Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


IN POLISH, THE WORD wilga describes a golden oriole; also, the Wilga PZL-104 is a Polish aircraft of notable STOL (short-takeoff-and-landing) characteristics. Its first variant having flown in 1962, the Wilga remained in production until 2006, along the way developing cult status among STOL enthusiasts.

A Wilga PZL-104. Image by Aleksander Markin from Wikipedia.

What a fine GMax/Microsoft Flight Simulator project! Here are tidbits appropriate to the title: “Go! Polish Wilga! Go!”

PZL Heritage. Poland’s PZL, Państwowe Zaklady Lotnicze (State Aviation Works), existed in one form or another from 1928 until 2006. Politics intervened, as did international corporate matters.

During World War II, PZL was taken over by the German firm Heinkel and, with Nazi retreat, laid to waste. A post-war communist government eschewed the name PZL. When Stalinism fell from favor, the PZL brand returned in 1956. In the early 1960s, along came the PZL-104. Later demise of the Soviet empire encouraged a new moniker for the company in 1989: PZL Warszawa-Okęcie. (Okęcie is a Warsaw neighborhood; the Warsaw-Okęcie Airport was renamed Warsaw-Chopin in 2001, though the Okęcie name persists even in air traffic references.)

PZL-104 Wilga. Image by Фетисов from Wikipedia.

In 2001, PZL was acquired by Spanish company EADS CASA, its full name European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company Construcciones Aeronáuticas SA.

In one variant or another, Wilgas were produced until 2006. That year, EADS completed its acquisition of Airbus Industrie GIE and evidently decided that manufacturing an STOL light plane wasn’t in its future.

All told, more than 1000 Wilgas were produced, the PZL-104 the most successful of Polish aircraft designs. To put this in perspective, more than 44,000 Cessna 172 Skyhawks make it the world’s most manufactured aircraft.

Wilga Basics. The PZL-104 is a high-wing, all-aluminum, four-passenger utility aircraft. Its wingspan of 36 ft. 4 7/8 in. is just a tad greater than a Cessna 172R’s 36 ft. 1 in.

I chose to model the livery of Wilga SP-ZOO. (Aircraft registered in Poland carry an SP prefix; those registered in the U.S., an N.)

The Wilga had a variety of powerplants, most notably the Ivchenko AI-14R, a 10.1-liter, nine-cylinder, air-cooled radial. Most engines rotate clockwise; the Ivchenko, counterclockwise (a GMax feature deftly handled by appropriate axes for its propeller modeling).

My GMax-modeled nine-cylinder Ivchencko.

The Wilga’s Ivchencko produced 230 hp, compared with a Cessna 172R’s much smaller (5.9-liter) Lycoming horizontally opposed four-cylinder’s 160 hp. Maximum takeoff weights for both planes were similar: 2450 lb. for the Cessna, 2530 lb. for the Wilga.

The Wilga’s exemplary STOL characteristics come from this added power as well as high-lift features such as forward wing slots. Once airborne, though, the Cessna’s generally cleaner lines give it a cruising speed of 140 mph. Drag caused by the Wilga’s prominent inlet ducting for supercharger and oil cooler gives the Wilga a maximum speed of 121 mph.

My Wilga, power on and airborne over Brooklands.

Drag also shows up in contrasting glide ratios: The Wilga’s is 4:1, meaning that for every 4 units of gliding it loses 1 unit of altitude. The Cessna’s glide ratio is 9:1, typical for small aircraft.

Glide/schmide. Based on the aircraft’s personality, 230 hp, and STOL, I’m ready to join the Wilga cult.

Wilga Uses. The Wilga is termed a utility aircraft, in the broadest sense: Its takeoff power make it popular as a sailplane tug. In fact, the Wilga’s large rear glazing was specifically designed so its pilot could view the glider being towed.

The Wilga’s oversize gullwing doors (and extension perches) are amenable to parachute operations as well as ambulance duty.

The aircraft’s super-lift capability is suited to bush-flying, where fields are less than ideal. In fact, Mike Patey’s Wilga “Draco,” converted to 680-hp turboprop, has entertained air show crowds with its extreme STOL activities.

Runway? Who needs a runway? See also this “Draco” video, especially if you speak Icelandic. (Its title is “Clouds Above.” Icelandic registration prefix is TF.)

Wilga Cult. The Wilga is popular among Flight Sim enthusiasts as well. Joe Blinka and Bruce Thorson have done beautiful versions for FS2004, including a stock Wilga as well as those fitted for float, amphibian, tundra, and sailplane-towing applications.

The Wilga of Joe Blinka and Bruce Thorson; a stunning example of GMax rendering.

Because of its cult status among STOL enthusiasts, there’s plentiful documentation on the Wilga, including an entertaining video tour of its instrumentation. Google Translate also helped me discover the meaning of advisories on its panel. (NIE PALIC! is “NO SMOKING.”)

Above, instruments of Wilga SP-EZP. Image by Lukasz Zakrzewski. Below, my Wilga cabin.

Wilga Adventures. The PZL-104 has proved to be a robust and generally accident-free aircraft. In 2010, one carrying Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (much in Brexit news these days) and towing a UKIP banner crashed in Northhampshire, England. The crash was attributed to the banner fouling the Wilga’s tailplane. 

Neither Farage nor pilot Justin Adams suffered life-threatening injuries. However, according to Wikipedia, Adams was later charged with threatening the life of a Civil Aviation Authority official investigating the accident and also threatening to kill Farage in a separate incident.

On September 16, 2019, the turboprop-converted Wilga “Draco” crashed at Reno Stead Airport in an attempted takeoff with crosswinds gusting to 38 knots (44 mph). “Draco” ground-looped to the side of the runway. Its three occupants got out without injury.

This, I suspect, is how cults are born. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

2 comments on “IDZ! POLSKIE WILGA! IDZ!

  1. joshuamarkel
    January 22, 2020

    Frequently, the Wilga is described as a STOL plane, but no minimum runway distance is mentioned. Any info on this?

    • simanaitissays
      January 22, 2020

      Hi, Josh,
      The videos sure verify it, though I don’t recall reading actual specs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: