Our recent publication 'Imperial Russian Airforce 1898-1917' has received a rave review from the FIRE Project e-Magazine!
See below for the full text, or click here to download the PDF.
'The Soviet Revolution has dominated Russian history for two reasons. Firstly, Russia has long been a closed society where its history has been poorly reported outside its borders. A vast geographic area, with a range of climates and a mixture of races and religions, ruled by a series of strong individuals who have frequently ruled with brutality, external trade has been confined to its territorial boundaries and few have travelled extensively within the borders. From the early days of Russian history, there has been very little change, with the brief exception of the few years immediately following the ending of the Cold War. Politically, an individual or a small group has enforced its will on the Russian people. Internationally, Russia has gone through cycles of strength and weakness but has consistently sought to expand its territory under the control of Western Russians. The ending of the Cold War saw a period of confusion and the break up of the Soviet Union. Since that time, Russia has again sought to extend its territorial control, currently attempting to bully the Ukraine back under Russian domination, and again making aggressive moves against other European nations.
Secondly, the Soviet period of rule saw attempts to rewrite internal Russian history. The concentration was on painting the Soviet period as a period of great achievement against a pre-Soviet period of failure. Several of the important Russian aviation pioneers escaped Soviet rule by fleeing to the West. The Soviets were therefore not motivated to celebrate their many achievements in the final years of Imperial Russia.
Russia is and has been a series of conflicting stories. A largely agricultural feudal community before 1917, Russia was late to begin industrialization and major development did not come until the Stalinist period when significant effort was made in rapid industrial development and particularly in heavy industry. As a result, many, even within Russia, have been unaware of the early years of Russian Aviation where achievements were all the more remarkable in the absence of a well-developed industrial base.
This book goes a very long way to correctly the omissions in Russian Imperial history. This is a photo essay, but it also contains able and supportive text in introductions and captions. Most readers will probably be very surprised by how much was achieved in Russia as aviation became practical. The book demonstrates the breadth of Russian aviation achievements that include a number of important firsts. It also shows designers like Sikorski as they began their adventure in taking to the air. Sikorski is best know for his later work in the US as a designer and pioneer of helicopter technology, but as this book shows, his early work in building large aeroplanes was equally important and influenced another major line of aviation development.
Although the author has introduced sections of photographs and provided photo captions that are concise and informative, the real strength of this book is in its fine selection of photographs that are mostly unpublished in the West and almost equally rare inside Russia.
Imperial Russia was active in the design and testing of man-carrying kites, balloons, airships, heavier than air craft in the same time frame as designers in the US, Great Britain, France and Germany. In general terms, Russian aviation was similar to that of other pioneering countries before and during the Great War, but largely a result of independent approaches. After 1914 the Russians imported British and French aircraft and built some models under licence, but also continued its own developments and constructed large numbers of machines, many of which included innovative technology developed independently in Russia.
In two areas, Russia was ahead of other countries. Early efforts were made to develop helicopters, but the most notable area was in the building of very large multi-engine aircraft. The Sikorski designed Iliya Muromets were for the time giant four engine aircraft, featuring enclosed cockpits and cabins. These aircraft were advanced heavy bombers and, had the Great War and Russian Revolution not intervened, these aircraft
could well have produced large, reliable and long range passenger aircraft ahead of British and American developments.
A highly recommended book.'