AIRLINER OR BOMBER. The L-760 has a wing span of 210 ft with cabins in the wings. It is one of the latest Russian designs, having been put into service as an airliner on the run from Moscow to the Caucasus about a year ago. It may be engaged on night bombing duties now, though it appears to be unarmed.
THE SOVIET AIR FORCE
The Conflict of Fascism and Commounism in the Air
The greatest aeronautical question in the last decade may soon be answered. How strong is Russia in the air? Her air force, in fact her whole industrial system, is now on trial. It is her trial by combat, with the major part of the Russian military machine pitted against a great concentration of German fighting strength.
Articles which have appeared in the aviation Press of the world about Russian aviation over the last ten years have mainly been speculative, both about total strength and about technical details ot aircraft types. Prior to that time there was little even to be speculative about, for the aircraft industry and the air force have both been built up mainly in this period. In the various Five Year Plans Russian aviation, both civil and military, has made great advances. But its beginnings in the 1920's were elementary and it remains to be seen whether the advances made are such that the military arm will be able to combat the Luftwaffe successfully.
Authentic information from Moscow is almost nonexistent, the Soviet Government having pursued a consistent policy of saying nothing. But several definite facts art-known. Reports from Spain during the so-called Civil War, when Germany and Italy fought with Franco's rebels against the Government troops aided by Russians, showed that the Russian fighters gave a not unworthy account of themselves. Many of these were the I-15 single-seater biplanes with Wright Cyclone engines, four machine guns and a maximum speed of about 230 m.p.h. It was not unlike the Armstrong-Whitworth Scimitar. But however well such a machine did its duties in those days, it could not " stand the racket" in the aerial warfare of to-day.
Another fact is the enterprise displayed by the Russians in developing the idea of parachute troops. There are few who will dispute this Russian claim and it is now evident that descent from the air is a method of warfare particularly suitable to defence or offence in operations over large land areas. A trip througth Russia shows that the whole country is "parachute minded" and many parachute towers for introducing the youth of the country to this latest of air sports which can be turned to military use have been erected.
Third outstanding fact about Russian military aviation is the manner in which it has been utilised on other national tasks during the years of peace. Spraying of swamps to kill the malarial mosquito, fire watching and dusting with insecticides of forests, sowing of crops, all these are tasks assigned to the military pilots.
The work of the Russian pilots operating over the Arctic Ocean has attracted little attention but has been of a sterling character. The rescue of the crew and passengers of the Chelyuskin, was one epic incident. The ship carried meteorologists and other scientists, their families and workmen who were going to establish weather stations along the inhospitable Siberian coast. Caught in the ice, the ship was gradually crushed. By working feverishly, some of the cargo was transferred to the ice floe before the ship sank. Then came a long wait under severe living conditions while radio communication was established and rescue aircraft awaited. Weather hampered the searchers seriously and the floe was in a very bad condition for landing. But flight after flight was accomplished as the ice gradually broke up, each flight taking a few more of the marooned to safety. Only one life was lost, the person being crushed by packing cases during the break up of the ship.
There is a close connection between the civil air services and the air force. It was the military pilots Gromov, Umashev and engineer Daniline who captured the longdistance record in July, 1937, by their flight of 6,305 miles in the ANT 25 from Moscow, over the Arctic, down to San Jacinto, in California. But the present tasks of all these pilots are grimmer than their past ones.
The letters ANT stand for A. N. Toupolev, who for many years was Russia's best-known designer. He disappeared in 1938 after his arrest. Another able engineer, Grigarovitch, died in 1938 after spending some years in prison. Polycarpov, a collaborator of Grigarovitch and designer of the I-16 fighter, was also in trouble at the same time. He is now no longer concerned with aircraft design, having adopted a political career.
All Russian design has been very strongly influenced by the purchase of foreign licences. In 1937 rights were acquired from U.S.A. for the manufacture of several Boeing, Consolidated, Seversky and Vultee designs. It was also in the later 1930's that the British and German machine tool industries received large orders from Russia.
A more modern bomber design is the mid-wing SB-2 with two M-25 engines of 750 h.p. each. Its speed is about 270 m.p.h. If well armed and armoured, this machine should be able to inflict some hard blows on eastern Germany.
Russian engines are almost entirely adaptations of foreign types, chiefly the American Wright and the German B.M.W., the 750 h.p. M-25 being a Wright Cyclone design and the 680 h.p. M-17 being the B.M.W. VI.
But it should not be thought that the Russians are doing no work of their own. They may have handicapped themselves by getting rid of some of their best designers such as Toupolev but the organisation which he controlled, the Central Aero and Hydrodynamic Institute at Moscow, sometimes referred to as the Zagi from its initials, is still in existence. It has sections devoted to aerodynamics, testing of materials, instruments, stress calculation and flight testing. This corresponds somewhat to our Farn-borough.
Another institution to which we have nothing corresponding very closely, though the newly formed Air Training Corps has some features in common with it, is the Osoaviakhim which is an organisation for giving preliminary training in and stimulating enthusiasm for aviation and chemistry in the youth of the Soviet, though why the two should be grouped together is not entirely clear.
A feature of Russian aviation, though it is confined almost entirely to the civil side, has been the tendency to build big machines, machines which have not been distinguished by their speed or their aerodynamic cleanness. The Maxim Gorky was the outstanding example of this and is the only aeroplane which has had a printing press as part of its equipment. A later example is the L-760 which has a span equal to that of the huge Douglas B19 bomber which is now under test. It has six engines delivering the same power as the four of the Douglas, 8,000 h.p. Its loaded weight is 103,000 lb. while that of the Douglas is 164,000 lb. Maximum speed is given as 186 m.p.h.
Women enter into the traditionally masculine pursuits more in Russia than in other countries. Women sometimes work even as sailors so that it is not surprising to find that they have women parachutists also. Whether they will take any active part in the present combat is more doubtful.
FIGHTERS IN SPAIN. I-15 biplane fighters gave a good account of themselves in the Spanish War, when the Russians aided the Government forces against Franco and the Germans and Italians.
The latest official release on the Russian Air Force is Marshal Voroshilov's speech of March, 1939. Sources of Russian news in this country, though they can give no figures, state that the Air Force is now considerably stronger than at that time and that Moscow has kept completely secret all particulars of the latest aircraft. Extracts from the speech follow:
'' The speed of our fighters and bombers is well over 312 m.p.h., and the ceiling has far surpassed 49,000ft. We have the best aeroplanes in the world as regards loading capacity, and in this field we have won almost all the world records.
'' In the years from 1934 to J939 there has been a 213 per cent, increase in horse power; in 1934 our bombers were able to carry 2,000 tons of bombs in one flight; in 1939 they could carry over 6,000 tons. By 1939 the firing capacity of aircraft machine-guns increased by 300 per cent, per second. The Fighter Air Force increased from 12.3 per cent, in 1934 to 30 per cent, in 1939.
'' Our up-to-date fighters and bombers have a speed exceeding 375 m.p.h. We now have squadrons of dive-bombers More than 5,000 aircraft throughout the whole country took part in the November parade last year, and had the weather been more favourable more than 8,000 aircraft could have participated.
'' Our pilots can resist the enemy bravely and persistently in individual as well as in group engagements. The Fascist pirates have a good idea of this, but now they will learn still more about it. In the Soviet Union .there are thousands of heroes like the late Brigade Commander Serov, who destroyed scores of Fascist aircraft at night on one of the western fronts.
'' We can only say that the number of our aircraft exceeds the numbers mentioned in English papers and magazines. We have enough aircraft to beat the ferocious Fascists. Among our pilots are 161 Heroes of the Soviet Union.
'' During the two months of war at Khan-khingol we destroyed 660 Japanese aircraft and lost only 143.
'' We have thousands of parachutists ready for action and trained to a modern fighting technique."
As this photograph was taken six ears ago, it indicates how long the Russians have been at work training paratroops. It shows women parachutists after landing at Baneasa Aerodrome, near Bucharest. This may be happening again, but in deadly earnest, for Russia and Rumania are at war.