Air Commodore Khalid Chishti (R) is a former Pakistani fighter pilot and has been awarded Sitara-e-Imtiaz (Military), Sitara-e-Basalat. He is an aviation historian and contributes through his Youtube channel “Khalid Chishti”. He is an accomplished international speaker on ‘Leadership Skills’ and has delivered motivational talks in USA, UK, and Canada. He is running his own food production unit and also teaches at leading universities like NDU, NCA, and Kinnaird College. Additionally, he has done extensive research on Quaid-e-Azam.
For the past 57 years, we have named the 6th of September Pakistan Defence Day, and on this day we pay tribute to the martyrs and war veterans, who served Pakistan and their families and try to reduce their debt to us. However, while doing so often, we forget to mention one person who along with his colleagues laid the foundation of the Pakistan Air Force—and did the most outstanding feats for the success of Pakistan’s missile programme and Pakistan’s space and nuclear programme.
You will be surprised to hear that this man was neither a Muslim nor a Pakistani. It was Władysław Turowicz from Poland who, along with his wife and 30 colleagues, came to lay the foundation of the fledgling Pakistan Air Force as a pilot and an engineer. They all came to Pakistan on a three-year contract, but he devoted his entire life to Pakistan.
During the nearly 32 years of service after Pakistan’s independence, the Polish secret agency tried several times to persuade him to be a spy for Poland but failed. Hardly any non-Pakistani in history has done such valuable services for Pakistan, but unfortunately, his life ended in a road accident.
Some Pakistani newspapers published news that the Government of Pakistan had decided to name a major road in the capital Islamabad after a fighter pilot from Poland who had rendered immense services to Pakistan.
The Nascent PAF
During WW2, more than 17,000 pilots from Poland were registered in England, and 2,500 pilots lost their lives. Shortly after World War II, when Pakistan became independent, the fledgling Pakistan Air Force had neither experienced pilots nor technicians.
As a result of the partition, India got 338 aircraft. On the other hand, Pakistan got very little of its actual share. PAF only got four Dakota aircraft against the 32 promised. Out of the actual share of 35 Tempest aircraft, PAF got only 16. Only seven Tiger Moth Aircraft were given against the actual share of 16.
Against 32 Harvard aircraft, 12 were given and two Auster aircraft were received against the share of ten. Most of the given aircraft were not even airworthy. Although the number of aircraft started to increase over the period of time, there was a serious shortage of skilled ground technicians. Additionally, keeping in view the hostilities with India in those days, it was not only vital but also urgent to address these weaknesses.
Flight to Pakistan
All the British pilots from independent Pakistan returned home after giving up residence here. At this critical time, an announcement was made by the Pakistan High Commission in London, in which it was stated that the Pakistan Air Force needed experienced pilots to replace the British pilots.
Poland’s Turowicz was not only a pilot but also an aeronautical engineer, while his wife Zofia was a glider instructor. After obtaining his Ph.D., he joined the British Air Force. Thirty Polish airmen, including Władysław Turowicz and his wife, decided to join the Royal Pakistan Air Force under a three-year contract.
After that term, most of the Polish pilots and technicians returned back while a few joined Pakistan’s fledgling airline, Orient Air, later renamed PIA. Władysław Turowicz and his wife Zofia not only served in the Pakistan Air Force on a permanent basis and decided to stay but also made Pakistan their permanent home.
Turowicz was posted to Drigh Road Karachi and his wife was assigned to teach gliding to PAF cadets. For the rest of their life in Pakistan, this Polish couple rendered very valuable services—much appreciated by Pakistan but unknown to the Polish people for nearly fifty years.
Finally, twenty-eight years after Turowicz’s death and just four years before his wife Zofia’s death, a Polish journalist released a 50-minute documentary in 2018 to bring the services of Władysław Turowicz and his wife Zofia to Pakistan to light.
Journey to the Skies of Pakistan
In 1952, Turowicz was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander and posted as the Station Commander in Chaklala. Zofia, however, continued to reside in Karachi due to their children’s education. After bidding farewell to the Pakistan Air Force, she started teaching at Karachi American School and Karachi University.
In 1957, Turowicz was again posted to Karachi, and in 1959, he was promoted to the rank of Group Captain before being promoted to Air Commodore the following year. Later, he was posted as Assistant to the Air Force Chief at the Air Headquarters. During the Indo-Pak War of 1965, Turowicz and his colleagues flew F-86s along with other Pakistan Air Force pilots, taking part in the war against India.
The US put an embargo on Pakistan after the war, and the supply of spare parts to PAF was stopped. During this critical period, Turowicz managed to develop aircraft spare parts locally and successfully kept the aircraft fleet airworthy.
Recognized as national heroes for their bravery, Władysław Turowicz and his colleagues were awarded the Sitara-e-Pakistan and other honours. In a grand ceremony held in Islamabad, the then President of Pakistan, Field Marshal Ayub Khan granted him not only this honor but also honorary citizenship of Pakistan.
In Good Hands
In recognition of Turowicz’s passion and experience in engineering and aerospace, and the lack of notable expertise of any Pakistani in this field, in 1966, Turowicz was appointed as the Chief Scientist and Aeronautical Engineer of the National Space Agency, SUPARCO. During this time, he and renowned Pakistani scientist Dr. Abdul Salam met President Ayub Khan to ask him to start a satellite programme in Pakistan on the model of the Russian satellite Sputnik.
As a result of his efforts, ten years after the death of Turowicz, Pakistan successfully sent its first satellite into space from China’s Satellite Launch Center. Turowicz and Dr. Abdus Salam visited the United States to acquire long-range missile technology and convinced the United States to provide this technology to Pakistan. The construction and design of Pakistan’s first satellite launch center at Sonmiani near Karachi is also a result of Turowicz’s efforts.
After these services, he was appointed the head of SUPARCO in 1967. He also played a key role in the preparation of Pakistan’s satellites Rahbar-1 and 2 – In 1972. When then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto started Pakistan’s nuclear programme, the main responsibilities of the nuclear missile delivery programme were given to Turowicz. The honour of founding the various missile programmes of Pakistan also goes to Turowicz which later became the foundation of Pakistan’s long-range Shaheen and Ghauri missiles.
Honouring the Turowiczs
Unfortunately, on January 8, 1980, at the age of 71, Turowicz passed away along with his driver in a road accident. He was buried with full military honors in a Christian cemetery. Some believe that he was killed by Pakistan’s enemies to stop Pakistan’s space technology and missile programme, but even if that was the case, evidence of such operations is almost impossible to find.
Turowicz’s services are fondly remembered by Pakistan. Honours awarded to him by the Government of Pakistan include the Sitara-e-Pakistan and Tamgha-e-Pakistan (Military), Sitara-e-Kidmat, Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam, Sitara-e-Imtiaz (Military), and Abdul Salam Award.
His widow, who passed away in 2012, was awarded Sitara-e-Imtiaz and Pride of Performance by the Government of Pakistan for meritorious services and for devoting her life to Pakistan. Similarly, Pakistan Air Force also paid homage to Turowicz in 2005 and a memorial was erected at the Air Force Museum in Karachi.
For your interest, let me also add that about Turowicz’s services in Pakistan, an article by Polish writer Natalia Laskowska was published in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, on October 2, 2016. It was revealed that Turowicz was asked several times during his life by the Polish secret agency SB to spy for Poland in Pakistan, especially while he was working on space and missile technology at SUPARCO. Turowicz always brushed off any such offers by saying: “Now Pakistan is my homeland”.
Finally, I have no hesitation in saying that for the times to come, whenever the foundation of flying in the Pakistan Air Force would be talked about, the war achievements of 1965, Pakistan’s satellite or the space programme, or Pakistan’s expertise in rocket and missile technology, such discussion would be incomplete without including the services made by honorable Turowicz and his wife.
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