Janusz Zurakowski was born on 12 September 1914 to Polish parents in Ryzawka, Poland. He was educated at a high school in Lublin, where he learned to fly gliders. In 1934, he joined the Polish Air Force and entered the Polish Air Force Officers' School. After learning to fly powered aircraft, he graduated in 1935 as a sub-lieutenant.
He went on to serve as a fighter pilot posted to 161 Fighter Squadron in Lwów, and in 1939 he served as a flying instructor at Deblin.
After the war, Poland's Soviet-imposed communist government exiled all of the Polish fighter pilots who had flown with the RAF as part of a ploy to downplay Polish patriotism. As a result, S/L Zurakowski, among many other Polish war heroes, chose to stay in Britain. In 1944, he was posted to the Empire Test Pilots' School, graduating from No. 2 Course on 5 January 1945. From 1945 to 1947, Zurakowski worked as a test pilot with "C" Squadron of the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at RAF Boscombe Down, testing naval aircraft for the Air Ministry.
Never having landed an aircraft on a carrier before, he practised landing on a deck painted on a runway at Naval Air Station East Haven. Following a brief training period, he proceeded to land the Supermarine Seafire, a navalised Spitfire, on the deck of HMS Ravager without incident.
In April 1952, Zurakowski and his family left for Canada, where he became a test pilot for A.V. Roe Canada.
Canada's era of supersonic flight began when pilot Jan Zurakowski took off from Malton Airport near Toronto in an Avro CF-105 Arrow for a 35-minute maiden flight. Less than a month later, Zurakowski flew the Arrow at Mach 1.5 at an altitude of 50,000 ft (15,000 m). In spite of the aircraft's early promise, the Canadian government scrapped the project before the Arrow could be put into production.