Military Review

Forgotten Zeppelin Giants


11 April 1915 for the first time took off the first German heavy multi-engined aircraft VGO.I. The first Russian aircraft of a similar class, the Russian Vityaz (aka C-21, aka Big Baltic, aka Grand), for the first time took off the 10 in May of the 1913, that is, Russia was ahead of Germany in creating such cars by almost two years. And in the UK, France and the United States, similar aircraft appeared even later.

The chief designer of VGO.I was Count Ferdinand Zeppelin, widely known for his airships, but already in 1914, he realized that the future belongs to aircraft heavier than air. In the same year he began to develop a heavy bomber. Not being able to stop building airships, as military orders for them were binding, he organized a new venture with the Gotha Aircraft Company specifically for building airplanes, calling it "Vershchsbau Gotha Ost" (abbreviated as "Gotha-Ost"). VGO. Versuchsbau is translated from German as "experimental" or "experimental production."

The count attracted a team of young talented aircraft designers, including Ernst Heinkel, Claudio Dornier and Adolf Rohrbach, to work on the project. The power plant was developed by an outstanding engine engineer, Wilhelm Maybach, and the electrical system was designed by Oscar Wilke and Robert Bosch. Not to the side and the future father of metal aircraft Hugo Junkers. Hardly ever again so many "rising stars" gathered under the roof of one KB.

The overall concept of the car was based on the pre-war project of a transcontinental passenger aircraft by the professor of aerodynamics Helmut Hirt. Undoubtedly, the first in the world four-engine bomber "Ilya Muromets" had a definite influence on the developers. However, the German aircraft can not be considered either a copy or analogue of the Sikorsky apparatus. With the exception of the biplane scheme generally accepted at the time, they do not show common features.

VGO.I was a three-engine biplane with one pulling and two pushing screws. One engine was located in the nose of the fuselage and two more in carefully profiled aluminum nacelles suspended between the planes on the legs of the biplane box. This arrangement made it possible to get by with relatively short landing gear when using large diameter screws with high efficiency. The wingspan of VGO.I reached 42 meters, which made it the largest aircraft in the world, and this title remained with him and his followers until the end of the First World War. For comparison, the frames of the upper wing of the “Muromts” did not exceed 34 meters.

The aircraft Osnat six-cylinder single-row liquid-cooled engines "Maybach" Mb.IV, similar to those that were on Zeppelin airships, For its time, these were quite powerful engines that developed to 245 hp. on takeoff mode. However, the reliability of their work, as they say, left much to be desired, due to which three mechanics had to be included in the crew, two of whom were seated in the engine nacelles. The total team size was originally 5 people.

After successfully completing the factory tests of the machine, they installed weapons: two Parabellum machine guns in the front parts of the nacelle and two more machine guns in the fuselage, behind a biplane box, one of which was pointing up and the other down. The crew additionally introduced two shooters, which were also placed in the fuselage, and from the gondola machine guns, if necessary, the mechanics had to fire.

In this form, the aircraft was sent for military trials on the eastern front. There he made combat missions as a long-range reconnaissance aircraft (there were no bomb hangers on him) until he crashed while landing, undermining the landing gear. To repair the car returned to the factory. There it was not only repaired, but two more “Maybachs” were installed in the engine nacelles in tandem with the previous ones. Thus, the device became five-engined, for each side screw worked on two engines. This made it possible to significantly increase the payload and turn the car into a full-fledged bomber, but again it did not hit the front.

In December, 1915-th disaster struck. In one of the test flights, immediately after separation from the runway, the right propulsion unit jammed on the airplane. Due to the asymmetry of the thrust, VGO.I sharply spun to the right, the pilots did not have time to counter the unfolding moment and the car crashed into a corner of the airship hangar on the edge of the airfield. Both pilots were killed, and the plane was completely broken and could not be restored. However, this did not lead to the closure of the program, since by that time the second prototype of VGO.II had already flown, which was initially made five-engine.

On the screen saver: VGO.I during flight tests, weapons have not yet been established.

Drawing of the front of the fuselage VGO.I. One can see the pilots' seats and the nose motor. The frame of the aircraft was made of wood and reinforced with wire braces.

VGO.I before and after the first upgrade.

VGO.I at the frontline airport Alt Auz in Lithuania.

Emergency landing VGO.I.

The crash of VGO.I at the airfield in Sneidemühl. Please note that the aircraft fuselage is sheathed with transparent cellon, obviously, to reduce visibility.

To be continued.
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  1. Bayonet
    Bayonet April 15 2016 07: 05
    In 1917, Zeppelin’s most sophisticated bomber appeared - R XIV Five 260-strong Maybachs took off into the air, four of which were placed in tandem wing installations, and the fifth in the nose of the fuselage. The relatively high power supply allowed the giant to bear the combat load fantastic at that time - over 4 tons. For comparison: "Ilya Muromets" raised up to 500 kg of bombs, and the best English and French heavy bombers - a little more than a ton. The flight range with a standard load of two tons of bombs was 1300 kilometers.
    Zeppelin-Staaken R. XIV
    1. Foofighter
      Foofighter April 16 2016 10: 27
      Well, why did you have to compare the very first reconnaissance modification of the Sikorsky aircraft with this, which appeared many years later?
      the British made it even harder at the very end of the war, and it didn’t surpass in all respects

      there was a tail firing point on this German, which was on the "Ilya Muromets" because of which they were able to knock down only one plane during the whole war, and that because the gunner's machine gun stuck? laughing
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  2. Mordvin 3
    Mordvin 3 April 15 2016 07: 15
    I recall the words of Kaiser Willie, who arrived at the intended landing site for the airship. He did not wait, spat, and said: "so that he burst, this unfortunate bubble" The wish was heard, the count ran into a dried pear. laughing
    1. kotvov
      kotvov April 15 2016 12: 25
      I recall the words of Kaiser Willy ,,,
      it can be seen not in that, the thought is material laughing
  3. Amurets
    Amurets April 15 2016 07: 26
    At one time there was a series of articles about the 1st World War heavy bombers. But it was never mentioned that the future color of German co-designers was involved in the work of the Gotha company, and it was never mentioned that they were headed by Count Ferdinand Zipplin. And how much I read about Zippelin, not I remember that he was mentioned as an airplane designer. Everywhere stood the designer Ursinus, or Burkhard-Rezner
    The article is interesting. Thank you. Made me remember these planes again. And I remembered it because the use of the Ilya Muromets planes made an indelible impression on the Germans and the Allies in the Entente.
  4. Jääkorppi
    Jääkorppi April 15 2016 10: 02
    German bomber aircraft. October 1917 - Mozund! Sarmat! The attack of German airplanes on the Russian battery. A fragment of an air bomb pierces the oak door of a powder cellar. As a result of the explosion, about 70 killed and wounded including the battery commander.
    1. Foofighter
      Foofighter April 16 2016 10: 33
      wrong scale ... bully google "the most effective raid of Ilya Muromets".
      and they flew the whole war losing only one plane
    2. The comment was deleted.
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  6. Verdun
    Verdun April 15 2016 10: 49
    Pleased with the speed of air battles of that time. I read that on the largest of the Gota bombers of that time, engine speed control was carried out not from the cab, but by mechanics located in the nacelles. And they received the necessary orders by airmail!
  7. Dekabrev
    Dekabrev April 16 2016 22: 50
    But the fact that "Ilya Muromets" was the most beautiful of all heavy aircraft of that time is for sure.
  8. Dekabrev
    Dekabrev April 16 2016 22: 58
    Ilya Muromets only chic power engines were not enough. Once Ilya Muromets was shot at by German fighters and a crew member was injured. And all because the guys in flight in the carts decided to spread. When the Germans fired at them, the men seized machine guns and dispersed the Germans. I don’t remember exactly, it seems that one was shot down.
    1. Foofighter
      Foofighter April 19 2016 02: 05
      It seems that they shot a lot during the whole war and the Germans were even forbidden to half-fly towards them, hollowed at them with anti-aircraft artillery, and only one was shot down.
  9. Mikhail Matyugin
    Mikhail Matyugin April 19 2016 02: 29
    Quote: kotvov
    I recall the words of Kaiser Willy ,,,
    it can be seen not in that, the thought is material

    Especially thought is material for sacred personalities standing at the head of states.

    Quote: Verdun
    And they received the necessary orders by airmail!
    Well, yes, there was such a thing, almost the only case. But the main thing is - they flew!