Almost 45 years have passed since the day I first crossed the threshold of the “base in Gorelovo” - that is, of course, unofficially, according to legend, they called the country landfill of the design office No. 3 (KB-3) of the Kirov factory, where they tested the latest designs military equipment.
Needless to say, it was how small the selection screen was, through which candidates were screened when they were admitted to this absolutely closed, non-advertising organization! I, a qualified specialist, who had been working for three years in Donbass and for the same years of army service as the head of the charging station of the command post of the rocket troops regiment, was first accepted as an electrician only 4, and I became an engineer only five years later.
In one of the Finnish shield houses, the barracks housed a measurement laboratory, where I was identified after a thorough three-month check by the competent authorities, in the other — the test engineer department, in the third — the head of the base, and nearby was a small brick box for shelter, storage, maintenance and repair of secret tank equipment. In comparison with the smoke-filled workshops of the Kirov Plant, our forest monastery, located in the epicenter of silence, broken only by bird singing (not counting the roar of the motors, of course) seemed like a paradise. It was not for nothing that Nekrasov, in his time, did not bypass in his poem “Who Lives Well in Russia?” The ancient village of Gorelovo, whose primeval beauty could not be spoiled by even several rows of barbed wire that girded the base.
The soldiers of the internal troops guarded the territory, and so strictly that without a special permit and code number it was almost impossible to overcome the checkpoint in any direction. And it is unlikely that anyone would venture to do this through a perimeter fence. But there could be no other protection, because, even communicating with each other, we avoided, as required by the instructions, to use the word “tank” itself, replacing it with the absolutely meaningless name “219 object”. It is not surprising that, observing the camouflage, including being buried from airplanes (saved by God), we carried out tests, as a rule, at night, going into mileage along forest and country roads ...
The main and, in fact, the permanent designer of the Kirov Plant since 1937, was a genuine “tank fanatic,” as he was called on the sidelines, Doctor of Technical Sciences Hero of Socialist Labor Colonel-General Kotein. An impressive column of domestic vehicles passed through his hands - heavy tanks KV-2, KV-16, KV-85, EC-1, EC-2, EC-4, T-10, amphibious tank PT-76, self-propelled artillery installations SU- 152, ISU-152, ISU-122, as well as the peacefully “tuned” KT-12 skidder and heavy-duty wheeled tractor Kirovets.
A year after I came to the laboratory, Kotin was appointed deputy minister of the defense industry of the USSR, and Nikolai Sergeevich Popov became the chief designer of KB-3, with whose name an entire epoch of the development of Russian engineering is linked. Thin, tall, impetuous, he seemed to radiate some creative energy, infecting those present. They say it is better to wait than catch up. So Popov belonged to the category of impatient people, who disproved by their nature, and hence the behavior, this folk idiom.
It so happened during the tests that after the failure of units or instruments of the tank, the question immediately arose: who is to blame? There were three options: either the designers did not take into account something, or the production workers screwed up, or we, the meters, blundered. There were heated discussions right in the field, and, of course, each division of KB-3 proved its innocence. Having neither the time nor the desire to listen to these verbal battles, the chief designer either abruptly broke them off, or simply turned around and went “to the people” - straight to the drivers, communication with whom gave new impetus to the flight of his engineering thought. Often, Popov, after hearing their opinions, immediately, on the armor, made changes to the drawings. And he was right: the opinions of experienced tankers, many of whom were front-line soldiers, really cost a lot.
Born to crawl flies!
Nikolay Sergeevich Popov, at the suggestion of journalists, in our country and abroad is better known as the creator of the “flying tank”. In 1993, at the arms exhibition in Abu Dhabi, the 45-tonne T-80 tank, breaking the springboard at speed, flew through the air around 15 meters and, landing, rushed on as if there was no giant jump. The American Abrams, who attempted to repeat this maneuver, failed after the "landing". As the ancients said: what is allowed to Jupiter is not allowed to the bull ...
And this miracle technique was created before our eyes. Moreover, we, on our own skin (and this is not a metaphor!), Had a chance to experience what a “flying tank” is and what kind of overload during the landing of the armored engine is experienced by the equipment and crew. I will not go into technical details, I note only that the key figure in this not very pleasant process is three: when tested at each speed from 10 to 70 km / h with discreteness, that is, the tank should step in 10 km / h three times overcome one after the other three three-meter springboards. It remains to add that there were three testers in the car, and for us the most difficult thing in the final stage was to stay in the saddle. Even a driver at this critical moment sometimes threw levers, clinging to the seat with a dead grip.
In such an extreme situation, it was not always possible to complete the entire test cycle in a day: the technique could not withstand - parts, components, sensors or writing equipment that were not designed for overload, which sometimes reached the maximum permissible values for the spine! Of course, then, we, the young, did not care, it was later, with age, the testers felt that they had left a legacy of past experiments, for which, in KB-3, unlike other similar units, they were not calculated by material bonuses, but in total only time off.
In two weeks of experiments on “219 objects” and people, we smashed all the concrete, but based on the results, the designers significantly improved the suspension of the tank, improved torsions and shock absorbers, and equipped T-80 rubberized light alloy wheels with rollers.
Only tanks can be above the mountains ...
Often, the customer of many design changes to the tank system was the practice itself, which is quite natural. So, after the events on the island of Damansky, when the driver-mechanics had to sweat a lot to start the diesel engines of their combat vehicles in severe frost, they decided to replace them with gas turbines. Like helicopters that are not afraid of the Arctic cold. But a helicopter flies in a clear sky and sees dust only for a short time - during takeoff and landing, and the tank was originally designed to walk off-road, and even in a convoy, where the driver often determines the safe distance to the vehicle ahead only from the dust density. However, the designers of KB-3 did not doubt that this is an equation with not one, but many unknowns, therefore they reasoned philosophically: we will solve problems as they arrive, by trial and error.
The first tests of the prototype 1000-strong gas turbine engine we conducted in the mountains of the Caucasus. “219 object” easily overcame steep hills and climbed 3 – 4-kilometer mountain peaks, on which diesel engines, like people, “choked” from lack of oxygen. It was strange and unusual to feel in T-80, being above the clouds. It’s a pity it was impossible to take at least a couple of pictures for memory: it would never occur to anyone to take pictures with a secret tank. Now it can be easily seen on the Internet - in profile, and in front, and in the section ...
It is pertinent to note that the test program was always developed in advance and thoroughly in the design bureau. In the field there was certainly a representative of the customer, without the signature of which the result was simply not counted, if he were at least three times successful. It is from this very program that testers, inspired by the machine’s climbing abilities, have ventured to deviate. In the interest of business, of course. Although contrary to the regulations.
It turned out that, easily climbing the mountain, the 45-ton giant was not so perfect behaved on the way back: it accelerated too quickly, and had to hold on to it, but the transmission brake was not designed for long braking and could, overheated, go out out of service. It was then that we wondered: what if the engine brakes, going down in first gear at a speed of 10 – 15 km / h? For good luck, we just got on the route a comfortable hill with more or less gentle slopes, devoid of vegetation.
Of course, no one rushed right off the bat - they had prepared in advance. The transmission designer surveyed a three-kilometer slope with a quadrant in hand, the test engineer agreed on the plan with the expedition leader, who, in turn, instructed the driver in detail, decomposing, like a pack of cards, all options for his actions with a possible complication of the situation. And in order to record in detail the course of the experiment, we decided to film it on film, anticipating, I will not hide, in case of success (and it was counted on) a decent premium and promotion.
The commander's seat in the crew was taken by a test engineer, I, a measuring engineer, settled into the gunner’s position, and the cameraman, like a brave paratrooper, settled on armor, and the rise, and quite steep, began.
Shuddering with all his multi-ton hull, the tank confidently climbed the mountain. After some time, the operator jumped to the ground in order to prepare for the shooting and capture the apotheosis of the climb. And soon the top of the hill also appeared - an even penny the size of a football field, on which we decided to turn around before descending. However, the lap of honor failed: when the driver, adding gas, slowed down one caterpillar, the tank, having opened another decent ditch, suddenly stopped. It turned out that during this spectacular maneuver, a caterpillar flew from its asterisk. A small malfunction, but the tools remained at the bottom, at the repair team, to get in touch with which the secrecy regime did not allow. We didn’t even have a sledgehammer with us.
For an hour we, with the help of a weighty stone and a strong wit, tried to return the caterpillar to its place. And when we succeeded, we lifted our noses with pride: we must have done it ourselves!
It is time to return, but the driver-mechanic, brought out of peace of mind, flatly refused to go on a steep descent. It seems that he didn’t like this idea from the very beginning, and the instruction listing all the potential risks only heightened his doubts. There is nothing to do - they found a gentler slope and set off. I admit, these were not the most pleasant moments of our life. Armor - although it is strong, it did not insure against a chance to tip over and tumble for a few kilometers. And T-80 slowly but surely picked up speed. And although the test engineer, being constantly in touch with the driver, encouraged him as best he could, watching the infinite celestial expanse and low-flying clouds through triplex, he could not stand it and, sending all the theorists-designers away, began to slowly lower the brake pedal.
Less than a quarter of an hour, as we descended to the camp. Our colleagues, wondering what had happened, were seriously alarmed. But as soon as they had time to rejoice at our safe return, we were saddened by the news of the unsuccessful experiment. And he threw another spoonful of tar into the driver, saying that as a result of prolonged braking during the descent due to overheating of the transmission, the car covered the gearbox, and the tank could only move in reverse. So we went back - first to the base, and then to the railway platform for shipment to the Kirov factory.
It is not difficult to imagine what the reaction of the chief designer N. S. Popov was when he was told about what had happened. It is quite possible that such idiomatic expressions, in which he was not shy, were never transmitted by secret communication. And their essence was on the surface: he promised to wiseacres who had deviated from the test program big troubles. Fortunately, the hunt for pests, spies and enemies of the domestic tank building is not reached ...
Fight with dust
After successful tests, during which a tank with a turbine engine convincingly demonstrated both high permeability and enviable survivability, they returned to the problem of cleaning the air drawn into the turbine. In search of an optimal solution, they descended from the mountains into even more extreme field conditions - into the Karakum desert. Here for thousands of years the wind blown by the sand turned into the smallest dust, which settled on the turbine blades and, melting from the high temperature, changed their configuration, reducing the engine power and eventually turning it into a pile of scrap metal.
The test site is located in the Bakharden area of Turkmenistan. From Iran, we were protected by the Kopetdag mountain range, and to the east, north and west, wherever you look, endless sands spread. By the way, we had a chance to get acquainted with the local dust at the base, because first, figuratively speaking, it was not Mahomet who came to the mountain, but the mountain to Mahomet: the Karakum dust was taken in bags by carriages to the Kirov factory, where they tested turbine engine dust collectors. And only having received satisfactory poster results, they relocated to the Karakum.
It turned out to be hotter - literally and figuratively: after all, the desert. Every day, the tanks went into a continuous run, often bringing the turbine blades to breakdown. There was more than enough work — under the scorching sun for the day, seven pots were gone, but gradually, with each improvement, the distance of a trouble-free run increased. Along the way, the chassis was also upgraded to get rid of the overheating of the shock absorbers and rubber on the rollers and tracks.
The program also provided for another test, which was not the most pleasant and comfortable for people: to determine the maximum possible time of the crew’s stay in the vehicle in the 40-degree heat with the hatches covered. For this, the “219 object” was equipped with remote temperature meters and gave the go-ahead to the experiment.
Almost immediately, we lifted into the air giant clouds of desert dust, which forced the driver to move almost blindly, but this was still half the trouble. The trouble came later. Before the start of the experiment, the tank had been surfing the landfill for a long time with open hatches, so soon we were covered inside with thick and dense, although cut, the veil of the same omnipresent dust. There was nothing to breathe without, so the temperature in the car rose surprisingly quickly - 50, 60, 70 degrees ...
It became clearly not on its own: the head went round, nausea rose to my throat. The memory obligingly fished the yachting rule out of their cells - while staying in a confined space, in order not to sway, one should look at the horizon, and not at nearby objects, but since I continuously measured the sensors, clicking the switches, I was not up to the horizon. It seems that the rest of the crew felt no better: by the end of the second hour of the run, they were more and more often interested in headset communication, how was the temperature there, did it not stabilize? Alas, the sensor was already 80 degrees - Finnish sauna, and only. But we were not going to retreat, believing that it would be better to suffer only once rather than go to the second round of trials.
Suddenly, I felt the smell of burning, which began to grow rapidly. “Is it really burning?” A thought flashed through her. Nothing to do, I had to stop the engine. So many years have passed since that day, and I still remember very well how I opened the hatch, jumped out of the tank into the 42-degree heat, and it seemed to me that I plunged into cold water. Catching their breath, they inspected the car, finding no source of ignition, no source of smell. However, according to the instructions, we could not move on: in such cases it was forbidden to start the engine without a representative of the manufacturer. As always, there was no connection with the repair brigade for conspiracy. Usually, observers determined our location by a column of dust over the desert: if it exists, everything is in order, if it disappeared, it means that something happened, it is time to go for help.
Half an hour passed, but we were not missed. The commander looked at me so expressively that I immediately guessed which of us was to go for help to the base. This is understandable: a tank without a driver and commander is not a tank, but it will completely manage without a measuring engineer. He orientated himself on the terrain and wandered, scorched by the sun, avoiding spines, creeping reptiles and scorpions. Three hours later, when it began to seem to me that I was doomed to everlasting wanderings along the sands, I reached the camp. Along the way, I was convinced that I had discovered the best way to lose weight, losing three kilograms for the journey.
The repair team quickly identified the cause of the fault, which ... was not. It turned out that during the tests, the driver had accidentally turned on the heating stove. It turns out that we, the Kirov testers, demonstrated super-endurance, having spent two hours in a tank with battened hatches in the Karakum hell, and with the winter heating stove turned on! Needless to say, the experiment was credited ...