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Pieniazek Kukulka / Cuckoo
Eugeniusz Pieniazek was well-known pilot in aviation circles in 1960s Poland, he flew gliders in Polish aviation exhibitions in Sweden, but then the Polish security service tried to recruit him. When he wouldn’t cooperate, they started a file on him and refused to grant him permission to fly. He lost his job and his passport — but, crucially, not his pilot’s license.
Using a Continental aircraft engine and parts from different gliders — the tail from a Foka, the wings from a Swallow — he began assembling an aircraft in his 7-year-old daughter’s bedroom in their apartment in Leszno, about 200 miles west of Warsaw. The tail extended into the hallway.
As each component was completed, he lowered it out his first-floor window and then took it to a nearby hangar for storage and assembly. The wooden plane, which his daughter named the Kukulka, or Cuckoo, wasn’t even that secret. It was the first self-constructed plane registered with Polish authorities, and the national media picked up the story.
After 26 months, the Cuckoo was airworthy. Pieniazek flew it on short trips around Poland for months. In that time, he trained 44 other pilots in the Cuckoo, including several women.
On September 13, 1971, Poland’s borders were difficult to cross. Once airborne, Pieniazek opted to fly due south across Hungary to what was then Yugoslavia. Even though it too was under communist rule, Marshall Tito had broken with Stalin and the Soviet Union in 1948, and since then the country had more or less gone its own non-aligned way. But that route meant flying across the eastern end of Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia) as well as Hungary, both part of the Eastern Bloc. Nevertheless, Pieniazek set off in the middle of a storm and never turned back.
Pieniazek’s supporters didn’t know for months whether he’d made it or not, and the country mourned what they assumed was the loss of their pilot hero. In fact, by flying low under the radar and following railway lines — his main navigational tool was a road map — he had managed to land safely just inside the Yugoslav border in the town of Subotica (now in Serbia) after a four-hour flight.
Without a passport, he immediately was arrested and thrown in prison. The Yugoslavian authorities apparently never informed Poland that they’d taken their do-it-yourself airman prisoner. Seven months went by. Then, one day, the warden simply told Pieniazek to leave (Yugoslav officials held onto the Cuckoo). The airman was taken to the Austrian border, where he managed to successfully apply for asylum in Sweden.
Once in Sweden, Pieniazek spent two years arranging for his family to join him. After some time he was able to retrieve Kukulka. Pieniazek drove to Yugoslavia, paid for two years of hangar storage fees and towed the Cuckoo back to Sweden behind their Volkswagen Beetle with the plane’s wings tied on top. The plane sat at the airport for 17 years before restoration and registration had her back in flight condition.
Eventually, both the Cuckoo and Pieniazek ended up back in Poland. After the end of communist rule in Poland, in 1989, Pieniazek returned home to Leszno, where he founded the Experimental Aviation Association and continued to build planes
In 2005 the Cuckoo took up residence at Krakow’s Museum of Aviation.

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