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Russian Air Force - Great War Aircraft

By some accounts, at the beginning of the Great War, Russia had the largest fleet of aircraft in the world. At the outbreak of th War, each of the major powers had at its disposal fleets of aircraft that reflected the importance placed on military aviation. Russia (which had virtually no independent national aircraft industry) had nearly 250 machines, Germany about 230, France some 130, and Britain managed to assemble about 60.

By 1910 Russia possessed dirigibles, aeroplanes, and hydro-aeroplanes. The dirigibles were of the Lebaudy, Clement-Bayard, and Zodiac types. They had also one Parseval and several other balloons were being constructed. From the point of view of aeroplanes, it was Russia which should be classed in the first rank after France. Pilots were numerous and good. Construction is not particularly important, but the State had made many purchases in France.

Russian aeroplanes had taken part in the grand maneuvers, and some of their experiments have been made with the wireless. The aeroplanes were of the types of the Nieuport, Deperdussin, Farman, Voisin, Bleriot, and Sommer. In addition, the navy department possessed several hydroaeroplanes, the first of which was ordered from the American Curtiss, but the others of which came from the shop of the Voisin Bros.

The combat path of Russian aviation began in the period of the Italian-Turkish and two Balkan wars, in 1911-1913. As a result of the success of the Russian pilots in the Balkans, the creation of a special aeronautical department at the General Engineering Directorate of the General Staff, which developed a plan for the creation of Russian air forces. By August 1, 1914, there were 244 aircraft in 39 detachments. Germany had on the same date 232 airplanes in 34 detachments, France - 138 at 25, England - 56 first-line aircraft, Austria-Hungary - about 30 air vehicles.

Russia spent vast sums in the provision of machines: the giant Sikorsky biplane, carrying four 100 horsepower Argus motors, was designed by the young Russian engineer in the latter part of 1913, and in its early trials it created a world's record by carrying seven passengers for 1 hour 54 minutes. Sikorsky also designed several smaller machines, tractor biplanes on the lines of the British B.E. type, which were very successful.

Foreign firms were slow to hand over their latest technical developments to Russians, sharing only obsolete ones. And the invention of talented Russian designers - Sikorsky, Stenglau, Gakkel - were never put into mass production. The same was true of the most modern at that time apparatus for aerial photography of the systems of SA Ulyanin and VF Pott. Ulyanin, for example, in 1914. offered the Ministry of War the first project in the world of a device for remote control of aircraft, which was successfully tested in naval administration, but was not supported by domestic bureaucrats. He went to London and continued his work there.

Most of the Russian aircraft were built in seven domestic factories. During the war, five more factories joined the ranks. But the lack of aircraft construction was that the military ministry actually disengaged from the coordination of the production of aircraft, so in most cases airplanes of foreign designs were produced (16 foreign models and only 12 domestic ones). Foreign firms were slow to hand over their latest technical developments to Russians, sharing only obsolete ones. And the invention of talented Russian designers - Sikorsky, Stenglau, Gakkel - were never put into mass production.

The imports consisted mainly of French aeroplanes by the hundred, which got as far as the docks and railway sidings and stayed there, while German influence and the corruption that ruined the Russian Army helped to lose the War. A few Russian aircraft factories were got into operation as hostilities proceeded, but their products were negligible.

A twin-engine aircraft designed by the engineer-inventor LD Kolpakov-Miroshnichenko "Swan-Grand" from the very beginning was conceived as a long-range scout, medium bomber and a large fighter. The design of the "Swan" was much more perfect than other similar machines: the "Russian Knight" of the plant "Russo-Balt", the airplanes "Anatra" of the plant AA Anatra. Despite the obvious advantages of this model, the negative attitude of the military department to the machines of large tonnage did not make it possible to bring the "Swan-Grant" to mass production.

In 1916, the military department adopted a reconnaissance aircraft of a simple and rational design "Anade" ("Anatra-D"). By design, the aircraft was a double, two-post biplane with a 100-liter engine. Evaluation of the flight performance of this aircraft changed during the war. For the end of 1915, it was considered advanced and even the best among a number of foreign aircraft. By 1918 Anade was already outdated and was used mainly as a training aircraft.

By November 1, 1916, from abroad, 883 aircraft and 2326 engines were received. Of these, 65% of aircraft and 90% of motors are purchased in France, 10% in England, 25% of planes in Italy, but not all of them were high-quality. In Russia itself, only 511 aircraft engines were produced during the entire war.

In Russia there was not a single repair plant - aircraft that needed major repairs were sent to the construction site, which ultimately affected the release of new aicraft. Minor repairs were carried out at airfields, more complex - in aviation parks. The absence of unified leadership, the relative weakness of industry and the repair base, and the shortage of qualified personnel immediately placed Russian aviation in an extremely difficult situation, from which it could not escape during the entire war.

Sikorsky had enlarged Russian military aviation with a virtually complete set of military aircraft of all types: light fighters, naval scouts, light reconnaissance fighters, twin-engine fighter-bombers and ground-attack planes. At the same time, he continued work on improving the multi-engine "Ilya of Murom". He made adjustments in the design, taking into account the responses of crews and the results of combat flights.

In addition to heavy bombers, Sikorsky also developed light aircraft. Since 1915, began to be serially produced first as a scout, and then as a fighter-interceptor a small biplane "S-16". The twin fighter and scout "S-17" continued the development of the aircraft "S-6" and "S-10". The twin-engine "S-18" was an escort fighter. Then Sikorsky was created and the first domestic attack aircraft "S-19". The last aircraft, built by a designer in Russia, was a single-seat S-20 fighter that surpassed similar foreign models in its characteristics. In total in Russia in the years 1909-1917, Sikorsky created 25 types of aircraft and 2 helicopters.

The Bolsheviks who came to power banned and turned down all aviation production. The "air" industry has lost in its development not only time, but, most importantly, qualified personnel. Many professionals of their business were forced to simply look for ways to survive, leaving aviation, someone was repressed, and many, including Igor Sikorsky, were forced to flee their homeland and seek refuge abroad. The reason for the emigration was really imminent threats of reprisals and arrests. Igor Sikorsky's father supported the monarchists and became an outspoken reactionary, which was the reason for his impending arrest. During the Great War he worked for the benefit of Russia, but did not accept the October Revolution and on February 18, 1918, he left Russia. In March 1919, he emigrated to the United States, where in 1923 he founded the aviation firm Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation.

The Red Army of Russia did not lack airplanes, despite its numerous campaigns on many fronts. In fact, during the latter part of Russia's participation in the Great War as one of the Allies, most Russian airplanes were of domestic manufacture: and when the Bolsheviks came into power they naturally came into possession of the aircraft factories.

By 1921, the main problem of the Red Army as far as aviation was concerned, had been to find faithful pilots. Numerous Bolshevist pilots surrendered to the Whites despite the fact that they had Communists for observers, and many valuable military secrets were thus revealed to the volunteer army. To overcome this difficulty, the Bolsheviks began to train Lithuanians and Chinese. The results, however, were poor. for the new pupils crashed so many machines that the only producing aircraft factory, Dux, could not keep pace with the spare parts and new machines required. Finally, the Bolsheviks limited their activities to scattering propaganda from the air.




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