Secret Russian Aircraft of WWII
In spite of the constant danger of being arrested for expressions of radical ideas and false accusations of treason, Soviet aircraft designers mastered technical hurdles astonishing even by today's standards.
The innovative aircraft include a cutting edge swept-wing Delta aircraft design from 1933; a rocket-powered fighter from 1939; a long distance fixed wing aircraft with features incorporated two decades later in the U-2 spyplane; a flying tank prototype; a submarine-bomber combination designed to attack unsuspecting enemy ships in port; and a canard wing, mid-40s aircraft that resembles a modern day Burt Rutan-designed plane.
Also examined is a 1936 Soviet rocket-power fighter, an innovation that bested the Germans by several years.
Indeed, as far back as 1937 the Russians achieved an aviation milestone that shocked the world: the first non-stop, trans-polar flight from Moscow to Washington State, a distance of over 7,000 miles.
A three man crew flying the ANT-25, brainchild of Andrei Tupolov, surprised Americans with its boldness and served as a wake-up call to the United States which was on the brink of canceling its own long distance bomber programme.
Tupolov, whose achievements include the world's first flying wing designed in 1936, followed this achievement with a totally new, high performance fighter aircraft.
Then the first wave of Stalin's paranoia struck. Driven by an irrational, unfounded fear that designers like Tupolov were collaborating with the Germans, Stalin ordered a secret police round-up of his top aviation designers. Tupolov was jailed for an indeterminate time, while other less lucky designers faced the firing squad.
However, the turning point for the Soviet Air Force was a preemptive strike by the German Luftwaffe.
On a single day, June 22, 1941, the Soviet Air Force suffered its own "Pearl Harbour" in the form of a Luftwaffe sneak attack that destroyed almost the entire Soviet Air Force. The race was now on for Russian designers to build a fighter capable of knocking out the Luftwaffe's bombers.