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Jan Nagórski
The Farman MF.11 plane used by Jan Nagórski in his pioneering flights off NW Novaya Zemlya

Jan Nagórski (1888–1976), also known by his Russified name of Ivan Nagurski (Иван Нагурский)) was a Polishmarker engineer and pioneer of aviation, the first person to fly an airplane in the Arctic and the first aviator to perform a loop with a flying boat.

Jan Nagórski was born on January 27, 1888 in Włocławekmarker, then part of the Imperial Russiamarker. He completed a local trade school and in 1909 graduated from an infantry junker school in Odessamarker and the All-Russian Aeroclub in 1912. The following year he accomplished his training at the Naval Engineering School in Gatchinamarker near St. Petersburgmarker where he earned his wings. He was among the first pilot of the Imperial Russian Navy. In 1914 Nagórski was tasked with the difficult mission of locating the expedition of Georgy Sedov, Georgy Brusilov, and Vladimir Rusanov in the Russian Arctic. In a Maurice Farman MF11 plane, specially purchased for that purpose in Francemarker, Nagórski embarked on a ship in Arkhangelskmarker and arrived to Novaya Zemlyamarker, whence he initiated a series of reconnaissance flights in difficult Arctic conditions. Between August 21 and September 13, 1914, he flew five missions, spending more than ten hours in the air and travelling more than a thousand kilometres over land and the Barents Seamarker. During the last flight he reached the 76th parallel. Nagórski failed to find Sedov's expedition, but he gained valuable experience as the first polar aviator in history. His report to the Admiralty prepared after his return, as well as a report of Nagórski's achievements by Admiral Mikhail Zhdanko , included a number of suggestions that would prove invaluable to every polar aviator. Among them was the idea of painting red all the planes operating in the Arctic, to make them more visible. His achievements proved that the North Polemarker could be reached by airplane.

Upon his return from the Arctic, Nagórski returned to active service in naval aviation during World War I. Stationed in Åbomarker (Turku) in Finlandmarker, he operated a variety of planes on patrol missions above the Baltic Seamarker and commanded an air squadron of the Baltic Fleet. During that time, he performed the first ever loop with a flying boat (September 17, 1916). The following day Nagórski repeated the loop twice with his experimental Grigorovich M-9 plane. For his wartime service, Nagórski was awarded with five Russian military medals. The following year his plane was damaged above the Baltic Sea and Nagórski was declared missing. After several hours at sea, he was rescued by a Russian submarine and escorted to a military hospital in Rigamarker. He quickly recovered and returned to his unit, but the report of his recovery never reached headquarters.

After the October Revolution, Nagórski's unit became a part of the Red Army and took part in the Russian Civil War. He returned to Poland in 1919 and attempted to join the Polish Navy, but was turned down due to his past service with the Reds. In the chaos of the Russian Civil War, Nagórski's personal files were lost and he was declared dead by Russian authorities . He then settled in southern Poland and started working as an engineer and designer of refrigerators and coolers for the sugar and oil industries. In 1925 Nagórski's report of his flights to the Arctic reached Richard Byrd, who contacted him and asked for more details on weather conditions and other tips. The information obtained proved valuable during his later Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. Among other pioneers of Arctic aviation to take advantage of Nagórski's experience were Walter Mittelholzer and Boris Chukhnovsky. Forgotten in Poland and believed dead in Russia, Nagórski gained much fame without even knowing it. In 1936 the Nagurskoye meteorological station in Franz Josef Landmarker ( ) was named after him.

Nagórski survived World War II and continued his career as a civil worker in Gdańskmarker and then as an engineer in Warsawmarker. In 1955, during one of his lectures, Czesław Centkiewicz, a renowned Polish polar explorer and author, presented the audience with a short biographical note of a "long-forgotten pioneer of aviation, Russian pilot Ivan Nagurski who died in 1917". Nagórski, who remained interested in exploration of the polar areas and was present at the lecture stood up and announced that he was not Russian and definitely not dead. This revelation became widely publicised by the Polish media and Nagórski's achievements were rediscovered. On Centkiewicz's suggestion, Nagórski described his Arctic flights in a book entitled The First Above Arctic (1958). In 1960 he published Over the Burning Baltic, the memoirs of his World War I service. As a late recognition of his deeds, Nagórski was awarded the Polonia Restituta medal by Polish authorities. He died on June 9, 1976 and was buried at the Wólka Węglowa cemetery.


  1. Zhdanko, M.E. Первый гидроаэроплан в Северном Ледовитом океане (The First hydro-aeroplane over the Northern Ocean), Petrograd, 1917.
  2. Initially Soviet encyclopedias, including the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, claimed that Nagórski was killed in action in 1917. It was not until 1974 when both the biographical note and Nagórski's name were corrected in most Soviet publication under insistence from Ryszard Badowski (see also references No. 3 and 6).
  3. see reference No. 4
  4. see reference No. 5


  1. [242406]

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