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Bombing aircraft form a large percentage of the military aeroplanes owned by the Soviet Union



A FOUR-ENGINED BOMBER of the T.B.3 type. These aircraft are of A.N.T. build, their name having been obtained from the initials of the designer, A. N. Toupolev. The four-engined T.B.3s are fitted with 680 horse-power B.M.W. engines. They carry four machine-guns and 2,200 lb. of bombs. The maximum speed is 124 miles an hour; later models have 830 horse-power engines.

STUDENTS of world aviation are unable to agree as to the present strength and technical quality of the air force of Soviet Russia. Official statements which can be depended upon are few and far between. There has recently been a distinct tendency to believe that Russia’s air force has made considerable strides during the past few years and that it now stands high in relation to the air forces of other great powers.

In the Russian Revolution the early Tsarist aviation of Russia entirely disappeared. It was not until 1920 that the Russians set up their technical organizations, which were intended to study land and marine aircraft, as well as aero engines. After that there came the special organization, known as the Osoaviakhim, for the study of air and gas war combined. The establishment of this organization, when it was first made known, startled the world.

The beginning of modern Russian military aviation was essentially imitative. Machines were bought from foreign countries, notably from America, and engineers from those countries were prevailed upon to accept posts in Soviet Russia to direct design and production. But in spite of this reliance upon foreign technical knowledge, Russia did not lose sight of the need to develop her own teams of original designers and builders. The encouragement of home-made aircraft continued even when the main body of Russian military aviation came from abroad.

It was the 1928 Five Years’ Plan that expressly laid down the objective of freeing Soviet aviation from foreign influences and causing it to make independent progress. Something had been done when the Five Years’ Plan came to an end in 1932, but it fell far short of expectations. This did not discourage the Russians, who undertook the next Five Years’ Plan with undiminished energy. This second plan envisaged an air fleet of many thousands of machines.

Information is too meagre to indicate to what extent the enormous programme has been realized. But there have been a few incidents which suggest to the outside world that Russia has advanced in technical matters and is moving rapidly in the matter of aeronautical development.

First of all there is the long-distance record of 6,305 miles set up by the Soviet aviators who flew from Moscow via the North Pole to San Jacinto (California) in July 1937. This record was made with a remarkable machine called the A.N.T. 25, an entirely Soviet production embodying some unusual technical features. In the first place it has a higher aspect ratio than almost any previous power-driven machine, and therefore looks somewhat like a sailplane.

It is a single-engined monoplane with retractable undercarriage and it is made of metal. An important point is that the fuel tanks form parts of the wing, their outsides being the wing surfaces. This is stated to have given a considerable saving in structural weight and to have given that distribution of load along the wing which is important when such big spans are used. The engine gives about 1,000 horse-power.

Before the flights of the A.N.T. 25, the ability of the Russians to produce aircraft in large series had been more widely recognized than their ability to produce aircraft of high technical qualities, and the feat of the A.N.T. 25 may be said to have been the first intimation to the world at large of the rapid progress made by Russian designers and technicians.

TWO-SEAT AMPHIBIAN FIGHTER built for the Russian air force

TWO-SEAT AMPHIBIAN FIGHTER built for the Russian air force by the American Seversky Company. The landing wheels retract hydraulically into slots in the floats and are mounted independently of the floats. The floats are mounted so that they move upwards when the aeroplane is alighting on land and so permit the tail wheel to make contact with the ground.

So unexpected was this achievement that some experienced observers of aviation refused to accept the flight as having been accomplished without a stop and suggested that a halt for refuelling must have been made at one of the Russian Polar bases. Since then, however, the Federation Aeronautique Internationale has accepted the distance record and has confirmed the Russian figures in all its details. While this technical development was in progress, the development of mass production was also proceeding. When Louis Breguet, the French designer, visited Russia towards the end of 1936, he stated on his return that he estimated that there were ten times as many workpeople engaged on the manufacture of aircraft and aero engines in Russia as there were in France at that time. He estimated the number at 200,000 and said that these men were engaged in the chief State aeroplane factories. He was not, however, greatly impressed by the technical methods and described them as not being particularly up to date.

Bombing aeroplanes are said to form about one-half of the total number of military machines owned by the Soviet. Some of these are four-engined types and many have a big radius of action. Russian strategy is influenced by Japan and the stress that is laid upon range is therefore readily understood. Moreover, this strategical influence demands that Russian air strength be split up and that large numbers of men and machines must always be stationed in the Far East.

If today the total of Russia’s airfleet is 4,000 first-line machines, as has been estimated, the number which would have to be looked upon as coming within the European area of operation could not be put higher than some 3,000. As, however, Russia’s state aircraft factories are designed expressly for large-scale mass production, the rate of growth may be exceptionally high. It depends upon the degree of efficiency achieved; but there is no reason to suppose this falls much below that achieved in other countries.


PARACHUTISTS READY TO TAKE OFF IN BALLOONS. They landed in farming districts with the aid of their parachutes and then carried out propaganda work for aviation. Parachuting plays an important part in Russian military aviation; troops are landed with machine-guns in this manner from aeroplanes. This use of the parachute owes its development largely to work carried out in Russia.

Another point to note about the Soviet air strength is that much emphasis is laid upon working in large formations. At the big parades of military strength which periodically take place, exceptionally large formations of aircraft are included. The use of aircraft as instruments of chemical warfare has already been noted as one of the factors specifically taken into account by the Russians. The use of aircraft for dropping small numbers of infantry soldiers is also visualized by the Russians, who are credited by many people with having been the first to develop this scheme. This use of aircraft is a typically Russian idea. Although it was earlier scoffed at by the air staffs of other countries, it has since been taken up by the French, Italian and German air forces. Its tactical value is now thought to be much greater than was originally supposed.

In essence the Russian scheme is to carry a detachment of infantry, each man equipped with a parachute sufficient to take him and his immediate equipment and possibly machine-guns in parts designed for rapid assembly. The aeroplane, by dropping these detachments at salient points, can, in effect, place at these points machine-gun posts which might have an appreciable effect in certain kinds of warfare. The dropping of parachuted infantry, and especially of machine-gun detachments, is being looked upon, therefore, with increasing favour as a tactical device. Credit must be accorded to the Russians for the development, and possibly for the invention of this tactical novelty.

In addition to the long-range flight already mentioned, light has been thrown on Russian technical progress by the use of a certain number of Russian aeroplanes in the Spanish civil war. Russian fighters have been used extensively and they are stated to have been among the fastest fighters which have come into action in this field of operations.


MASS FORMATION OF RUSSIAN BOMBERS of four-engined monoplane type Russia’s size, and geographical position have caused considerable prominence to be given to bombing aeroplanes in her air force; many of the bombers have considerable ranges. Emphasis in the Russian air force is also laid on working in large formations, a type of flying which is continually being practised.

Among the fighters may be mentioned the 2K.B.19, a single-engined monoplane, of low-wing type, with retractable undercarriage and a liquid-cooled engine which is said to give more than 1,200 horse-power. This machine is equipped with four machine-guns. It was originally fitted with a Hispano-Suiza engine. High-altitude fighters of various types are in existence, though it is difficult, in view of the Russian Government’s reluctance to impart information or to permit inspection of its air equipment, to estimate their quality. It is certain, however, that the Russians are developing high-speed medium-size bombers, as well as ultra-large, four-engined machines. The high-speed bombers come in the category which is perhaps best represented in Great Britain by the Bristol Blenheim. Moreover, the Russians are known to be working on sub-stratosphere bombers, though again it is impossible to estimate with any certainty how far they have developed the type.

Strategically, Russia’s preoccupation with Japan has influenced the disposition of her forces. The enormous expanse of Russian territory is another deciding factor. From the point of view of air power, this large expanse carries with it both advantages and disadvantages. It means that protection of frontiers by aircraft is a matter of extreme difficulty, calling for exceptionally large numbers of machines. It means also that aircraft production would probably be less interfered with in any war in which Russia were engaged than if the country were smaller.

Well-Equipped Research Services

State aircraft and aero-engine factories can be and are being placed in such position that their attack by any hostile power would be a matter of extreme difficulty. As a source of supply of air material to any ally, therefore, Russia’s importance can scarcely be overestimated, provided only that she is able to maintain a high enough standard of technical excellence.

The mark of Russian military aircraft is the five-pointed star in red. This is displayed in the usual positions on wings and rudder or fin.

Russian pilots have always been noted for their bravery. Some of them, during the war of 1914-18, were trained by the Royal Flying Corps and the impression generally created was that, although they were quite fearless, some of them lacked the mechanical understanding which is demanded of a really good pilot. It has been noted more than once, however, that skill in the piloting of an aeroplane is not always a sure guide to excellence as a fighting pilot. Some of the best fighting pilots have been poor pilots so far as flying itself was concerned. It might thus be that the Russian temperament would be well suited to air fighting, even though the Russian flier may not have excelled in the manipulation of aeroplanes in the air.

There are naval and military flying schools, and there are specialized branches for dealing with specialized work such as cooperation with the other Services and fighting. The organization of the Russian force is devised on lines to suit the political structure of the country. There is a People’s Commissar, who has charge of the fighting forces, and there is a war council. After that comes the higher command of the Russian air fleet, to which are attached the departments dealing with aerial equipment and industry.

The research services are said to be well equipped and to have produced some able workers during recent years. The Central Aero-Hydrodynamics Institute, or Zagi, is still the headquarters for experimental work. It was here that Engineer A. N. Toupolev produced the original designs for the A.N.T. machines, including the long-range machine referred to above.

The Institute is divided into separate sections for administration, experimental aerodynamics, experimental aircraft construction, aircraft engines, aircraft materials, windmills, and hydraulic and hydrotechnic work.

RUSSIAN MILITARY FLIERS discussing their route before a flightDuring recent years little information as to progress has been received and it is impossible to make a just estimate of the position of Russian aviation, when regarded generally, in relation to British aviation. One thing, however, seems certain. Russian aviation is now recognized to have made noteworthy progress. Even if it may still be technically behind the aviation of the other great powers, it can no longer be far behind.

RUSSIAN MILITARY FLIERS discussing their route before a flight. Up to 1928, aviation in Russia was largely based on aviation practice in other countries. In 1928 the first Five Years’ Plan began and one of its objects was to free Soviet aviation from foreign influences and to enable it to progress independently. Today Russia is able to produce designs of the highest technical merit and mass production methods are also considerably advanced.

You can read more on “The Japanese Air Force”, “Soviet Arctic Aviation” and “The United States Air Force” on this website.

The Russian Air Force