Monday, May 11, 2015

Russian Reconnaissance and Auxiliary Aircraft

Although Russia had produced the world’s first large multiengine aircraft with the Ilya Muromet, which was used for long-range reconnaissance, it had more in common with bombers and thus will be discussed in that chapter. Its designer, Igor Sikorsky, had experimented with a variety of smaller aircraft prior to 1914 and after the war, but only one of these, the Sikorsky 16, which was intended as an escort for the Ilya Muromet, entered production in limited numbers before the end of the war. As a result, Russia had to rely primarily upon its prewar purchases of French aircraft (most of which were obsolete by the start of the war), importing French and British aircraft (which had to enter through the port of Archangel in the White Sea after Turkey entered the war and closed the Turkish Straits), or producing licensed-built foreign aircraft (which presented logistical problems in procuring needed parts and supplies). Russia, however, eventually would have some success in producing its own aircraft, of which the Anatra V.I, the Anatra D and DS, and the Lebed 12 were the most important reconnaissance types.

Located in Odessa, Ukraine, the Anatra factory began production in late 1915 of a modified Voisin pusher biplane, the Anatra V.I (Voisin Ivanov), which was named after its Russian designer, Piotr Ivanov. It had a wingspan of 48 ft 2 in., a length of 31 ft 2 in., and a loaded weight of 2,656 lbs. The observer sat in the front seat of its plywood nacelle and operated a mounted Colt machine gun. Powered by a 150 hp Salmson Canton-Unné radial engine, it had a top speed of 78 mph and a service ceiling of 3,500 m (11,482 ft). Approximately 150 were constructed up to 1917, and a few remained in service during the Russian Civil War.

Although front-line pilots complained that the Anatra V.I was difficult to fly, they would find the Anatra D and DS far more to their liking. A tractor-driven aircraft that was modeled after the German and Austro-Hungarian Aviatik, the Anatra D (or Anade) entered service in 1916. It had a wingspan of 37 ft 8 in., a length of 25 ft 3 in., and a loaded weight of 1,910 lbs. In addition, it was protected by a rear-mounted Colt machine gun. Powered by a 100 hp Gnôme rotary motor, it was capable of 82 mph and could climb to 2,000 m (6,562 ft) in 15 minutes. Despite the abundance of wood in Russia, the Anatra factory had such difficulty in obtaining quality lumber that it eventually had to resort to manufacturing wing spars out of two parts that overlapped and were glued and taped together. Needless to say, this caused structural collapses in many of the 205 Anatra D aircraft that were produced. An improved version, the Anatra DS, was introduced in the summer of 1917. It was powered by a 150 or 160 hp Salmson Canton-Unné radial engine, capable of a maximum speed of 89.5 mph, and was armed with a forward-firing, synchronized Vickers gun fired by the pilot and a rear-firing, ring-mounted Lewis gun fired by the observer. Although the Anatra DS matched up well against German and Austro-Hungarian fighters, the Russian Revolution disrupted and limited production to approximately 100 aircraft.

Located in St. Petersburg, V. A. Lebedev Aeronautics was organized prior to the war by Vladimir A. Lebedev. After building several prototypes as well as licensed-built French aircraft, it began producing the Lebed 11 and Lebed 12 after the Russian Imperial Air Service provided the company with a captured Albatros C-type in 1915. Although only 10 Lebed 11 aircraft were produced, a total of 214 Lebed 12 aircraft were produced in 1916 and 1917. It had a wingspan of 43 ft 1 in., a length of 26 ft 1 in., and a loaded weight of 2,678 lbs. Powered by a 150 hp Salmson Canton-Unné radial motor, it was capable of reaching 83 mph and carrying a 220-lb bomb load. Armed with an observer’s ring-mounted Colt gun, the Lebed 12 proved to be an effective armed reconnaissance aircraft; unfortunately, it came too late in the war to make a difference.

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