Soviet Aerial Refueling - Great Patriotic War
Aerial tankers represent an important augment to air operations in general since they can significantly expand the range and payload envelope of attack aircraft. Experiments with aerial refueling began in the early 1920's, and by the end of the Second World War the air forces of the United States and United Kingdom had achieved mastery of the technique. Soviet efforts began in earnest in the late 1940's, and resulted in deployment of a fleet of tanker aircraft. Even such simple expedients as adding external fuel tanks can produce a significant improvement in range.
The Soviet Union did not stay away from research on refueling in the air. the source of such interest was that the bombers that appeared at that time had already a sufficiently long flight range. However, with their positive qualities, they were sufficiently defenseless and needed guardianship from the side of the fighters. And all would be nothing, but the range of the fighter planes that were often 3-4 times smaller than the range of the bombers' flight.
Then there was the idea of "taking fighters with them". The bombers, which are large in size and have a considerable payload, became airplanes , or aircraft carriers. They simply took fighters, they say, "on their hump", to release them in flight there and then, where and when it is required. The engines of the fighters, of course, were turned off and no fuel was consumed. And at the right time, the fighter was detached from the carrier and carried out the task of protecting his less maneuverable "master."
As early as March 1929, the Revolutionary Military Council raised the question of the transfer of fuel by air. As potential "flying tankers" there were offered aircraft K-5 and ANT-9. According to calculations, the latter could take up to 2,140 kg of gasoline and deliver it at a distance of 100-150 km. This would be enough to refuel 9-10 fighters, but with such a load ANT-9 could not sit on the then quite short field airfields. A design bureau, led by PGGrokhovsky, proposed the use of ANT-9 for refueling fighters and light bombers in the air. This idea was not implemented, as well as another - to build a telephone line from the large three-engine car (G-54 project). But on the P-5, such a device was installed, tested and even tested at the exercises.
Since the early 1930s refueling had been tested on various types of Soviet aircraft. Under the guidance of aviator-enthusiast PI Grokhovsky, a tanker aircraft was developed on the basis of a light bomber and reconnaissance R-5. And, despite some primitiveness, the system worked and quite successfully. At first they tried to pour water instead of fuel, and in the middle of the summer of 1932 a number of successful refueling operations were carried out in the air. In one of the departures, it allowed TB-1 to stay in the air for 25 hours.
The TB-1 was used as a refueler. The crew members (most often the mechanic and the flight attendant (flight observer)) had to catch the hose manually, risking a severe blow to the head, to keep it, which was not easy, and to send the end of the hose with the valve to the filler neck. The fuel flew down under its own weight, that is, the tanker flew above the refueled aircraft. All these operations were carried out at speeds of no more than 200 km / h, the cabins were open, the protective canopies, as now, were not there (especially for shooters and pilots), which made it possible to cope with the hose supplied from above.
However, the TB-1 plane quickly disappeared from the stage. It was replaced by the heavy bomber TB-3. It was used both as a tanker and as a refueled aircraft. At the tanker (the aircraft was called TB-3 P), a set of special equipment (name AZ-21) was installed. In addition, in the summer of 1936, experimental work was carried out to refuel the I-5 and I-16 fighters from the TB-3R tanker in the air. A set of equipment AZ-22 was installed on the fighters.
Further research work of great development was not received not only in the Soviet Union, but also in other countries of the world. It can be said that the first, initial stage was completed before the war. The experiments were successful enough, but the process of manual refueling in the air proved to be very difficult and risky.
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