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A Polish World War II pilot is well ahead in a poll held by a London museum to honour the heroes of Britain’s Royal Air Force.
Franciszek Kornicki , now 100, leads the poll, which the London-based RAF Museum has launched in the run-up to next year’s centenary of the British air force. The aim is to select heroic RAF Spitfire pilots to be highlighted at a major exhibition.
An image of the winner of “The People’s Spitfire Pilot” title will be turned into a life-sized cut-out to stand beside an iconic Spitfire VB BL614 plane in the exhibition gallery.
Museum curators have decided that instead of being based on how many enemy aircraft were shot down by each pilot, the selection will be done online, with voters choosing the most captivating individual story.
Kornicki is among the 11 pilots whose biographies have been selected by members of the museum as well as academic and popular historians.
The last surviving Polish World War II squadron leader, Kornicki turned 100 last December. He is well ahead of the other pilots in the poll, with close on 200,000 votes, ahead of Sir Douglas Bader , with around 3,000 votes.
Kornicki’s short biography compiled by the society of Friends of the RAF Museum says that, after Poland was invaded by both Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia in September 1939, “Kornicki found himself flying an outdated PZL P.7 fighter in a losing battle.”
It adds: “Undaunted by the collapse of Poland’s defences, he, like thousands of other servicemen, made his way to Britain to continue fighting. His ability as a pilot and quiet authority were noticed and, in February 1943, he took command of 308 Squadron which operated Spitfire Vbs. “
“He was, at 26, the youngest squadron commander in the Polish Air Force. After surviving more than three years in the front line, he became a staff officer in 1944. After the war, Poland was controlled by Stalin’s communists, so he decided to remain in exile and joined the RAF; serving as an officer for over 20 years.”