found myself in strange territory. I, like so many here in the US, have become accustomed to paved runways and 200-foot ropes. This is not the case in Poland. Granted, I learned to fly gliders in this very field, but that was many glider flights ago!
To my surprise, the rudder was immediately effective and the forces on the stick, light. In fact, very light in my experience. At this time I am also thinking this feel may change at higher airspeeds. After a 600 m tow, I had a chance to play with this glider a bit. That day I felt like there was a slight “waviness” to the air. The variometer at some moments would show 1, but not more than 1.5 m/s (about 2 to 3 kts). During that time, I flew some stalls, straight ahead and in a turn. Then I flew some steep dives approaching Vne, some 45 to 45 degree rolling maneuvers, resembling what we call Dutch Rolls, here in the US. Amazingly, during all of these maneuvers, forces on the stick remained light, crisp and responsive.
The landing was straightforward and I did not notice any bad tendencies, and the spoilers were very effective. I further realized my dependence on runway markings, not present on grass, when I ended up landing about 250 m short of the factory gate. In my opinion, this is an exceptional sailplane design. Can it get any better? I am sure it will! The designers are not through yet, and as the old saying goes, “There is always room for improvement.”
I am quite exited about this glider. The situation with trainers, especially here in the US, is so critical to our sport, yet I know of no other manufacturer who makes a modern, all composite, universal glider. In fact, I would even go so far to say that there is not other ship on the market that has a similar design concept. We see at many airports, all kinds of super high performance single place sailplanes. Can the same be said about two-place gliders? There are a few commercial operators with nice, modern gliders, but take a look at clubs. Since the grounding of the venerable L-13 Blaniks, what is left are some SGS 2-33s, with perhaps more up-scale clubs operating Larks and L-23 Super Blaniks, but in general, the trainer fleet had been grossly neglected. It occurs to me that another very good aspect of owning the SZD 54 Perkoz is a fact that a club using Perkoz gliders can also purchase the SZD 51-1 Junior to complement its fleet.
The sport of soaring can be revived, and once again become attractive to people with no prior experience in soaring as well as to conventional pilots seeking a reduction in flying expenses and costs. These gliders provide an economical and flexible way to modernize and update the training fleet of sailplanes in the US to accomplish this task.
There is currently one SZD 54 Perkoz in Southern California and another one is heading to the Edmonton Soaring Club for the Freedom Wings International, equipped with control system for people with disabilities. The factory is also producing a new version of the Perkoz that will meet the new EASA CS-22 requirements.
During the Soaring Society of America Convention in Reno, NV, in the early few days of February 2012, the SZD 54 Perkoz was on display and it received lots of positive comments. This glider is almost fully aerobatic and it is even approved for tail slides. A complete list of certified aerobatic maneuvers is posted on the factory web side and it is a quite impressive list. I encourage anyone with an interest to visit the Allstar Glider web site at http://szd.com.pl/en, and North America’s distributor Jerzy Szempliński, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada or his website, www.windpath.ca.
Additionally, Allstar Glider can provide assistance with trailers. Bielsko-Biała is also the home of Avionic Trailers, a company that builds various trailers, including a trailer ready to accommodate a new Perkoz or Junior.
The production of the great SZD 50-3 Puchacz has come to an end.
Pasco, Washington State, USA
Commercial Pilot Airplane/Glider
Senior Parachute Rigger