At the end of 1932, the fortieth anniversary of the literary and social activity of Alexei Maximovich Gorky was widely celebrated in the Soviet Union. On the eve of the anniversary of the master and the apprentice of the writing workshop, the friends of the writer gathered together and thought. What would such a gift to Gorky on the occasion of the celebration? Boots? Mouthpiece? No, it's not that! The complete works of M. Gorky? Again, not that! Or maybe something related to his literary images? Perhaps it will be something related to the rapid flight, even more precisely: with the proudly rushing petrel ... But what exactly? The final idea was formulated by the famous journalist Mikhail Koltsov, who was the editor of the magazine Ogonyok in those years. He said that it was necessary to "build a giant agit plane, an agitator plane, a winged fighter, personifying the culture of a new society under construction."
The implementation of such a grandiose project in those years was not an unfounded fantasy for Russia. Aviation the science and technology of the young republic worthily continued and increased the successes of pre-revolutionary Russia in the development of heavy aviation, which received, as you know, priority development and even then greatly exceeded the foreign one. N.E. Zhukovsky said that "heavy aviation is the brainchild of Russia." Of course, he was referring to the outstanding achievements of I.I. Sikorsky, who created in 1913 the heavy four-engine aircraft Grand, Russian Knight, Ilya Muromets, which had unique, at that time, flight performance.
The First World War ended, the civil war in Russia. Aviation has become one of the priority sectors in the young Soviet Union. In a fairly short time, a powerful aviation industry was created in the country, and talented aircraft designers were brought up. Created in the late twenties - early thirties original designs of domestic aircraft, their successful flights were known around the world. Already built and made the first in the world ultra-long flight from Moscow to New York, a heavy ANT-4 “Country of the Soviets” aircraft (1929 year). In many capitals of Europe: Berlin, Paris, London, Rome, ANT-9 “Wings of the Soviets” aircraft (1929 year) was demonstrated.
Russia still remained the birthplace of heavy aircraft. Heavy TB-3 and TB-4 bombers, an experienced K-7 aircraft, are being built in the country. In less than a year, the world's largest passenger, five-engined ANT-14 Pravda aircraft was built, which made over a thousand flights without a single accident. His test in August 1931 of the year was conducted by the honored pilot M. M. Gromov. Therefore, the idea of M. Koltsov to build an even more ambitious land giant plane unprecedented in the world was a very real, feasible task. The journalist’s proposal was enthusiastically supported by the entire Soviet public. Prominent writers, journalists, foremost workers, scientists, public figures organized the All-Union Committee for the construction of the Maxim Gorky aircraft. Mikhail Koltsov was elected its chairman.
The news of the construction of the aircraft by the Soviet people was received with enthusiasm. The plane was built truly on folk remedies. Six million rubles were collected by readers of Soviet newspapers and magazines.
25 January 1933, the presidium of the Committee for the construction of a giant aircraft, adopted a decree: to transfer the design and construction of the aircraft to TsAGI as the leading institute of domestic aircraft manufacturing. In the development of an ambitious project was attended by many well-known designers: V.M. Petlyakov, A.A. Arkhangelsky, V.N. Belyaev. B.A. Saukke, E.I. Pogossky and others. He headed the work of A.N. Tupolev. Many enterprises, organizations and research institutes of various industries, the joint work of which was closely coordinated, were involved in the creation of the air giant.
10 March 1933 Chairman of the All-Union Committee M. Koltsov, Chairman of the Construction Department A. Goryanov, Deputy Head of TsAGI, Professor A. Nekrasov, and Chief Designer of the Maxim Gorky Aircraft A. Tupolev signed the contract for the construction of the air giant and M. Koltsov right there handed over to A. Nekrasov the first check in the amount of half a million rubles.
The creation of the ANT-20 aircraft, which in its scheme and design was a further development of the TB-4 bomber, was started by the team of A.N. Tupolev in the 1931 year, but at the end of the 1932 year, in connection with the decision to prioritize the creation of a special campaign aircraft , the appointment of ANT-20 has been changed. The technical requirements for this aircraft, approved at the beginning of 1933, provided for the possibility of its use also as a passenger and transport aircraft, a heavy bomber, and a flying headquarters for the highest military command. On board the aircraft, it was necessary to place equipment and means of agitation: a printing house, a photo lab, a film installation, a loud-speaking installation “Voice from the sky”, several radio stations.
The plane had to be operated from relatively small airfields, the take-off distance was not to exceed 350-400 meters (at TB-4 it was 800 meters). This required to design a wing with a larger area and length. Accordingly, for the power plant, eight M-34FRN aircraft gearboxes with a total power of 7200l had to be used. with. Six engines were located in the wing tip, and a couple, like on the TB-4, was placed in a tandem installation above the fuselage. It was possible to continue horizontal flight when two any motors are disconnected in flight. The on-board compressor unit ensured the launch of all aircraft engines within three minutes.
Under the contract, the new aircraft was supposed to go to factory tests in an unusually short period of time - in just 14 months (by May 1934 of the year).
There were skeptics who believed that a plane of similar take-off weight, if it rose into the air, it would not be able to get on. For example, E. Gray, the editor of the British magazine Aeroplan, wrote: "All that remains for us to do is to give thanks to God for the fact that the Russian imagination significantly and far exceeds the possibilities of implementation by both Russians and others." But despite this unbelief, the talent of A. N. Tupolev, the enthusiasm of the team of builders, the active support of the plan by the entire Soviet people for the “Russian imagination” was translated into reality.
On April 1, 1934, the construction of the Maxim Gorky was completed at the TsAGI plant of experimental structures. Parts of the giant aircraft were transported to the Central Airport. MV Frunze, where its assembly began and then factory tests.
In mid-June, the Maxim Gorky airplane, the 1934, took off for the first time. Piloted by his chief-pilot TsAGI M.M. Gromov. He said about the new car: "Amazing aircraft. It is exceptional in its flight characteristics, its aerodynamics. The machine has impeccable steering. The world's largest aircraft is controlled very conveniently and simply."
The plane was so reliable that on the third day of the flight tests, 19 June 1934, took part in a parade organized in honor of the returning Chelyuskin heroes and the pilots who had saved them - the first Heroes of the Soviet Union. Began regular flights unique aircraft. Soon, new world load ratings were set on it - ten and fifteen tons were raised to the height of 5000 m. Since August 1934, the air giant has become the flagship of the Gorky propaganda squadron.
In terms of its flight weight (42 000 kilograms), the Maxim Gorky aircraft was, until 1950, the largest civilian land plane in the world. Its payload was fourteen tons. Wingspan - giant 63 meters, wheel diameter - two meters. The all-metal aircraft had a fuselage with a length of 32,5 m, a width of 3,5 and a height of 2,5 meter. The total area of the interior exceeded one hundred square meters. For planting a giant car on the ground, the developers have created a special chassis design, with air-oil shock absorbers.
The aircraft was equipped with an automatic telephone station for sixteen subscribers, the original autopilot, electrical mechanisms for moving the steering wheel, various café equipment, passenger 72 cabins and sleeping cabins. The crew reached eight people. It was first used to enter the aircraft, part of the bottom surface of the fuselage reclined as a ramp. For the first time in the world, an alternating current was required on board the aircraft, which was required for various equipment on board that was not previously provided on aircraft. In the process of creating such aircraft as TB-4 and ANT-20, many of the most difficult, for that time, issues of aerodynamics, structural mechanics, numerous onboard and other equipment were solved.
Meanwhile, everyday work was going on in the squadron, the material part of the unique aircraft had been working flawlessly for more than a year. Joyful for the propaganda squadron was the May Day celebration of 1935, when "Maxim Gorky" led the air show of Soviet winged cars over Red Square. On weekdays, he made regular flights over Moscow, conducted an "air baptism" of the best workers of production and drummers of Moscow enterprises.
The misfortune, as usual, happened unexpectedly. In the middle of the day 18 May 1935-th plane again rose above Moscow. It was piloted by pilots I. Mikheev and I. Zhurov. "Maxim Gorky" escorted light aircraft I-5 and P-5, on board which was a cameraman. What happened on that day was published in TsAGI and the Scientific-Memorial Museum of N. Ye. Zhukovsky in the compilation "Aircraft Manufacturing in the USSR. 1917-1945." described as follows: "accompanying Maxim Gorky on the I-5 fighter aircraft, pilot N. P. Blagin began to perform aerobatics in the vicinity of the giant aircraft, which were not provided by the flight mission. When trying to make a loop around the wing of the aircraft, he lost speed at the top point, and his unmanaged car fell on the wing of the Maxim Gorky.
Thirty-three passengers, twelve crew members and the pilot N. Blagin himself died. An absurd catastrophe claimed dozens of human lives and destroyed a unique aircraft. Regarding the death of the giant Maxim Gorky aircraft, many articles were published in the media with different versions of the tragedy. So in the autumn of 1935goda in the Polish press organ of Russian émigrés “The Sword”, it was stated that Blagin consciously and deliberately rammed a giant plane. The newspaper cited a letter allegedly written by Blagin on the eve of the tragic event. Stylistically, the letter was an anti-communist appeal to the citizens of Russia, in which Blagin announced the decision "to avenge the Russian people and destroy several dozen idlers-gangsters, communists, who ride around the neck of ordinary people." This version, by the way, should be rejected immediately. This is nothing more than a falsification of immigrants who dreamed of the beginning of an uprising in the USSR against the communists and giving out their dreams as real. The facts say the opposite.
Blagin, despite his noble birth, voluntarily and out of conviction joined the Bolshevik Party and the Red Army, as early as 1918. In addition, the pilot addressed a written request to the head of TsAGI for the suspension of his flights to escort a giant aircraft, as it distracts him from the main and favorite work - testing new fighter aircraft. In addition, one cannot ignore the fact that the Blagin family not only did not suffer from the persecution of the NKVD, but also received an increased “personal” pension for the deceased, similar to those paid to the rest of the victims of the disaster.
The only thing that is still not known for sure is the question on whose initiative N. Blagin performed the aerobatics. On his own, on instructions from the management or at the request of cameramen who were on the Maxim Gorky plane and who had a long conversation with Blagin before the flight. It is not known what exactly was recorded in his flight mission, whether this flight mission itself was preserved, which was indicated in it. No one also knows whether N. Blagin received from someone verbally the task of performing aerobatic maneuvers, which ones and at what specific minimum distance from Maxim Gorky? As long as these questions remain unanswered, one cannot speak of the immediate cause of the tragedy.
The disaster shook the whole Soviet Union. But the reaction was in the spirit of that era. In exchange for the dead car, the collection of funds began for the construction of 16 new aircraft-giants such as ANT-20. 4 August 1935, the Labor and Defense Council (STO) issued a decree. Although "Maxim Gorky" was an agitplane, all 16 new giants were decided to transfer to civil aviation.
In August, the pilot of the Civil Air Fleet Research Institute Nikolai Novikov, 1939, completed testing a new aircraft - a six-engine multi-seat passenger PS-124 (the second name is ANT-20bis), created in the design office of A.N. Tupolev based on the eight Maxim Gorky. In the future, the new aircraft was to become the main one on the busiest Aeroflot passenger lines of the pre-war years.
Although the main purpose of these aircraft were considered passenger, but in the traditions of those years in wartime they were planned to be used as heavy night bombers and military transport aircraft. In accordance with this, the places for mounting small and bomb armaments were constructively equipped, while the OPB-1 bomb sights and aircraft intercom were to be installed immediately. The main difference between the Maxim Gorky cars was the number of engines. Now there were six, but more powerful ones, such as M-34PH with new metal three-bladed screws.
With full payload (the plane lifted the passenger 64 and crew members 8 into the air), the PS-124 could pass several thousand kilometers without landing. Despite its gigantic size, the speed of the new aircraft reached 225-230 kilometers per hour. As the tests showed, the PS-124 had a good rate of climb, which was extremely important in case of need to quickly break through the clouds, “slip” a small hotbed of icing.
As test pilots of the GVF Research Institute Edward Ivanovich Schwartz and Nikolai Ivanovich Novikov, who conducted state tests of the PS-124, noted in their records, “the plane was obedient to control. All its steering wheels are well compensated and effective, so that the plane responds well to all their actions. When one or even two motors stop on one side, the controlled fletner of the steering wheel fully compensates for the pressure on the foot.
Landing an aircraft, despite its large size, is simple. With a smooth alignment of the steering wheels on himself, he sits on three points without any tendency to jump. On the run is stable. But the pilot must be vigorously slowed down, since the inertia of the large mass of the aircraft lengthens the mileage. Under braking conditions, the car’s mileage does not exceed five hundred meters. ”
Equipped with modern radio navigation aids for that period of time, the ANT-20bis was adapted to fly in difficult meteorological conditions and at night. Both test pilots praised the cockpit of the new aircraft. Spacious, with chairs in which it is pleasant and comfortable to sit. The successful work of the crew contributed to the rational placement of instruments and equipment. Pilot review is excellent. The navigator’s workplace is also equipped with great comfort. All devices, radio equipment, two-way communication, equipment for radio direction finding are located so that the navigator is easy and convenient in flight. In addition, the new aircraft were provided with operational communications and alarm systems. The automatic telephone station on seven telephones connected not only crew members, but also passengers.
By the way, for passengers in the PS-124 was provided a lot of amenities. Three passenger cabins and four sleeping cabins were pleasing the beauty and comfort. In this case, in the first passenger cabin, there were ten passenger seats. In the second - sixteen, and in the third - eight places. In the fourth cabin there was a “restaurant”. The name was quite appropriate, since the plane had a kitchen with an electric stove, a kettle, a fridge, a thermos and even a dishwasher.
In the special four sleeping cabins there were sixteen places for recreation. Here, as in the salons, there are tables, comfortable soft chairs, mirrors, and carpets. The walls are covered with special sound insulation, which allowed in the passenger rooms to speak freely, without raising his voice. Other amenities include: a wardrobe, toilets, a library with reference, artistic and technical literature, etc.
Unfortunately, the tests revealed the shortcomings of the new aircraft. In particular, the flight mechanics remained “in favor”: the aircraft builders, as they say, bypassed them in comfort. The designers took them a place in the wing: each between three motors. They did not make a separate cabin for them and thus did not protect them from the strong noise of engines and the smell of exhaust gases. And because in their recommendations, they wrote; "It would be necessary at the first repair of the aircraft after a certain period of operation to take care to fill this annoying gap ..."
Nevertheless, the state tests of the new Aeroflot flagship were successfully completed. The PS-124 Acceptance Commission concluded that as a result of the tests on the aircraft, only a small number of minor, easily removable defects were detected.
After testing, the giant plane was put into operation on the Moscow-Mineralnye Vody resort lines, where it served until the summer of 1941. From the beginning of the war to the end of 1942, the giant machine was used as a military transport until it crashed during an emergency landing near Tashkent. However, its mass production did not take place: it was driven out by less bulky and easy-to-operate aircraft. Unique winged car, built in a single copy, went into oblivion. In aviation museums there is not even its layout.
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