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Air Commodore Władysław Turowicz: Godfather of Pakistan Space Programme

Władysław Józef Marian Turowicz was one of the refugee pilots from Poland who joined the Royal Air Force and fought for Britain during World War Two. During World War Two, he flew the British-built Handley Page Halifax Bomber and also served in the RAF Aeronautics Division as a technical inspector, overseeing aircraft electrical and system information for organising, testing and evaluating aircraft.

No longer required by the Allies after the war and unwilling to risk life in their newly Communist homeland, some moved to and settled in Pakistan to help establish one of the most admired air forces in the world at the time.

A multi-disciplined aeronautical and astrophysics engineer in addition to being an pilot, he would attain the rank of Air Commodore. He also headed up its space and missile programmes. Pakistan would give him numerous national and military honours, and also grant him and his family Pakistani citizenship.

When Pakistan offered them three-year contracts with high salaries, 30 Polish officers choose to join the Royal Pakistan Air Force as it was known then. (‘Royal’ was dropped in 1956 when Pakistan became a Republic).

He helped establish the Pakistan Air Force and was known as the godfather of Pakistan’s space and missile programme. When Turowicz joined the Royal Pakistan Air Force in 1948, he brought his tremendous skills and knowledge with him. He set up technical institutes in Karachi, and taught at and revitalised the Pakistan Air Force Academy, where he also worked as chief scientist. In 1952, Turowicz was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander, in 1959, to the rank of Group Captain, and in 1960 he became an Air Commodore and an Assistant Chief of Air Staff in charge of PAF’s Maintenance Branch.

Space Programme

In 1966, the government of Pakistan transferred Turowicz to the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), Pakistan’s national space agency, as its chief scientist. After the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, he and Nobel laureate Dr Abdus Salam successfully convinced the then president, Ayub Khan, of the importance of a space programme for a developing country like Pakistan. The duo also persuaded the US government to invest and train Pakistan’s scientists in the field of rocket technology.

Turowicz was appointed head of Suparco in 1967 where he initiated the space programme, upgraded the Sonmiani Satellite Launch Centre, installed the Flight-Test Control Command, the Launch Pad Control System and System Engineering Division. Turowicz embarked upon a project for the fabrication and launch of a Pakistani satellite that enabled Pakistan to master the field of rocket technology. Few people are aware that the renowned engineer designed ballistic missiles of short and medium range and also participated in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

Though his name does not feature on the pages of Polish history, he figures in the records of Służba Bezpieczestwa, or SB, the security service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the People’s Republic of Poland, which made a major attempt to recruit Air Commodore Turowicz into its structures. But did he spy against Pakistan?. The Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw has recently opened to the public thousands of files from the agency that was the main intelligence organisation in Communist Poland, but so far it is not clear, as there has been little research so far on the Polish pilots in the Pakistan Air Force.

A SB’s preliminary note says Turowicz, with his high rank in the Pakistani military, huge respect and knowledge, would be a valuable asset for the organisation. It seems they became interested in recruiting him when he joined the national space agency after the India-Pakistan war of 1965, and further reinforced their efforts when Pakistan was about to launch its nuclear programme.

Early Years

According to the biographical file, Turowicz was born in 1909, in Wadziejewsko village, Siberia, to an aristocratic family. In 1920, with his parents and siblings, Turowicz began the journey to Poland, which finally was a sovereign republic again after 150 years when Russia, Prussia and Austria annexed its lands. They reached Poland in 1922 and settled down in Warsaw. After matriculation, Turowicz was enrolled at the Faculty of Aviation of the Warsaw University of Technology. A brilliant aeronautical engineer, he graduated with honours.

He liked air racing. In 1936, at the Warsaw Aero Club, he met his future wife Zofia who, at the age of 20, was already a famous glider pilot.

At the outbreak of World War Two, Turowicz – then a Polish Air Force lieutenant – was stationed in south-western Poland. He received the order to retreat to Romania and was soon locked up in an internment camp. Zofia found him there in 1940, and somehow managed to receive permission for them to marry. In autumn 1940, they began the journey to the West. Through Hungary, Yugoslavia, Switzerland and France, they reached England. Turowicz joined the Royal Air Force as a flying instructor and a test pilot.

Post War Recruitment Attempts

The first SB officer in charge of recruiting Turowicz reported he could not get accustomed to life in England and left when an opportunity arose in 1948. That opportunity was in the newly formed state of Pakistan and he moved with some 30 other Polish pilots to the RAF base in Karachi.

The statement is unconvincing. Unfortunately, documents on the group of Polish pilots who helped establish the Pakistan Air Force remain classified in Great Britain, which had seen over 17,000 Polish air personnel arrive on its shores in 1940. But the RAF no longer needed them after the war. Many pilots who returned after the war were imprisoned by the new Communist regime.

The government of Pakistan chose 30 Polish officers from the RAF, offering them three-year contracts and a home when they could not return to their land of original belonging.

Statue of Turowicz, Pakistan Air Force Museum

A beautiful documentary film directed by Anna Pietraszek, Polish Eaglets Over Pakistan (2008), has thus far been the only attempt to make their names known in Poland.

Group Captain (retired) S Ahtesham A Naqvi of PAF spoke to Pietraszek about how, even after 60 years, he remembered the Polish pilots as his teachers and instructors at the Pakistan Air Force Academy in Risalpur, and as friends.

Turowicz with Pakistani officers: Chaklala 1954

'Poles came to help us when we were abandoned by everyone else,' he says in the documentary.

Air Vice Marshal M Akhtar, Air Commodore Kamal Ahmad and Squadron Leader Ahmad Rafi remember them as kind, noble and soft-spoken. They were not 'foreigners' they say; Turowicz was 'like an elder brother'.

Akhtar says that the first thing that impressed him and which he found endearing was that Turowicz, as a senior officer, had the privilege to be served food in his own room but would always come to eat at the canteen with the younger pilots.

In 1966, the SB approached Turowicz’s eldest daughter, who was visiting her aunt and grandmother in Warsaw. A handsome officer was put in charge of courting her to gain an entry point to her father. He could have been successful, as even the aunt and grandmother saw in him a potential husband for the young lady. But the story ended soon, as another agent stationed in Pakistan had already begun to establish a cordial relationship with Turowicz himself.

It seems the first attempt at recruitment was unsuccessful. During a reception hosted by a Polish diplomat, one of the guests who allegedly represented the Polish Air Force insisted on a one-to-one conversation Turowicz. After a while, Turowicz left the party.

In 1970, Turowicz visited Poland for the first time after the war, to receive treatment at a well-known orthopaedic clinic near Warsaw. A doctoral student in engineering was placed at the same clinic to seek Turowicz’s help in translating English technical terms. On the last day, the student asked whether Turowicz loved Poland enough to do something for its benefit.

Turowicz certainly loved Poland, but that Poland was already owned by the past, or maybe it never existed. His Poland was a collection of nostalgias – inherited from parents in Siberia and later his own, and informed by pre-war nobility and honour.

A few days after the incident with the agent in student garb, the Polish diplomat who had befriended Turowicz’s family in Karachi invited him and his sister for a dinner in Warsaw. Discussion focused on a rumour that the Polish Communist Party’s secretary’s translator was a spy and had escaped to Germany. After a long silence, Turowicz confessed he had met many spies, especially during the India-Pakistan war. He said they were slimy, worthless people, men without qualities, whom he would never let close.

He then raised his voice: 'I will never become one of them.'

The file ends with signatures, stamps of senior officers and a note that the operation was aborted since all further attempts to recruit Turowicz would be to no avail.


Turowicz (seated, far right) with HQ Group, Karachi 1961


Turowicz was killed in a car crash on January 8, 1980. He was buried with full military honours. For his meritorious service, Turowicz was honoured with many awards including the Sitara-i-Pakistan, the Tamgha-i-Pakistan, the Sitara-i-Khidmat, the Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam, the Sitara-i-Imtiaz, the Abdus Salam Award in Aeronautical Engineering and the ICTP Award in Space Physics. The Pakistan Air Force placed a memorial in honour of Air Commodore Turowicz at the PAF Museum while Suparco established the Władysław Turowicz Space Complex in Lahore.

Sitara-i-Pakistan (Star of Pakistan)

Sitara-e-Pakistan (Star of Pakistan), stands third in hierarchy of civilian awards after the Nishan-e-Pakistan and the Hilal-e-Pakistan.

Sitara-i-Imtiaz

The Sitara-i-Imtiaz (Urdu: ستارۂ امتياز‎), also spelled as Sitara-e-Imtiaz (English: Star of Excellence), is the third highest honour and civilian award in the State of Pakistan. It recognizes individuals who have made an "especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of Pakistan, world peace, cultural or other significant public endeavors".

Tamgha-i-Pakistan

Tamgha-e-Pakistan (Medal of Pakistan), stands fourth in hierarchy of civilian awards after the Nishan-e-Pakistan, Hilal-e-Pakistan, Sitara-e-Pakistan.

Sitara-i-Khidmat

Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam

Third-highest civil award


"Władysław Turowicz -" Polar Star PAF "- article by the editor-in-chief of Air Cdre (R) Muhammad Ali's Second to None. Thank you for reminding us of the extraordinary story of the airport general. Władysław Turowicz and the entire team of pilots of the Polish Armed Forces in the West, who made a great contribution to building the Pakistani air force and civil aviation in the early years of Pakistan's statehood.

Turowicz’s wife Zoffia taught gliding to Shaheen Air Cadets in Karachi and Rawalpindi, and Applied Mathematics and Particle Physics at Karachi University. She, too, was honoured by Pakistan’s government for her achievements and was awarded the Pride of Performance and Sitara-i-Imtiaz.


Here is (the most complete so far) list of Polish officers and technicians in RPAF:

Wilhelm Adler, Władysław Augustynowicz, Władysław Banach, Franciszek Berezowski, Wiktor Cepiński-Flegier, Mieczysław Ciesielski, Wiktor Dobrzański, Stanisław Dudek, Henryk Franczak, Eugeniusz Gajewski, Alfons Gluba, Mieczysław Gorzula, Stanisław Haczkiewicz,

Przemysław Hedinger, Roman Hrycak, Kajetan Ignatowski, Zygmunt Jabłoński, Antoni Jędryszek, Bolesław Kaczmarek, Witold Karol, Józef Kazimierczak, Ernest Keller, Piotr Kłos, Antoni Kondrat, Józef Korczowski, Zbigniew Kossakowski, Kazimierz Kozak, Roman Kozik, Konstanty Krupowicz, Henryk Kudliński, Michał Kulesza, Stanisław Kurowski, Michał Kułagin, Henryk Kwiatkowski, Kazimierz Leis, Stefan Maczulski, Mieczysław Maksymowicz, Mieczysław Malinowski, Antoni Michalak, Marian Michalak, Donat Mickiewicz, Maria Mikulska, Jan Mikulski, Stanisław Miller, Konrad Muchowski, Mieczysław Muszyński, Wacław Niezręcki, Bronisław Pianko, Antoni Polek, Tadeusz Południak, Henryk Raczkowski, Edmund Sienkiewicz, Ignacy Sienkiewicz, Karol Sienkiewicz, Zdzisław Siwczyński,

Bohdan Sokół-Szahin, Stanisław Susz, Adam Szajdzicki, Ludwik Świerzb, Czesław Tarkowski, Czesław Tarnowski, Stefan Tronczyński, Władysław Turowicz, Zofia Turowicz, Tadeusz Wodziński, Mieczysław Wolański, Eugeniusz Zator, Czesław Zapaśnik, Jerzy Zbierzchowski, Stefan Zygnerski, Julian Żuromski and Henryk Perkowicz.



SY 2021-04-28

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