Aces of the First World War

P. N. Nesterov
P. N. Nesterov
Pyotr Nikolaevich Nesterov arrived at the Officers’ Aeronautical School in 1911, and after graduating successfully was assigned to the aviation department at Gatchina. Here, on September 28 1912, he passed his pilot-aviator’s examination, and on October 5 that of military pilot. Gatchina’s aviation crews and colleges were already attracting renown for their daring and their exceptional mastery of flying techniques. Nesterov’s close friends knew that he originated the idea of “looping the loop”, something which was imagined in the aviation department to be impossible. All innovation and creativity in this direction had failed, as Lieutenant Nesterov knew from personal experience.

In the spring of 1913 Nesterov was transferred with his division to Kiev. With his comrades he worked out a detailed plan for realising his audacious idea, analysing the aerodynamic properties of this new, advanced manoeuvre. A scheme for “looping the loop”, written in his own hand, has survived, in which he works out with great precision the required height (800 – 1000 metres), the trajectory for the dive without the engine running (up to a height of 600 – 700 metres), and other well-founded and clearly set out elements of the new manoeuvre. And of the historic day, 27 August 1913, the newspaper “The Kievian” wrote two days later: “On 27 August, at the Siretsky aerodrome in Kiev, a significant event in the sphere of aviation took place. The military pilot Lieut. Nesterov, flying a ‘Nieuport’ built by the Russian ‘Duks’ factory, achieved the feat of ‘looping the loop’.”

This bold and well-prepared experiment was considered by Nesterov to be the first step in the development of advanced flying techniques - the significance of which for the aerial battles of the time can hardly be overestimated.

On 24 November 1913 the governing board of the Kiev aeronautical society and scientific-technical society, presided over by Major-General P. I. Verbitsky unanimously decided to present Lieutenant Nesterov, in the name of the Kiev aeronautical society, a gold medal “for being the first in the world to solve, at the risk of his own life, the question of banking vertically during flight.”

In the First World War Nesterov engaged with Austrian planes on the south-western front. The Russian forces were particularly plagued by the “Albatrross” aeroplane, which appeared daily above their aerodrome in the Zholkva region of Lvov province. On 26 August 1914 the “Albatross appeared twice. On the first occasion, it is said, the adversary fled before Nesterov, but it soon appeared again. And it was then that Pyotr Nikolaevich decided to attack. According to Lieutenants V Sokolov and A. Kovanko minor, who witnessed the event, the Austrian flew to a height of 1000-1500 metres. Nesterov in his high-speed “Moran” cut across the path of the “Albatross”, and circled above his adversary. The Austrian tried to flee once more, diving with his engine at full throttle. Nesterov’s manoeuvre was swift and decisive: “Nesterov came up from behind,” writes the researcher K. I. Trunov, caught up with the Austrian and struck at the ‘Albatross’ as a falcon strikes at a clumsy heron. The bright wings of the ‘Moran’ flashed in the air and it crashed into the Austrian aeroplane. It was five minutes past twelve. Following the attack, the ‘Moran’ began to fall in a spiral. The engine became detached, and fell to the ground 130 metres from the aircraft. The moment when Nesterov was thrown clear of the plane could not be determined with certainty. By some accounts it was at the moment of collision, by others some time later.”

This was the first instance of “aerial ramming” in the history of aviation, and the death of this courageous airman is rightly regarded as heroic. By a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on 3 December 1951, the town of Zholkva in Lvov oblast was renamed Nesterov. At the site of the heroic airman’s death a memorial obelisk was placed. The memory of Pyotr Nikolaevich lives on in Gatchina. By a resolution of the executive committee of the Gatchina town soviet on 16 July 1949, Orangery Street in Gatchina was renamed Airman Nesterov Street. By this resolution a memorial plaque was fixed to house no. 16 on Chkalov Street, where Nesterov had lived, with the inscription: “In this house in 1912 lived the prominent Russian aviator Pyotr Nikolaevich Nesterov, a pioneer of high-altitude flying, credited with the first instance of ‘aerial ramming’ in the history of aviation.”

K. K. Artseulov
K. K. Artseulov
One of the most outstanding representatives of Russian aviation was Konstantin Konstantinovich Artseulov, grandson of the famous artist I. K. Aivazovsky.

Artseulov was in Gatchina from the autumn of 1910. His studies, which included gaining flying experience in gliders, went smoothly; on 25 July 1911 he passed his examinations and received his pilot’s diploma, becoming an “aviator of the All-Russian Imperial Aero-Club”.

On 21 May 1916, Ensign Artseulov was ordered to Moscow to undergo training on aircraft equipped with destructive weapons. In September of that year he began the organisation of a destructive weapons department in the Sevastopol flying school. On the training programme there, high-altitude flying predominated. But because of errors in the trainee pilots’ technique, instances of planes falling into a spin – with tragic results – had become more and more frequent, which was a cause of great concern to Artseulov. While still at Gatchina aerodrome he had been reminded of the deaths of Captain Dmitriev and Lieutenant Serov; this melancholy roster was extended with the names of the aviators Stoyanovsky, Sinelnikov, Artemev and others. In Kacha, too, instances of spin became more frequent. Even after Artseulov’s arrival, six out of the school’s eight “Farman” planes had been destroyed as a result of spin, and all their pilots killed.

Without going into details, and at the risk of some simplification, we may say that Artseulov rightly judged the essential point of the problem to be that when an aircraft has fallen into a spin, the airstream flows around it at too large an angle from below and from the side, and this is what causes the plane to rotate, without possibility of correction, around its own axis.

To put his conclusions to the test, Artseulov deliberately put his “Niuport-XXI” plane into a spin and succeeded in coming out of it. Thus the talented aviator confirmed his assumptions and conclusions. Spin had been conquered! The lives of hundreds of aviators were saved thanks to this method, which he had deduced in theory and demonstrated in practice, of bringing a plane out of a spin. This event passed imperishably into the annals of aviation, and the name of Artseulov became immortal.

The Main Page |  The Dawn of Aeronautics |  The Cradle of Military Aviation  |  The Shchetinin Flying School in Gatchina |  Kotelnikov’s Parachute  |  Aces of the First World War |  Red Pilots |  The Chkalov Squadron |  Leningrad’s Southern Outpost |  Gatchina’s Bomb-blasts |  The Light of Memory |  About the author
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