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Aeroplanes of Lebedev's Factory.

During World War I, Russian aviation was armed mainly with French aircraft, such as those by Farman, Voisin, and Nieuport, that were purchased abroad or built in Russia under license. Some Russian designers, including Vasily Slesarev, Jakov Gakkel, and Vladimir Savel'yev created original aircraft, but these were not developed beyond the experimental stage. A few Russian designers managed to create successful aircraft that went into production for the Russian army, notably Sikorsky's Il'ya Muromets four-engine bomber and Grigorovich's M-5 and M-9 flying boats. Also in this category was the two-seat reconnaissance Lebed-XII, one of the few production airplanes of Russian design of the period. It was produced in series at Vladimir Lebedev's factory in Petrograd between 1916 and 1918, with more than 200 built during the war years and after the revolution for the Red Army until 1920.

Vladimir Alexandrovich Lebedev was born in St. Petersburg in 1879. While studying for a law degree from St. Petersburg Imperial University, he was the Russian bicycle racing champion. In France in 1908, he observed the flight of a Wright brothers' airplane. The following year, Vladimir Lebedev and his brother, Aleksandr, a professor at the Imperial Polytechnic Institute, built a glider that made a series of successful flights near St. Petersburg. Vladimir Lebedev became an active member of the All-Russian Aero Club and wrote for Vestnik vozdukhoplavanya (The Herald of Aeronautics) magazine. In March 1910, these activities gained him admission to the Henry Farman flying school in France. By April, Lebedev had earned his wings. He passed his examinations, qualifying for the rank of pilot-aviator, and soon returned to Russia. Awarded flying diploma No. 98, he became the third Russian to graduate from the French aero club. In June, Lebedev completed several successful demonstration flights at Gatchina airfield, f requently taking Russian officers aloft. As a result of those flights, many of the officers later became military pilots.

Lebedev had brought with him a Farman-IV and, beginning in August, began to train students at the All-Russian Aeronautic Club's flying school on Gatchina airfield. Lebedev was soon appointed the head and chief pilot of the flying school. Besides performing as a flight instructor, he became a test pilot, flying the first Russian-built biplanes, the Rossiya-A and Rossiya-B, and setting an endurance record of fifteen minutes. That autumn, he flight tested the Sommer biplane, built at the Russian-Baltic Carriage Works.

Also in 1910, the Lebedev brothers, along with Captain Sergei Ul'yanin and a businessman named Lomach established Peterburgskoye tovarishchestvo aviatsii (the Petersburg Aviation Company (PTA). The newly organized company won an order from the army's Central Engineering Department to build a folding or demountable aircraft. The contract specified that the disassembled airplane be capable of reassembly and put in fighting trim within two hours. Completed on January 26, 1911, military biplane PTA No. 1 was a modified Farman IV, distinguished from the French model by its reduced wing area and featured a gondola for an observer and the pilot. The airplane won a prize at the First International Aeronautic Exhibition in St. Petersburg in 1911. Lebedev's flight tests at Kolomyazhsky airfield demonstrated that the new airplane was as fast as the lighter Farman IV. The All-Russian Aero-Club bought two copies of PTA No. 1 for pilot training.

In 1912, without interrupting his flying activities, Lebedev decided to devote himself to business. He opened a workshop in St. Petersburg to repair and produce French Integral type propellers, parts for Depredation aircraft, and trolleys to transport disassembled Nieuport IV airplanes. Although this workshop burned down in 1913, Lebedev had bought insurance. Then, shortly after the workshop was restored, a second fire broke out and again insurance compensated him. Some suspected that this was how Lebedev accumulated his capital. In April 1914, Lebedev built several industrial facilities for his new aircraft factory-- Aktsionernoe obshchestvo vozdukhoplavaniay V. A. Lebedeva (Lebedev's joint stock aeronautic company) in the Novaya Derevnya, near Komendantsky airfield in St. Petersburg.

A Growing Business

Lebedev's factory began with only seven workers, but after obtaining many orders from the Military Department, the factory's work force grew to 1,500 employees and increased industrial capacity. Only six planes per month were produced in 1914. Two years later, the monthly average rose to thirty aircraft. The factory's facilities included woodworking, drying, mechanical, fitting, welding, carpentry, and assembly shops. The factory's chief pilot was a French aviator named Januar. Lett Martin Fyodorovich Gospovskii, who had worked as an engine mechanic, later replaced Januar. Vitold Ivanovich Yarkovskii was the factory's manager and technical head. On the eve of the outbreak of World War I, Lebedev recruited Leopold Mikhailovich Shkulnik to be the factory's primary designer. Shkulnik, who had previously worked for the German AGO Company, designed most of the airplanes at Lebedev's factory. Vasilii Ivanovich Rebikov headed the serial construction of foreign aircraft. Engineers Samuil Borisovich Gurevich, Leonid D ement'yevich, and Kolpakov-Miroshnichenko also worked in aircraft construction. Throughout 1914, aircraft production at the new factory centered on the French Depredation two-seaters, powered by Gnome 80 hp. engines. Sixty-three of these airplanes were produced. In July, the factory began to manufacture the French Voisin airplane, with the Salmson 130 hp engine.

In the summer of 1915, Lebedev's factory in Petrograd (St. Petersburg was renamed in the summer of 1914) acquired a captured German Albatros plane, powered by a Benz 150 hp engine. Acquisition of the Albatros initiated the practice of copying captured aircraft at Lebedev's factory. Slight changes were made to adapt different engines to the copies. This line of business proved profitable to Lebedev, as the government paid the same price--13,700 rubles--for any two-seat aircraft, whether repaired, captured, or newly-built.

Lebedev hired two new test pilots, Aleksei Petrovich Goncharov and Vasilii Yakovlevich Mikhailov. At the beginning of the war, Lebedev's factory produced many more aircraft than did other Russian aircraft factories. In 1916, his factory produced on average one airplane per day, and in some months one and a half airplanes daily. Besides the Albatros, the factory also copied German airplanes built by Rumpler, Aviatik, and LVG. Also constructed, but in smaller numbers, were the British Sopwith Tabloid and Sopwith 1 1/2-strutter. The copies were all named Lebed and numbered sequentially. Thus, the Sopwith Tabloid was named Lebed VII. Lebedev's factory also developed experimental airplanes. He enlisted creative people and provided them with favorable working conditions, but infrequently carried the work through to completion because experimental airplanes simply did not generate enough profit soon enough. Nonetheless, several experimental Russian designs were built at Lebedev's factory, including the Svyatogor by Vasiliy Slesarev, Le-Grand by Leonid Kolpakov, Morskoy Parasol by Georgy Fride, VM-4 by Aleksander Villish, and Lebed-XVII by Sergei Gurevich.

Trophy and Licensed Aircraft of Lebedev's Factory

Orders for military planes increased sharply following the onset of World War I. The Central Military-Technical Department asked for 60 Morane Saulnier type G, 30 Morane Saulnier type L, and 72 Depredation aircraft. Later, the two-seat reconnaissance Voisin became the factory's main product, with 153 copies of that aircraft produced in 1916-1917. Lebedev also signed contracts for 40 Nieuport 10 aircraft (only twelve were produced), 260 Sopwith 1-1/2-strutters (five were produced), and 80 Farman 30s (none were turned out). Many of the orders could not be filled, however, because of the factory's limited capacity and a severe shortage of aircraft-engines.

Lebedev's factory also produced the so-called German "trophy" aircraft. Damaged enemy aircraft captured by Russian forces that could not be repaired at the front were sent to the factory, where they underwent thorough exploitation to learn the latest advances in German aviation technology. Usually, these aircraft were copied exactly, with only slight alternations. One of the first German aircraft repaired at Lebedev's factory was Albatros No. 76, powered by a four-cylinder Argus engine. Repaired by Lebedev mid-1915, it was handed over to the Gatchina military flying school. In December of that year several more trophy German aircraft were delivered to Lebedev's factory. Among them was the Rumpler No. 300 with a Mercedes 112-hp engine and an LVG with a Mercedes 129-hp engine. After repairs, both aircraft were sent to the front to the 8th Army Air Detachment in February 1916.

In 1916, about twenty German aircraft, mainly Albatros types, were repaired at Lebedev's factory. Those aircraft were equipped with engines removed from other planes that had been shot down. After alternation, repair, and test flights the aircraft were designated "Albatros of Lebedev's factory" with a corresponding number and sent to front, providing welcome reinforcements to the 18th, 33d, 34th, and Grenadier Corps Air Detachments; and the 8th and 12th Army Air Detachments. The use of outdated German planes was necessitated by an acute shortage of airplanes for Russian army frontline aviation during the war.

Seaplanes of Lebedev's Factory

The Lebed-Morskoi-I (LM-I) float seaplane was designed first with a 220-hp Renault engine, then a 150-hp Sunbeam engine was installed. It was three-bay biplane, two-seat reconnaissance that had three floats. Its useful load was 365 kg, with a takeoff weight of 1,455 kg. After testing in the spring of 1916, the seaplane was delivered to the Air Detachment of the Emperor Peter the Great. Another seaplane produced at Lebedev's factory was a floatplane copied from the German Albatros No. 269. The latter made a forced landing on September 28, 1915, south of Mitava not far from Babit Lake and was then delivered to Lebedev's factory. It was planned to equip it with a Hispano Suiza 200 hp engine. The Military Department ordered 175 of the aircraft, but Lebedev was able to produce only two.

At Lebedev's factory in 1915-1916, Georgy Fride modified the Morane Saulnier type L aircraft into a flying boat, designated the Morskoy Parasol (Sea Parasol). The wings, tail unit, and Gnome 80 hp engine were taken from a standard Morane Saulnier type L aircraft and installed in a boat-shaped hull with significant dead rise and equipped with additional hydrofoils. The aircraft was tested in the summer of 1916. The power of the hydrofoils caused the flying boat to rise from the water before the wings developed enough lift and the aircraft could be brought under control. Pilots did not want to risk the takeoff with hydrofoils. Without the hydrofoils, however; the flying boat could not take off from the water. Work soon stopped.

At the end of 1916, the VM-4 seaplane was designed by Aleksandr Villish and built at Lebedev's factory. It was a flying boat with a truss tail and pusher propeller, powered by a 110 hp Le Rhone engine. The wing cell was equipped with a device for changing the angle of climb during the flight; but it appeared to be unnecessary as the aircraft successfully flew with fixed wings. After successful tests in Baku, the aircraft was turned over to the Navy pilot school, but was not mass produced.

Besides seaplanes, in 1915 Lebedev's factory turned out two copies of a float version of the Depredation and copies of Maurice Farman M. F. 11 on floats for Navy aircraft schools. The French flying boat FBA, renamed Lebedev Morskoi-2 (LM-2) was built under license at Lebedev's factory in 1914-1916. A two-seat reconnaissance aircraft with a 100 hp Gnome-Monosoupape engine, it could fly at up to 105 km/hr.

Other Russian-designed Aircraft

In March 1916, testing began of the giant Svyatogor bomber, designed by Vasily Slesarev. The Svaytogor, one of the largest of Russian aircraft built before 1917, was 21 meters long, with a 36-meter wingspan. Specifications called for the aircraft to take off with a 6.5-ton load, and fly for 30 hours at a speed of more than 100 km/hr, with a ceiling of 2,500 meters. The aircraft featured large, 6-meter diameter propellers, set in motion with a belt drive by two Renault 220 hp engines mounted in the fuselage. In early November 1916, while taxiing at Komendantskyi airfield, a wheel of the aircraft rolled into a drainage ditch, damaging the aircraft. The designer failed to solve the problem of inefficient transmission from engines to propellers and the Svyatogor did not get airborne. Slesarev changed the belt drive into a rope transmission. However, breakdowns continued and the power plant displayed new shortcomings. The airplane remained unfinished for three years after the Bolshevik revolution.

The two-seat reconnaissance K-1, designed by Leonid Kolpakov, with an Austro-Daimler 100 hp engine, was built at the Lebedev factory in the summer of 1916. The aircraft featured a variable structure. During flight, the pilot could alter angle of attack of the wing cell within limits of 7 degrees. This device was designed to obtain greater lift, while taking off and greater speed during flight by selecting a smaller, constant angle of attack. During the first flight the aircraft took off steeply then lost speed and fell. Pilot M. Gospovsky escaped with slight injuries. The aircraft was never rebuilt and work on the project stopped.

The Early Lebed Aircraft

All experimental and serial aircraft produced at the Lebedev's factory in 1914-1918 were designated "Lebed" and numbered from I to XXIV. Information about the first six types is lacking, but it is assumed that they were copies of foreign aircraft. The Lebed VII, produced at the beginning of December 1914, was a copy of the Sopwith Tabloid, a single-bay biplane powered by an 80-hp Gnome rotary engine. The 21st Corps Air Detachment received two Lebed VIIs. The plane attracted the attention of the Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich--Patron of the Imperial Russian Air Service--who inquired about the Lebed-VII as a fighting machine and also how soon it could be produced in quantity. Military pilots reported that the Lebed VII was capable of attaining the same speed as Morane Saulnier G, had better pilot visibility, and was easier to land. On the negative side, the single-seater was less desirable for military purposes. That estimation probably determined why the plane did not enter serial production and the remaini ng copies were transferred to the Gatchina flying school. The last ones remained at that flying school until the middle of 1916. The two aircraft assigned to the 21st Corps remained until May 1915. Lieutenant Vernitsky made more than thirty combat reconnaissance flights in them for the Sixth Army Corps. The longest flight, on April 2, lasted 2 hours 30 minutes.

In the spring of 1915, one Lebed VII flown by Lieutenant Semenov was assigned to the Grodnensky fortress air detachment. Another Lebed VII went to the Seventh Fighter Air Detachment in December 1916 for training, but crashed with Ensign Janchenko at the controls. Lieutenant Tsirgiladze damaged one of the last Lebed VII aircraft, works number (WN) 52, while landing at the Gatchina flying school on February 5, 1917.

A later attempt was made to improve the Lebed VII by installing a two-bay wing cell with ailerons at the upper wing and an undercarriage without anti-nose-over runners. The modified aircraft, designated Lebed VIII, failed to produce the increased load-carrying capacity expected and only two copies were built.

On July 5, 1915, due to the malfunction of its Mercedes 120 hp engine, a German LVG B II made a forced landing near the village of Stara Buda. The undamaged aircraft was turned over to the 27th Corps Air Detachment. While on a night flight from the nearby Kovna ortress, however, the plane was slightly damaged and sent to Lebedev's factory. Repaired in early 1916, it was subsequently sold to the Military Department under the designation Lebed IX.

In 1915 work began on the Lebed X aircraft. An original design, its scheme and structure envisioned for multipurpose use. The fuselage, undercarriage, and tail were the same for two variants. However, two different wing cell arrangements could be attached to the fuselage. The small wing set yielded as a single bay sesquiplane that could be used as a fighter. Its 16-sq. meter upper wing had ailerons, while the smaller, 13-sq. meter lower wing had none. A second variant, with large wings was produced as a standard double-bay biplane. Its two wings had the same wing span and almost the same area--upper wing 20 sq. meters, lower wing 19.4 sq. meters. Two of the aircraft, WN 100 and 101, with different wing-cells, were built at the end of 1915 and tested by Lebedev himself the following spring. Both performed poorly. The short-wing version was underpowered. The long wing variant, intended for reconnaissance, was a single-seater, with little load-carrying capacity. Lebed X did not enter serial production and in Jul y 1917, WN 101 was transferred to the Gatchina flying school.

The Monocoque No. 11 (Lebed XI) was not an exact copy of the French Depredation Racer. Russian designers tried to convert the racer into a single-seat fighter, with a Gnome-monosoupape 100-hp engine and a synchronized gun. Its design speed of 180 km/hr and armament made the aircraft a good prospect for Russian military aviation, except that it experienced numerous deficiencies. Aircraft WN 401, constructed during the first quarter of 1916, flew fairly well, but its machine gun had not been installed and the Military Department refused to buy it. In June 1917, Lebedev managed to sell his Monocoque to the Gatchina flying school. The plane was equipped with a Gnome Monosoupape 100 hp engine and an Integral type N 8470 propeller. It was also equipped with a spare set of wings and a set of skis for winter flights.

The designation Lebed XI was also assigned to a typical two-seat reconnaissance biplane with different versions of wings and engines. In fact, different versions of trophy Albatros were produced under this name from 1915 until 1916. Six varieties of wings (two and three-bay biplanes) had wing spans from 13 to 14.5 meters and wing areas from 39 to 43.6 sq. meters. Lebed XI aircraft were equipped with a variety of captured Mercedes, Benz, and Maybach engines. Later versions of the plane had Salmson 150 hp engines. The Lebed XIs were distinguishable by their propellers' spinners and engines, which had collector rings to eliminate exhaust gases passing above the center section of the wing. In all, ten Lebed XI aircraft were built.

The Lebed XII

Work on the Lebed XII aircraft started in mid-1915. Flight testing began in December with Lebed XII WN 325 powered by a Salmson 130-hp engine, that was later replaced with a slightly more powerful 140 hp engine. Lieutenant Sleptsov, from the Grenadier Corps Air Detachment was the test pilot. On December 29, he telegraphed to the head of aircraft and aeronautics in the Army in the Field, Grand Duke Aleksander Mikhailovich: "Lebed-XII with Salmson engine is the best of all the exist[ing] airplane[s]...urgent order for fighting tests is necessary" During the tests the plane attained a speed of 120 km/hr rose to a height of 2,000 meters in 22 minutes, while carrying a 350-kg. load. However the tests also revealed some defects and Sleptsov recommended that the exhaust pipes be modified o divert exhaust gases that streamed into the cockpit; that the wind screen in the pilot's cockpit be enlarged; the resistance at the control wheel be lowered; and that armor be provided for the pilot and observer.

The tests were interrupted by bad weather. The experimental airplane continued the tests on a railway platform first at Kiev and then at Odessa. A Lebed XII was delivered to the A. A. Anatra aircraft factory in Odessa on February 11, 1916. Flight testing was completed four days later, but after landing and while taxiing, the aircraft overturned. It would have taken two weeks to repair, but Lebedev was afraid of competition and demanded that the aircraft be returned to Petrograd. Two months later, Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich inquired about the status of the experimental airplane. He learned that instead of repairing the plane, a new one was built. Differing from its predecessor, the new Lebed XII's testing was planned for June. On February 23, during the flight testing of the first Lebed XII, the Grand Duke had placed an urgent order for 400 airplanes. But negotiations between the head of Russian aircraft, Central Military Technical Department and Military Department were prolonged and a contract was not signed until April 19, and the number of planes requested dropped to 225, without engines or propellers. The same contract envisaged delivery of 245 sets of spare parts and ten dummy Lebed XII airplanes. The total cost was 5,153,500 rubles.

Testing of the modified Lebed-XII started in July 1916. On the 31st Lieutenant Barbas flew one of the experimental aircraft (WN 457) from Petrograd to the front. It took him three and a half hours to reach Pskov. The engine performed well and there were no complaints about the aircraft. In Pskov Barbas obtained a new map, fueled up, adjusted the engine and flew on to Dvinsk, where he landed after a two-hour, twenty-minute flight. His general impression about the airplane was good, but he noted that "the [aircraft] during the flight pulled downwards and it was necessary to [hold it level with the] control handle."

On September 13, Lebedev asked for a postponement due to technical difficulties. The problem was that the experimental airplane had been designed for the Salmson 130-hp engine, while the production model was equipped with 140 hp and 150 hp versions. Because the latter engines were heavier, they altered the airplane's center of gravity. In addition, the attachments for the radiators and engines reqired modification. At the end of September, however, the modified planes resumed flight testing. On September 27, factory pilot Mikhailov took off in aircraft WN 444, with a 150-hp engine, carrying a 350-kg load to test horizontal speed. On the same day another aircraft (WN 497), with a 140 hp engine and a new exhaust system underwent testing.

At the beginning of October, taking advantage of good weather, factory and military pilots carried out almost all the tests of the Lebed XII. It achieved a speed of 133 km/hr and the aircraft climbed to 3,000 meters, with a 350-kg load in 56 minutes. However, it also had excess weight, a small useful load, and insufficient ceiling. Factory pilots Mikhailov and Goncharov and military pilots Captains Zhokhov, Modrakh, Jablonsky, and Lieutenants Kalashnikov, Korvin-Krukovsky, and Lerkhe participated in the work of the test commission. In their October 10 report, they acknowledged the Lebed XII fit for reconnaissance in the nearest rear units, reported its maximum permissible loading to be not more than 300 kg, and recommended sending the aircraft to frontline corps and air detachments to replace Voisin airplanes.

The Lebedev XII featured a four-sided plywood fuselage without internal bracing. The fuselage walls were made of 3-mm plywood; its sheets attached to a four-longeron framework with brass wood screws, nails, and joiner's glue. The fuselage had great rigidity and durability, was simple and cheap to produce, but carried some excess weight in comparison with wire-braced fuselages with canvas covering. The wings' profile was thin and concave, pinewood box spars were connected by struts that, together with a wire anchor, formed a closed biplane-box. The upper wing angle setting was positive, while the lower wing was negative. Later, it was discovered that the plane had difficulty in climbing out of a dive, the cause of several crashes. The tail unit was flat, its welded frame made out of steel pipes with a cloth covering. The standard undercarriage featured V-shaped struts formed from steel tubes of elliptical section. Two wheels 760 by 100-mm set on steel axes had steel rims and spokes and sometimes were covered w ith aluminum axle caps. The pilot's seat, at the front, was placed over the fuel-tank, the observer's cockpit was framed with a wooden ring, which served as the base for the machine gun mounting. The training version of the aircraft was distinguishable by the student's seat being located in the front and instructor's behind it.

A 140 or 150 hp Salmson engine was mounted on a rigid steel engine bed and covered with an aluminum cowling. Only the valve heads remained open to promote cooling. According to Lebedev's assertion "owing to the bonnet [the] engine constantly worked at [a] good temperature, carburetors got warm air and stayed in [a] warm room." The plane's powerplant, together with cabin construction, tubular steel engine bed and undercarriage formed a closed rigid system. The firm attachment of the engine reduced vibration to a minimum. The fuel (270 liters) and oil tanks (26 liters) were made of red copper or brass and were self-sealing. The radiators were a tubular type, made of 240 brass tubes, arranged in ten sections (24 pieces in each), and were placed at the outside of the fuselage sides. The radiators caused considerable frontal resistance. The control handle operated the ailerons and elevator, pedals worked the rudder.

The new airplane met contract specifications, and Lebedev soon placed it into serial production. At that time some structural defects were eliminated and slight improvements introduced. The Lebed XII was turned over to the army equipped only with machine gun mountings, but without machine guns or ammunition boxes. The Air Fleet Department, however, insisted that the machine guns be installed. In mid-October 1916, some additional changes were introduced as a result of testing to improve stability. First, the angle of attack of the upper wing was increased by 1 degree and 10 angular minutes and moved 35 mm forward. Second, to eliminate exhaust gases from the cockpit, vent pipes from the crankcase were installed and additional air holes were drilled in the cowling and fuselage.

Serial production of the Lebed XII began in November 1916, but only 28 airplanes were turned out by the end of that year, including the ten dummy planes. Deliveries to the front proceeded slowly, despite of the acute shortages of airplanes in the air detachments. By January 1, 1917, only six planes were in the Army in the Field (all at the Northern front in the XIIth Air Division) and one airplane was kept in the 4th Aircraft Park. In 1917, 164 aircraft were built and turned over; in 1918, 24 airplanes were delivered. The Lebed XII served in the 1st, 5th, 10th, and 12th Air Divisions in the following air detachments: 10th, 13th, 15th, 23d, 25th, 29th, 33d, and 38th Corps and the 5th Army.

The plane was used for reconnaissance over enemy rear units, photographing and bombing enemy positions, and artillery spotting. Frontline pilots' opinions of the aircraft were that it was difficult to control, and it could get into situations where it could not be brought out of a dive. Another serious drawback was that exhaust gases penetrated the cockpit, causing a risk of fire in the air. On February 1, 1917, for example, Lebed XII (WN 483) of the 13th Corps Air Detachment burned because of an engine fire. The pilot made a forced landing and survived, but the aircraft did not. On June 17, during a test flight a Lebed XII (WN 540) belonging to the 5th Army Air Detachment caught fire in the air. The pilot glided down safely, but the aircraft burned down. Pilot Ensign Tikhomirov received slight burns, but the observer escaped unharmed. An explosion in the carburetor started the fire. Crashes and fires of the Lebed XII, traced to structural defects, resulted in a temporary production stoppage.

In June, a special investigative commission was organized under the chairmanship of Professor Georgy Botezat. Pilot Ensigns Bazilevich-Knjazhkovsky from the 29th Corps Air Detachment and Lieutenant Levchenko of the 29th Corps Air Detachment participated on the commission. The commission concluded, after several test flights, that was impossible to improve the aircraft, it was not desirable to send it to front, and that the aircraft might be used only in the flying schools. The training version of the Lebed XII, with the 140 hp engine, had even worse performance, was dangerous to fly, and not fit for flying schools. Factory pilots A. Goncharov and V. Mikhailov, engineers L. Shkulnik and L. Kolpakov disagreed with the commission's report, however. The two factory pilots had logged 250 hours on the plane, both of them had tested 160 aircraft of that type, and they considered it to be a good reconnaissance plane with slight drawbacks.

Lebedev and his colleagues concluded that the commission's tests had been carried out by inexperienced pilots and that its conclusions were subjective. To resolve the dispute another commission consisting of representatives of frontline pilots, the Gatchina flying school, the Air Forces Department, and Lebedev's factory was established. In a report dated October 2, 1917, the new commission declared the Lebed XII unfit, outdated not only with low load-carrying capacity, but by its inadequate speed and found several structural drawbacks in the engine's fuel and cooling systems. The commission concluded that "further construction is not desirable" and serial production was profoundly curtailed. Trying to improve the Lebed XII's performance, Vladimir Lebedev substituted the Hispano-Suiza 140 hp engine for the Salmson. He also made several structural modifications, such as directing the exhaust pipes upwards. One copy of the altered plane was built and designated the Lebed XII bis.

The Last Lebed Series

The next type, the Lebed XIII, was scheduled to be produced in March 1916, but no information exists on its construction. The Lebed XV biplane, featured a tractor propeller and Renault 225 hp engine, and Lebedev promised that it would appear at the end of March 1916. But it also remained only a project. Engineer and inventor Leonid Kolpakov created the Lebed-XIV Le Grand. Started in 1915, it was a three-bay biplane, with two 150 hp Salmson engines and tractor propellers, designed for a rated speed of 140 km/hr. Though its official name was the "large fighter," it was more typical of a mid-size bomber. Three machine guns provided almost 360-degree protection. In his telegram dated January 16, 1916, Vladimir Lebedev reported to the Chief of Russian aviation, Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich: "at the end of February [we will] test [a] two-engined fighter 'Lebed XIV' of 900 kg load carrying capacity." However, by the second half of 1917, the plane was not yet built.

In 1916, the three-seat, two-engined reconnaissance Lebed-XVI was built. A two-strutter biplane, it was equipped with two 80-hp Le Rhone engines, with tractor propellers. The engines were mounted on struts and covered with cowlings with fairing. The observer's cockpit, with a machine gun was located at the front, behind the cockpit and the tail gunner's cabin. Tests carried out at the beginning of 1917 by A. Gorshkov. The results were encouraging, but no orders were placed and work on this aircraft soon stopped.

More advanced than its predecessors, the Lebed-XVII was a giant step forward. Designed by Sergei Gurevich it was a single-bay, two-seat reconnaissance biplane equipped with a streamlined cowling covering a 150-hp Salmson engine. The upper wing had a center-wing section; two tubular radiators were attached to shaped front struts; the fuselage sides at the front were rounded to fit the engine's contour. The airplane was distinguished by good aerodynamics. In August 1917, it passed flight testing with satisfactory results but was never placed into serial production, although several copies of that aircraft type were built by the end of the year.

In January 1917, Lebedev prepared a plan for a two-seater reconnaissance Lebed-XVIII based on the German Albatros type, with a 230-hp Fiat engine. He proposed to the Military Department to build 300 copies of that aircraft but failed to receive an order. Seven copies of the two-seat reconnaissance Lebed-XXI were built in the autumn of 1917. The aircraft took 20 minutes to climb to 2,000 meters. On the whole, the plane's flight performance of the aircraft was disappointing and it was not placed into production. Some copies of the plane flew until 1921. The Lebed-XXIV remained an experimental project, as delivery of the 230 hp Fiat and 200 hp Hispano-Suiza engines destined for the aircraft were stopped by the Russia's allies in the second half of 1917.

Major Expansion

By the middle of 1917, Lebedev managed to raise productivity to 50 aircraft per month by dipping into the factory's capital reserves and acquiring new equipment. The factory also built skis, propellers, and spare parts for its own aircraft, and for aircraft turned out by other companies. Lebedev soon had no room in Petrograd to enlarge his factory. Consequently, his joint stock aeronautic company built factory branches in Taganrog and Penza. The planned capacity of the Taganrog branch was to be 40 aircraft a month by year's end. An assembly shop was constructed for two parallel production lines, one for land aircraft, another for hydroplanes. Two buildings were attached to an assembly shop. The Taganrog factory included a modern conveyer belt assembly line. Located near to the Azov Sea, there was a potential for expansion, thanks to the presence of metallurgical and fuel bases, waterways, railway communications, and skilled workers. Unfortunately, the economy was in shambles, transportation was paralyzed, and revolutionary chaos prevented implementation of plans. Thanks to the efforts by workers and engineers, however, productivity at the Taganrog branch reached 25 aircraft a month.

Construction of a branch in Penza, planned to produce more than 20 aircraft a month was also adversely affected by war and revolution. Thus, the main burden of fulfilling orders from the Military Department remained with the Petrograd factory. Lebedev received orders for hundreds of aircraft from the Military and Navy Departments. In the spring, he contracted with the Military Department for 200 Albatros airplanes, equipped with the 200-hp Hispano-Suiza engine. However, the order fell through when Russia's allies, England and France stopped delivering the engines during the second half of 1917. Lebedev also won an order from the Military Department for 260 Sopwith 1-1/2 Strutter type aircraft, with a Clerget 130 hp engine, but only five copies were built. The Penza aircraft factory, which specialized in producing propellers, received a contract from the Military Air Fleet to deliver sixty training Albatros-VIIs. However, this order, too, was not filled.


In 1917, Vladimir Lebedev was elected president of the All-Russian Aero-Club. And, despite his preoccupation with industrial strife, Lebedev was also appointed to head the flying school, the Komendantsky airfield, and the hydroplane station at Krestov Island in Petrograd. After the Bolshevik revolution in October, the new government confiscated Lebedev's factory and other properties--the airfield, test station, and workshops--and the capitalist Lebedev was declared "an enemy of the people."

The Bolsheviks nationalized Lebedev's factories in Petrograd, Taganrog, Yaroslavl, and Penza. Lebedev's plant in Taganrog became aircraft factory No. 32 of Narodny Kommissariat Aviatsionnoi Promyshlennosti (NKAP) (the Peoples' Commissariat of Aviation). Lebedev's Petrograd factory was merged with the Aviation Department of the Russko-Baltic Carriage Works and renamed state aircraft factory No. 3 Gosudarstvenny Aviatsionny Zavod (GAZ). Later it was renamed Krasnyi Lyotchik (Red Pilot), then aircraft factory No. 23.

Forced to flee for his life, Lebedev escaped to southern Russia, where he remained throughout the civil war in 1918-1920. There he became a minister of trade and industry in the government of the White Russian General Denikin. Lebedev tried to start aircraft production at a factory in Taganrog, but failed amid the chaos of the civil war. Following the defeat of the White Russian forces, Lebedev fled to Serbia, where he worked for a time as a representative of French firms, selling the Gnome and Le Rhone engines. In 1926, he moved to Paris, where he continued to work in the aircraft industry. His contributions to the development of French aviation were recognized by the award of the Legion of Honor. He died in Paris on February 22, 1947.

Throughout its existence, Lebedev's company produced some 700 aircraft of Russian and foreign design. His Russian engineers created about 20 Russian aircraft designs, notably the reconnaissance Lebed-XII.

Part of the problem concerned labor unrest. In March, strikes broke out as workers made economic demands, including an eight-hour day, which was introduced at Lebedev's factory in April. Also, sharp increases in the cost of materials affected airplane production. The factory continued building the Lebed XII until the end of 1917, when it had become hopelessly obsolete. The numbers and types of airplanes constructed at Lebedev's factory in Petrograd from 1914-1917 is tabulated to the left in Table 1.

The Red Army also used the Lebed-XII during the Russian Civil War in 1918-1920. The planes were in the inventory of the 2d Petrograd Avia Group, Tverskaya Avia Group, 1st Socialist Air Detachment, 3d Separate Navy Air Detachment, Belomorsky Hydro Air Detachment, 3d Latvian Air Detachment, and others. Fewer Lebed XIIs served in White Army air detachments. Thus, in the aviation of the Siberian Army of Admiral Kolchak there were only two Lebed XIIs (WN 535 in the 6th Air Detachment, and WN 585 in the 5th Air Detachment). Copies of the Lebed XII remained in service for several years after the end of Civil War. The last Lebed-XII were used in civil aviation, including the Baku section of the Obshchestvo druzei Vozdushnogo Flota (Society of Air Fleet Friends, ancestor of the Soviet Aeroflot Airlines). In May 1925 two of the aircraft (WN 703 and 717) were still in service, flying propaganda missions in Azerbaijan (North Caucasus).

A Muscovite, Viktor P. Kulikov graduated from Urals University. For the past twenty years, he has been actively researching and writing the history of Russian aviation of the World War I period. A version of this article first appeared in Russian Aviation Research Group of Air Britain Bulletin, Vol. 39 No. 141, pp. 139ff. Mr. Kulikov's article, Sikorsy's Fighters, appeared in the Winter 2000 issue of this journal.

Editor's note: A special debt of gratitude is due to three individuals for their invaluable critiques and comments in preparing this article for publication: Mr. Augustus Blume, of Charlottesville, Virginia; Dr. I. B. Holley, of Duke University; and Dr. Roger Miller, of the Air Force History Support Office.
Airplane Production at Lebedev's Factory, 1914-1917

Year built Aircraft Type Number of Aircraft

1914 Farman IV and Nieuport IV 34
1914-1915 Depredation 63
1914-1917 Voisin LA and LAS 153
1914 Farman XVI 20
1915 Farman XXIIbis 20
1914-1916 Lebed VII, VIII, IX, X, XI 15
1914-1916 flying boat FBA 34
1916-1917 Lebed XII 216
1916-1917 Lebed XIII, XV, XVI, XVIII, XXIV 10
1915-1917 Morane-Saulnier type L 30
1915-1916 Morane-Saulnier type G 20
1916 floatplane Lebed 3
1916-1917 Nieuport X 10
1917 Sopwith 1-1/2-strutter 5
1914-1917 French and English acft 10
1914-1917 Trophy aircraft 30

 Total 673
Technical performance data of the major aircraft types produced at
Lebedev's factory

Lebed VII

engine Gnome 80 hp
length of the aircraft 7.77 m
height of the aircraft 2.57 m
wing span 6.10 m
wing area 22.3 sq. m
take off weight 481 kg
maximum speed 130 km/h
practical ceiling 3000 m
flight duration 2.5 h

Lebed X

engine Le Rhone 80 hp
length of aircraft 7.06 m
wing span
 fighter 10.5/8.75 m
 reconnaissance 13.125 m
wing area
 fighter 29.0 sq.m
 reconnaissance 39.4 sq.m
empty weight 415 kg
maximum speed
 near the surface
 fighter 135 km/h

Lebed XI (biplane A 1 type)

engine Mercedes Benz 100 hp
length of the aircraft 8.0 m
height of the aircraft 3.25 m
wing span 13.0 m
wing area 40.8 sq.m
empty weight 735 kg
capacity of the lower/
 upper fuel tank 240/20 l
oil tank capacity 20 l
weight of the fuel + oil 160 kg
useful load 350 kg
take off weight 1,085 kg
wing loading 26.7 kg/sq.m
power loading 7.3 kg/hp
load ratio 32 %
maximum speed
 near the surface 110 km/h
practical ceiling 3,000 m

Lebed-XI (later series)

engine Salmson 150 hp
length of the aircraft 8.0 m
wing span 14.5 m
wing area 43 sq.m
empty weight 820 kg
weight of the fuel & oil 130 + 23 = 153 kg
useful load 350 kg
take off weight 1,170 kg
wing loading 26.3 kg/sq.m
power loading 7.8 kg/hp
load ratio 30%


engine Salmson 150 hp
length of the aircraft 7.963 m
height of aircraft 3.25 m
wing span
(upper/lower wing) 13.15/12.0 m
wing area 42 sq.m
empty weight 840 kg
useful load 350 kg
take off weight 1,212 kg
wing loading 29 kg/sq.m
power loading 8.1 kg/hp
fuel tank capacity
(lower/upper tank) 210/60 l
oil tank capacity 26 l
maximum speed
 near the surface 133 km/h
time to climb the
 height of 1000 m 8.5 min
 3000 m 56.0 min
practical ceiling 3500 m
take off and
 landing run 100 m

Lebed-XIV (Le Grand)

engines two Salmson 150 hp
length of the aircraft 11.0 m
height of the aircraft 3.6 m
wing span
 (upper/lower wing 24.0/16.0 m
size of undercarriage
 wheels 900 x 100 mm
rated speed 140 km/h

Flying boat LM-2 (Lebed
Morskoi-2) or FBA

engine Gnome-Monosoupape 100 hp
length of aircraft 8.0 m
height of the aircraft 2.93 m
wing span 13.68 m
wing area 33.5 sq. m
empty weight 535 kg
weight of fuel & oil 120 + 30 = 150 kg
useful load 305 kg
take off weight 840 kg
wing loading 25 kg/sq. m
power loading 8.43 kg/hp
load ratio 36.4 %
maximum speed
 near the surface 105 km/h
landing speed 70 km/h
time to climb the
 height of 1,000 m 15 min
 2,000 m 40 min
practical ceiling 2.500 m
flight duration 4 h
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Title Annotation:Vladimir Alexandrovich Lebedev's factory in Russia during and after World War I
Author:Kulikov, Viktor
Publication:Air Power History
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Dec 22, 2001
Previous Article:From the Editor.
Next Article:In the Devil's Shadow: Don Nichols and U.S. Air Force Special Air Mission.

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