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The Reds Aren't Stallin'!
February 1949 Air Trails Hobbies for Young Men

February 1949 Air Trails
February 1949 Air Trails Cover - Airplanes and RocketsTable of Contents

These pages from vintage modeling magazines like Flying Aces, Air Trails, American Modeler, American Aircraft Modeler, Young Men, Flying Models, Model Airplane News, R/C Modeler, captured the era. All copyrights acknowledged.


The Reds Aren't Stallin'!

Russia is Moving Ahead Fast in the Development of an Atomic Age Air Force. Here are the Latest Soviet Fighters and Bombing Planes

By James L. H. Peck

The American people were told by their leaders nearly a year ago that the Soviets were out-building us twelve-to-one in military aircraft. Outside the military and the aviation industry - both of which have been accused of wanting to start another war - the significance of the warning did not register the way it was expected to, if at all.

Now the disparity is put at fifteen-to-one. To this sobering news - coming at a time when our new USAF and Navy air forces are just beginning to take shape on the production lines - is added the completely reliable information that out of the busy Russian plants are flowing jet fighters comparable to the best of ours. Jet bombers and piston-engined, long-range bombing planes are in operational service.

Moreover, it is now conceded in military quarters that the Red scientists have held atomic tests and should require only a little time to get into production a compact A-bomb.

But this bad news, coupled with Russian behavior in Berlin and the Paris UN sessions, is an ill wind that blows at least some good i our direction. We won't make the same disastrous mistake of underestimating a potential enemy that we did once before.

Enough intelligence has been gleaned in bits and pieces through cracks in the Iron Curtain to show clearly that if the efforts of statesmen fail, here is what the U. S. and the nations of Western Union would be up against tomorrow:

A Red Air Force of about 15,000 first-line aircraft, including some 2,400 jet planes, which at this writing are in operational service. The jets include a long-range "frontier" fighter; four interceptor models, two of which boast a generous range; a "storm" plane for tactical operations; and a four-jet bomber. As the accompanying illustrations reveal, these airplanes are of a thoroughly modern design that indicates research activity of the highest order.

This is indicated, also, in the now-admitted fact that the Soviets penetrated the sonic barrier at least three months before our X-1 did the trick in October, 1947.

Turbojet development of equally high caliber is evidenced in the big power plants now in production for these aircraft and others. Among those known to exist are the widely-used 4,000-pound-thrust Chelomey engine, a 6,000-pound version of the same make, and a copied British Rolls Royce Nene rated at 5,000 pounds thrust. Moreover, they have made successful tests with a more powerful turbojet that features the new annular burner and is reported to develop between 7,500-8,000 pounds of thrust. This effort parallels advanced American and British jet research.

The always-excellent Russian ordnance is in evidence in the armament of the new craft, and there are reliable reports to the effect that along with the power plants and airframes of our B-29, the Soviets also successfully pirated our RCT fire-control system.

"Absolute weapon" activity is known to be wide-spread, with extensive research in guided missiles and a few of the more weird projects Nazi scientists didn't have time to finish before V-E Day.

This state of the Soviet Union is not quite so surprising to U. S. intelligence agencies - nor so recently come by - as the lay public might understandably believe at first hearing. Russian interest in jets, for example, dates along with American efforts, and appears to have been equally independent of German influence in the earlier days.

Russian Cast of Characters

Chief, Red Air Force: Deputy Minister of Armed Forces Konstantin Vershinin

Leading atomic scientist: Dr. Peter Kapitza

Leading aircraft designers: Tupolev, Yakolev, Ilyushin, Mikoyan, Gurevich, Lavochkin, Sukhoi

Promising new aero designers: Bratokin, Scherbakov

Leading designers who are deceased, but whose works may still influence current design: Petlyakov, Polikarpov

• High-speed research jet plane.

• Single-jet fighter by Mikoyan.

• MIG 7, interceptor with twin jets.

To understand better how this state of aerial eminence came about, we look back to 1942 when the Soviets began the development of what they called a "reaction engine." The then leading jet expert, Andrei Kostikoff, was given carte blanche the following year by the Scientific Motor Institute (ZAIM), at Stalin's intercedence. By 1944, a hand-built YAK prototype was flying as far afield as Germany. This jet fighter performed well enough to survive several combats with Luftwaffe jets over the Berlin area.

As the Red Army rolled forward towards the German capital in 1945, its mop-up squads were followed closely by secret police (MVD) units with a very special mission. This involved the recruiting of ex-scientists, technicians, and skilled workers - aeronautical and otherwise. Willing Germans were offered good homes, liberal wages, and extra rations: as an added inducement, they might even bring along their families. American Military Government officials have since estimated that at least 50 Percent of the skilled workers in the Russian zone accepted; more than a few were persuaded to quit the U.S. and British and French zones before we started our own campaign to recruit German scientists. The plans, tools, and facilities that the Reds shipped home along with these erstwhile enemies constituted the richest prize the Russian government could have captured.

• Tupolev jet bomber, with two German Jumo engines.

• Lo 8 fighter. Span 48' 4", speed 610 mph.

This involves the story, now well-circulated in intelligence circles, of the famous "two trains from Peene-muende." It seems that the Germans did not move as much equipment from this scientific center as we believed, following the destructive bombing raids of August, 1944. (They did move the great V-2 plant to an underground site near Nordhausen, but U.S. authorities later turned this over to the Russians anyway.) Valuable rocket test equipment and other gadgets, plans, and workers were loaded onto two trains for transfer to the USSR. They never got there, say folks with connections in the Polish underground.

• Interceptor, designation unknown.

• The Utka utility plane, 145 hp .

• Single-jet Yak 15, interceptor.

Less doubtful is the fact that a lot of wind tunnels and valuable apparatus did reach Russia ; the Reds were able to get to many of the best spots before ALSOS representatives and other U.S. technical intelligence teams arrived.

For the most part, these transplanted scientists were settled in a new center 24 miles from Moscow, under the watchful eye of Marshal Lavrenti Berea, MVD chief. The site was placed under the over-all jurisdiction of the Commissariat of Defense. A nearby air-drome at Ramenskoye was greatly enlarged and beautifully equipped as a flight test center, after the fashion of our Muroc base, under the direction of the very highly regarded Central Institute of Aero Hydrodynamics (VAIM) .

The Russians took possession of the German DFS-346 supersonic research plane together with technical staff responsible for its construction. At the time they took it the DFS-346 was almost completed and ready to fly. The ship had three sets of wings built for it, one set straight, one with 20° sweep back and one with 45° sweepback. It had the most elaborate telemetering equipment ever installed in a research plane which left the pilot only with the task of flying. He did not even have to take down notes on a knee pad or remember any particular instance of flight, for the Askania telemetering device took it all down and relayed it to ground observers as well as photographed an elaborate instrument panel.

• Bomber version of Tu 170. Existence not certain.

• Ilyushin four-jet bomber (remote-control turrets?)

In view of the fact that the Russians had the 346 long before our XS-1 was completed, it is very possible that this was the ship they flew at supersonic speeds before us. The Germans believed that the 346 could reach the speed of Mach 2.5 at altitudes in the region of 75,000 feet.

The real significance of all this is not so much the fact that Red research is a good five years ahead of schedule because of the contributions of German brains and equipment; but that such marked progress has been made because they were far enough advanced on their own to take immediate advantage of the most advanced German ideas. The Soviets were able to take the Jumo 004-H and BMW-003 turbojets and develop them further, without starting at the beginning and learning the ABC's of jet propulsion. Their scientists could continue - not start - atomic experimentation, because they already had some of the world's ranking nuclear physicists and a couple of the most powerful cyclotrons in existence. They were able to go right on with the experiments on the A-9 and A-10 (winged V-2) rockets and other missiles because of earlier rocket savvy. Russians used them as anti-tank and artillery weapons before the Germans ever did.

If, by U.S. and British shop standards, we considered Russian airframe workmanship crude, albeit sturdy, they were certainly given enough of our equipment under lend-lease to learn how to build beautiful, efficient airplanes. (Among the samples of our best work were the P-39K and L, P-47D-30, P-63A, A-20C and K, and the B-25G and H models. We sent more than 10,000 such planes, including some 700 twin-engined transports to put the USSR in the airline business.)

The rumors of postwar progress started late in 1946; but the first real evidence came by way of Finland. Early in the spring of 1947' came a Soviet claim of a new world speed record of 660.7 miles per hour, and this was followed shortly by the appearance of what was obviously a hand-built model of the LA-9. Finnish observers were permitted to climb all over the ship and construction details were discussed, ostensibly for propaganda motives. Then news that they didn't sponsor filtered out of Czechoslovakia. American and other observers were .permitted to witness a quick fly-by of about 100 jets of six types during the. May Day and Aviation Day (August 3) demonstrations of 1947. And information about the copied B-29 bomber was confirmed by its public debut.

Soon afterward came more intelligence about their first supersonic flight. Our original skepticism was changed by more reliable intelligence that seemed to corroborate the information. The Red press made a big splash of the news that a jet had flown over Moscow on May Day, 1948, at the speed of sound. And by that time, too, we had learned that several of the planes seen in tile exhibitions of the year before were in production.

In the meantime, our friend Kostikoff seems to have lost his identity as an individual, since the Soviet turbojets on which there is any information bear the name of Chelomey or are known to be British exports. Whether this is the name of a new "trust" or another individual is a moot question. What appears to have happened is that the Russian and German engineers combined the best features of their own turbojet with those of the Jumo BMW designs to produce the Chelomey engines. Their progress is most significant, because of the cumulative effect of a number of little things rather than one or two revolutionary innovations.

Their largest production turbojet, for example, the 6,000-pound-thrust Chelomey, is reported to be equipped with variable-pitch stators in its compressor assembly. If this is true, they are further along than we are. U.S. researchers have been working another angle - that of varying the pitch of the rotors instead of the stators. Since it would appear simpler to control the movement of stationary parts than ones which revolve at high speeds, the Soviet engineers would appear to be on firm ground. Their engines feature the annular combustion chamber which was probably developed from that of the German BMW turbojet. The annular burner - currently under development and being produced by Westinghouse in the US. and Metrovick in England - is considered more efficient than the separate burner "cans" because the former keeps interior air turbulence to a minimum and thereby stabilizes combustion. Reports of parabolic blade design and gimmicks such as the "surge inhibitor" indicate sound thinking on the problems of internal aerodynamics, whether or not these items have been perfected.

What is being done in the USSR with their imported British turbojets is the cause of some speculation. Original contracts were negotiated with Rolls Royce in January, 1946, but the final shipment on the order of 55 Nene and Derwent V engines was not made until January, 1948. Pressure was put on Rolls by the British Board of Trade to stop export; but the question remains of whether or not the Soviet engineers have been able to duplicate the engine for production. Reports persist that the latest YAK-17 models are Nene-powered. Moreover they are supposed to be fitted with afterburners, as are some of the Chelomey turbojet installations. (This is significant, if true. Afterburning is still under experiment in the U.S., and the first two planes to use the device are just starting into production.)

In the power range between the Nene and the big Chelomey is the most popular Red turbojet, the 4,000-pound thrust power plant used in theMIG-7 and -9, YAK-15,the Tupolev storm plane, and perhaps others. Water injection has been tried, but it is not known whether or not this is being used operationally.

On the upperend, of the Russians' power scale, the only project about which anything is known is a big 13-stage Chelomey engine which has been reported test-flown at between 7,500-8,000 pounds thrust.

Airframe progress follows the trend of engine development: sound thinking about a collection of small items, rather than any single sensational gimmick. At least one production model, the LA-9, features "sandwich" wing construction: thin sheets of deskaba, or Russian duraluminum, sandwiched between them a layer of plywood. Only a shade heavier than a comparable all-metal structure, these wings are claimed to be much stronger, more rigid to stretching and bending stresses, and considerably more bullet-resistant. They are reported to hold intact after being riddled with machine gun fire. This construction parallels the "Metalite" balsa-metal sandwich developed here by Chance Vought.

Something new for the Soviets is the use of shoulder wing locations on the Ilyushin four-jet bomber, a new fighter designed by either Gurevich or Mikoyan, and the Tupolev storm plane. Whether or not any better visibility results - and it might - this wing mounting was apparently used on the storm plane for that purpose, on the fighter to make room for the power plant, and on the bomber to allow space for wheel retraction and continuous bomb bay area.

Rather conventional planform is evidenced in the wing structures, with air-foils of thin, laminar-flow section. With one exception, there is little evidence of pronounced sweepback or droop "cathedral" growing into popularity here and well developed by the Germans. The interesting exception is the Red supersonic research job.

At least three versions of this plane flew, and there are reports that a couple of less-successful models crashed in the attempt. The supersonic job is thought to be the combination of the German DSF-346 airframe - almost completed at home - and the Chelomey jet. One modification features straight-through airflow and the other, well-designed side intakes. (The latter are not so flush as the NACA inlets being tested on an experimental F-80, nor so protruding as the intakes on Britain's Attacker jet.) The third is believed to be rocket-powered with a larger version of the Walter HWK-509 engine. This ship was probably the first one through the sonic barrier. One of its more marked features is the T-tail, with the stabilizer mounted on top of the sweptback fin.

The story is around that the Soviets believed - as did some American and German scientists - that transonic speeds could be reached most easily by a plane with a sweptwing configuration. They are supposed to have worked exclusively in this direction, putting up with some delay and accident in the course of their research. Had they been certain the barrier could be crossed with a straight-winged plane - as we proved with the X-1 a little later on - the Reds, so the story goes, might have turned the trick months sooner than they did.

Armament of the planes in service includes cannon and machine guns in varying combinations; but one cannon and two machine guns seem to be the popular arms equipment. (By U.S. standards, this is light armament, notwithstanding the fact that Red ordnance is known to be excellent and perhaps superior to our cannon models.) The Soviets have the war-proven V-JA 32-mm cannon, used so tellingly on the Stormoviks, and known for its armor-punching ability. The long-barreled V-JA 37-mm is a recent development and is claimed to be one of several new hypervelocity arms. Their SH-VAK 20-mm gun is widely used in combination with the Beresin VBK machine gun of 12.7 mm. Russian ordnance men and engineers are supposed to have copied our RCT fire-control system, but there is conflicting information about the extent of its use in the big Tupolev bombers now in service. Some bombers are said to have the central turret system, others use flexibly mounted guns instead.

The designation of these heavy bombers is not revealed, but the transport design is called the TU-70, It accommodates 70 passengers, or 100 airborne troops less comfortably, in the pressurized cabin. Tupolev used the 141-foot B-29 wing just as he found it, but added 20 feet to the length of the fuselage and altered the nose lines. Getting both the transport and bomber versions into production simultaneously must have indeed amounted to a major triumph in USSR aero circles. It is well known how they placed orders with an American company for B-29 wheel assemblies and had this wheel deal scotched at the last minute by USAF procurement officers. It has been suggested that they might have been having trouble making the wheel and brake assemblies, or even in producing the big tires, but this is not suggested by the time element. They might have ordered much sooner. Moreover, experts say that there are more difficult things about the B-29 than the wheels.

Indeed, there are several puzzling aspects surrounding the Soviet production picture. At the war's end they were operating 35 known plants for the output of airframes and engines. About 750,000 workers were employed in these plants, with probably another 50,000 making more indirect contributions. The best Russian figure was some 40,000 planes in the 1944-45 year; but in airframe weight this was estimated as only 20 percent of U.S. airframe capacity.

Our military leaders revealed some time ago that the Reds were geared to produce between 75,000 and 100,000 planes per year. There is the feeling now that this estimate may have been rather high, notwithstanding the supervision of some of the top Nazi industrial planners, the marriage of some of the Russian trusts to the German combines, and the added facilities in the Ural and Vladivostok regions. Experts say that if Soviet production gets anywhere near the 100,000 mark, it means. that she has found enough new sources of primary aluminum to double her known sources: either that or she has made some startling metallurgical advances that permit the use of some other secondary metal, with the pure aluminum used only for sweetening.

As far as is known, production follows closely the system used during the war. The top agency-similar in function to our Munitions Board - is the Commissariat of Defense. Immediately under this is the War Aircraft Trust with its widespread system of sub-contracting and tie-in with German and Czech plants which were not moved to the USSR. All aircraft accessories are produced through trusts or chain factories. For instance, the Rubber Trust turns out tires, fuel cells, de-icers, and fittings. Radios, wiring, lights, magnetos, and other items are turned out through the Electro Trust. Gun sights and instruments are the responsibility of the Fine Mechanics Trust. Ordnance, along with ammunition, is produced by the Arms Trust.

For the training of personnel such as supervisors and foremen, an Academy of Aircraft Industry was established early in 1947. Russian manpower is one of its strongest assets, and perhaps they figure that if we could teach housewives how to build airplanes in a couple of weeks, so can they produce a local facsimile of "Rosie the Riveter." The size of the plants themselves is something we are trying to find out. The largest known factory is the one at Gorki, with better than 1,350,000 sq. feet devoted to final assembly. This compares in size with the Curtiss-Wright plant in Columbus, Ohio.

The rapid expansion of Aeroflot, the Soviet airline, is significant because it shows their awareness of air lift as a substitute for their notably poor communications on the surface. In August, 1947, route mileage was placed at 93,000. Latest information puts Aeroflot holdings at 137,400 miles, and the Soviets have just recently started scheduled night flights over these airways.

But in the case of both airlines and air forces, the qualitative factors usually outweigh the numerical ones, particularly in the operational sense. The question of the relative effectiveness in combat of the Red Air Force. against the USAF-Navy team is outside the scope of this review, but some consideration must be given the uses to which the Russian planes and other items discussed here might be put.

Composition usually provides good clues as to intents and purposes. The best information here suggests that Red Air Force make-up closely follows upon its wartime organization. There were sixteen units, roughly comparable to the numbered air forces of our AAF. Each of these consisted of an Army-Cooperation Corps and Heavy Air Corps. The former was composed of a brigade (three wings) of fighters, of storm planes, and of reconnaissance and general-purpose-aircraft. Two bomber brigades and one parachute brigade constituted a Heavy Air Corps. Special fighter wings were used for "protective support" missions of a roving nature.

By AAF and RAF standards, the heavy Red air units demonstrated poor operational savvy. Their maximum-effort raids involved about 200 bombers on visits to Berlin and targets along the Baltic and in Rumania and Hungary. The Red air crews got hits; but they seemed to get them the hard way, being continually hampered by poor communications and coordination. This is the inspiration for the opinion of some USAF officers that the Soviet strategic bombing know-how is highly questionable. Others, however, feel that they must have gained much from AAF techniques and from the contributions of German radio and radar experts; and that with plenty of B-29's to play around with they should be learning fast. The Russian tac outfits were as good as the heavy units were poor, largely because they held a greater need for storm tactics and worked harder at them.

When Chief Marshal Alexander Novikov took over command of the air force in 1942, he made this observation in an official organ: "We must, of necessity, commit the air force to the close support of ground troops. We need planes which will affect the military situation immediately: fighters to destroy the enemy bombers and fighters, and storm planes to destroy the tanks, guns, and communications. There is not the time for anything else. We have long-range bombers (TB-7) but not the time to train larger numbers of air crews. And we cannot wait for the effects of strategic bombing to be felt up here in the front lines. We must hit the Nazi's front lines and send him back."

Novikov's aerial philosophy made a lot of sense, particularly in 1942, when even the AAF and RAF high commands were prone to argue about the merits of strategic bombing. There have been rumors for some time about the formation of something similar to our Strategic Air Command. But the Reds will have to do a lot more than just copy B-29's to bat in the same league with our expert SAC, whose crews are better equipped and trained than any of the wartime AAF units. There is no room for complacency, however. The planes have range enough to reach parts of America, and they can duplicate the most important task ever assigned our Superfort - that of carrying the A-bomb - as soon as they stockpile atomic bombs in the USSR.

It is entirely another story where the "falcons" of the Red Air Force fighter outfits are concerned. Their combat pilots equaled or excelled - with inferior aircraft - any during the war. There was a long roster of aces that included Pokryshkin (59 German planes), Rechkalov (44), Guliaev (36), Lavitsky (35), and Babek (33). It was Savitski, with a 22-plane score, who flew the prototype YAK jet over Berlin in several "experimental combat" flights in May and June, 1944, deliberately engaging Luftwaffe jets. Now a Lieut. General and considered one of the most able Russ tacticians, it is known that Savitski's findings have been incorporated in the combat texts of the Moscow Aviation Institute. In the hands of pilots tutored by these aces and others, the brood of excellent jet interceptors and frontier fighters may well be able to form a formidable picket around vital targets in the USSR. Delivery of A-bombs by an outside force may well prove a costly proposition on each and every attempt.

This is equally true because of the character and extent of guided missile activity, where the German scientists are said to be more than earning their extra rations. It is a well-known fact that if the Germans had gotten their V weapons and anti-air missiles into production a little sooner, we might still be fighting. And it is almost equally well known that-the German-Russian team is going on from the point where V-E Day interrupted the imaginative German research.

We've heard a lot of controversy about the existence of a fabulous "Atomgrad" - an atomic city roughly comparable to our Los Alamos Laboratory. A refugee scientist now in the U.S. reported recently that such a city does exist near the Mongolian border in Turkestan. The place is said to be under the immediate supervision of the MVD secret police; and about two-thirds of Atomgrad's 400,000 population is supposed to be either outright slave labor or folks in "protective" custody. In fact, the leading Soviet atom expert, Dr. Peter Kapitza, is said to have been exiled to Atomgrad for his failure to produce more quick results in his experiments.

They have been working a long time. The Soviets commenced atomic research in 1940, when intelligence discovered German progress in this endeavor Their first large cyclotron was built in Kharkov but moved to Atomgrad in September, 1945. As far as we know, their experiments to date have involved relatively weak bombs which were developed under great difficulty; but they appear to be working intelligently. Russian cosmic research is reputedly ahead of America's. The Reds were the first to split atoms with cosmic rays about three years ago. They are also known to be very active in-ionosphere research, and if they get anywhere at all, this can be extremely dangerous.

Fortunately, America's high command is alert. We didn't know about the Japanese Zero and Baka Bomb until these were thrust upon us. It cost a lot of Yanks their lives to find out how to combat these weapons. But this time, we are finding out some of the things we shall be up against if the Reds keep on misbehaving. And being forewarned is being forearmed.




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