At the tail-end of the Cold War period (1947-1991), the Eastern Bloc nation of Poland was looking to overhaul and modernize its aviation capabilities. This resulted in "System 130" being part of a new initiative to provide incoming airmen with a basic-advanced trainer platform. The product would be largely Polish in origin and required the aircraft itself, ground-based simulators for in-class training, and general long-term systems/program support.
In 1983, Andrej Frydrychewicz led a design team that drew up plans for such an aircraft, resulting in the PZL-130 "Orlik" being realized. In its earliest form, the aircraft carried a Vedneyev radial-based engine driving a multi-bladed propeller unit. With this unit in place, the aircraft achieved its first-flight on October 24th, 1984. During development, however, it became apparent that the supply of these engines would prove troublesome, leading the team to re-engine the aircraft with the Polish-originated Kalisz KS-8A unit. A pre-production form fitting this engine emerged for a first-flight in 1988 but this model proved underpowered enough for the team to seek yet-another replacement.
In time, the aircraft came to be equipped with the American Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC) PT6 series turboprop engine, finally settling the power and performance issue. A first-flight of this form was recorded on July 13th, 1986 and led to the establishment of the "Turbo Orlik" name.
All other qualities of the aircraft were consistent with basic-advanced trainers of the period: the twin seats were arranged in tandem with the rear cockpit raised just slightly over the front cockpit. THe crew sat at midships and the engine was carried in the nose. The tail unit consisted of a single vertical fin with low-set horizontal planes. The wing mainplane members were straight with clipped tips though showcasing noticeable dihedral (upward angle). The mainplanes were affixed to the lower sides of the fuselage. For ground-running, a retractable, wheeled tricycle undercarriage was fitted.
Dimensionally, the aircraft was given a running length of 30.5 feet, a wingspan of 32.9 feet, and a height of 11.6 feet. Empty weight was 4,023lb against an MTOW of 6,505lb. Power was from the PWC PT6A series turboprop offering around 750 horsepower output to drive the multi-bladed propeller unit at the nose (modern offers showcase a five-bladed prop unit). Performance-wise, the aircraft could hope to reach speeds of 340 miles-per-hour (cruise at about 300 mph), reach out to 1,400 miles, and range up to 33,000 feet. Rate-of-climb was limited to 2,830 feet-per-minute (PZL-130TC II). Six hardpoints were rated for up to 1,500lb of stores (combined rating).
Variants of the line began with the original PZL-130 featuring the M14Pm radial engine. This was followed by the PT6A-25P-equipped PZL-130T "Turbo Orlik" which led to the PZL-130TM with its Walter M601E engine and the PZL-130TB with its Walter M601T engine - both being turboprops. The PZL-130TC I brought about use of Martin-Baker Mk.11 "Zero-Zero" ejection seats for increased survivability as well as modernized avionics. The PZL-130TC II (Garmin) then followed and this reverted back to the PT6A series engines (PT6A-25C) while adding winglets to the mainplane members, and featuring a modernized avionics set from Garmin. The PZL-130TC II (GC) introduced an all-glass cockpit to better mimic modern military aircraft that included a Head-Up Display (HUD) displaying pertinent operating and mission information directly ahead of the pilot/instructor. PZL recognizes this offering as the "Orlik MPT" (the "Multi-Purpose Trainer").
The Polish Air Force remains the only global operator of the Orlik. The Navy service did, for a time, operate the same aircraft. The Air Force took on the series in 1994 and, with nine prototypes, total production reached 59 units.
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