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8 BLTr Krakow-Balice
Published: February 2013
Krakow-Balice airport is home to the Polish air force (Siły Powietrzne - SP) 8. BLOT and located about 15km West of Krakow. The airport is civilian operated with the SP aprons and buildings located in the Southern part and the civilian terminals in the Southeast. Air traffic control is provided by the airport authority although one military controller is part of the team to take care of the take-offs and landings of all military flights. 8 BLOT also provides services to Polish army and navy aircraft transiting through the base or during deployments, the latter for instance during low level flying in the Tatra mountains South of Krakow. The base is equipped to perform maintenance on visiting aircraft. Currently 8 BLOT is commanded by Col. J. Łazarczyk.

Organizational structure

The Polish air force underwent a major reorganization in 2010. The Eskadra (squadron) structure was abandoned for a base structure which is reporting to one of the four wings. Two transport bases are reporting directly to the 3 Skrzydło Lotnictwa Transportowego (3 SLTr – 3rd Tactical Transport Wing):  8 BLTr at Krakow-Balice and 33 BLTr at Powidz. 3 SLTr has its at headquarters at 33 BLTr. The 8 BLTr is organized into three groups: Air Operations Group (AOG), Support Group and the maintenance group.

The AOG consist of two Eskadra Lotnictwa Transportowego (ELTr – Transport Squadron): 12 ELTr operating the PZL Mielec M-28 B/PT and 13 ELTr operating the Casa C-295M. The aircraft haven’t received names but the Casa is commonly referred to as KAŚKA (a diminutive of Katarzyna) and the M-28 B/PT in USAF service being designated Skytruck. The Antonov An-2 Colt has been retired by 8. BLOT in early July. The Colts will remain on the Polish air force inventory till the end of 2013 with the remaining aircraft being retired at the moment they are due for maintenance and their airworthy certificate is expired.
Also based at Krakow-Balice is the 3 Grupa Poszukiwawczo-Ratownicza (3 GPR - 3 SAR Group). 3 GPR operates the Mil Mi-2 and Mil Mi-8RL in the search and rescue role and reports directly to 3 SLTr.

8 BLTr missions

The Polish airlift mission is coordinated by the 3 SLTr. Based on the tasking received by the SP headquarters in Warsaw the 3 SLTr will either task 14 ELTr with its M-28 or Lockheed Martin C-130E Hercules or 12/13 ELTr with its M-28s and Casa’s. The individual missions are prepared by the GDL that has a special unit responsible for planning the mission. They complete the necessary documents to complete the job.

Besides the passenger and cargo airlift mission the units also support operations by the paratroopers, a role being taken over from the An-2, support of special forces, represent the Polish air force at air shows with a static display of an aircraft and support the Polish organ transplantation organization.

Since 2011 the 13 ELTr is certified to perform the air dropping missions with pallets being delivered to ground forces with the use of parachutes. 8 BLTr has a Medical Evacuations Team (MET) which has 2 sets of LSTAT and 2 sets of MEDEVAC, which can be installed in any Casa C-295 plane. Furthermore the equipment consists of respiration monitors and a medical team. A Casa can be equipped with 27 stretchers accommodating wounded personnel. The MET has just recently been formed and is the first for the Polish air force (the Polish army already has teams on strength). The first medical airlift mission was flown in November 2011 and 16 missions have been conducted till mid July 2012. For support of the Polish organ transplantation organization it’s possible to transport an ambulance with its medical team to deliver or pick up an organ and bring it to its destination to save a life of a person waiting for the organ.

12 ELTr has also been assigned the role to calibrate military air fields in Poland. Two of the M-28 B/PT can be converted for this role with equipment and antenna’s. Calibration is done annually however based on the equipment of an air base (ILS, Tacan etc) this can be done more frequently. The missions are flown with the older model of the M-28 (see 8 BLTr future). In order to keep current pilots also train low level missions in mountainous areas. Also here the Tatra mountains are used for training.

The training is especially valuable for operations in Afghanistan. Poland supports ISAF with army and air force assets. For three years 13 ELTr provides a C-295M and a crew of 14 airmen who are on a 10 week rotation. Missions are flown for the Polish contingent but also for coalition forces as air operations are directed by the responsible air operations center. For the crews the main challenge is operating the aircraft, as the high altitude(s) and hot environment are affecting the performance of the engines. In Europe the Casa can take 50-60 fully packed soldiers where in Afghanistan this is reduced to 15. The maximum of personnel ever carried by a Polish C-295M is 72 soldiers.

Furthermore there are plans to introduce night vision goggles. These are useful during night missions and in difficult weather conditions. When called upon the squadron will also assist in humanitarian relief operations. It has seen missions conducted to earthquake hit countries like Italy and Turkey and other missions to Albania, Libya, Iraq and Kosovo.

8 BLTr changes and challenges

A number of changes and challenges will take place at 8 BLTr and both the 12 and 13 ELTr. As already described the An-2s have been withdrawn from service. The para drop missions will continue with both the M-28 B/PT and C-295M. The main change being that the An-2 could operate from grass runways. The M-28s are capable of using grass runways but only when the ground is dry due to the aircraft weight. The C-295M always needs a concrete runway to operate from.

12 ELTr has already received four new M-28s which have received the designation M-28 B/PT GC (glass cockpit). In total eight M-28B/PT GC aircraft will be received with the older models being reassigned to 14 ELTr. The first pilots on the new M-28 have been trained at PZL Mielec but further conversion training will be performed by 12 ELTr.

13 ELTr will receive five new C-295Ms of which the first two will be delivered at the end of 2012 with the remaining three aircraft to be delivered in 2013 bringing the total fleet to 16 aircraft. To accommodate the new aircraft a new hangar will be build. The current one has been build a few years ago to accommodate the Casa’s and has space to maintain two C-295Ms and two M-28s. Most maintenance is performed by the maintenance group but when required the M-28s will return to the PZL Mielec plant and the Casa’s to the EADS PZL factory in Warsaw. Currently two aircraft are at EADS PZL where they are undergoing maintenance after 8 years of service. During the maintenance they are re-painted in a light/dark-grey camouflage. The new camouflage will be tested and a decision will be made whether to use it or not on all the planes.

The base will also construct a building to accommodate a simulator for the C-295M. Currently all pilots are send to Seville in Spain for one week. As Seville offers the only simulator in the world it’s fully booked and can’t accommodate the Polish air force request. During the training week in Seville the first 2 days are spend on procedures and aircraft manuals and followed by three days of flying simulator missions. Krakow-Balice will be the second location with a Casa simulator. It will be a major improvement for the pilots as they can fly more missions on the simulator and it will reduce cost as sending pilot to Spain will not be needed anymore. Plans are to have the building and the simulator ready for operation in 2014. The simulator for the M-28s is located in Siemirowice. It’s based on the M-28 Bryza version (Polish navy) and in use by the SP to train procedures and cooperation between the plane captain and first pilot. Due to greater number of planes there are plans to increase the number of pilots and technicians to two crews per aircraft. The new pilots can join directly from the air force school at Deblin where transport training is conducted on the M-28 B/PT or from one of the other transport squadrons. It’s also possible for fighter pilots to convert to the transport community when their application has been approved by the SP headquarters. The conversion training on the C-295M will be performed in house with 13 ELTr.

With its new aircraft and crews and taking on new missions both the 12 ELTr and 13 ELTr will be able to continue and expand their service to the Siły Powietrzne its coalition partners and the international community when being called upon.

The author wishes to thanks 8 BLTr and specially Capt. Nojek for their support during the visit.

Editors note February 2013:

Three of the five ordered C295M for 13 ELTR were delivered by the end of 2012. The other two aircraft will be delivered during the first half of 2013

12 ELTr will operate two M-28B/PT and six M-28B/PT GC aircraft.

The Polish air force last An-2s were withdrawn from use during December 2012.

8. BLTr Photogallery
An-2s of 13 ELTr at the military ramp of  Krakow-Balice airport. All the Polish AF An-2s were retired by December 31, 2012.
An-2 "7447" received special markings and should be preserved. Squadron batches of 13 ELTr.
One of the first C-295Ms in the new color scheme. Originally the fleet of C-295s wore a blue
or grey color scheme.
C-295< receiving maintainance.
M-28TD in front of a hangar. M-28TD and C-295M sharing the ramp. The new M-28B-PT GC.
Visiting Polish Navy An-28TD. Mi-8P/SAR from 3 GPR based at Krakow. Mi-8S from 1 BLTr based at Warsaw.