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 VIII - Contruction, Aviators & Workmen

The intimate relations that exist between employers and employed in Russia is something quite unknown in this country, and their almost brotherly friendliness is absolutely unaffected by social or financial differences. Count Leo Tolstoy has described these relations in his famous story, The Master and the Workman, and as long as they continue, social revolution in Russia is impossible.

 

Above: Mr. Popoff, a famous Russian Pilot

The Russian workman, engaged on a task of national importance, regards himself as a soldier, and he performs his duty without complaint, however unfavourable may be the circumstances. It is true that there was something like a rebellion in Moscow in 1915, but it was essentially a patriotic rebellion. The workers resented the presence of Germans in the factories. Most of these men were foremen and technical experts and the Russian Government hesitated to accede to the demands for their dismissal. This hesitation caused first a strike and then some regrettable street fighting.

The Russian workman concerned with new inventions and modern technical developments puts his whole soul into his daily task, eager to have a hand in an interesting enterprise, and desirous of learning as much about it as he possibly can. At such a time he forgets his unfavourable economic situation and the fiercest revolutionary propaganda cannot persuade him to drop his tools. The trade unions regard these men with peculiar tolerance, and, if it is considered that their work is of real national significance, they are not expected to join the strikers if an industrial dispute should occur.


In the early days of Russian aviation, inventors had the greatest difficulty in collecting money for their enterprises, and their success largely depended on the good faith and enthusiasm of their workmen. During the period 1908 to 1910, not one single aviation inventor contrived to escape serious money troubles, and they were often obliged to keep their staff without wages for weeks on end. In not one case did the workmen leave the factory or sue their employer for the money due to them. On the contrary, in order to hasten the success of what they regarded as a joint enterprise, they volunteered to work overtime and they contrived to live somehow or the other on borrowed money. The risk was a considerable one because, if, as sometimes happened, the works had finally to be shut down and the machinery sold, all the proceeds were seized by business creditors and the workmen got nothing of what was owing them.

Mr. Kennedy had one such experience and this British inventor speaks in the most eulogistic and affectionate terms of his Russian employees. After his temporary misfortune it took Mr. Kennedy a year to recover his financial position and to be in a position to pay his workers, not one of whom had ever asked him for money.

The same kindly relations exist in Russia between the constructors of aeroplanes and the pilots. There is a sort of unwritten law that when there is money everyone must have his share, and when there is none everyone must do the best he can without complaint. This solidarity has, I suggest, been largely responsible for the amazing progress of Russian aviation. Now, of course, the industry stands on a firm economical basis and the financial arrangements are normal.

I propose in this chapter to give some account of the earlier Russian aviators to whose courage and persistence the Empire is so considerable a debtor.

Mr. Popoff was a pupil of Wilbur Wright's in Paris, working there with another Russian, Count Lambert, the first aviator to fly round the Eiffel Tower. Mr. Popoff took part in the first Russian aviation week in 1910 and made several interesting flights, which attracted the attention of the military authorities and caused them to send several army officers to France to be taught by Wilbur Wright. Popoff's career was not long. He had a bad fall during one of his flights and became a permanent invalid. His successor was Captain Matzievitch of the submarine service of the navy. He was a first organiser of naval aviation, but he was unfortunately killed in the summer of 1910. His successors have included Lieutenant Piotrovsky and Captain Brodovitch, best known as a pilot of the Sikorsky giants. In 1910 quite a number of Russian aviators became famous - Lebedeff, Utochkin, Segno, Kostin, Slessarenko, Raievsky, Alechnovitch, Yankovsky, Kiolli, and Sikorsky. Many of these men had been prominent in other branches of sport before they took to flying. Mr. Lebedeft, for example, was a champion cyclist and skater and a well-known driver of racing motors. He learnt his flying at the Henry Farman School in France. As a pilot Mr. Lebedeff was noted for his carefulness and his avoidance of unnecessary risk, and these qualities caused him to be regarded as a most; reliable flying instructor in Russia. In 1911 he resigned his position in the Aero Club School and started a factory for the manufacture aeroplanes. He is the representative of the French "Integral" Company and his manufacture of air screws attained great success. At the present time Mr. Lebedeff is building aeroplanes for the Russ!an army. His brother occupies a high place in Russian scientific aviation. He is a professor of the Petrograd Imperial Polytechnic, his special subject being internal combustion engines. Mr. Utochkin, whose death was announced - in the British press in the early days of 1916, was the most noted all-round sportsman in Russia. He was a fine skater, a world champion as a bicyclist, a boxer, a fencer, a swimmer, an accomplished motor cyclist, and an almost unrivalled motorist and aviator. Mr. Utochkin made many fine flights in various parts of Russia and was a great national hero. One of his peculiarities was that he always refused to wear any special aviation costume and indeed he made his flights wearing a bowler hat. He had many accidents, most of which were due to his own folly. On one occasion in the aerodrome of the Imperial All Russia Aero Club in Petrograd, he flew in a Farman machine after a heavy and extremely Russian luncheon. Some officers were testing military kites at the time. Utochkin's machine struck the cord of one of the kites and at once fell to the ground. Everyone present rushed up to the machine expecting to find the aviator dead. As a matter of fact they discovered him calmly searching among the wreckage for his bowler hat, which had dropped off his head at the moment when the machine struck the ground. The injuries which Utochkin received during his flight from Petrograd to Moscow undoubtedly affected his reason, although they did not prevent him continuing his profession. His eccentricities were accepted with characteristic Russian tolerance. Utochkin attended a general meeting of the Aero Club in 1913 and three days afterwards he was arrested by the police as a lunatic. He was in dire financial straits. It was discovered that a week before his arrest he had paid his bill at the Hotel de France and had gone out into the streets, absolutely penniless, being forced during the intervening nights to sleep under bridges. A course of treatment restored him to his normal condition and once more he was seen on the aerodromes. When war broke out he was given a commission in the Army Flying Corps, but he was again seized with madness and eventually he died in an asylum.

Utochkin was a brave man with fine human sympathies. In 1905, when the "Pogroms" broke out in his native Odessa, he openly took the side of the Jews and was severely wounded while protecting them from the hooligans. His great and unrivalled popularity would have made it easy for him to have acquired a fortune, but he cared nothing for money. Flying for him was a splendid exciting sport, and when he died, he left behind him nothing but the love and respect of his fellow countrymen.

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