Why did the Soviet Union have multiple airplane manufacturers?

Why did the Soviet Union have multiple airplane manufacturers?

Generally, Communism believed in economic central planning, with each field being serviced by one "company" (to avoid waste).

Why was it that the Soviet Union had multiple airplane manufacturers, many of which had openly competing airplanes (MiG and Su, for example, both made fighters).

Why didn't they "merge" them into one large bureau?

I can't speak to the specifics of the Soviet Union, but I want to address the opening assumption of the question.

Generally, Communism believed in economic central planning, with each field being serviced by one "company" (to avoid waste).

This is untrue of (or at least unnecessary for) both communism and centrally planned economies. A centrally planned economy is one where production, prices, and distribution are set by the government, not by market forces. No monopoly is necessary. Communism does not require a centrally planned economy, but rather is about the ownership of the means of production which covers a wide spectrum of social, political, and economic structures.

What you're asking about is the Soviet model. It's important to not use the Soviet model as a stand in for communism. Communism is a very broad set of social, political, and economic philosophies. The Soviet model is a specific, and rather broken, flavor featuring a centrally planned economy, single party control, and powerful committees. The Soviet model is more like an oligarchy masquerading as communism.

Two examples of centrally planned economies within the United States are large scale manufacturing for the military and, until very recently, space. The US government is the major buyer of things like aircraft carriers, tanks, nuclear submarines, and heavy launch vehicles. They effectively control what is produced, who it gets distributed to and, somewhat, the price.

The US government deliberately doles out contracts to multiple suppliers, even to the point of paying more money, in order to keep multiple suppliers around (also to get the votes of powerful senators by funneling money to their districts). This is to foster competition, prevent a single company from controlling the market, and also as a hedge in case one goes out of business.

For example, there were two builders of US Navy submarines, Newport News Shipbuilding and General Dyanamics Electric Boat, but reductions in the US navy's submarine fleet means now there is only one, Electric Boat. Should something happen to General Dynamics this would be put the US's ability to build submarines, a highly specialized skill, in danger.

Company vs Design Bureau

It's important to distinguish between a company and a design bureau. Organisations such as MiG (Mikoyan-and-Gurevich Design Bureau), Yakolev (JSC A.S. Yakovlev Design Bureau), Tupolev (OKB-156 or Tupolev Design Bureau) and Sukhoi (OKB-51 / Sukhoi Design Bureau) where, as the names suggest, "design bureaus." They designed aircraft, but did not manufacturer them.

Outsourced Manufacturing

Manufacturing was handled by separate state-owned factories, often more than one, and was quite disconnected from the design process.

So MiG might design an aircraft in response to a design request or competition from the air force (i.e. the soviet government), and then a number of factories around the USSR would be spooled up to manufacture the parts and assemble them into working aircraft.

Internal Competition

The different design bureaus, as @sds commented, competed each other to win design competitions set forth by the government as a form of internal competition. Just like a modern company might have subsidiaries or departments compete internally for work, because it drives efficiency and/or innovation.


In addition, the bureaus tended to have their own specialities (fighters or bombers or civil aircraft, etc.), and were often personality driven by the name/s behind them. E.g. Mikoyan was a well respected engineer within the USSR and he headed MiG. He was also Sukhoi's mentor, and the latter eventually left MiG and founded his own design bureau.


In Russia's modernised economy, some of the design bureaus successfully transitioned into corporations. For example, Sukhoi is now a privately-owned company (fully owned by United Aircraft Corporation) which designs and manufactures military and civil aviation aircraft.

In short: politics: neither managed to eat each other.

The longer version:

First of all, "socialist competition" was an "official" answer to the issue of ineffectiveness of duplication of efforts.

Second, during the WW2 there were many more fighter design bureaus, but most of them were re-purposed after the war: Lavochkin - to spacecraft, Yakovlev - to passenger aircraft.

Third, in the area of bombers the situation was a little bit more uneven: while Tupolev killed Myasishchev, it failed to absorb Ilyushin.

The point is that neither Mikoyan nor Sukhoi could eat each in the "under the carpet" fights, so they were independent until 10 years ago.

MiG, Sukhoi, Tupolev, Yakovlev, Ilyushin, Mil, Kamov, Beriev, Antonov were design bureaus, not manufacturers. It was totally common if a certain factory would produce planes of Tupolev and Ilyushin designs at the same time.

Why several design bureaus? Possibly because of different personalities and methods of the chief designers. A person who had sufficient achievements would be given a team to guide. And the team's volume was limited by the leader's physical capabilities.

It is also to note that while the purpose of the planes could be interchangeable, there were differences in approach. For instance, Antonov produced civil airliners, like Tupolev and Ilyushin. But they specialized on planes with the wing on the top of fuselage while Tupolev and Ilyushin designed planes with the wing on the bottom. Tupolev designed narrow-body aircrafts, while Ilyushin designed both narrow and wide-bodied.

All of the design bureaus and plants were the subsidiaries of the respective Ministry of Aviation Industry.

Economy was indeed centralized but not absolutely. This applies not only to airplanes but to cars and to many other items. There were usually more than one manufacturer.

Speaking of the airplanes one has to distinguish the plants and design bureaus. There were really many airplane designers, and there was a severe competition between them. The state commission usually selected a model from several models made by different designers. The winning model went in production on one of the state owned plants. The fight between various design bureaus was very far from "honest competition". But I suppose that this situation satisfied the authorities: probably they understood that competition is good. Same situation prevailed in the missile industry and in some other war-related sectors of economy.

Airplane design was a very prestigious occupation, and some design bureaus directors were relatives of Politbureau members (like Mikoyan and Kaganovich) or other people closely affiliated to the power structure (Yakovlev).

I'll leave the airplane manufacturers and Soviet Union but I think It will be stil valid. So let's move a bit western and southern from moscow to Czechslovak Socialistic Republic. It was part of Comecon and obeyed the orders from the Kremlin.

There were many factories competing each other but under the rule of "One Party" the car-makers' fields were distinguished:

  • Aero: Car production abandonned;
  • Avia: Airplanes abandonned, light trucks under licence of Saviem
  • Liaz: Light and medium size trucks, road and offroad.
  • Praga: Car and motorbike production abandonned, army truck and offroad truck produced using Tatra engines.
  • Skoda: Small family cars, limitted to 1300 ccm not to compete with VAZ-Lada and Moskvich. Former Laurin & Klement, official name: Automobilové závody, národní podnik (Automotive factories, national works).
  • Sodomka works: Car bodyworks discontinued; production of buses first labelled after engine maker, Skoda works, later under Karosa label. articulated buses were not produced in favour of Ikarus.
  • Tatra: Representative cars, cars for big cheeses. Heavy duty trucks.
  • Walter: Car production discontinued, renamed as Motorlet and production aimed to aviation engines.

The companies did not compete agains each other; they were forced to share a lot of parts instead. The Tatra 613, last Tatra car, used same handles, switches as skoda 130 and Skoda Favorit. Praga V3S (sometimes called half-Tatra) used in-line 4 cylinder engine based on Tatra V8 engine and cab based on Tatra 805 truck. Liaz firetrucks used cabines based on Karosa B732 bus.

The reason for it is that "manufacturing airplanes" is misleading in terms of suggesting that it's like uniform activity regardless of plane category. It's not, manufacturing a bomber might very well require a different experience, skillset and tooling than manufacturing a fighter.

This is counter-intuitive, but joint programs can often induce greater costs per unit and type than separate programs taken together. For instance, Joint Strike Fighter would likely be significantly cheaper if ordered as three separate airplanes:

Source: "Do Joint Fighter Programs Save Money?" by RAND Corp (

Suppose you have One Big Soviet Airplane Factory that produces all the airplanes. According to findings cited above, it would make sense for it to have several separate divisions (definitely two for fighters and bombers, maybe a third one for tactical bombers, and what about marine aviation? how about piston-engine-powered basic training aircraft, does it make sense to manufacture them in the same division/facility as jet fighters? what about utility helicopters? what about anti-submarine warfare helicopters? how about wing-in-ground-effect ASW ekranoplan like Beriev VVA-14? They likely would have to have their own specialized facilities.

What if those divisions were separate enterprises? The cost savings by lumping them all into one would not be great (save some on a few managers more + more than 1 HR, that's it), while likely a lot of value would be lost: different mindsets, better specialization, unique experience, different bosses and managers trying out different approaches to do stuff.

The Soviet theory to do this, that is, to separate design bureaus from fabrication facilities was actually optimum way to do it: have the best design first, then have it manufactured by the facility best suited for peculiarities of the job.

Economically speaking, it makes sense to merge only enterprises and facilities fulfilling both of the following conditions:

  • they use very similar designs and manufacturing technology
  • merger allows to realize economy of scale (falling marginal unit cost with growth of production volume)

It did not make sense for the Soviets to go beyond that.

Let's put it simply, detailed answers have already been posted. Mikoyan-Gurevich (MiG), Sukhoi (Su), Tupolev (Tu), Yakolev (Yak), Petlyakov (Pe), Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov (LaGG) and Ilyshin (Il), the most notable ones, were all design bureaus or teams. All manufacturing was done by state factories (same applies to small arms, AFVs, etc.). So, once the design was complete, the design bureaus had nothing to do with the manufacture. They had no stake in it and, indeed, zero control over it. They merely provided the plans and development. We can think of it as the state being the company, which controls the factories, and the design bureaus being departments inside the company providing the plans.

There is no difference between central planning and capitalism. You can see an overview here:

Each firm in the Soviet economy resembled a capitalist firm, had to sell products, and bought intermediate goods and labor on the market. Although there were technically "quotas", they made no practical difference to the firm's behavior in the vast majority of cases. There was also public housing, education, and similar government activities performed in capitalist countries.

From this you can see that the answer to "why did the Soviet economy do X?" type questions can be answered by "the same reason everyone else did that".


The country here is not really important. This happens in USA and other countries that want to support aircraft builders.

From what I remember from MIG / Sukhov / Illushin documentaries, they always competed between each other.

BUT, MIG and SU from 60s until now started to make DIFFERENT types of fighters made for different purposes.

Example could be:

Su-27 - MIG-29 Su-35 - MIG-35

Both are fighters, but SU-35 is a heavy fighter and MIG is light fighter. Both have their own separate purposes.

USSR and Russia support their manufacturers so that those important industries dont die and start selling bicycles like it was in 90s.

Russia right now is 2 in arms sales(27% of world sales) - building high technology products nets a big buck.

It was common to produce multiple 'competitive' weapon systems, especially at prototype stage, which motivated teams and ensured that failure / delay of one project wouldn't leave them without a solution in that area (as sometimes happened in the West => e.g. the British Nimrod AEW or the US Osprey).

Ryszard Kapuscinski in "Imperium", makes the point that often the centrally-planned COMECON economies like the USSR had more competing companies, not fewer, as they company with the inferior products would not go bankrupt.

The example he gave was televisions, at the time, a high-tech, prestige product. Directors of large industrial concerns would want to build them, even if it was not in the plan, and so would divert resources to make them. Therefore, there were very many substandard televisions on sale, built solely as vanity projects.

In the case of aircraft, it would be hard to divert the required quantity of resources to their production, but the simple fact that it is more efficient to rationalise production is not a necessary reason for doing it, except in a market economy.

It's also worth pointing out that the centrally-planned economies were not always exact copies of each other, all permitted various forms of market mechanisms, and that people did not always do what was in the plan. As others have pointed out, even in "market economies", government bodies often enforce rationalisation in industry.


PJSC Aeroflot – Russian Airlines (Russian: ПАО "Аэрофло́т — Росси́йские авиали́нии" , PAO Aeroflot — Rossiyskiye avialinii), commonly known as Aeroflot ( English: / ˈ ɛər oʊ ˌ f l ɒ t / or / ˌ ɛər oʊ ˈ f l ɒ t / ( listen ) Russian: Аэрофлот , transl. air fleet , pronounced [ɐɛrɐˈfɫot] ), is the flag carrier [5] [6] and largest airline of the Russian Federation. [7] The airline was founded in 1923, making Aeroflot one of the oldest active airlines in the world. Aeroflot is headquartered in the Central Administrative Okrug, Moscow, with its hub being Sheremetyevo International Airport. The airline flies to 146 destinations in 52 countries, excluding codeshared services.

From its inception to the early 1990s, Aeroflot was the flag carrier and a state-owned enterprise of the Soviet Union (USSR). During this time, Aeroflot grew its fleet to over five thousand domestically-made aircraft and expanded to operate a domestic and international flight network of over three thousand destinations throughout the Soviet Union and the globe, making the airline the largest in the world at the time. [8] [9] In addition to passenger flights, Aeroflot also committed to freight operations and serving the state through transportation and military assistance. Following the dissolution of the USSR, the carrier was restructured into an open joint-stock company and embarked on a radical transformation process. Aeroflot shrank the fleet dramatically while at the same time purchasing Western aircraft and newer domestic models and focusing on expanding its international market share before moving to boost its domestic market share.

By the end of 2017, Aeroflot controlled roughly 40% of the air market in Russia. [10] Aeroflot owns Rossiya Airlines – an airline based in Saint Petersburg, Pobeda – a low-cost carrier, and 51% of airline Aurora, based in the Russian Far East. Altogether, Aeroflot and its subsidiaries own 359 aircraft as of 31 December 2019, [11] composed mainly of Airbus, Boeing, and domestic models such as the Sukhoi Superjet 100. Aeroflot also formerly had a cargo subsidiary named Aeroflot-Cargo, though the branch later merged with the parent airline. [12] [13]

Aeroflot became a member of SkyTeam in April 2006, making it the first carrier in the former Soviet Union to do so. As of March 2020, the Russian Government owns 51% of Aeroflot through the Federal Agency for State Property Management, with the rest of the shares being free-floating. [14]

Russia Designed Their Very Own SR-71 Spyplane. But There Is 1 Big Difference.

It’s a cliché of the Cold War that no sooner did one superpower pioneer a new weapons technology that its rival swiftly sought its own copy, canceling out any advantage long-term. Though this frequently did occur, the Soviet Union and the West had diverging theories about precisely which platforms would most reinforce their security posture.

For example, during the 1950s and 60s, the United States invested considerably in various spy planes designed to penetrate hostile airspace such as the high-flying RB-57 and U-2, followed by the Mach 3-cruising A-12 and SR-71 Blackbirds.

However, the Soviet Union was never convinced such technically impressive penetrating strategic reconnaissance planes were a great idea. They ultimately struggled to keep up with advances in surface-to-air missile technology, and potential shoot-downs could result in embarrassing diplomatic incidents. Better to use deniable agents on the ground or orbiting satellites without risk of embarrassing Soviet leaders.

Still, brilliant Soviet engineer Pavel Tsybin came close to developing a “Soviet Blackbird”—though it, in fact, predated the A-12/Blackbird by several years and was originally conceived as a nuclear bomber.

Compared to famous Soviet bureaus such as Mikoyan i Gurevich (MiG), Sukhoi and Tupolev, the design bureau OKB-256 headed by Tsybin remained small and had to fight for its small chunk of the Soviet defense budget. But the aeronautical engineer was thinking big when he proposed in 1954 to develop the Reaktivny Samolet (RS) ramjet-powered bomber that could cruise at three times the speed of sound.

Tsybin was aiming sky-high with his planned performance parameters: a maximum range of 10,000 miles, a service ceiling of 98,000 feet, and a cruising speed of two-and-half times the speed of sound. With that performance, the RS could have delivered intercontinental nuclear strikes at speeds and altitudes that would have rendered interception nearly impossible. The RS would have ramjets incorporated into two pods on tips of very small and thin wings. Canards (additional small wings on the nose of the plane) provided additional lift.

Ramjets perform superbly at high speeds by sucking incoming air—but don’t function well at all at low speeds.

The enterprising engineer’s presentation blew away the Soviet defense ministry, and his small team was asked to develop a flying prototype by 1957. But as Tysbin advanced into development, he was forced to reduce the RS’s planned range to only 4,500 miles. That simply wasn’t far enough for a round-trip intercontinental bombing raid.

Tsybin then turned to a concept developed by the Soviet Union in the 1930-40s—carrying shorter-range aircraft on large motherships. These flying aircraft carriers had even been briefly but successfully combat-tested in World War II.

Thus, the revised RS concept was to be carried inside a specially modified Tu-95-N long-range bomber, which would release the RS at 30,000 feet. Two jettisonable rocket engines would help accelerate the parasite-bomber to Mach 2.4 to 20.8, at which speed its ramjet engines could then operate efficiently and sustainably. The RS could then deliver a 2,425-pound nuclear glide bomb.

However, following the Soviet Union’s first successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the defense ministry lost interest in deep-penetrating strategic jet bombers and canceled the RS project. Thereafter, Soviet supersonic bombers like the Tu-22 were focused on using standoff range weapons and anti-ship missions.

Undeterred, Tsybin then proposed the RS could be reconfigured into a strategic spy plane called the 2RS. This ditched the canards and nuclear bomb armament for cameras, but retained the airborne launch scheme. This project too proved short-lived.

The final iteration of Tsybin’s concept was the RSR, which was more conventional in that it was to be powered by two Soloviev D-21 turbofan engines with ramjet-like characteristics, and was designed for ground takeoff and landing using two twin-wheel landing gears under the tail and nose. To compensate for lost power, the airframe was built out of lightweight duraluminum.

The pilot sat in a pressurized cabin and used fully-powered controls, while the exterior skin was made to tolerate temperatures as of up to 220 degrees centigrade generated by the friction of passing air molecules.

By then the U.S. deployment of the world’s first operational surface-to-air missiles—the Nike Ajax—factored into the RSR’s design. It was to be coated with a porous radar-absorbent material (RAM) designed to reduce its radar-cross-section—one of the first planned applications of RAM, which has evolved into a critical air warfare technology today. Tsybin also intended to build in high-stress tolerances so the RSR could perform barrel rolls and other high-G maneuvers to evade incoming SAMs.

However, the RSR’s combat radius was now down to just over 2,300 miles. To add versatility, Tsybin proposed the RSR could be dually capable as a spy plane or a bomber which either perform ground-based takeoffs or air-launch from a Tu-95N bomber. Unfortunately for Tysbin, aviation designer Andrei Tupolev thought developing the Tu-95N to be a waste of time and pawned it off to the Myasishchev design bureau. Furthermore, he monopolized production of the D-21 engines for his own aircraft, denying them to the RSR project.

By 1957, OKB-256 had built an NM-1 three-quarter-scale demonstrator equipped with two Mikulin AM-5 turbojets instead. After multiple delays, the subsonic test model made the first of 32 test flights on April 7, 1959. These revealed the airframe’s unstable takeoff handling and flight characteristics—meaning the jet needed to be re-engineered.

Tysbin swapped out the never-delivered D-21 engines for Tumansky R-11F turbojet used on the MiG-21 and Su-15, and trimmed away weight by shortening tail fins, thinning out wing surfaces and replacing rivets with welding. The resulting aircraft, with trapezoidal wings truncated by turbojet engines, looked like a weird cross between the SR-71 and F-104—or an awesome sci-fi spaceship.

You can see more detailed specifications for the RSR-020 here, and schematics for the various RS models here.

Five revised RSR R-020 were ordered—but then in October 1959, the short-lived OKB-256 bureau was absorbed by Myasishchev—best known for its wide-winged M-4 “Hammer” strategic bomber. This was done at Khrushchev’s direction, who preferred to invest in ICBMs rather than bombers.

Supposedly, three or five RSR-020s airframes were completed at the No.99 factory at Ulan-Ude, Siberia, awaiting only fitting of their engines. However, the project was axed on October 1960 and the airframes eventually scrapped, over the objections of the disappointed engineers. Tysbin would go on to play a major role in the development of Soviet spacecraft including the Soyuz-1 and -2 and the Buran space shuttle.

The otherworldly looking RSR was killed as much by its bureaucratic enemies as the technological challenges of its development—but it’s interesting to speculate what response it might have elicited from the United States had it ever been deployed.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.


Early history Edit

In 1936, an analog computer known as a water integrator was designed by Vladimir Lukyanov. [10] It was the world's first computer for solving partial differential equations. [10]

The Soviet Union began to develop digital computers after World War II. [4] A universally programmable electronic computer was created by a team of scientists directed by Sergey Lebedev at the Kiev Institute of Electrotechnology in Feofaniya. The computer, known as MESM (Russian: МЭСМ Малая Электронно-Счетная Машина, Small Electronic Calculating Machine ), became operational in 1950. [11] By some authors it was also depicted as the first such computer in continental Europe, even though the Zuse Z4 and the Swedish BARK preceded it. [2] The MESM's vacuum tubes were obtained from radio manufacturers. [12]

The attitude of Soviet officials to computers was skeptical or hostile during the Stalinist era. Government rhetoric portrayed cybernetics in the Soviet Union as a capitalist attempt to further undermine workers' rights. [3] The Soviet weekly newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta published a 1950 article strongly critical of Norbert Wiener and his book, Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, describing Wiener as one of the "charlatans and obscurantists whom capitalists substitute for genuine scientists". [13] After the publication of the article, his book was removed from Soviet research libraries. [13]

The first large-scale computer, the BESM-1, was assembled in Moscow at the Lebedev Institute of Precision Mechanics and Computer Engineering. [4] Soviet work on computers was first made public at the Darmstadt Conference in 1955. [14]

Post-Stalin era Edit

As in the United States, early computers were intended for scientific and military calculations. Automatic data processing systems made their debut by the mid-1950s with the Minsk and Ural systems, both designed by the Ministry of Radio Technology. [7] The Ministry of Instrument Making also entered the computer field with the ASVT system, which was based on the PDP-8. [7]

The Strela computer, commissioned in December 1956, performed calculations for Yuri Gagarin's first manned spaceflight. [15] The Strela was designed by Special Design Bureau 245 (SKB-245) of the Ministry of Instrument Making. [5] Strela chief designer Y. Y. Bazilevsky received the Hero of Socialist Labor title for his work on the project. [14] Setun, an experimental ternary computer, was designed and manufactured in 1959. [15]

The Khrushchev Thaw relaxed ideological limitations, and by 1961 the government encouraged the construction of computer factories. [3] The Mir-1, Mir-2 and Mir-3 computers were produced at the Kiev Institute of Cybernetics during the 1960s. [4] Victor Glushkov began his work on OGAS, a real-time, decentralised, hierarchical computer network, in the early 1960s, but the project was never completed. [16] Soviet factories began manufacturing transistor computers during the early years of the decade. [17]

At that time, ALGOL was the most common programming language in Soviet computing centers. [18] ALGOL 60 was used with a number of domestic variants, including ALGAMS, MALGOL and Alpha. [19] ALGOL remained the most popular language for university instruction into the 1970s. [20]

The MINSK-2 was a solid-state digital computer that went into production in 1962, and the Central Intelligence Agency attempted to obtain a model. [21] The BESM-6, introduced in 1965, performed at about 800 KIPS on the Gibson Mix benchmark [22] —ten times greater than any other serially-produced Soviet computer of the period, [23] and similar in performance to the CDC 3600. [23] From 1968 to 1987, 355 BESM-6 units were produced. [24] With instruction pipelining, memory interleaving and virtual address translation, [25] the BESM-6 was advanced for the era however, it was less well known at the time than the MESM. [11]

The Ministry of the Electronics Industry was established in 1965, ending the Ministry of Radio Technology's primacy in computer production. [12] The following year, the Soviet Union signed a cooperation agreement with France to share research in the computing field after the United States prevented France from purchasing a CDC 6600 mainframe. [26] In 1967, the Unified System of Electronic Computers project was launched to create a general-purpose computer with the other Comecon countries. [23]

Soyuz 7K-L1 was the first Soviet piloted spacecraft with an onboard digital computer, the Argon-11S. [27] Construction of the Argon-11S was completed in 1968 by the Scientific Research Institute of Electronic Machinery. [27] According to Piers Bizony, lack of computing power was a factor in the failure of the Soviet manned lunar program. [28]

1970s Edit

By the early 1970s, the lack of common standards in peripherals and digital capacity led to a significant technological lag behind Western producers. [4] [29] Hardware limitations forced Soviet programmers to write programs in machine code until the early 1970s. [30] Users were expected to maintain and repair their own hardware local modifications made it difficult (or impossible) to share software, even between similar machines. [30]

According to the Ninth five-year plan (1971–1975), Soviet computer production would increase by 2.6 times to a total installed base of 25,000 by 1975, implying about 7,000 computers in use as of 1971 [update] . The plan discussed producing in larger quantities the integrated circuit-based Ryad, but BESM remained the most common model, with ASVT still rare. Rejecting Stalin's opinion, the plan foresaw using computers for national purposes such as widespread industrial automation, econometrics, and a statewide central planning network. Some experts such as Barry Boehm of RAND and Victor Zorza thought that Soviet technology could catch up to the West with intensive effort like the Soviet space program, but others such as Marshall Goldman believed that such was unlikely without capitalist competition and user feedback, and failures of achieving previous plans' goals. [29]

The government decided to end original development in the industry, encouraging the pirating of Western systems. [4] [29] An alternative option, a partnership with the Britain-based International Computers Limited, was considered but ultimately rejected. [31] The ES EVM mainframe, launched in 1971, was based on the IBM/360 system. [4] [29] The copying was possible because although the IBM/360 system implementation was protected by a number of patents, IBM published a description of the system's architecture (enabling the creation of competing implementations). [32]

The Soviet Academy of Sciences, which had been a major player in Soviet computer development, could not compete with the political influence of the powerful ministries and was relegated to a monitoring role. [7] Hardware research and development became the responsibility of research institutes attached to the ministries. [33] By the early 1970s, with chip technology becoming increasingly relevant to defense applications, Zelenograd emerged as the center of the Soviet microprocessing industry foreign technology designs were imported, legally or otherwise. [12]

The Ninth five-year plan approved a scaled-back version of the earlier OGAS project, and the EGSVT network, which was to link the higher echelons of planning departments and administrations. [34] The poor quality of Soviet telephone systems impeded remote data transmission and access. [35] The telephone system was barely adequate for voice communication, and a Western researcher deemed it unlikely that it could be significantly improved before the end of the 20th century. [6]

In 1973, Lebedev stepped down from his role as director of the Institute of Precision Mechanics and Computer Engineering. [1] He was replaced by Vsevolod Burtsev, who promoted development of the Elbrus computer series. [1]

In the spirit of detente, in 1974 the Nixon administration decided to relax export restrictions on computer hardware [36] and raised the allowed computing power to 32 million bits per second. [37] In 1975, the Soviet Union placed an order with IBM to supply process-control and management computers for its new Kamaz truck plant. [38] IBM systems were also purchased for Intourist to establish a computer reservation system before the 1980 Summer Olympics. [39]

Early 1980s Edit

The Soviet computer industry continued to stagnate through the 1980s. [4] As personal computers spread to offices and industries in the United States and most Western countries, the Soviet Union failed to keep up. [8] By 1989, there were over 200,000 computers in the country. [40] In 1984 the Soviet Union had about 300,000 trained programmers, but they did not have enough equipment to be productive. [41]

Although the Ministry of Radio Technology was the leading manufacturer of Soviet computers by 1980, the ministry's leadership viewed the development of a prototypical personal computer with deep skepticism and thought that a computer could never be personal. [42] The following year, when the Soviet government adopted a resolution to develop microprocessor technology, the ministry's attitude changed. [42]

The spread of computer systems in Soviet companies was similarly slow, with one-third of Soviet plants with over 500 workers having access to a mainframe computer in 1984 (compared to nearly 100 percent in the United States). [43] The success of Soviet managers was measured by the degree to which they met plan goals, and computers made it more difficult to alter accounting calculations to artificially reach targets [44] companies with computer systems seemed to perform worse than companies without them. [44]

The computer hobby movement emerged in the Soviet Union during the early 1980s, drawing from a long history of radio and electric hobbies. [45] In 1978, three employees of the Moscow Institute of Electronic Engineering built a computer prototype based on the new KR580IK80 microprocessor and named it Micro-80. [45] After failing to elicit any interest from the ministries, they published schematics in Radio magazine and made it into the first Soviet DIY computer. [45] The initiative was successful (although the necessary chips could then only be purchased on the black market), leading to the Radio-86RK and several other computer projects. [45]

Piracy was especially common in the software industry, where copies of Western applications were widespread. [46] American intelligence agencies, having learned about Soviet piracy efforts, placed bugs in copied software which caused later, catastrophic failures in industrial systems. [47] One such bug caused an explosion in a Siberian gas pipeline in 1982, after pump and valve settings were altered to produce pressures far beyond the tolerance of pipeline joints and welds. [48] The explosion caused no casualties, but led to significant economic damage. [49]

In July 1984, the COCOM sanctions prohibiting the export of a number of common desktop computers to the Soviet Union were lifted at the same time, the sale of large computers was further restricted. [50] In 1985, the Soviet Union purchased over 10,000 MSX computers from Nippon Gakki. [6]

The state of scientific computing was particularly backwards, with the CIA commenting that "to the Soviets, the acquisition of a single Western supercomputer would give a 10%-100% increase in total scientific computing power." [51]

Perestroika Edit

A program to expand computer literacy in Soviet schools was one of the first initiatives announced by Mikhail Gorbachev after he came to power in 1985. [52] That year, the Elektronika BK-0010 was the first Soviet personal computer in common use in schools and as a consumer product. [53] It was the only Soviet personal computer to be manufactured in more than a few thousand units. [6]

Between 1986 and 1988, Soviet schools received 87,808 computers out of a planned 111,000. About 60,000 were BK-0010s, as part of the KUVT-86 computer-facility systems. [54]

Although Soviet hardware copies lagged somewhat behind their Western counterparts in performance, their main issue was generally-poor reliability. The Agat, an Apple II clone, was particularly prone to failure disks read by one system could be unreadable by others. [7] An August 1985 issue of Pravda reported, "There are complaints about computer quality and reliability". [55] The Agat was ultimately discontinued due to problems with supplying components, such as disk drives. [6]

The Vector-06C, released in 1986, was noted for its relatively advanced graphics capability. [56] The Vector could display up to 256 colors when the BK-0010 had only four hard-coded colors, without palettes. [56]

In 1987, it was learned that Kongsberg Gruppen and Toshiba had sold CNC milling machines to the Soviet Union in what became known as the Toshiba-Kongsberg scandal. [57] The president of Toshiba resigned, and the company was threatened with a five-year ban from the US market. [58]

The passage of the Law on Cooperatives in May 1987 led to a rapid proliferation of companies trading computers and hardware components. [59] Many software cooperatives were established, employing as much as one-fifth of all Soviet programmers by 1988. [60] The Tekhnika cooperative, created by Artyom Tarasov, managed to sell its own software to state agencies including Gossnab. [61]

IBM-compatible Soviet-made computers were introduced during the late 1980s, but their cost put them beyond the reach of Soviet households. [62] The Poisk, released in 1989, was the most common IBM-compatible Soviet computer. [62] Because of production difficulties, no personal computer model was ever mass-produced. [6]

As Western technology embargoes were relaxed during the late perestroika era, the Soviets increasingly adopted foreign systems. [63] In 1989, the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology acquired 70 to 100 IBM XT-AT systems with 8086 microprocessors. [64] The poor quality of domestic manufacturing led the country to import over 50,000 personal computers from Taiwan in 1989. [65]

Increasingly-large import deals were signed with Western manufacturers but, as the Soviet economy unraveled, companies struggled to obtain hard currency to pay for them and deals were postponed or canceled. [66] Control Data Corporation reportedly agreed to barter computers for Soviet Christmas cards. [67]

Human-rights groups in the West pressured the Soviet government to grant exit visas to all computer experts who wanted to emigrate. [68] Soviet authorities eventually complied, leading to a massive loss of talent in the computing field. [69]

1990s and legacy Edit

In August 1990, RELCOM (a UUCP computer network working on telephone lines) was established. [70] The network connected to EUnet through Helsinki, enabling access to Usenet. [71] By the end of 1991, it had about 20,000 users. [72] In September 1990, the .su domain was created. [73]

By early 1991, the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse procurement orders were cancelled en masse, and half-finished products from computer plants were discarded as the breakdown of the centralized supply system made it impossible to complete them. The large Minsk Computer Plant attempted to survive the new conditions by switching to the production of chandeliers. [74] Western export restrictions on civilian computer equipment were lifted in May 1991. [75] Although this technically allowed the Soviets to export computers to the West, their technological lag gave them no market there. [76] News of the August 1991 Soviet coup attempt was spread to Usenet groups through Relcom. [77]

With the fall of the Soviet Union, many prominent Soviet computer developers and engineers (including former Intel processor architect Vladimir Pentkovski) moved abroad. [4] [78] The large companies and plants which had manufactured computers for the Soviet military ceased to exist. [9] The few computers made in post-Soviet countries during the early 1990s were aimed at the consumer market and assembled almost exclusively with foreign components. [9] None of these computers had large production volumes. [9]

Soviet computers remained in common use in Russia until the mid-1990s. [53] Post-Soviet Russian consumers preferred to buy Western-manufactured computers, due to the machines' higher perceived quality. [79]

Since computers were considered strategic goods by the United States, their sale by Western countries was generally not allowed without special permission. [36] As a result of the CoCom embargo, companies from Western Bloc countries could not export computers to the Soviet Union (or service them) without a special license. [80]

Even when sales were not forbidden by CoCom policies, the US government might still ask Western European countries to refrain from exporting computers because of foreign-policy matters, such as protesting the arrest of Soviet dissidents. [81] Software sales were not regulated as strictly, since Western policymakers realized that software could be copied (or smuggled) much more easily. [82]

Soviet computer software and hardware designs were often on a par with Western ones, but the country's persistent inability to improve manufacturing quality meant that it could not make practical use of theoretical advances. [83] Quality control, in particular, was a major weakness of the Soviet computing industry. [84]

The decision to abandon original development in the early 1970s, rather than closing the gap with Western technology, is seen as another factor causing the Soviet computer industry to fall further behind. [4] According to Vlad Strukov, this decision destroyed the country's indigenous computer industry. [53] The software industry followed a similar path, with Soviet programmers moving their focus to duplicating Western operating systems (including DOS/360 and CP/M). [33] According to Boris Babayan, the decision was costly in terms of time and resources Soviet scientists had to study obsolete Western software and then rewrite it, often in its entirety, to make it work with Soviet equipment. [76]

Valery Shilov considered this view subjective and nostalgic. [85] Dismissing the notion of a "golden age" of Soviet computing hardware, he argued that except for a few world-class achievements, Soviet computers had always been far behind their Western equivalents (even before large-scale cloning). [85] Computer manufacturers in countries such as Japan also based their early computers on Western designs, but had unrestricted access to foreign technology and manufacturing equipment. [86] They also focused their production on the consumer market (rather than military applications), allowing them to achieve better economies of scale. [86] Unlike Soviet manufacturers, they gained experience in marketing their products to consumers. [86]

Piracy of Western software such as WordStar, SuperCalc and dBase was endemic in the Soviet Union, a situation attributed to the inability of the domestic software industry to meet the demand for high-quality applications. [40] Software was not shared as commonly or easily as in the West, leaving Soviet scientific users highly dependent on the applications available at their institutions. [87] The State Committee for Computing and Informatics estimated that out of 700,000 computer programs developed by 1986, only 8,000 had been officially registered, and only 500 were deemed good enough to be distributed as production systems. [88] According to Hudson Institute researchers Richard W. Judy and Robert W. Clough, the situation in the Soviet software industry was such that "it does not deserve to be called an industry". [40]

The Soviet Union, unlike contemporary industrializing countries such as Taiwan and South Korea, did not establish a sustainable computer industry. [89] Robert W. Strayer attributed this failure to the shortcomings of the Soviet command economy, where monopolistic ministries closely controlled the activities of factories and companies. [89] Three government ministries (the Ministry of Instrument Making, the Ministry of the Radio Industry and the Ministry of the Electronics Industry) were responsible for developing and manufacturing computer hardware. [90] They had scant resources and overlapping responsibilities. [5] Instead of pooling resources and sharing development, they were locked in conflicts and rivalries and jockeyed for money and influence. [91]

Soviet academia still made notable contributions to computer science, such as Leonid Khachiyan's paper, "Polynomial Algorithms in Linear Programming". [83] The Elbrus-1, developed in 1978, implemented a two-issue out-of-order processor with register renaming and speculative execution according to Keith Diefendorff, this was almost 15 years ahead of Western superscalar processors. [78]

The Real History of WWII's Battle of Kursk and Why it Did NOT Spell the End for Nazi Germany

Kursk is the Santa Claus and Easter Bunny of World War II battles, whose popular history was constructed from German and Soviet propaganda.

Here's What You Need To Remember: Germany had a choice: wait to be hammered by another offensive from the Russian steamroller, or take the initiative by launching its own offensive.

The title of Martin Caidin's 1974 history of the Battle of Kursk is still evocative, with its imagery of Nazi Germany's vaunted Tiger tanks in flames. Tigers burning brightly are just one legend of the epic July 1943 battle between Germany and Russia. There are many more: The Greatest Tank Battle in History, the Turning Point of World War II, The Death Ride of the Panzers, Russian tanks ramming German tanks in a mechanized orgy of destruction.

All very colorful, and all mostly or partly untrue.

Kursk is the Santa Claus and Easter Bunny of World War II battles, whose popular history was constructed from German and Soviet propaganda, and based on early accounts lacking vital information buried in Russian archives until after the fall of the Soviet Union. Kursk was indeed an epic battle, that pitted 3 million German and Soviet soldiers and 8,000 tanks, all crammed into a small portion of southern Russia.

After the disaster at Stalingrad in February 1943, the Red Army pushed the Germans back all the way across southern Russia, until a Panzer counteroffensive in March halted the Russian advance. As spring mud and mutual exhaustion brought operations to a close, the front lines solidified with a 120-mile-wide Russian salient bulging into German lines near the city of Kursk.

Germany had a choice: wait to be hammered by another offensive from the Russian steamroller, or take the initiative by launching its own offensive. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking after the November 1942 Western Allied landings in North Africa signaled that Germany would soon be forced to split its armies between Eastern and Western Europe.

In 1941, Germany had been strong enough to attack on a thousand-mile-front from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Now the Germans could only muster enough troops to concentrate on a narrow sector. An obvious target was the Kursk salient, so obvious in fact that any Russian general with a map could guess the German target (in addition, Moscow was tipped off by the "Lucy"). In effect, Kursk was the first Battle of the Bulge, but on a much larger scale than the Americans faced in December 1944.

Top commanders such as Erich Von Manstein wanted to attack in May, before the Soviets had time to dig in and reinforce the salient. But a nervous and indecisive Hitler decided to postpone Operation Citadel until July, to allow time to deploy his vaunted new Panther, Tiger and Elefant tanks. While the big cats lumbered off the railroad cars near the front lines, the Germans managed to amass nearly 800,000 men, 3,000 tanks, 10,000 guns and mortars, and 2,000 aircraft. It would be the last time the Germans could concentrate such an attack force (by comparison, at the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans had 400,000 men and 600 tanks). Yet as usual, the Germans were outnumbered. They faced 1.9 million Soviet soldiers, 5,000 tanks, 25,000 guns and mortars and more than 3,000 aircraft.

Citadel was a prophetic name for the German offensive. The Soviets used the extra time to build an incredibly dense defense system of multiple layers of fortifications, including trenches, bunkers, tank traps and machine gun nests 25 miles deep, as well as minefields that averaged more than 3,000 mines per kilometer.

Kursk was not an imaginative battle. The Germans attacked an obvious target, the Soviets fortified the obvious target, and the German offensive on July 4, 1943 was a traditional pincer move against the north and south base of the salient to cut off the defenders inside. Despite support by 89 Elefants (a Porsche version of the Tiger that the German army rejected), the northern pincer quickly bogged down after advancing just a few miles. But the southern pincer, led by the II SS Panzer Corps, managed to advance 20 miles to the town of Prokhorovka, until its advance was checked by the Soviet Fifth Guards Tank Army.

On July 10, Anglo-American troops landed on the beaches of Sicily. Two days later Hitler informed his generals that he was canceling the offensive and transferring the SS Panzer divisions to Italy, to repel any Allied landings on the Italian peninsula.

The German offensive was over. But the Soviets had only just begun. Stavka, the Soviet high command, used essentially the same trick that had worked at Stalingrad. It waited until the Germans had concentrated their forces at Kursk, and exhausted themselves against the Russian defenses. Then the Red Army launched a counteroffensive that punctured the weakly held German lines at Orel, north of Kursk, and Belgorod to the south. Thus the Germans found their pincer operation squeezed on either side by a Soviet pincers, in yet another masterful example of the Soviet gift for timing multiple offensives to keep the Germans off balance.

As they would do for the next 22 months, the Germans retreated. The Battle of Kursk was over. The battle over the history of Kursk was not.

So let's explode some of the hype about Kursk:

1. The Tigers didn't burn. Soviet tanks did:

There were lots of flaming tanks at Kursk. They were mostly Russian. Loss estimates for Kursk are fuzzy, but historians David Glantz and Jonathan House estimate the Germans lost 323 tanks destroyed, or about 10 percent of the tanks committed to the offensive (and a fraction of the 12,000 tanks and self-propelled guns the Third Reich built in 1943). Many German tanks damaged by mines or Soviet weapons, or that broke down, were subsequently recovered.

The Soviets lost at least 1,600 tanks, a 5:1 ratio in Germany's favor. The Germans probably lost 45 tanks at Prokhovoka, most of which were subsequently recovered and repaired. The Soviets may have lost 300 tanks destroyed and another 300 damaged, a 15:1 ratio in Germany's favor.

As for Tigers at Kursk, the Germans deployed 146. Only 6 were destroyed.

Given that the German offensive ran into perhaps the most extensive fortified zone in history, and then fought against the numerically superior Soviet tank force, Panzer losses were remarkably light. It was the German infantry, which as in most armies took the most casualties and received the least glory, that was roughly handled at Kursk.

2. Kursk was not a turning point of the war:

The Germans could blame their defeats at Moscow and Stalingrad on the Russian winter, overstretched supply lines and incompetent Rumanian and Italian allies. Kursk demonstrated that the Red Army could hold its own against fully rested and equipped German troops fighting in good weather. More important, Kursk showed that the momentum on the Eastern Front had changed. From June 1941 until July 1943, the tempo of the Russo-German war was mostly determined by German offensives and Soviet responses. After Kursk, the Germans remained on the defensive, their elite Panzer divisions constantly moving up and down the Eastern Front to plug Soviet breakthroughs and rescue encircled German troops.

Yet the momentum on the Eastern Front had already shifted six months earlier at Stalingrad, where an entire German army, and several hundred thousand German and satellite troops, were erased from the Axis order of battle. Kursk was bloody: the German offensive alone cost 54,000 Germans and 178,000 Soviet casualties -- yet there were no major encirclements or surrenders. Kursk was a battle of attrition rather than decisive maneuver. Both armies were damaged yet both remained intact.

The Red Army had become too competent to let the German Panzers slice and dice them as in 1941. And unless Germany could win the sort of victories it achieved in 1941, and filled the POW cages with a million Soviet prisoners, it is hard to see how Kursk could have been decisive. If the Germans had destroyed a few Soviet divisions and eliminated the Kursk salient, the Soviets would merely have rebuilt their strength and attacked somewhere else. By 1943, there were simply not enough German troops to conquer the Soviet Union or to solidly defend a thousand-mile front.

3. Prokhorovka was not the Greatest Tank Battle in History:

The meeting engagement between the II SS Panzer Corps and the 5th Guards Tank Army at Prokhorovka has been lauded as history's greatest tank battle, probably because it involved SS Panzer divisions and a handful of Tigers. The actual battle only pitted about 300 German tanks against roughly 800 Soviet vehicles. The biggest tank battle in history may be Dubna, in June 1941, where 750 German tanks defeated 3,500 Soviet vehicles.

4. The Red Army was still not as good as the German Army:

The Red Army in 1943 had come a long way since its pitiful performance in 1941-42. But despite the postwar propaganda, Kursk showed the Soviets still had a long way to go. As Russian Kursk expert Valeriy Zamulin demonstrates in "Demolishing the Myth: The Tank Battle at Prokhorovka, Kursk, July 1943," Soviet tactical performance was clumsy and troop morale was brittle. Though the Red Air Force was able to provide some support, its performance was also lacking: for example, a surprise strike on German airfields on July 5 quickly turned into a turkey shoot for the Luftwaffe fighter aces.

A listing of Soviet Aircraft Manufacturing facilities

This list only includes the factories that were located within the geographic borders of the USSR, and includes both civilian and military production.

Moscow Aircraft Production Organization MAPO – Moscow (Khodynka)
Sukhoi , Illyushin, MiG, Yakovlev Head offices
– Il-14, Il-28, Yak-26, Il-18, MiG-21, Il-20, Il-22, Il-38, MiG-23, MiG-29 (Prototypes: Il-14, Il-62, Il-76, Il-86, Il-114)

Tupolev Lefortovo Factory- Moscow
Tupolev Head Office
– Prototypes (built, then trucked to Zhukovsky for assembly and flight) Tu-95, Tu-142, Tu-104, Tu-110, Tu-114, Tu-116, Tu-126, Tu-124, Tu-144, Tu-160, Tu-204

Tushino Machine Building Enterprise – Moscow
– Sukhoi T-4, Buran

Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center
– Tu-4, Mi-6, M-4, 3M, M-50 Proton, various spacecraft, Prototype Il-28

Dolgoprudny Aircraft Production – Moscow

Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant PANKI – Tomilino – Moscow
-Mi-2, Mi-6, Mi-8, Mi-10, Mi-12/V-12, Mi-28, Mi-34

LAPIK –Lukhovitsy
-Il-28, MiG-23, MiG-27, MiG-29, Su-29, Su-31, Aviatika 890, Il-103

Voronezh Aircraft factory VASO – Voronezh
-An-10, An-12, Il-28, Tu-16, Tu-123, Tu-128, Tu-143, Tu-144, Il-86, Il-96 , An-148

Nizhny Novgorod Aircraft Factory SOKOL (Gorki)– Nizhny Novgorod
-MiG-15, MiG-17, MiG-19, MiG-21, MiG-25, MiG-29UB, MiG-31, M-101T, Yak-130

Sukhoi V.P. Chkalov Novosibirsk Aviation Plant – Novosibirsk
-MiG-15, MiG-17, MiG-19, Yak-28P, Su-7, Su-9, Su-11, Su-15, Su-24, Su-34, An-38

Aviakor plant – Samara
-Tu-4, Tu-95, Tu-114, Tu-116, Tu-126, Tu-142, Tu-154, Molniya 1, An-140

TsSKB Progress – Samara
-MiG-9, MiG-15, MiG-17, Tu-16 Vostok, Voskhod, Soyuz, Molniya, N-1, Energiya

KnAAPO Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association – Komsomolsk-on-Amur
-Li-2, MiG-15, MiG-17, Su-7, Su-17, Su-20, Su-22, Su-27, Be-103, Su-30MKK, Su-80, SSJ

KAPO Kazan Aircraft Production Association – Kazan
-Tu-4, Tu-16, Tu-104, Tu-22, Tu-22M, Il-62, Tu-160, Tu-214

Kazan Helicopter Plant – Kazan
-Mi-1, Mi-4, Mi-8, Mi-9, Mi-14, Mi-17, Ansat, Aktai, Mi-38

Rostov-on-Don Helicopter Plant ROSTVERTOL – Rostov-on-Don
-Yak-14, Mi-1, Mi-6, Mi-10, Mi-24, Mi-26, Mi-28

Ulan-Ude aircraft plant – Ulan-Ude
-Ka-15, Ka-18, Yak-25RV, Ka-25, Mi-8, Mi-17, MiG-27, Su-25, Su-39, An-24

CJSC Aviastar-SP – Ulyanovsk
-An-124, Tu-204, Il-76MD-90A

Progress Arsenyev Aviation Company – Arsenyev
-Yak-18, Yak-50, Yak-52, An-14, Mi-24, Mi-34, Ka-50, Ka-52, SP-55

Irkutsk Aviation Plant – Irkutsk
-Tu-14, Il-28, An-12, Yak-28, An-24T, MiG-23U, MiG-27, Su-27UB, Su-30MKI, Yak-112, Su-34, Be-200

TAPOiCh Tashkent Aviation Production Association – Tashkent
-Li-2, Il-14, An-8, Ka-22, An-12, An-22, Il-76, Il-114

Smolensk Aviation Plant – Smolensk
Yak-12, Yak-18T, La-17, Yak-42, M-55, SM-92,

Saratov Aviation Plant – Saratov
-Yak-11, La-15, Mi-4, Yak-25, Yak-27, Yak-40, Yak-38, Yak-42, Yak-54

JSC Tbilaviamsheni – Tibilisi
-Yak-15, Yak-17, Yak-23, MiG-15, MiG-17, La-17, MiG-21U, Su-25

KhAPO Kharkiv State Aviation Production Enterprise – Kharkov
-Yak-18, MiG-15UTI, Tu-104, Tu-124, Tu-134, Tu-141, An-72/74, An-140

Kyiv Aviation Plant Aviant – Kiev
-An-2, An-24, An-26, An-30, An-32, An-124, An-148, An-225 (Prototypes: An-8, An-10, An-28, An-70, An-72, An-140)

Omsk-Severny Polyot Aircraft Factory – Omsk
-Il-28, Tu-104, An-74, An-3, R-12, R-16, 8K84, Kosmos

Taganrog Aircraft Production – Taganrog
-Be-6, Be-10, Be-12, Tu-95, Tu-142, A-40, A-50, Be-200

KumAPP Kumertau Aviation Plant – Kumertau
-Ka-26, Tu-143, M-17, Ka-27, Ka-29, Ka-32, Ka-226

On Nov. 18, 1952 US Navy F9F-5 Panther pilots Lieutenant Claire Elwood (division leader) with Lt (jg) John Middleton as wingman and Lieutenant E. Royce Williams, Jr. (section leader) with Lt (jg) Dave Rowlands as his wingman took off in their aircraft from USS Oriskany (CVA-34) to intercept seven Russian MiG-15 fighters that were heading toward them from a Soviet base in Vladivostok.

A National Security Agency (NSA) team aboard heavy cruiser USS Helena (CA-75) believed that the MiGs were seeking revenge after American aircraft had carried out an attack in northeastern North Korea near the Soviet border, early that morning.

As told by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver in his book Holding the Line, the four F9F-5s took off in a blustery snowstorm. After several minutes in the clouds, the sky brightened above. Suddenly, the Panthers popped out of the clouds into a clear deep blue sky at 12,000 feet. They continued their climb. As they passed through 16,000 feet, Williams spotted seven contrails far above, at 40,000 feet or more, and called the bogies. A moment later, his sharp eyes caught the sun flash on the shiny swept-wing MiG-15s flying abreast each other, each wearing the red star of the Soviet Union on their flank as contrails spread behind them. “I flipped on my gunsight and fired a burst to test my guns,” he recalled. At that moment, division leader Elwood reported his fuel pump warning light had come on. The Fighter Direction Officer (FDO) directed him to break off and report overhead Oriskany. Elwood passed lead to Williams as he and his wingman Middleton turned away and dived toward the clouds.

“We were just going through 26,000 feet when the Russians split up and dove out of the contrail layer,” Williams remembered. “The first ones came at us from the right side in a four-plane formation and opened fire. I pulled into a hard climbing left turn and came around on the Number Four MiG. I fired a burst and hit him solidly in the rear fuselage. He went down smoking, and my wingman then followed him, leaving me alone.” Williams, now alone, faced six Soviet fighters.

The three remaining MiGs of the first group easily accelerated away from the Panther and climbed to position themselves for another firing run. Williams saw their left wings come up as they reversed course. “They had me cold on maneuverability and acceleration – the MiG was vastly superior on those counts to the F9F. The only thing I could do was out-turn them.” He managed to cut loose a burst of fire as the MiGs flashed past, but failed to score any hits. As the first three pulled away again, the other three joined in. Williams sweated as he reversed, jinked and rolled to get away from each firing run. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a MiG locked on his six o’clock. Pulling the stick back into his gut, he threw it against his right leg as he stomped right rudder and executed a very hard wings-vertical right turn with contrails spinning off his wingtip fuel tanks. The MiG flashed past his tail.

In the rush of adrenaline, the fight seemed like it had been going on for an hour. The enemy formations became ragged and Williams got several opportunities to track an individual MiG as the pilot bored in to attack. Some rounds seemed to hit, but he couldn’t follow up as he stomped rudder and slammed ailerons to keep his six o’clock clear. “I was firing at every MiG that passed within gun range as they came by.”

Turn. Turn again. Not a second spent straight and level. Fire a quick burst to throw off their aim. Turn some more. Then again.

“Finally, the leader and his wingman went off to the right and I went after the section leader of the plane I’d shot down. He pulled up into the sun and I lost him, then I saw the leader and his wingman come around for a diving attack. I turned into them and fired at the leader. He turned away and the wingman rolled down on me and we went past belly-to-belly as I raked him with a long burst. He caught fire and went down. The section leader then came around and I turned into him and fired at him practically pointblank and he went down. The leader then came around again and I fired and parts came off him as he dove away.”

“As I maneuvered to avoid the wreckage, I porpoised to try and clear my tail. I was tracking another wounded MIG when I suddenly spotted one of the other two as he slid in on my six. He fired a burst with his 37mm cannon and hit me in the wing. The shell went into the engine area and messed up the hydraulic unit in the accessory section. I suddenly lost rudder and flaps and only had partial aileron control. The only thing that really worked were the elevators. I dove toward the cloud deck below at 13,000 feet, and he was 500 feet behind me and still shooting all the way down. It seemed like it was taking forever to drop that 10,000 feet! My wingman finally got back in the fight and came in on the MiG and he pulled away as I went into the clouds.”

Williams fought to control the Panther, hoping he could pull out of the dive. “I came out of the clouds at around 400 feet. I was way too low to eject – you had to be above 1,200 feet and in a climb to successfully eject from a Panther – so I was stuck with staying in the airplane, like it or not. I soon discovered it was uncontrollable below 170 knots, so I had to maintain high speed regardless.”

As he passed over the fleet a few hundred feet above the freezing ocean, several escorting destroyers opened fire as he flashed past. “Fortunately, I was low enough and fast enough they didn’t have a chance to really aim, so nobody hit me.”

Aboard Oriskany, the deck was ordered cleared for what was obviously going to be a crash landing. “I told them I couldn’t fly slower than 170 knots and I could see the ship visibly speed up as she turned into the wind.” Williams set himself up on final approach the carrier was taking spray over the bow as the stern rose and fell through a 20-foot arc. “I didn’t want to ditch, because I wasn’t sure I could make a successful ditching, and that water was cold enough I knew I wouldn’t last ten minutes even in my poopy suit.”

The F9F’s normal landing speed was 105 knots. Williams kept the bucking Panther under control and made a straight-in approach at 170 knots. “The Oriskany’s captain headed the ship just away from the wind, which gave me the opportunity to come aboard.” Williams slid his canopy open and flew a “Roger pass” with the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) holding his paddles straight out to either side. The flight deck bottomed out and started back up just as the LSO gave the cut. “I caught the three wire and shut her down.”

After taking a moment to catch his breath, Williams climbed out of the riddled jet and was surprised he’d made it back when he saw the damage.

“They counted 263 holes in the airplane, mostly from 23mm hits and some 37mm hits, including the one in the wing that went into the engine accessory section. If it had been six inches forward, it would have hit the spar and blown my wing off. Eight inches to the rear and it would have blown up the engine. I had fired off all 760 rounds of 20mm I had aboard. I wouldn’t have had a chance if I hadn’t been armed with those cannons.”

After the airedales pulled everything of value from F9F-5 BuNo 125459, the broken carcass was heaved overboard, where it disappeared into the dark sea.

In the fight of his life, Royce Williams had accomplished what no other American fighter pilot would ever accomplish: shoot down four MiG-15s in one fight. Given that the F9F-5 Panther was outclassed and outperformed on all points – speed, maneuverability and firepower – by the MiG-15, which was nearly 100mph faster and had a superior thrust-to-weight ratio, it was truly a performance for the record books.

There was real fear at the highest levels of the US government and UN command that such an “incident” could change the Korean “police action” into World War III. As far as the United States Navy was concerned, the fight had never happened.

After ordering Williams to tell no one, Vice Admiral Robert P. Briscoe, Commander Naval Forces Far East, informed him the NSA team had proof from recorded radio transmissions that he had gotten at least three of the MiGs, while the fourth had crashed in Siberia. Unfortunately, the gun camera footage had been “edited” aboard Oriskany, leaving only a portion showing two MiGs hit solidly.

Naval commanders ordered a version of the mission created that became the official account as found in the Oriskany and Air Group 102 Action Reports, though it had little connection with the facts: Williams was credited with one kill and a probable/damaged while Lt (jg) John Middleton, wingman to division leader Elwood, who had never been anywhere near the fight, was credited with a kill on the basis that, at the end of the 35-minute fight, he had been vectored toward a descending MIG whose pilot had ejected when Middleton approached it and fired a burst from out of range. Both pilots were awarded the Silver Star for their “accomplishments.” Dave Rowlands, who never fired a shot in the entire fight, was awarded a probable and the Distinguished Flying Cross. The history books have told the story that way ever since.

Williams remained silent about the event for nearly 50 years, while he flew with Air Force Korean aces at the Fighter Weapons School at Nellis and rose to command Navy fighter squadrons through the Cold War and three carrier air groups during the war in Vietnam before finally retiring in 1984 to become a champion bonsai gardener in Southern California.

Following the end of the Cold War in 1992, the Russians opened their records and revealed that Williams had indeed gotten four: Captain Belyakov, Captain Vandalov, Lt Pakhomkin and Lt Tarshinov of the VVS-PVO, the Air Defense Forces of the Red Air Force. Vandalov, Pakhomkin and Tarshinov were directly shot down in the fight, while flight leader Belyakov was badly shot up and was killed when he attempted to crashland as soon as he was over Soviet territory.

On Nov. 18, 1952, Royce Williams became the top-scoring carrier-based naval aviator and the top-scoring naval aviator in a Navy jet of the Korean War. Despite several modern attempts to set the record straight, the US Navy History and Heritage Command has refused to do so, on the grounds that there is no longer an American witness alive to verify Williams’ account, this despite the Russian publication of the names of the Soviet pilots who died in the fight.

Holding the Line is published by Osprey Publishing is available to order here.

Why did the Soviet Union have multiple airplane manufacturers? - History

The "discovery" of the secret rocket development program in Germany posed an unexpected dilemma for the Soviet officials, overseeing trophy-seeking activities in Germany. In the chaos and confusion of the first weeks of the Soviet occupation of Germany, representatives of different Soviet industries were taking possession of German "know-how" and hardware they were familiar with or could find useful back in the USSR. However, the extensive rocket development infrastructure of the Nazi Germany hardly had any equivalent institution in the Soviet industry. As a result, the valuable rocket secrets were getting dispersed by the competing teams of trophy seekers from various industries.

It was clear that rocket technology, as the new field for the Soviet industry, needed a government institution, which could consolidate recovered rocket trophies and employ them in the future.

Aviation industry (NKAP) attitude

The most logical candidate for the "adoption" of the German rocketry would be the aviation industry. Rockets and aircraft share numerous technologies and it was a usual practice for aviation institutions around the world to develop rocket technology. In the USSR, the NII-1 research institute of of the aviation industry conducted original studies of the A-4 recovered in Poland. This organization employed a number of rocket enthusiasts, who survived Stalin's purges of the 1930s.

By 1945, NII-1 engineers like Chertok and Isaev, who already realized the scale of German advances in the field, appealed to the new director and their scientific boss General Bolkhovitinov to start a methodical search for the rocket technology in Germany. However, they met little understanding in the Ministry (Commissariat) of Aviation Industry, a government body, which oversaw their institute.

The commissariat's officials were mostly concerned with collecting advanced German tooling and machinery and acquiring jet-engine technology for fighter aircraft -- a "weak spot" of the Soviet military aviation.

With the help of his friends, Boris Chertok arranged a meeting with General Nikolai Petrov, director of Scientific Institute of Airplane Equipment (NISO). Chertok tried to convince Petrov in the importance of acquiring German high-tech materials before they were dispersed among other institutions or destroyed by the army.

In the mid-April 1945, the director of NII-1 Bibikov informed Chertok that he was included in a group of 10 people led by Petrov and bound for Germany. They left Moscow on April 23, 1945. The official purpose for the trip was the search for valuable avionics, radar equipment and aviation armaments. The engineers, all dressed in military uniforms, were instructed by their bosses from the Aviation Ministry not to get involved too much into collecting design ideas and documents, but first of all to register tooling and machinery! (58)

Munitions industry (NKB) involvement

Another potential "refuge" for the rocket technology could be within the industry of munitions, NKB, led by Boris Lvovich Vannikov. (18)

During 1945, Vannikov did make a number of steps to build a base to accommodate the rocket program. Vannikov considered the creation of a rocket organization "of his own," which could "back up" the development of rockets within the aviation industry. On March 19, 1945, the government approved the idea, creating GTsKB-1 development bureau within NKB.

The first known document concerning removal of German rocket technology was issued by GKO on May 31, 1945 under title "On conducting work for search and removal of industrial and laboratory equipment, blueprints and experimental articles of German reactive projectiles." According to this decree, the representatives of the Special Committee, including M. Z. Saburov, P. M. Zernov, P. S. Kuchumov and K. S. Gamov, were charged with the organization of the search for hardware and blueprints of the German "reactive projectiles" and transferring them under jurisdiction of the munitions industry, NKB. (170)

In the meantime, back in Moscow, the industrial bureaucracy remained uncertain whom to delegate the responsibility for the German rocket legacy, or as one veteran of the industry put it "on whom to hang this yoke." (170) During his short visit from Germany to Moscow on June 12-14, 1945, Chertok tried to get a clue from his boss Bolkhovitinov, which government institution might take responsibility for the A-4. In his memoirs, he quotes Bolkhovitinov as saying: "Nobody needs A-4. There is a need for jet aviation. And as soon as possible. Missiles are in the future, but the commissariat believes, this is not of their business." (58)

On June 14, 1945, Chertok returned to Germany accompanied by the chief-engineer of the NII-1 N. V. Volkov and professor from Moscow Aviation Institute, MAI, G. N. Abramovich, still having no idea about the ultimate fate of missile recovery efforts in Germany or the institutional jurisdiction of any future rocket development program.

Nevertheless, in July 1945, apparently with Stalin's and Malenkov's blessing, GKO assigned the minister of aviation industry Shakhurin to chair a special commission, which would make proposals on the organizational structure of the future rocket program.

On July 19, 1945, Vannikov, reported to GKO, that German reactive projectiles, and especially large and long-range missiles like A-4 go beyond the jurisdiction of a single government institution, but rather cover a broad range of industries, such as electrical industry, engine development, pipe manufacturing, heavy machine building etc. (170)

Yet, on July 23, 1945, NKB presented the commission with a draft of a decree, which called for creation of three development bureaux specialized on missiles of different ranges, and all under the jurisdiction of NKB:

  • GTsKB-1 bureau would be responsible for solid-propellant missiles with the range of 20-30 kilometers
  • GTsKB-2 based at Plant No. 67 Mastyazhart would develop solid- and liquid-propellant missiles with the range up to 100 kilometers and, finally.
  • GTsKB-3 based at Plant No. 70 would "cover" "super long-range" liquid-propellant missiles derived from the A-4. (During the war Plant 70 was one of the major producers of the Katuysha rockets.)

NKB also proposed to organize a missile test range on the Caspian Sea, south of Makhachkala. For this purpose, in June 1945, Vannikov's deputy, Peter Nikolaevich Goremykin reviewed nine different areas along the Caspian shore, 80-90 kilometers from Makhachkala. The range was to cover 50-60 square kilometers.

The same proposal also called for the development of winged missiles by the aviation industry and launch systems by the armaments industry. (83)

Later, on August 3, 1945, Stalin signed Decree of GKO No. 9716ss, ordering the formation of a special interagency commission on rocket trophies, which included representatives of the Chief Artillery Directorate, GAU Munitions, Aviation, Armaments, Electrical Chemical, Ship Building and Mortar "commissariats." Lt. General of Engineering-Technical Service Lev Mikhailovich Gaidukov, led the commission. (170)

On August 5, 1945, the head of aviation industry Shakhurin signed final recommendations (N-22/3341) of his commission for the organizational structure of the future Soviet rocket industry. As proposed by Vannikov, the commission recommended to consolidate the development of short and long-range missiles, as well as antiaircraft missiles and rocket propulsion systems under Vannikov's "commissariat" (ministry) of munitions, NKB. In addition, the Commissariat of Electrical Industry would be responsible for radio and radar equipment, while the Commissariat of Armaments would cover optical systems, launch and calculating equipment and ground control stations. Thus, Shakhurin essentially avoided any major involvement of the aviation industry into the work on rockets.

As a result of these decisions, A-4-related technology, removed from the underground production plant near Nordhausen would go to the munitions plants, while aviation engines and related equipment, which was produced inside the same mountain to the Soviet aviation plants. (170) Plant No. 70 of NKB reportedly received A-4, Rheintochter, Henschel HS-293A and HS-294 missiles, Fritz X gliding bombs, and antitank rocket-propelled grenades. (83) In addition, 150 turbines from the A-4, radio control systems, 20 sets of graphite rudders and 25 test benches recovered in Peenemunde, were shipped to Plant No. 70. (170)

However, parallel developments on the world's stage soon would shift priorities of the munitions industry away from rocket technology. In August 1945, the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Japan, opening a whole new era in the history of warfare. The Soviet response was then predetermined -- an expeditious development of its own nuclear weapon. On August 20, 1945, Stalin signed a decree of State Defense Committee N9887, which gave Vannikov and his Commissariat of Munitions, NKB, a new major responsibility -- the Soviet atomic bomb. (72) The nuclear program would quickly become a priority for the munitions industry, yet as late as November 1945, the NKB still remained a candidate for the "adoption" of rocket technology.

On November 22, 1945, heads of various Soviet industries signed a letter addressed to Lavrenty Beriya, Stalin's right hand, proposing another version of the structure of the future Soviet rocket industry.

Under this plan, the main organization responsible for the A-4 technology was "upgraded" to the status of a State Union Scientific Research Institute No. 70, or GS NII-70, and, as the number implies, it would be still based at Plant No. 70 of NKB. The organization would include an 11-member group of the OKB-SD from the Aviation Plant No. 22 led by Sergei Korolev. Valentin Glushko was to assume the position of a Chief Designer.

The plans to organize a second rocket development center at Plant No. 67 had been abandoned, and instead the transfer of Branch No. 2 of the NII-1 in Vladykino from the aviation industry under jurisdiction of munitions industry was considered. Two test sites had been also planned:

  • Central Scientific and Research Range in Sofrino near Moscow, for short-range missiles
  • State Central Range south of Makhachkala for testing missiles with the range exceeding 50 kilometers. (83)

Involvement of the Industry of Armaments, NKV

Despite these rather detailed plans and ongoing shipments of German rocket trophies to the organizations of munitions industry, the fate of the rocket development program would remain uncertain until spring of 1946. Yaroslav Golovanov explained such delays by the lack of attention to the issue from Joseph Stalin. (18) A terrifying Soviet dictator was well known for assigning responsibilities with a single "nod of his head," after which, any further discussions would be mortally dangerous for anybody. Yet, in case of rocketry, Stalin appears to be delegated the issue to his subordinates, particularly to General Gaidukov. The situation left room for further bickering between different industries.

By the end of 1945, Shakhurin's deputy Dementiev ordered specialists of the aviation industry in Germany to wrap up their work on rocketry and return home. However, General Gaidukov protested the decision and only Isaev and later Raikov returned to the USSR. (58)

In the meantime, the industry of armaments led by Dmitry Ustinov and until then specialized primarily in artillery systems, "probed waters" in the field of rocketry. Since government plans had previously gave Ustinov the responsibility for flight control and launch systems of missiles, some of the German rocket trophies had been earmarked for shipment to the Industry of Armaments. (83)

Boris Chertok in his memoirs explained that Ustinov had motivations to get involved in rocketry. He clearly realized limitations of the artillery systems and knew that Main Artillery Directorate, GAU, the main client of the Commissariat of Armaments, was interested in rockets, particularly as the antiaircraft weapons.

On December 30, 1945, Ustinov singed an Decree No. 463 to his "commissariat," ordering the creation of a design bureau for the development of the "new technology" led by the artillery engineer Pavel Ivanovich Kostin. The new organization would be located at the Artillery Plant No. 88 on the northeastern outskirts of Moscow, near the station of Podlipki on the Yaroslavl Railroad.

Ironically, Germans had been involved in the history of Plant No. 8 long before anybody heard about rockets. (20) What's even more ironic this involvement has not been acknowledged by the official Russian sources long after the role of German engineers in the early rocket program was widely described.

The arteillery production started in Podlipki with the evacuation of an artillery factory from Petrograd (St. Petersburg) in 1918, during World War I.

In the early 1930s, German armaments industry expanded Plant No. 8 to manufacture artillery systems. The effort was a part of a wider Soviet-German military industrial cooperation, allowing Germany to avoid restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I.

In the face of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Plant No. 8 was evacuated to Sverdlovsk, Molotov and Votkinks, and, in 1942, its production facilities were occupied by the Arsenal plant, which itself was evacuated from Leningrad (St. Petersburg). During much of World War II, the site in Podlipki was used as an artillery repair site and it was upgraded with machinery delivered within the Lend-Lease agreement with the United States. During the same period, the plant received designation Zavod No. 88.

By the time Ustinov picked it as the new home for the rocket program after the end of World War II, the site in was reported to be in disarray and disprepair.

In December 1945, the original "rocket team" in Podlipki officially counted only eight people, out of 250 or 300-strong personnel officially designated as its staff, however this number would swell many times next year, as the Soviet rocket specialists were to return from Germany. (83)

On March 30, 1946, the technical directorate of the Ministry of Armaments sent Plant No. 88 a research and development plan, NIR, for 1946, which included the production of antiaircraft missiles and rocket-propelled artillery shells. In April 1946, an effort to rebuild the production of A-4 missiles was also added to the tasks of the plant in Podlipki.

At the beginning of 1946, the Soviet industry went through reorganization, reflecting changing priorities in the post-World War II period. On February 25, 1946, People's Commissariat of Armaments was renamed Ministry of Armaments. Concurrently, People's Commissariat of Ammunitions became Ministry of Agricultural Machine Building, or shortly Minselkhozmash. (176)

In April 1946, Ustinov sent his deputy Vasily Mikhailovich Ryabikov to tour Soviet rocket research centers in Germany. Ryabikov and his associates met many of the Soviet specialists and saw a live firing of the A-4 engine at the German test stand in Lehesten.

One of the results of Ryabikov's trip to Germany was a report on missile technology, which was signed by Beriya, Malenkov, Bulganin, Vannikov, Ustinov and Yakovlev. It was delivered to Stalin on April 17, 1946. The document apparently contained further proposals on the organization of the missile development within Ministry of Armaments.

By the beginning of May 1946, Petr Kirpichnikov, Deputy Chairman of the State Planning Committee, delivered Lavrenty Beriya the analysis of the current work on the German rocket technology along with latest proposals on the future structure of the rocket industry. This time, Plant No. 88 was named as the home for the production of Taifun, Rheintochter and Wasserfall missiles. The plan called for testing of the missiles in the period between the end of 1946 and mid-1947.

Yet-to-be-identified organizations of the Ministry of Agricultural Machine Building, Minselkhozmash, would take responsibility for solid-propellant and cruise missiles. On the subject of the A-4, Minselkhozmash was expected to make further proposals. (83)

Most crucial decisions on the structure of the Soviet rocket industry were made in a top-secret decree No. 1017-419ss of the Soviet of Ministers USSR. The document signed by Stalin on May 13, 1946, distributed responsibilities for the rocket technology among several industrial ministries and created a special government committee on reactive technology, which would oversee the effort. (Similar special committees were created on the nuclear and antiaircraft technology.)

On August 9, 1946, Minister of Armaments Dmitry Ustinov appointed Sergei Korolev as the Chief Designer of the long-range ballistic missile, or Article No. 1 and on August 26 of the same year, Ustinov approved an organizational structure of NII-88, which included Department No. 3 within the insitute's Special Design Bureau, SKB. Department 3 would be specialized in long-range ballistic missiles.

On April 26, 1950, Ustinov issued an order approving the formation of the Specialized Design Bureau No. 1, OKB-1 within NII-88, with Korolev as its Chief Designer and specialization in long-range ballistic missiles. OKB-1, along with its production plant, was officially detached from NII-88 on August 14, 1956, with a Decree No. 310ss of the Minister of General Machine-building.

NKB: Narodny Commissariat (Narkomat) Boepripasov, -- Industry of Ammunitions)

NKV: Narodny Commissariat (Narkomat) Vooruzheniya, -- Industry of Armaments

NKAP: Narodny Commissariat (Narkomat) Aviatsionnoi Promyshlennosti -- Aviation Industry

MAP: Ministerstvo Aviatsionnoi Promyshlennosti -- Ministry of Aviation Industry

Boris Lvovich Vannikov, the head of the Industry of Ammunitions. Credit: 72

Dmitry Fedorovich Ustinov, the head of the Industry of Armaments circa 1944. Credit: 176

Aleksei Ivanovich Shakhurin, the Minister of Aviation Industry.

An undated photo shows the artillery plant in Podlipki, possibly around the time it was being converted into a rocket-assembly facility after World War II. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos

Two of multiple artillery systems produced at Plant No. 88 in Podlipki before its switch to rocket production. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak

Grounds of RKK Energia in Podlipki, where NII-88 originated in 1946. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak

On Sept. 29, 1946, the collective of Glushko's OKB-SD design bureau moved from the City of Kazan to the aviation plant No. 456 in Khimki in Moscow. Credit: NPO Energomash

The construction of the first test stand near Zagorsk (Sergiev Posad) in June 1949. Click to enlarge. Credit: NIIKhimmash

An automobile plant in Dnepropetrovsk as seen in a circa 1944 rendering, was converted to missile production after World War II.


When it comes to the Wright Flyer, the wings are everything. The Wright brothers knew that a monoplane may have less drag, but a biplane was stronger. They were also aware that American bridge builder Octave Chanute had hit upon a good formula when he used a Pratt truss system of diagonal and vertical braces. It proved a great fit for the Flyer.

The biplane structure also allowed the Wrights' unique "wing warping" system, which connected the wings to a vertical rudder. The system allowed that vertical rudder to automatically coordinate the aircraft's turns.

Other inventors experimented with wing design, attempting to increase performance. Aviator Louis Blériot was successful with his monoplanes, until he hit power and speeds that met the limits of his engineering skills. Other engineers wanted even more wings&mdashthe Fokker Triplane had three. The Caproni Ca 60 Triple Hydro-Triplane, one of the strangest-looking airplanes ever built, had a whopping nine. But with too much weight and drag, many multi-winged aircraft ended in disaster.

Other engineers created shapes and arrangements that lasted for years after. The tail-first design of Eugene Lefebvre, an engineer and one of the world's first stunt pilots, surfaced again in the Focke Wulf "Ente," the Curtiss XP-55, and the Rutan Long-EZ.

Then came the swept wing, where wings met the fuselage at an angle. This is the wing configuration that would really stick. John Dunne began experimenting with tailless swept wing aircraft in 1911&mdashAlexander Lippisch, Reimar and Walter Horten, and John Northrop followed his lead. The now-familiar delta configuration, in which the wings form a triangle, appeared in Lippisch's designs, and was used by many manufacturers such as Convair and Dassault.

While the wing's orientation is important, the airfoil design, or the shape of the wing's profile viewed from the side-on, might be even more so. The Wrights believed thin airfoils would offer less drag, which appeared in aircraft such as World War I's SPAD XIII. But Dutch Aviator Tony Fokker went in the opposite direction, instead using thick airfoils which generated a great deal of lift and provided structural support without wires or other bracing.

In those early years, wings were made from wood, wire, and linen (not canvas as was often claimed), but as airfoils and wing design became more complicated, engineers needed a new material. By World War I, improvements in metallurgy solved the initial weight penalty. By then, all-metal designs were the standard for the major components of aircraft, which provided lots of benefits but one big one: easy maintenance.

How the USSR captured American aircraft

An air-to-air left front view of an F-111 aircraft during a refueling mission over the North Sea.

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union became a golden era for military aviation. Fighters and bombers supplied by the two superpowers to the warring sides in numerous proxy conflicts around the world played no small part in their outcome.

Often, the result of not just an air battle, but of a local war as a whole, depended on whose planes had better speed, manoeuvrability and resilience. Which made it all the more important to capture the enemy&rsquos aircraft and study it in every detail.

Hunting for a Sabre

View of F-86 airplanes on the flight line getting ready for combat.

During the Korean War of the early 1950s, Soviet MiG-15 and American F-86 &lsquoSabre&rsquo fighter jets were largely on a par with each other. Both sides tried to get hold of one of the other&rsquos planes, but only the USSR managed to do it.

In April 1951, a group of test pilots headed by Lieutenant Colonel Dzyubenko arrived in North Korea. Their task was to force an F-86 to land at a North Korean airfield.

Although the group&rsquos mission was a failure, a Sabre soon fell into Soviet hands. During a battle on October 6 of the same year, Soviet pilot Lieutenant Colonel Yevgeny Pepelyaev did such carefully calculated damage to an American plane that the latter landed on the North Korean coast practically unscathed. The U.S. pilot was picked up by a U.S. Air Force search and rescue party, but the aircraft was seized and sent to Moscow.

Four U.S. Air Force North American F-86E Sabre fighters of the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing over Korea on 22 May 1953.

The USSR decided to copy the &ldquokiller of MiGs&rdquo, as the F-86 was nicknamed in the Western press. Stalin gave designer Vladimir Kondratyev a year to create a &ldquoSoviet Sabre&rdquo. However, Kondratyev failed in the task and after Stalin&rsquos death, the project was abandoned. In the end, it was decided to borrow individual units, components and materials of the captured fighter for use in the Soviet aviation industry.

As for the Americans, in order to capture a MiG-15, they launched Operation Moolah on November 1, 1950, promising a large reward to North Korean pilots for defecting to South Korea on serviceable fighters. However, the operation flopped. It was only on September 21, 1953, when the war was already over, that defector No Kum-sok landed a MiG-15 at the Kimpo air base near Seoul.

Hunting for an Aardvark

General Dynamics F-111A (SN 63-9768, third pre-production aircraft) with unswept wings at the aircraft rollout on Oct. 15, 1964.

On March 17, 1968, six of the USA&rsquos newest F-111 &lsquoAardvark&rsquo jet bombers arrived in Vietnam. For its ability to appear unexpectedly and almost silently, to strike swiftly and disappear without a trace, the North Vietnamese dubbed this aircraft &lsquoWhispering Death&rsquo.

Soviet intelligence officers first saw the &lsquoAardvark&rsquo in the spring of 1967 at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget. Despite being strictly guarded by U.S. military police, it was nevertheless photographed multiple times and from various angles by Soviet agents. However, the most difficult and important task &ndash that of studying the aircraft's &ldquoinsides&rdquo &ndash was yet to be accomplished.

In reality, the &lsquoWhispering Death&rsquo turned out to be not quite so threatening. Just a few weeks after their arrival in Vietnam, two &lsquoAardvark&rsquo aircraft were shot down by the air defense forces of the Vietnamese People&rsquos Army, while another was captured and sent to the USSR.

There are several versions of how that &lsquoAardvark&rsquo was seized. According to one of them, the F-111, which was performing a night flight at a low altitude, was &ldquodrowned out&rdquo, i.e. its communications with its base were jammed, while a Soviet pilot in a fighter jet forced the U.S. plane to the ground and making it land at an airfield in North Vietnam.

At the same time, others doubt it that the Soviet Union had sufficient technical capabilities to jam the U.S. plane&rsquos radio signal. According to this theory, the pilots had simply been bribed and they cut off communications with their base themselves.

Generally speaking, the Vietnam War became a rich source of trophies for the Soviet Union. In addition to the F-111, Moscow got its hands on an F-4, a A-37 and an F-5E aircraft, CH-47A &lsquoChinook&rsquo helicopters, an AIM-7 &lsquoSparrow&rsquo missile and several hundred more models of American weapons and military hardware.

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