26 May 2013, 14:41

World’s first four-engine airplane Russky Vityaz: the Era of Sykorsky

Русский витязь, самолет

Exactly a century ago, on May 26th, 1913, a Russky Vityaz (Russian Knight), the world’s first four-engine airplane designed by Igor Sikorsky in Russia, carried out its maiden flight that opened a new era in aeronautics.

Many European engineers had been struggling fruitlessly to build multi-engine aircraft. A series of frustrating failures gave rise to an erroneous assumption that this was entirely impossible. Frederick William Lanchester, a pioneer of the British aeronautics, contended in one of his works that aircraft had already reached their size and weight limits beyond which they were unable to fly. Sikorsky’s Russky Vityaz, four times heavier than any of the then existing airplanes, produced a bomb-like effect, says Professor Vadim Mikheyev, the author of several books about Sikorsky.

"The Russky Vityaz was a milestone event in the history of aviation. Until then, no one had believed that such a plane could ever be built. Sikorsky’s main achievement was that he invented a multi-engine circuit and used it in his multi-engine aircraft. That is comparable, if not with the world’s first manned spaceflight, then at least with the first flight of a Shuttle or Buran spaceship."

In November 1913, Sikiorksy designed an improved version of the Russky Vityaz, capable of carrying bombs. He called it Ilya Muromets. The new aircraft went into serial production. In about a year, Russia had a squadron of strategic bombers, something no other country had. In 1918, Sikorsky was forced to emigrate after being blacklisted by the Bolsheviks as a monarchist. He travelled to the United States where he set up the Sikorsky Manufacturing Company based in New York. He experimented with amphibian planes or “flying boats”, and later patented the world’s first helicopter. In the Bolshevik Russia, Sirkorsky’s Russky Vityaz was entrusted with an honorary mission, says Roman Gusarov, chief editor of the avia.ru website.

"For years, it was flown at all sorts of parades and festivals, carrying banners advertising the might and technical achievements of the Soviet Union. It’s really a pity that Sikorsky left Russia and moved to the United States. But for us, he will always be a Russian aircraft designer. Other designers took up and developed Sikorsky’s ideas, among them, the Tupolev design bureau."

Today, Russia’s strategic aviation is one the best in the world with Sikorsky’s Russky Vityaz rightfully considered to be its grandfather.

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