The USSR’s first AEROWAGON – and the dark history behind (PHOTOS + VIDEO)

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What would happen if you passed a train with a plane? Would he “fly” on rails?

The question was asked 100 years ago by engineers around the world. Locomotives, the advantages of which still outweighed their shortcomings, were quite popular and in no hurry to come out. However, there were constant attempts to turn them into something with a little more promise. Making it go faster was the first order of the day. Among the most popular was the idea of ​​attaching an airplane engine and propeller to it.

The first to achieve this was the German Otto Steinitz in 1919. His self-propelled prototype with a Dringos aircraft engine system could reach speeds of up to 120-150 km / h.

However, the Dringos propeller locomotive never entered mass production – the Treaty of Versailles stood in the way by banning the manufacture and use of aircraft engines. Despite this, a year later the same project was attempted by a Soviet train conductor.

soviet version

His name was Valerian Abakovsky. Born in the Russian Empire, he found himself in Tambov (460 km from Moscow) after the Revolution of 1917, where he worked as a driver for the local counter-revolutionary security organ. Abakovsky, 24 at the time, loved technology. And the news reached him about the recent Dringos experience.

He had to make a strong case to be admitted to the Tambov railway workshop in the early 1920s, where, once accepted, he built his first aerowagon.

Abakovsky's chariot

There is no record of Abakovsky’s education, but the project received special recognition – mainly because it would be very well suited for quickly transporting high officials and sensitive documents.

Valerian Abakovsky

In order to achieve a more aerodynamic design, the nose of the cabin was shaped into a wedge shape, with the roof slightly tilted. Up front was an aircraft engine, spinning a two-bladed wooden propeller nearly three meters in diameter, while the central and rear parts of the cabin were intended to carry up to 25 passengers.

Abakovsky’s wagon could reach speeds of up to 140 km / h. Testing began in the summer of 1921, and by mid-July the wagon had traveled over 3,000 kilometers. The design was proclaimed a success and the builders decided to try it out with VIPs on board. It was a tragic mistake.

Disaster on the road to Kursk

Abakovsky with his comrades

In July 1921, the emergence of the aerowagon came at the right time. Several sessions of the Communist International with foreign delegates were taking place in Moscow at the same time. The Bolsheviks decided that it was better to speak about the meaning of the Russian Revolution in the presence of the power that propelled it forward – the proletariat. At the head of the delegation was Fedor Sergeev, known as “Comrade Artem” and a close friend of Stalin. He founded the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic in 1918, known among people as the “Republic of Donbass”. The planned visit included a coalfield just outside Tula.

Group of delegates.

On the morning of July 24, Artem, accompanied by Abakovsky, German Communist Oscar Gelbrich, Australian Communist John Freeman, and other foreigners, set out to meet Soviet miners. The “high-tech aircraft” traveled at a speed of about 40 to 45 km / h, safely delivering the delegates first to the mine site and then to the Tula arms factory.

Farewell to the victims

After visiting the local theater for the formal meeting of the Local Council, the delegation was in a hurry to return: the train was now running at 80-85 km / h. At 6.35 p.m., about 111 kilometers from Moscow, near Serpoukhov, the aerowagon derailed at full speed and “crushed”. Two days later, the newspaper ‘Pravda’ published the article with the title: “Catastrophe on the road to Kursk”. The text read: “Of the 22 people on board, six were killed: Otto Strunat (Germany), Gelbrich (Germany), Hsoolet (England), Konstantinov Iv. (Bulgaria), chairman of the Central Committee of the Council of Miners, Comrade Artem (Sergeyev) and Comrade Abakovsky.

Political reprisals?

Later, the official reason for the tragedy would be attributed to the quality of the Russian railways: the aerowagon would have encountered a bump and derailed as a result. The investigation ended … with continued research and development of the aerowagon.

However, Comrade Artem’s son Artem Fedorovich Sergeev, one of the founders of the anti-aircraft missile forces of the USSR, had a different theory, which had matured over the years (he was only four years old at the time of the incident; three days after the tragedy he was taken in by Joseph Stalin himself). He will remember later:

“As Stalin would say, if an accident has political consequences, it deserves a closer look. It turned out that a bunch of rocks had been laid on the way to the aeroagon. In addition, there were two panels. One was led by Enukidze [Avel Enukidze, secretary of the Central Electoral Committee and godfather to Stalin’s wife], who saw the culprit in the faulty construction of the wagon itself. But Dzerzhinsky [Felix, the father of Soviet security services] told my mother it needed further investigation: rocks don’t fall from the sky.

Lev Trotsky

“In order to counter Trotsky’s influence, by order of Lenin, Artem created the International Union of Miners. The decision committee was set up several days before the tragedy. And, at the time, Trotsky wielded massive power: the majority of the army was on his side, as well as the petty bourgeoisie … “

Lev Trotsky, one of the leaders of the Revolution, had the greatest chance of coming to power after Lenin’s death. In 1940, already in exile, he was assassinated in Mexico, by order of Stalin. It is Sergeev’s opinion that Trotsky was the man behind the plan that resulted in his father’s death.

After the failure, no one dared to touch the aerowagon project again until 1970, when a new version was built with two AI-25 jet engines installed on the roof. The wagon quickly reached 250 km / h, the tests helping the development of next-generation trains.

However, he remained inactive after the tests, sitting at a station and gradually falling into disrepair. In 2008, the nose, along with the jet engines, were removed, painted, and reused as a monument to the 110th anniversary of the Tver Car Factory.

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