Table of contents
  1. A Scotman in Russia
  2. The First Steps
  3. Russian Military Flying Schools
  4. The Imperial All Russia Aero Club
  5. General Baron Kulbars & Aviation
  6. The Imperial Russian Technical Society
  7. The Prototype of the Zeppelin
  8. Contruction, Aviators & Workmen
  9. Famous Russian Flying Men
  10. I.I. Sikorsky
  11. Foriegn Aviators in Russia
  12. Heir Fokker's Russian Lady Pilot
  13. Just Before the War
  14. Aerial Russia & the British Press
  15. Aviation & the Russian Press
  16. By Way of Conclusion

Chapter II - The First Steps


Russian aviation may be considered to have been born at the beginning of the reign of the Czar Alexander III, who succeeded his assassinated father in 1881. They say that one of the murderers of Alexander II, the Deliverer, was a skillful mathematician and engineer called Kibaltich, and during his imprisonment in the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul he worked out the details of an airship. After Kibaltich's execution his scheme was brought to the notice of General Vannovsky, the War Minister, who was immensely interested. General Vannovsky may be regarded indeed as the father of Russian aviation. Kibaltich's scheme convinced him that sooner or later flying machines would have an immense military value, and he was constant in his interest in the latest science of war.

I, myself, had an intimate personal knowledge of the first practical steps in Russian military aviation. In 1900 and 1901 I was editor-in-chief of the Military Almanack and. afterwards of Army and Navy, and I may boast that I was the first Russian military editor to pay serious attention to aviation. Colonel, now General Kovanko, Captain, now Colonel Hermann, and many others of the early members of the Russian Flying Corps were among the contributors to one or other of my publications. Russian aviation owes an immense debt to General Koyanko. He founded the Central Aviation School for Officers, and became its first chief, a post which he occupies to this day. This school possesses an aerodrome, its own workshops and laboratories, and an officers' club. The students are given every possible facility for experiments, and are especially trained in the science of aero-photography, which has been developed to a very high standard in the Russian service. It is rather interesting fact that during the reign of Alexander III General Kovanko directed the test trips of the first model submarine built at Kronstadt.

During the early days of his directorship of the Aviation School Kovanko was brought in touch with an extremely clever engineer and inventor in Captain Kostovitch of the Merchant Marine, who more than thirty years ago built a rigid dirigible and demonstrated its power to fly. This machine, which was constructed in the late 'eighties, may certainly be regarded as the prototype of the Zeppelin, and the German inventor unquestionably was aware of Kostovitch's experiments when he began the construction of his own gigantic airships. It is gratifying to a Russian's pride to know that the Zeppelins owe their birth to a Russian inventor's ingenuity.

Captain Kostovitch's machine can still be seen in Petrograd. He himself remains a valuable worker of the aviation world, but unfortunately he is a type (a common type everywhere) of the "capricious" inventor, and his undoubted genius has not had the practical results that it should have had. His negotiations with the Government were brought to nothing by his difficult temper and inordinate jealousy, and a private company formed to carry out his ideas was ruined by the large personal remunerations demanded by the inventor. For years, however, he was practically the only constructor of aerial machines in Russia, and a large part of his work was accomplished in the workshops of the Officers' Flying School. As a Government institution this school was of course subject to the common bureaucratic restrictions, and General Kovanko had too settled an official mind to break the bonds of red tape. He realised that commonsense organisation \vas necessary, but he could hardly suppose that the conquest of the air would proceed as rapidly as it actually did proceed, and that the nation that remained subject to cumbrous officialism would necessarily suffer in the international advance. Fortunately, though the Russian military authorities were slow to move, private initiative came to the rescue. About twenty years ago Mr. Riabushinsky, a wealthy banker and merchant, opened a private aviation laboratory near Moscow, and the splendid work done here is known throughout the aviation world. Its first director was Professor Joukovsky, Rector of the University of Moscow, and Professor Slessareff, the research worker of the giant flying machines, acquired his technical equipment in the laboratorium. Riabushinsky's enterprise gave scientific aeroplane construction its first serious impulse in Russia. The results of its experiments were placed at the disposal of inventors, and were used as the basis for lectures in technical schools throughout the Empire.

The reports of the successful flights of the Brothers Wright began a new period of development.

In the years 1908-9 the abortive experiments of an engineer called Tatarinoff seriously affected Russia's faith in the possibility of sustained flight in heavier than air machines. Tatarinoff built a machine which Gendal Kovanko and other experts declared was entirely impracticable. Unfortunately, he was able to obtain considerable public support, and about 200,000. roubles, collected from the public, were ultimattly lost. The consequence was that the Russian investor came to regard aviation with suspicion, and future inventors were unable to obtain the smallest financial help.

At the Sports Exhibition in Petrograd at the end of 1909 only one aeroplane was exhibited. That had been constructed by Mr. Kennedy, who also exhibited the results of his investigations in the building of hydroaeroplanes and rigid dirigibles. At the exhibition the following year Mr. Kennedy had many competitors, and among the exhibits were several freak machines, of little use in themselves, but evidence of the growing interest in aviatian. A certain Mr. Svertchkoff, for instance, exhibited a flying bicycle with paddle-wheels. This inventor, just after the war in Manchuria, vainly tried to. persuade Field-MIarshal Linievitch to adopt his devices.

The Kennedy Aeronautic Company, Limited, incorporated in 1909, was the first Russian aviation company. In 1910. Messrs. Stchetinin and Company opened the first Russian private aeroplane factory. They obtained little or no support from the Government, and the company collapsed the following year. Later it was reorganised under the name of The First Russian Aviation Company, Limited. Other companies were formed soon afterwards and opened well-organised factories, most of which prospered.

The Imperial All Russia Aero Club began its existence in 1908. It at once became socially popular and in many ways vastly assisted the progress of aviation. In 1911 the Club became possessed of a large and well-equipped aerodrome and began its special aviation weeks.

The history of Naval Aviation began in Russia in 1910. A committee was formed under the presidency of the Grand Duke Alexander Michailovitch and a Naval Aviation School was opened in Sebastopol. Moscow, Kieff, Odessa, and other Russian cities were attracted by the new interest, and most of the technical institutes created aerial laboratories. The first all Russian aeroplane "concours " took place in 1911 at Gatchino, a suburb of Petrograd. The War Office offered several prizes, and as a result of the meeting gave contracts to the constructors, and this encouraged the manufacturers and stirred the scientists to the achievement of improvements and developments.

The second aviation meeting was organised by the military authorities in 1912, and foreign aviators were invited to attend. Among them were the famous Dutchman Heir Fokker, Lieutenant Bier, the representatives of the German makers of the Mars and the Albatross aeroplanes, and a representative of the German Wright Company, who was incidentally the famous Russian pilot Abramovitch. The prize won by Sikorsky on this occasion enabled him to begin building the giant aeroplane that made his name famous and that will probably prove to be the most important aerial achievement the world has yet seen.

From this time the Russian War Office adopted the policy of encouraging aviation in every possible way. The Gatchino Aerodrome was greatly improved. Mr. Kennedy was invited to act as one of the experts of a specially appointed Government commission, and aviation corps were established in various parts of the Empire. The Admiralty established several aviation harbours on the Baltic and Black Seas, and the naval authorities also frequently consulted amongst others Mr. Kennedy, M in England, the two services had separate and distinct aerial departments.

The Czar and the Russian Royal Family showed a keen interest in the new movement. The Grand Duke Alexander Michailovitch and Admiral Grigorovitch did yeoman service, and the late War Minister, Suchomlinoff, greatly helped Sikorsky to carry out his schemes. It may be safely said that when war broke out in August, 1914, the Russian Air Services were from the scientific point of view the best in the world. Unfortunately, the Russian constructors largely depended on foreign manufacturers, and with the outbreak of war the import of aviation material naturally came to an almost sudden end. This has inevitably created serious difficulties. None the less, the Russian aviators have covered themselves with glory and have made it practically impossible for the enemy to bombard from the air their important cities and strategical points. The Zeppelins have been almost regularly kept at a reasonable distance from the Russian front, and have not, together with the German aeroplanes, dared to face the insistent risk of attack by Russia's giant planes up to the present time.

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