Small wings of Smolensk region
The aircraft plant in Smolensk is scarcely known, but is an absolute reality. While driving to the enterprise in Pokrovka (on the right-bank side of Smolensk) where the facility is located you can see that everything here is linked to the aviation: road signs carry “flying” pictographs, a real Yak-40 stands on the pedestal at a road junction, and finally there is the plant itself with an immense territory and a monument to Chkalov. When you read the history of the city you are definite to turn the aircraft page. After the Soviet disintegration the role of Smolensk aircraft industry in the Russian economy increased. Although the aircraft production base in the region lived through hard times, it definitely has good prospects. The status of an aircraft province is important for Smolensk image and prestige and provides a possibility to use aircraft production for resolving urgent economic problems: transportation, environmental, agricultural, tourism… The development of small aviation in Smolensk region can promote the tasks and is in line with the economic modernization policy in the country. Director General of Smolensk Aircraft Plant Alexander Miroshkin speaks about the history and present days of the enterprise.
RICH EXPERIENCE, GLORIOUS HISTORY
The idea to build the plant in Smolensk belongs to the youngest Soviet Marshal of the ‘30s Tukhachevsky. While in command of the Western front he urged in a letter to Smolensk regional authorities in 1923 to assist in the construction of an aircraft plant on the basis of existing repair workshops. The construction began in late 1925 and in November 1926 a gala start-up ceremony of the Smolensk repairs and aircraft works #3 took place. Soon it repaired and commissioned the first batch of aircraft and engines and later switched to serial aircraft repairs.
In 1934 the Main aircraft department of the Soviet Heavy Industry Ministry ordered to create at Smolensk plant a special design bureau to produce flying craft for the stratosphere and super-long flights. Aircraft designer Chizhevsky was appointed to head the bureau, which produced gondolas for the first Soviet stratostats Osoviakhim-1 and USSR-2, as well as aircraft of the BOK-1 series. Distinguished pilots visited the plant to inspect and test experimental craft – Chkalov, Gromov, Yumashev, Osipenko, Baidukov, Stefanovsky, Danilin, Spirin, and Belyakov.
On the threshold of 1937-1938 the enterprise fulfilled an important state order to produce several light variants of the serial R-5 aircraft to evacuate the team of Polar explorers led by Papanin from drifting ice.
In 1939-1941 the plant was readying to launch serial production of the latest Il-2 aircraft, but the war disrupted the plans. The enterprise was evacuated. Smolensk residents comprised 90 percent of the skilled workforce of the new enterprise that was launched in the rear, in Kuibyshev (Samara). The Il- 2 equipment and machine tools evacuated from Smolensk helped launch production at a new place.
The aircraft enterprise in Smolensk was completely ruined during the war. None of the 23 production premises remained. However already in 1944 the repairs of combat aircraft Il-2, La-5, Yak-7, and La-7 began here. The planes took off from Smolensk directly to the frontline.
After the war the Smolensk aircraft plant began to produce airfield equipment: from stepladders to launching trolleys that start up jet engines and devices to test hydraulic aircraft systems. In the following years the facility produced aircraft of Mikoyan, Chelomei, Ilyushin, Yakovlev, Bereznyak, and Lavochkin design bureaus. The enterprise prepared and launched the production of Il-62 assemblies. From 1965 it mastered serial production of the wings for passenger Yak-40 planes. Ready-made wings were supplied to Saratov aircraft facility for final assembly. The enterprise later launched the production of Yak-18T aircraft that took off for the first time in May 1973. Over 500 aircraft were produced until 1983. A test batch of wings was produced for the acrobatic Yak-50 plane. Up to 1982 the enterprise produced both ready-made Yak-42, as well as accessories in cooperation with Saratov aircraft facility. In 1980s the plant produced assemblies for the Soviet Buran space shuttle.
SMALL AVIATION TAKE-OFF
In the 1980s the Smolensk aircraft plant switched to small aircraft production and also fulfilled defense ministry orders (it continues to fulfill the orders today as it is part of the Russian corporation Technical Missile Armaments). In the 1980s the high-altitude Geofisica M-55 plane was prepared for production. It was intended for ecological monitoring and anti-hail protection. The M-55 took off for the maiden flight in 1988. In the difficult 1990s the enterprise resumed the production of Yak-18T for export and produced a trial batch of light Yak-112 planes intended to carry a small number or passengers, train pilots, and accomplish patrol and sanitary missions. The light multi-purpose SM-92 Finist aircraft and the patrol variant of SM-92P for the Russian federal border service made their first flights. In the early 2000s a turboprop SM-2000 plane was designed. Yak-40 and Yak-40D planes were developed into the so-called administrative variants. Trial model of SM-94-1 plane was produced, which is a modification of Yak-18T. The plant participated in the production of the first trial model of combat training Yak-130 aircraft. Six-seat amphibious plane SM-92T has been recently tested.
In 2007-2009 the Smolensk aircraft plant produced 60 modernized Yak-18T aircraft of the 36th series for civil aviation schools. At the end of the production program the enterprise produced four aircraft a month, 11 planes were repaired and modernized. We were ready to keep the production pace, however the contract was terminated although the produced number of craft was insufficient for aviation schools.
General-purpose aviation or the so-called small aviation is an efficient and promising guideline today. It is in demand for health services, geological prospecting, agriculture, environmental monitoring, and aerial photography. Business development in our immense country also depends on small aviation. According to world statistics, there are a hundred take-offs and landings of general-purpose aircraft per ten take-offs and landings of big airliners on average. However, improper national legislation does not allow domestic small aviation to develop in full swing and, as a result, foreign general-purpose aircraft enjoy advantages. It is planned the total Russian air fleet will be considerably expanded by 2015, however remote and hard-of-access areas still remain “overboard”. If in 1991 the country had over 1000 operating local airfields, the number dropped to 350 today. To compare: the United States uses over 6000 takeoff runways, airfields for general-purpose aircraft, and airports for airliners. The country has 200 thousand small aircraft. In our country, according to the estimates of the Russian Transport Ministry, the general-purpose aviation has slightly over 10 thousand aircraft. There is no demand for many promising domestic designs (including of our Smolensk aircraft plant), although experts estimate the small aviation could create a market of communication services worth 200 billion rubles a year in seven-ten years.
The Smolensk aircraft plant has a rich production experience and can considerably contribute to general-purpose aviation development in the country. A whole family of new light planes designed in Smolensk has been regularly presented at MAKS and Hydroaviation air shows and the Siberian International Aerospace Show SAKS-2004.
By Yuri SHILOV