The Cradle of Military Aviation


G. G. Gorshkov
G. G. Gorshkov
On aerial navigation maps Gatchina is just a point - there are no distinguishing signs or marks - but fliers know that they are flying over a spot that has a special place in our homeland’s history: the former Gatchina aerodrome, on which, more than seventy ago, the country’s air force was born.

In 1908 Russia, not wanting to fall behind France and Germany, saw renewed efforts to develop and advance in aviation. Flying clubs were founded in Petersburg and Odessa, and General A. M Kovanko procured funds for the building of aeroplanes from M. V. Agapov, B. V. Golubov, B. F. Gebauer and A. I. Shabsky.

In the summer of 1909 four machines were brought to completion and in September were delivered to the Gatchina military field. Their trials lasted from December to the following June.

S.A.Ulyanin
S.A.Ulyanin
1909 was a significant year for Russia. In June of that year A. A. Van-der-Shkurf, a member of the Odessa flying club, made the first flight in Russia, in a “Voisin” aeroplane. The next public flight in Russia took place on 18 September in Moscow, made by the French pilot Georges Leganier, who had previously appeared with his “Voisin” biplane in Vienna and Warsaw. On 11 October he gave a further demonstration of his art in Petersburg. After protracted negotiations the military field at Gatchina was put at his disposal.

In the autumn of 1909 the General Administration of Engineering was definitively established on the Gatchina military field. It was level, and wide enough to allow landing strips to be laid out in all directions; it was near the railway station and the Salizi airfield. As Gatchina came under the jurisdiction of the Palace Department, the generals applied to it for permission to use the military field as an aerodrome. Permission was granted, and on 22 September 1909 the four machines already mentioned were transferred to Gatchina from the workshops of the aeronautical training ground. 1909 was the year of the founding of Russia’s first military aerodrome.

E. V. Rudnev
E.V.Rudnev
On 23 April 1910, General Kovanko appointed staff-captain G. G. Gorshkov to be in charge of the Gatchina aerodrome and placed ten officials under him who were familiar with aeroplane construction and the handling of motors. On 15 May, Gorshkov wrote to Kovanko: “I have the pleasure to report that yesterday, the 14th of May, the work of clearing stones from the Gatchina airfield was completed, all stones removed and all holes filled in.”

Thus in the history of the Gatchina aerodrome three significant dates may be seen: the delivery of the four aeroplanes on 22 September 1909, the flight of Leganier on 11 October of that year, and the completion of the military aerodrome in readiness for training flights on 14 May 1910. In 1910 Gatchina was home not only to the aviation department of the Officers’ Aeronautical College, but also to the All-Russian Flying Club and the flying school of the “First Russian Society of Aviators”.

The staff of the aviation department consisted of six officers, two teaching officials, fifty combatant servicemen and nineteen non-combatants. The man appointed as head of the department was Colonel S. A. Ulianin; the instructors were G. G. Gorshkov, S. A. Ulianin, and Lieutenant E. V. Rudnev from Sevastopol.

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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