Russian airships

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Russian postage stamp with the Albatross

There are only a few, partly contradicting and hardly verifiable facts about Russian and Soviet airship travel. This is due, on the one hand, to the secrecy practiced by the Soviet Union, which disclosed practically no information, and, on the other hand, to the propaganda , which often advertised large projects, but whose implementation remained in the dark.

The Russian Empire, and later the Soviet Union , bought and built some small and medium-sized airships . One of the formative people was the Italian Umberto Nobile , who spent some time in the Soviet Union in the 1930s to promote airship construction there. The construction of rigid airships was propagated by the Soviet Union, but it was never implemented.

The beginnings

In 1812 the German Leppig built an airship for Russia in Voronowo . It had the shape of a fish with a supporting structure from about the height of the longitudinal axis. The lower keel of this frame was also the nacelle. Two propellers were attached to the sides and a kind of rudder was supposed to ensure controllability at the stern. The scaffolding was damaged while it was being filled with gas, making it impossible to climb.

In 1885, the Russian space pioneer Konstantin Eduardowitsch Ziolkowski began to turn his attention to all-metal airships. Just a year later he published his study Theoria Aerostatika , which was followed in 1892 by the Aerostat Metallitscheski (theory of an all-metal airship). By his death in 1935, he had published 35 books, articles and writings on this subject. As the only all-metal airship ever built, apart from the prototype by David Schwarz from 1897, only the American ZMC-2 (1929–1941) is known.

In 1906/07 the Russian airship "Kretschet" ( German  "Gerfalke" ) was planned not least through the efforts of Lieutenant General N. Kirpichev. However, the construction work was slow. The ship was completed around 1909/10. It was powered by two 100 HP Panhard motors, each with a propeller, was 70 m long, had a volume of 6,900 m³ and was 11 meters in diameter.

In 1908 a small airship "Utschebny" (Eng. "For training" ) was built in order to use the time until the completion of the "Kretschet" for training the crew. It had a volume of 1,500 m³ and was built by Captain Schabski, an officer in the Russian army.

Russia had practical experience with airships in 1910 when it bought two airships from France . They were Zodiac airships. The construction number Zodiac VIII was called "Korschun" (German "Vulture" ) in Russia , the construction number Zodiac IX later became the Russian "Tschaika" (German "seagull" ). A 60 hp motor was used as a drive, which enabled a speed of 40 km / h. "Korschun" and "Tschaika" were 48 m long, had a diameter of 48 m and a volume of 2140 m².

The Parseval airship PL 7 , maiden voyage on October 30, 1910, was built for the Russian army. It went under the name "Grif" (Eng. "Greif" ). Its volume was 7300 m³ with a length of 70 m and 14 m diameter. Driven by two 110 hp motors, it reached a top speed of 59 km / h and a climb of 2000 m. The payload should have been up to 2100 kg.

Ukrainian postage stamp from 2011: "100 years of the first flight of the Kiev airship "

Also in 1910 the semi-rigid airship "Forssmann" (different spellings depending on the source, such as Forssman or Forszmann) was built, which was named after its designer Villehad Forssman , who belonged to the Russian army. It had a volume of only 800 m³, a length of 37 m, diameter 6 m and weighed 450 kg. In 1911 a second airship with a capacity of 600 m² was built.

On October 9, 1911, Fedir Anders undertook the first public flight of a civilian airship in the Russian Empire in Kiev on the airship "Kiev" designed and built by himself.

Golub, Sokol and Jastreb

Around 1910-11, three Russian airships were completed and handed over to the Russian Army. They were called Golub , Sokol and Jastreb (sometimes in the English spelling: "Yastreb") and corresponded to the international standard of airship technology at the time.

  • The "Golub" was delivered in 1910 with the serial number 1 of the Ischora factory ( Ижорский завод ) from Kolpino near St. Petersburg. A 75 HP Körting engine with two propellers served as drive , volume: 2,270 m³, length 46 m, diameter 9.5 m, top speed: 50 km / h. The airship “Golub” (dt. “Taube” ) was built in Relocated to Sevastopol in summer 1916 . Like the English, German and French airships, it was handed over to the Navy. It had no military value and was intended to be used to train naval pilots. But after a short time, on June 22nd, July. / July 5, 1916 greg. , tore its shell while filling it with lifting gas.
  • In 1911 the serial number 2 of the Ischora factory in Kolpino was carried by the "Sokol" (Eng. "Falcon" ). The volume was 2,500 m³, length 50 m, diameter 10 m. The drive consisted of a 100 hp de Dion Bouton engine also with two propellers. The top speed was 54 km / h.
  • The third airship was built in the Duks Works (Завод Дукс) near Moscow and was called "Jastreb" (Eng. "Habicht" ). It had a 75 hp Dansette Gillet engine with a pusher propeller and two propellers. The volume was 2,500 m², the length 50 m, the diameter 9 m. Rumor has it that it was destroyed in March 1913.

Airships in the First World War

At the beginning of the First World War , Russia had the largest airship fleet next to Germany. In the English magazine Flight International in 1913 11 airships were named (in English transcription): Parseval, Lebaudy, Astra II, Lebed, Astra I, Outcheburg II, Zodiac I, Zodiac II, Outcheburg, Forzman I and Forzman II.


The airship "Albatros" (serial number 3 of the Ischora plant in Kolpino ), built in Russia, was able to reach speeds of up to 75 km / h with eight to 12 people. It had a volume of around 8,000 to 10,000 m³, but only a service ceiling of 2,000 meters. Apparently it burst open once in 1912 when it was filled with gas. It was propelled by two Körting engines with a total of 110 kW (150 hp) and two-bladed propellers. The year of construction is given as 1914.

In 1914 this airship was ordered to sail from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast. This was impossible for the impact airship , but all preparations for this trip were made. With the beginning of the First World War, the preparations for this trip were stopped immediately.

On 12 jul. / August 25, 1914 greg. the ship was handed over to a new crew. It consisted of the commander Lieutenant Colonel B. W. Golubow, the officers I. M. Lossowski, A. P. Aturin, L. A. Lipping and the mechanics A. G. Kirotar and P. I. Tschimala.

The new crew drove the ship from St. Petersburg via Lida to Białystok . The start of the transfer was on July 15th . / August 28, 1914 greg. . At 5:30 p.m. the "Albatros" was disembarked and ascended at 6:00 p.m. The flight altitude was 200 m with a cross wind of 5 m / s. The railway line to Warsaw was used for navigation. After an engine failure, the crew lost their orientation not far from Pskov, but managed to find new landmarks after the repair.

On jul. / August 29, 1914 greg. at 2 a.m. the airship was shot at from the Dvinsk fortress at a height of 200 to 300 m . The crew lost their orientation again, but still found their way to Lida , where they arrived at 6:30.

A few days later the Tannenberg Battle began . The "Albatros" was flown to Białystok. From this city she was to undertake reconnaissance flights in the direction of Olsztyn . But strong westerly winds prevented the task from being carried out. On August 30th, Jul. / September 12, 1914 greg. the ship was ordered to bomb near the Osowiec fortress . The "Albatros" was shot at by its own (Russian) troops and had to turn back with 12 holes in the hull.

On jul. / 22nd September 1914 greg. the ship drove to Brest-Litovsk , in mid-September it returned to Białystok. Lieutenant Colonel B. W. Golubow was replaced by Captain A. I. Schabski.

On October 2nd, 3rd and 6th (15th, 16th and 19th) of October 1914, the airship made a total of six unsuccessful trips to Letzen. Four were abandoned due to strong winds, once the crew lost their orientation and once it was shot at by Russian troops. On jul. / October 26, 1914 greg. Commander A. I. Schabski lost his orientation in the fog and had to make an emergency landing. The airship was badly damaged and later scrapped.


The airship "Berkut" (Eng. "Golden Eagle" ), formerly Clément-Bayard No. 1 , built in 1910, was already out of date when the war broke out. In the summer of 1916 it was dismantled as a spare parts dispenser and its cover was used to build 9 gas tanks. With a length of 56 m and a diameter of 10.5 m, it had a volume of 3500 m³. With a Clément-Bayard drive of 105 hp, it reached 54 km / h.

Burewestnik (PL-14)

The airship “Burewestnik” (German: “Sturmvogel” ) is the former Parseval airship “PL 14”, which made its first voyage on February 27, 1913. It was prepared for combat use in Białystok in autumn 1914. Its commander was A. P. Chechulin. On December 19, 1914 Jul. / January 1, 1915 greg. the ship rose to an altitude of 1,100 meters. Bomb tests were carried out from this height. However, this height was not enough to protect the airship from anti-aircraft fire. At the end of the winter of 1915, the "Burewestnik" was damaged while being dismantled and therefore scrapped. The airship ultimately did not conduct a combat mission.

  • Length: 90
  • maximum diameter: 15.5 m
  • Volume: 9600 m³
  • Max. Speed: 67 km / h
  • Motorization: 2 times 180 HP Maybach

Chernomor 1–4

On jul. / June 22, 1916 greg. The Airship Association was founded in Sevastopol to equip the Black Sea Fleet with aircraft. The main task of the airships of the association was the fight against German submarines . Four impact airships were ordered in England. They were the usual patrol airships of the " Sea Scout " class. The ships were named Chernomor 1 to 4. "Tschernomor" (Eng. "Black Sea" ) is the name of a fictional character, the commander of the 33 warriors, from the poem The Tale of Tsar Saltan by Alexander Pushkin .

These airships had unreliable engines: "Tschernomor 1" and "Tschernomor 2" were disarmed due to the frequent failures of the engines during the missions. "Tschernomor 3" burned on March 24th July. / April 6, 1917 greg. in the hall. As a result, “Chernomor 4” was not even unpacked and remained in its original delivery packaging from England.

Between the world wars

"Krasnaya Zvezda"

In the autumn of 1920, the airship Astra , which was originally built in France, was reconstructed in Petrograd (today St. Petersburg) . It had a volume of 12,000 m³ and was then renamed "Krasnaya Zvezda" (Red Star). It made five successful trips before an accident occurred in the spring of 1921.

The world war, revolution and civil war had interrupted the development of airships in Russia. The first small Soviet Russian airship was not built until 1920. Two more were added in 1925, the larger of them, the small airship "Moskowski Chimik-Resinschtschik" (German: "Moscow Rubber Chemist" ) left its hangar on June 14, 1926 for the first time. It was the third airship built in the USSR and had a volume of 2,400 m³. The aircraft designer Andrei Tupolew , who works at ZAGI , designed the four-person gondola . An ambitious five-year plan produced a number of small experimental impact airships from 1928 to 1932. They were designed to test the feasibility, to train crews and to prepare for the production of larger airships. To the astonishment of the population, who had never seen such vehicles before, these first ships made some voyages across Moscow and the surrounding area.

One of them was probably the impact airship planned in 1929. The newspaper " Komsomolskaya Pravda " organized the necessary funds through a fundraising campaign. On August 31, 1930 the maiden voyage of the airship, named "Komsomolskaya Pravda" in honor of the newspaper, took place over Moscow. The ship was officially designated CCCP-B4 (USSR-W4). Photos from 1933 and 1934 show an impact airship with a corrugated iron gondola suspended from ropes under the ship , which has a large newspaper lettering on the shell in addition to the ship's name.

The next three ships built in 1932 in Leningrad by the newly created airship construction department were given the designation W 1-3. They had a volume of 2,200, 5,010 and 6,500 cubic meters. Although W-2 was destroyed after a short time, the others drove as far as the Black Sea and demonstrated the versatility of airships in mail, passenger and cargo transport and their special suitability for long distances within the country and their functionality under unfavorable climatic conditions Conditions.

CCCP-B3 (USSR-W3) had a volume of 6,500 m³. It was powered by two 2 piston engines with 240 hp each and could reach a top speed of 100 km / h. The length was 63.5 m. The gondola was suspended from ropes and struts at a certain distance. This design should probably reduce the fire hazard of the hydrogen-filled envelope. Even Vera Djomina , the world's first Luftschiffkommandantin, went on this ship.

Nobile in the Soviet Union

Not least because of visits to large airships such as the Norge and LZ 127 "Graf Zeppelin" , the desire to build large airships also grew in the Soviet Union. The Italian airship designer Umberto Nobile was therefore invited to promote airship construction in the Soviet Union. This decision was approved by Stalin himself, while Mussolini , hoping for good propaganda for Italy, agreed.

Nobile moved to Moscow in May 1932. However, he was at the very beginning. The building yard, located in the Moscow area, had neither an airship hangar, nor workshops or materials. The future airship builders didn't even have drawing tables or paper, instead they had to use the backs of old maps and furniture they had found themselves. 80 young technicians, 30 design engineers and the airship training school, which trained technicians for the upcoming great deeds of the Soviet Union, were assigned to Nobile. Another 500 students were enrolled there.

The design and construction of the airship began after many hurdles in the summer of 1933.

As usual for Stalin and the Soviet Union, such projects were not given the sole responsibility of a foreigner. Independently of Nobile, Soviet technicians built a semi-rigid airship with a volume of 9,150 m³ in 1934. It received the designation СССР-В7 "Челюскинец" ( USSR-W7 Tscheljuskinez). (According to the source: "The Great Zeppelins", the W7 was a 38,000 m³ ship built by Trojani, Nobile and Katanski in 1934).

A photo shows a twin-engine airship landing in the water, the shell of which is labeled "СССР-В7" and whose proportions correspond to a 9,000 m³ airship.

However, only a few days after its completion on August 10, 1934, it was destroyed by fire in its wooden airship hangar in Dolgoprudny near Moscow. The USSR-W4 and USSR-W5 , which were also housed there, also burned . The cause of the fire is not entirely clear. Allegedly, this fire could occur because a proposed lightning rod had not been installed by then. This loss, after the effort made, called an investigative commission of the dreaded OGPU , a predecessor of the Soviet secret service KGB , on the scene. All activities were stopped out of fear of greater difficulties.

The USSR-W7 appeared to be bewitched. Newly destroyed in the airship hangar, it was replaced in the spring of 1935 by a ship with the designation СССР-В7бис "Челюскинец" ( USSR-W7bis Tscheljuskinez). This ship was also destroyed on its maiden voyage on the night of October 24, 1935. The route should lead from Gatchina to Petrozavodsk and back again. On the way back, however, the ship ran out of fuel a few hundred kilometers from the destination due to strong winds and drifted towards Finland for several hours. The commander decided to make an emergency landing, and the ship got caught in a power line and burned. One crew member died. The overflight over Petrozavodsk was documented in the newspaper "Krasnaya Karelija" on October 24th with a short note: On October 23rd, 1935 the airship "USSR-53" (model "Tscheljuskinez W-7") flew over Petrozavodsk. After several loops and a full lap, it flew on towards Leningrad.

Nobile's work continued, however. The W6 made its maiden voyage on November 5, 1934. Two days later, the ship sailed through Moscow as part of the celebrations for the October Revolution. W6 was popularized in "OSOAWIACHIM" (ОСОАВИАХИМ = Всесоюзное общество содействия авиаций и химической обороне, an organization that consisted of aviation, renamed the general public in support of aviation, 1927 and renamed the chemical organization in support of aviation, 48. The ship was a further development of the Italia with a length of approx. 106 m and a volume of 19,400 m³.

All airships built during Nobile's stay in the Soviet Union from 1931 to 1936 were intended for passenger transport. The СССР-В6 (dt. USSR-W6 ) was supposed to drive the line between Moscow and Sverdlovsk , but could not be used because there were no airship hangars , anchor masts and refueling facilities. It was not until 1936 that an anchor mast was finally erected in Sverdlovsk and a successful test drive was carried out. The W6 Nobile was the biggest success of the Soviet lighter-than-air fleet will and also the largest ever built in the USSR airship. In October 1937 it broke the endurance record for airships of all classes with a journey time of 130 hours and 27 minutes. The distance covered was allegedly around 5000 km.

In February 1938, however, it went into its disaster. The drifting Arctic station "North Pole-1" under the direction of Iwan Papanin drifted on a floe towards Greenland, where it began to break up. The three icebreakers Taimyr , Jermak and Murman were then sent to the rescue, but since they were making slow progress, W6 was also launched with Nikolai Gudowanzew as commander to pick up the researchers. On February 5, however, it collided with a mountain in bad weather near Kandalaksha . In the accident, 13 inmates lost their lives and six survived. The researchers on the ice floe were eventually saved by the icebreakers. The urns of the crew members who were killed were buried in a specially built memorial complex in Moscow's Novodevichy Convent . It is believed that this disaster was also the reason for the end of this Soviet airship construction program.

Another airship from Nobile, the W8 with a volume of 9,500 m³ the same size as the W7 , was decommissioned after only two years in 1938. It had too low a payload and unsuitable aircraft engines were installed.

At that time Umberto Nobile had already returned to Italy. This interrupted the flow of information about airship construction in the Soviet Union, but activities continued.

The largest airship to date, the USSR-W9 , was under construction in 1936. With a volume of 25,000 m³, it should have eight cabins for 16 passengers including a smoking room and an electric kitchen. There is no evidence that the ship was ever completed. There is also no further information about the airship W10 , which made test flights over Moscow in May 1938.

In most countries, airship travel came to a standstill after the Hindenburg disaster in 1937. However, the Soviet Union said it would not be discouraged and would even step up airship activities. She wanted to fill her airships with lifting gas from the newly discovered helium deposits. However, the major airship building programs were over.

Only a few impact airships were built that also took part in World War II.

Around 1937 there was also commercial use of the airship. Airship production facilities were located in Leningrad and at the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (ZAGI) near Moscow.

Many Soviet postage stamps show airships, but it is difficult to distinguish between real ships and projects. We know of a poster from 1931 calling for an airship fleet to be built in Lenin's name.

Second World War

During World War II , the Soviet Union owned three airships that supported the Red Army .

  • "USSR-W1" (СССР-В1): was the most successful airship developed by the Soviet Union after the First World War. The first flight took place in early 1932. Five years later, on April 7, 1937, it rose for the first time with a female crew. After the hull and the engines were replaced a little later, the airship drove again for the first time on May 1, 1939 under the designation "USSR-W1bis". During the Second World War it supplied the field airmen (captive balloon units) of the Red Army with material. In March 1940, the government ordered the ship to be dismantled and put into storage. In April 1942, the airship, now under the name "USSR-W12" (СССР-В12), was put back into operation. The volume was 3,000 m³, the maximum speed 80 km / h, with a payload of up to 1,100 kg. Later the core components were used to build the airship "USSR-W12bis" with the nickname "Patriot". Presumably it was a thorough overhaul and the replacement of the shell. The airship W12 made 556 trips in 1943 and 414 in 1944 with a total duration of 1284 hours. It was in use without accidents during the entire war. After the war ended, the ship was used to assess the forests in the north of the country. In 1947 it was caught by a gust of wind when it entered the hall and pressed against the hall gates. One of the electrical lines for the door operator struck sparks over the shell, igniting the hydrogen gas. The airship burned down half closed. However, the commander Vladimir Ustinowitsch managed to drop everyone on board so that no one was harmed.
  • "Победа" ( Pobeda 'Victory'), built in 1944: It helped to search for wrecks and sea mines in the Black Sea region after the Second World War.
  • "Малыш" ( Malysch , Child ',' tot ')

The ships USSR-W12 and “Pobeda” made 216 journeys in 1945 with a total duration of 382 hours. During the Second World War, they transported around 200,000 m³ of hydrogen and around 320 t of cargo for the Red Army. In total, the Soviet airships made over 1,500 trips during the Second World War.

After the Second World War

AU-30 at MAKS 2007

The airships were valuable after the war for communication with remote areas, airfields and for scientific research. The last passenger ship, the "Patriot", entered service in 1946. But as early as 1950, the regular domestic airship trips were ended. The airship era was thus over for the time being.

In 1968 a test airship was tested in a conventional design. It was 50 meters long with a load capacity of 1,100 kg and a speed of 100 km / h. At that time, two other types of airship were planned:

  • "Novosibirsk 1" should be an impact airship with a length of 55, a diameter of 12 meters and a payload of 1,000 kg.
  • "Novosibirsk 2" should have a length of 154 meters and a diameter of 36 meters. Its two engines should enable a speed of 120 km / h. The payload is 30,000 kg.

Nothing further is known about the progress of these two projects.

In 1982 it was decided to build two test samples of large transport devices using the Lighter Than Air system. The program was carried out by the Orgenergostroi Institute. Successful tests took place in the city of Berjozowski (near Sverdlovsk ) as early as the summer of 1982 . The manned test model "Ural 3" was used. The airship had a length of 20, a height of 18 and a width of 7 meters with a load capacity of 500 kg. A motorcycle engine with two propellers provided propulsion. 50 km / h were reached, although due to the unusual shape, a higher speed was neither possible nor planned. A version with a three-ton payload was planned for series production. There were also larger studies. The airship was supposed to serve as a flying crane. However, applications in agriculture and forestry were also considered.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union , some private companies were formed in Russia that deal with airships: for example Augur Luftfahrtsysteme with its subsidiary RosAeroSystems , which in addition to gas airships (e.g. Au-11 and Au-12 ) also produce hot air airships AV-1R and Au-29 manufactures. Work is also in progress on an eight-seat airship Au-30 (as of mid-2005).

See also


  • Reinhardt Becker: Russian and Soviet aviation . In: Wolfgang Sellenthin (Ed.): Fliegerkalender der DDR 1974 . Military Publishing House , Berlin 1974, p. 183-194 .

Web links

Commons : Soviet Airships  - Collection of Images
Commons : Russian Airships  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. George Whale: British Airships: Past, Present and Future. Europäische Hochschulverlag, Bremen 2011, ISBN 978-3-8457-1073-0 , Chapter 2; Section "GERMANY". (English)
  2. a b Václav Němeček: Vojenská letadla . Letadla první světové války. tape 1 . Naše Vojsko, Prague 1974, ISBN 80-206-0115-5 , p. 92/93 .
  3. ^ Günter Schmitt, Werner Schwipps: Pioneers of early aviation . Transpress, Berlin 1990, ISBN 3-8112-1189-7 , pp. 64 .
  4. a b c d e f g h D'Orcy's airship manual; an international register of airships with a compendium of the airship's elementary mechanics; October 1917; The Century co. New York; P. 171; online at ; last accessed on February 13, 2017
  5. Myths and Truths about the airship designer FF Anders by Tetjana Nikitjuk; Page 4, right column; accessed on April 29, 2017 (Russian)
  6. a b c D'Orcy's airship manual; an international register of airships with a compendium of the airship's elementary mechanics; October 1917; The Century co. New York; P. 169; online at ; last accessed on October 7, 2016
  7. ^ Navy League And Aviation in Flight International of March 29, 1913, p. 370; online in the flight archive: PDF S.369 and PDF S.370
  8. ^ Rudolf Höfling: Tupolew. Airplanes since 1922. Motorbuch, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-613-03459-4 , p. 17.
  9. Reinhardt Becker: The Russian and Soviet aviation . In: Wolfgang Sellenthin (Ed.): Fliegerkalender der DDR 1974 . Military Publishing House , Berlin 1973, p. 193-194 .
  10. Photo from USSR-W7 at ( Memento from November 10, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  11. a b Information on the accident in USSR-W7 at (accessed: February 5, 2006)
  12. Chris George: Airship disaster in the Soviet Union - The failed rescue trip. In: Flieger Revue. 01/2010, pp. 54 and 55.