Soviet communism completed its take-over of Poland in 1945 which forged a decades-long alliance between the two nations. Poland was a participant of the Warsaw Pact (1955-1991) assembled by the East to counter the West's NATO military alliance to which Poland managed an active inventory made up of both local and Soviet aircraft designs. The PZL TS-11 "Iskra" was one of the former, designed and developed through PZL-Mielec, and the type went on to serve in the hundreds as a twin-seat, single-engine jet trainer. It was also taken into inventory by the Indian Air Force (IAF). The Polish aircraft is still in service (albeit limited) with the Poles as of this writing.
The TS-11 came about due to a need by the Polish Air Force for an all-modern jet-powered trainer. From this initiative work was started in 1957 and led by Tadeusz Soltyk - the aircraft came to bear his initials as a result. The TS-11 was a historical first for the nation of Poland, becoming its first locally-designed, developed, and produced jet-powered aircraft.
The design featured a rather conventional arrangement sporting straight, mid-mounted wing mainplanes. These assemblies were given little sweep-back along the leading edge. The single engine was buried within the fuselage and aspirated by split-air-intake configuration - one intake found at each wing root. The fuselage was well-contoured for aerodynamic efficiency and seated its crew of two inline, aft of a radar-less nosecone assembly. The cockpits came complete with ejection seats for both crewmembers. The tail unit was raised in the design's side profile in part due to it being a continuance of the fuselage's dorsal spine and for clearance needed by the engine underneath. The tail unit carried a single vertical fin with two low-to-mid-mounted horizontal planes. Under the tail was positioned the single jet exhaust port. A tricycle undercarriage was used for ground running and made fully retractable - the nose leg under and ahead of the forward cockpit and the main legs retracting inwards towards fuselage centerline under each wing. The legs were noticeably short which gave the aircraft a very low profile when on the ground - a consistent physical feature seen in many of the period's two-seat trainers. Construction of the aircraft was largely of metal.
Armed versions carried a single 23mm NS-23 or NR-23 series cannon in the nose. Later versions were given provision for the carrying of up to 880lb of externally-held stores across four underwing hardpoints (two per wing).
The TS-11 satisfied the Polish Air Force need and serial production ramped up in 1953 with official introduction arriving in 1964 through the "Iskra-bis A" mark. The follow-on "Iskra-bis B" introduced a light attack capability by way of four underwing hardpoints (two per wing). For a brief time, the TS-11 series was under consideration as a standardized jet trainer to serve Warsaw Pact forces but it failed to edge out the competing Czech-originated Aero L-29 "Delfin" (detailed elsewhere on this site).
From 1966 on the series was revised with the WSK SO-1 engine of 2,200 lb thrust and, in 1969, these were supplanted by the SO-3 series engines. The SO-3 was a marked improvement over the original SO-1 which had a life of about 100 hours before an overhaul was required (the SO-3 increased this to 400 hours). The SO-3W22 was the ultimate incarnation of this engine and outputted 2,425lb of thrust. This particular engine form eventually powered the TS-11 as well. 1969 saw series adoption by the "White-and-Red Sparka" acrobatic flying team of Poland.
In 1971, the Iskra-bis C was unveiled as a single-seat reconnaissance platform with a fuselage-mounted camera. Its range was also increased due to additional internal fuel stores added. However, only five of the type were built into 1972 and these eventually reverted back to trainer form from 1983 on. Also in 1972 appeared the Iskra BR200 single-seat attack/reconnaissance prototype though this design was not adopted for serial production.
The Iskra-bis D retained a two-seat layout with an increased Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) value and appeared in 1973. A stock of fifty were sent to the Indian Air Force. Iskra-bis DF was a two-seat trainer/reconnaissance model and appeared in 1974 - it was accordingly fitted with camera equipment but made fully combat-capable. The Iskra R became a twin-seat naval reconnaissance model that carried RDS-81 radar and six airframes were converted from existing stock aircraft with operational service beginning in 1991. In 1998, the Iskra MR was offered with a modernized cockpit for compatibility with United Nations operations. The TS-11F evolved to become a proposed trainer modified to fulfill F-16 C/D model Block 52+ training. Post-military service versions were stripped of their military value for sale on the civilian market.
The TS-11 series failed to sell to other Warsaw Pact members and left Poland as the sole operator. 424 were built into 1987 with 76 shipped to India through two batch deliveries (50 and 26). The TS-011 line was to be succeeded by the modern PZL "I-22" but several issues limited this program to just seventeen aircraft before cancellation of the project in full. The TS-11 was operated under the Polish Navy for a time as well.
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1 x 23mm NS-23 / NR-23 cannon in nose.
Up to 880lb of externally-carried stores including conventional drop bombs, rocket pods, and cannon pods.
TS-11 "Iskra" - Base Series Name
TS-11 Iskra-bis A - Initial production model of 1964
TS-11 Iskra-bis B (Iskra 100) - Twin-seat trainer with light strike capability; four underwing hardpoints.
TS-11 Iskra-bis C (Iskra 200 Art) - Model of 1971; single-seat reconnaissance variant outfitted with camera equipment; five examples completed.
TS-11 Iskra-bis D (Iskra 200 SB) - Model of 1973; increased payload capability.
TS-11 Iskra-bis DF - Twin-seat trainer model; combat-capable.
TS-11 Iskra R - Model of 1991; twin-seat maritime patrol and reconnaissance platform; outfitted with RDS-81 radar; six airframes converted from existing stock.
TS-11 Iskra BR200 - Proposed model of 1972; single-seat reconnaissance and light attack variant.
TS-11 Iskra MR - Modernized TS-11
TS-11 Iskra Jet / Spark - Ex-military models modified for sale to private market.
TS-11F - Proposed modernization for F-16 C/D Block 52+ training.
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