Great Soviet Encyclopedia

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, Aviation. 1953


Excerpt from an encyclopedia article at the very end of the Stalin epoch and at the peak of the Cold War. It stresses native Russian genius and precocity in scientific invention (though not always in technical and industrial or military application). Many of the claims are correct; but the tone of the article is defensive and reflects the cultural line of the period which exalted things Russian over all else.

Aviation (from the Latin avis-bird) is: 1) a means of air travel on machines heavier than air; 2) an organization or service using machines heavier than air for flight; 3) military aviation (the Air Force), one of the main types (categories) of the state’s armed forces.

Types of heavier-than-air flying machines include: the airplane, helicopter, autogyro, ornithopter, glider. The airplane is the most prevalent type of heavier-than-air flying machine at the present …

The great Russian people have made outstanding contributions to world aviation history. Russia is the homeland of the hot air balloon, the helicopter, the airplane, the homeland of aerodynamics and progressive ideas in airplane and motor construction, and the homeland of the theory of jet propulsion and aerobatics.

The earliest attempts to establish the theoretical possibility of air flight were made by Leonardo da Vinci, whose observations of bird flight inspired him to conceive the ideas of flying on heavier-than-air machines, of the helicopter and of the parachute. But credit for the further development of his theoretical ideas and their realization belongs to Russians.

In 1731 in Riazan, the scrivener Kriakutnoi created the world’s first hot-air balloon and made an ascent in it. A hot-air balloon was built in another country only in 1783, by the Montgolfier brothers (France). M. V. Lomonosov was the first to establish the principles of flight for heavier-than-air bodies, and in 1754 he built the working model of a helicopter with two propellers turned by a clock spring.

Work in aviation received broader development in the nineteenth century. In the 1840’s the inventor A. Snegirov proposed the construction plan for a dirigible equipped with a variable-angle aileron. In 1866, N. M. Sokovnin made plans for a hard-body dirigible with a 5250 cubic meter volume of and a reactive engine. The German F. Zeppelin made his plans for a similar dirigible only in 1895. In 1869, A. N. Lodygin developed the first plans for and began construction of a helicopter (“electroplane”) with a cylindrical electric engine and two propellers (one for ascent, and one in place of a rudder). This idea was copied abroad many years later by Petrozzi and Carman. A large contribution to the development of aviation was made by D. I. Mendeleev, who conceived of a stratospheric balloon and devised plans for its construction in 1875. The first foreigner to construct a stratospheric balloon was Picard in 1931. In 1887, Mendeleev ascended 3350 meters in the balloon to observe a solar eclipse. Mendeleev defined the future significance of aviation with great foresight. His “On the Resistance of Liquids and on Aeronautics” (1880) served as one of the fundamental guides for work in ship-building, aeronautics, airplane construction and ballistics. M. A. Rykachev’s investigations of the atmosphere’s upper layers and the lifting power of air propellers in the 1860’s and 1870’s were also important works. In “Initial Inquiry into the Lifting Power of a Propeller Revolving in Air” (1871), Rykachev anticipated similar studies conducted by the Frenchman Eiffel (1910). In 1888, the great Russian investigator E. S. Fedorov did a precise mathematical analysis of the potential use of air propellers for flying machines. In the early 1880’s, Russian work in aviation attained broad scope. The first Russian aviation journal was published in January 1880 in St. Petersburg: The Aeronaut, which aided the development of technical thought and exerted a great influence on the development of aviation science. The “Russian Aeronautic Society” was founded on November 21, 1880, with the aim of developing the science and art of aeronautics in general; the establishment of the most advantageous means of air transport; the realization of projects for flying machines, the perfection of the latter and their practical application; the popularization and propagation of the science and art of aeronautics by all means possible. Between 1870 to 1900 alone, more than 180 works on questions of flying were published in Russia. The works of the Russian scientists M. V. Lomonosov, M. A. Rykachev, E. S. Fedorov and particularly Mendeleev laid deep theoretical foundations for solving the problem of conquering the air.

This complex problem was for all practical purposes solved by the Russian designer and inventor A. F. Mozhaiskii, who built the world’s first airplane. The notion of constructing a heavier-than-air flying machine came to Mozhaiskii in 1855 as he was studying the flight of birds. He later built several kites with large ailerons that he flew many times, and he determined the size of an aileron needed to lift a man into the air. Mozhaiskii built several model airplanes that gave good test results. In 1877, he presented the Central Bureau of Engineering with the model of an aircraft. On the orders of the War Ministry, a commission manned by Professor Mendeleev, Lieutenant General Zverev, Professor Petrov of the Engineering Academy, Bogoslovskii of the Technological Committee and the military engineer Struve, studied the plan and noted that “in his project, Mozhaiskii works from suppositions that are presently recognized to be the most correct and conducive to good results.” While continuing work on his projects, Mozhaiskii received a patent for the airplane from the Department of Trade and Manufacture mozhaisky   on November 3, 1881. In the summer of 1882, on a military field in Krasnoe Selo near Petersburg, Mozhaiskii’s airplane was tested, and it completed the world’s first flight. The plane was flown by I. N. Golubev.

The Russian people also contributed other innovators to the field of aviation. A series of model gliders was developed in the 1890’s by V. V. Kotov. In 1896, he published an article, “The Construction of Airplanes.” After that, Kotov prepared Airplanes That Soar in the Sky with a preface by Mendeleev. Kotov first proposed bending wings for lateral stability in flight. In 1894, K. E. Tsiolkovskii published “The Airplane or Birdlike (Aviational) Flying Machine,” with designs for a monoplane with a streamlined form, developed a theory for its flight, gave flight specifications, and proposed a successful solution to the question of an engine. Tsiolkovskii was also inventor of the autopilot, an automatic aircraft guidance device. Tsiolkovskii proposed and devised the construction of an autopilot in 1898 (see his “Elements of Air Ships and their Construction,” 1898). Great advances in the construction and practical testing of gliders were made by the Russian engineer S. S. Nezhdanovskii. He built and demonstrated large flying models of airplanes equipped with propellers of a type that were used only ten years later for dirigibles. Russian inventors made enormous contributions to engine construction. In 1879, Mozhaiskii proposed an internal-combustion engine for airplanes (two cylinder, double action) with direct fuel injection (this is attested by the chief naval mechanical engineer’s Report No. 405 to the Ministry on May 14, 1879). The first aviation engines were mounted on Mozhaiskii’s airplane in 1881. Steam engines built to his new designs in 1885 at the Baltic Ship Plant gave 50 horse power with a specific gravity of 4.9 kilograms per h. p., which at the time was considered a very high index; the engines were the lightest and most powerful. In 1888, the Russian inventor O. S. Kostovich built an internal-combustion engine of about thirty h. p. (a patent was granted November 4, 1892). Its design was distinguished by its novelty and daring. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Russian engineers devised new gasoline engines of original design. In 1916, A. A. Mikulin and B. S. Stechkin built a three hundred h. p. engine.

By the 1890’s, there were attempts to build airplanes in other countries too. The first of a number of airplanes that rose into the air (unmanned) was designed by Phillips (1892). In 1898, tests were conducted on the for those times gigantic airplane of Hiram Maxim, an engineer. His plane had a surface area equivalent to 372 square meters and weighed 3640 kilograms (including fuel, water and three men); its two steam engines could muster 360 h. p. The airplane circled a specially-built rail for take-off. During testing, Maxim’s airplane, which carried three passengers, barely rose into the air before losing its equilibrium and falling. The American professor Langley built a tandem monoplane with a 50 h. p. gasoline motor. During tests the airplane rose into the air from a catapult, but it crashed immediately. The French designer Clément Ader built an aircraft (the “Avion”) resembling a bat. After flying three hundred meters (1897), the Avion fell and crashed. Work on the problem of heavier-than-air flight was done by the German engineer Otto Lilienthal, who initially tried to build an aircraft with wings that flapped in imitation of birds (ornithopter). In “The Flight of Birds as a Basis for Aviation” (1889), he followed the Russian investigator of bird flight Arendt (1874) and the English designer G. Phillips (1885) in posing the question of the great lifting power possessed by curved surfaces.

Using curved wings in 1891, he accomplished a sliding flight of thirty-five meters with a take-off from six meters above ground. During the next five years, he completed more than two thousand flights on gliders (with balance poles) of his own construction. On August 9, 1896, Lilienthal died when his glider crashed from twenty meters up. Gliding was pursued in Europe by the French Captain Ferber and in the USA bywright the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright. After mastering glider flight, W. and O. Wright built an airplane that they flew on December 17, 1903 (twenty one years after Mozhaiskii’s flight). The Wright Brothers’ airplane had a sixteen horse power engine weighing more than 82 kilograms. The first flight lasted 3.5 seconds, and the airplane flew 32 meters. In 1905-1906 in France, Santos-Dumont and Ferber flew airplanes they built themselves. In 1906, the Dane Ellehammer completed a flight on an airplane of his own construction equipped with an 18 h. p. engine.

A decisive influence on the development of world aviation was exerted by the Russian scientists N. E. Zhukovskii and S. A. Chaplygin, who created the world’s first scientific school of aerodynamics, which greatly advanced aviation science. More than 180 fundamental works on mechanics, hydromechanics and aerodynamics belong to Zhukovskii’s pen. His first works in the field of aviation were: “On the Theory of Flying” (1890) and “On the Soaring of Birds” (1892). Zhukovskii was the founder of flight dynamics as a special discipline within aviation science. In 1911, he published The Theoretical Foundations of Aeronautics, which has been studied by several generations of aviation engineers, and which even today is a standard reference for anyone working in aerodynamics. In collaboration with Chaplygin, Zhukovskii developed the wing profile type now called the Zhukovskii Profile. His name has also been given to the NEZ1 propeller, a highly rational form that he established and created in practice. In 1902 at Moscow University, Zhukovskii built a wind tunnel, one of the first in Europe. In 1904 in Kuchino, near Moscow, the world’s first aerodynamics institute was founded, whose scientific director was Zhukovskii. V. I. Lenin called Zhukovskii “the father of Russian aviation.” Chaplygin was the founder of a new branch of science, gas dynamics, and the originator of high-speed aerodynamics. His works were published in many countries and advanced the development of world aviation science. Thanks to the works of Zhukovskii and Chaplygin, Russia was the homeland of aerodynamics and became the world leader in developing scientific-theoretical aviation thought. Zhukovskii and Chaplygin helped educate and form the greatest contemporary Soviet aviation scientists and designers.-From 1908, air clubs, voluntary aeronautic circles and organizations began appearing one after another in Russia. The All-Russian Air Club was organized in Petersburg in 1908.

By the twentieth century, aviation experienced significant progress in other countries made possible by the firm scientific foundation created by Russian scientists and an increased material base. Whereas the first airplane flights had gone no longer than ten seconds or further than 100-200 meters, an airplane in 1908 could stay aloft for more than two hours. In 1908, pilots risked flights away from their aerodromes. In 1909, the Frenchman Louis Bleriot completed a flight across the English Channel in 27 minutes (32 km.). In 1910, the first Aviation Week (April 25-May 2) was celebrated in Russia. The Russian pilot N. E. Popov reached an altitude of 600 meters in competition (foreign pilots went no higher than 150 m. in that competition). In 1911, the Russian pilot G. V. Alekhnovich flew a Russian airplane with only a three and a half hour supply of gas and oil on board on the Petersburg-Gatchina-Petersburg route (100 km.) at a record speed of 92 km per hour and set a new record by maintaining an altitude of 500 m. for nine minutes. In 1911-1912, flights were made on the routes: Petersburg-Moscow (Vasiliev), Berlin-Petersburg (Abramovich), Sevastopol-Petersburg (Dybovskii and Andreadi) and others. The renowned Petersburg to Kiev flight was made in the summer of 1914. The 700 km. from Petersburg to Orsha were covered without landing in eight hours. The return route from Kiev to Petersburg was crossed in thirteen hours. This was a new world record. The first Russian pilots to master airplane flight were M. N. Efimov, N. E. Popov, A. A. Vasiliev, B. I. Rossinskii, S. I. Utochkin, G. V. Alekhnovich, L. M. Matsievich and others.

The realization of long-distance flights was also made possible by the development of aero-navigation. A large role in the creation and development of aero-navigation was played by Russian scientists. A series of flight orientation devices was invented. Flight maps were published. The use of special compasses for air navigation became widespread.

The speed with which aviation developed in the early twentieth century is attested to by the index of records. In 1908, the record for flight duration was two hours eighteen minutes; in 1912 it was thirteen hours seventeen minutes. The speed record of 80 km. per hour in 1909 grew to 170 km. per hour in 1912. The flight altitude record in 1909 was 510 m., and in 1913 it was already 5610 m. By 1909, many countries began to build the first aircraft factories.

From 1905 to 1914, many talented and original aircraft inventors and designers worked in Russian aviation. In 1910, B. I. Iuriev designed a helicopter. This machine solved basic tasks of steering, safe take-off and gradual motion for the first time in the world. Ia. M. Gakkel achieved significant success in the creation of airplanes. In 1910, he built a bi-plane that demonstrated high technical capabilities in a 1911 military plane competition. An outstanding event in the history of aircraft construction was the 1913 construction of the “Russian Knight” heavy multi-engine airplanes at the Russo-Baltic Factory in Petersburg, and its later improved version “Il’ia Muromets,”2 which were the forerunners of today’s heavy bombers. gakkelOn May 13, 1913, the Russian Knight successfully completed its test flights, and on August 2, 1913 it set a world record by staying in the air for 1 hour 54 minutes with seven passengers.

In a ten passenger flight, the Il’ia Muromets attained an altitude of 2000 m., which was registered as a world record for passenger transport to high altitude. On June 5, 1914, the airplane carried six passengers in the air for 6 hours 33 minutes. This was a new world record. At that time, no country in the world had an airplane rivaling the Il’ia Muromets for load capacity, activity range and equipment. The large two-engine hydroplane built in 1914 by the American Curtiss had a load capacity only half that of the Il’ia Muromets. A large airplane built in 1915 by Siemens-Schuckert (Germany) also could not compare with the Il’ia Muromets. The Il’ia Muromets’ motor placement was used widely in other countries. In 1913 the Russian mechanical engineer V. A. Slesarev designed, and in 1915 he built the world’s largest two-engine biplane, the “Sviatogor,” with an air weight of 6500 kg., fifty percent of which was working load. At the beginning of the First World War, Russia was the only country with heavy multi-engine airplanes. In 1913, the Russian designer D. P. Grigorovich created a “flying boat” hydroplane; in 1913-1914 he built several flying boats-the seaplanes M-1, M-2 and M-4. In 1914 he built the hydroplane M-5 (a two-seat biplane with a 100 h. p. engine), with a speed of 108 km. per hour and the relatively low landing speed of 68 km. per hr. Grigorovich successfully put pontoons on the Il’ia Muromets. In England, practical designs for hydroplanes were made no earlier than 1914 (Sopwith, Short). In 1913, the engineer N. R. Lobanov designed the first special airplane skis allowing for safe take-off and landing on snow. In 1911 the Russian inventor G. E. Kotelnikov invented the world’s first packable parachute (RK-1).

Thus, Russian scientists, engineers and inventors, working on the creation of flying machines, pioneered solutions to the basic problems of aviation. However, the decrepitude of Russia’s bourgeois-landowner system, the incompetence of its tsarist rulers, and the country’s technical-economical backwardness did not allow the initiatives of Russian innovators in aeronautics and aviation opportunities broad practical development. Innovators were given no support. Tsarist functionaries fawning before fancy foreigners ignored the discoveries and inventions of their Russian compatriots. Many valuable works by Russian scientists and inventors were credited to foreigners. Only the Great October Socialist Revolution gave designers, scientists, engineers, inventors and rationalizers limitless opportunities for creative work and the realization of their projects.

Source: James von Geldern and Richard Stites, eds., Mass Culture in Soviet Russia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), pp. 479-485.


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