The Forgotten Airport of Gądów Mały
Forgotten Wroclaw – The airport in Gadów Mały
Every day, tens of thousands of people travel along ulica Lotnicza without realising the significance of the name. Ulica Lotnicza cannot be translated exactly, but a common translation is ‘Flight Street’, ‘Air Street’ or even ‘Aviation Street’. These names allude to the secret history of Wroclaw and the pioneering role that the airfield at Gadów Mały played in the history of aviation.
As you travel towards the city centre of Wroclaw from the direction of the City Stadium, look on the right as you pass by the Western Park (Park Zachodni). There, you will see a large, mysterious looking white building that contains a strange tower, complete with a windsock flying outside. You may ask yourself – who built such a building, and why is there a windsock?
In The Beginning – The Dawn of Aviation in Wrocław
The history of the airport begins in 1865, when the first hot air balloon flight was completed by a pair of brothers known only by their last name, Berg. The potential of the site for balloon flights was confirmed, and the site became the home of a fleet of observation balloons, as well as a military parade ground. Remarkably, Winston Churchill also visited the military grounds in 1905. With the dawn of aviation in 1903, the military grounds transformed into a full time airfield, and served as the main airport for Wroclaw. At this time, the airfield became a pioneer of aviation in Europe, enjoying a rapid connection to the Old Town by tram along what used to be called the Berlin Highway.
For the next 33 years, the airport in Gadów Mały served as the primary airport in Wroclaw. Airships were common visitors there, and the airfield developed further with the advent of World War 1. After the war, the Treaty of Versailles limited the airfield to civilian use, with the first airport terminal opening in 1926. Despite these limitations, the airfield continued to be used for military purposes, often under the guise of civilian aviation.
The 1930’s revival of the economy saw increased demand for flights, with connections being opened to Berlin, Warsaw, Prague and many more regional destinations. The increased demand required building a new and modern terminal, which opened in 1937, with the building still in use today. Despite the theoretically civilian-only use of the airport, a factory building combat aircraft was opened at the Gadów Mały airport. Aircraft were produced in large numbers by the Junkers corporation, many of which were used in World War 2 after leaving the airfield.
After World War 2
After sustaining severe damage in World War 2, the airport in Gadów Mały reopened in 1947 for civilian use. Military flights were transferred to the airfield in Strachowice. The reformed PLL LOT connected Wroclaw to domestic destinations, while the airport also became one of the homes of gliding in Europe. In 1958, a decision was made to open Strachowice Airport (today, Wroclaw-Copernicus Airport) for passenger use, which allowed the airport in Gadów Mały to transform into a national centre for small aviation. Perhaps the most notable person to have learnt to fly there was the Polish cosmonaut, Mirosław Hermaszewski, who went on to visit the Salyut 6 space station as part of the EP-3 expedition.
Finally, in 1978, the decision was made to decommission the use of the Gadów Mały airport. The site was transformed into a new, large housing development to meet the needs of the growing city, with the modern “Astra” shopping centre opened on the corner of the site. The formal end came in 1985, at which point, residents began to move into their new apartments on the streets Balonowa (Balloon), Samolotowa (Aeroplane) and more, with the names chosen to reflect the past era of aviation in Gadów Mały.
Today, the 1937 terminal still stands with the control tower and windsock, and now houses a kindergarten and police station. Private housing can also be found here. The history of aviation in Gadów Mały is remembered not only through the street names and the old terminal, but also by the presence of a sculpture featuring birds on red poles. It is quite remarkable to think that the first flight left from here over 150 years ago.
With grateful credit to http://www.polot.net/lotnisko_gadow_maly_we_wroclawiu_2011r_
Photo credit: Julo, via https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plik:GadowMaly-dawna_wieza_lotniska.jpg (public domain licence).