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Pieniazek, Eugeniusz
 
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 he assembled a wooden plane, which his daughter named the Kukulka, or Cuckoo, in their apartment in Leszno, about 200 miles west of Warsaw. This wasn’t a secret. It was the first self-constructed plane registered with Polish authorities.
 
On September 13, 1971, Pieniazek flew south in the middle of a storm 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.
 
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 was immediately 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, leveraging the contacts he’d made there doing air shows a decade earlier.
 
Once in Sweden, Pieniazek spent two years arranging for his family to join him. As a precautionary measure, two years before escaping, he’d divorced his wife out of fear for her safety, and that meant she was free to enter a sham marriage with a Swede and emigrate with their daughter to join Pieniazek.
 
Pieniazek became a political refugee in Sweden, but 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.
 
After the end of communist rule in Poland, in 1989, Pieniazek returned home to Leszno in Poland, where he founded the Experimental Aviation Association and continued to build planes, barely remembered for his place in Polish history, until his exploits were featured in a 1998 Polish documentary. Then, in 2005, he was the subject of an episode in a national TV series titled Great Escapes. That same year the Cuckoo took up residence at the Krakow’s Museum of Aviation, where it is still displayed.
 
 
 
 


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