Simanaitis Says

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TWO HIGHLY significant events in aviation history involved the cities of St. Petersburg, one in Russia, the other in Florida. What’s more, they happened within months of each other in 1913-1914. Here’s the first of two St. Pete Flights.

The Russian (soon to be American) Igor Sikorsky designed what came to be the world’s first four-engine aeroplane, the Bolshoi Baltisky, the Grand Baltic or, simply, the Grand. And grand it was.

An excellent source is The Aviation Careers of Igor Sikorsky, by Dorothy Cochrane, Von Hardesty and Russell Lee. Both and list this book.

Its wood and fabric biplane configuration had a wingspan of 88 ft. 7 in. (A Boeing 737’s is 93 ft.) The Grand featured a balcony out front, its door opening to a fully enclosed flight deck with dual controls; this, in a time when many thought a pilot needed exposure to the wind for confidence and safety.

The Grand’s balcony was equipped with a spotlight. One of its four Argus 100-hp engines is prominent, as is the Tsarist crest on the nose. This and other photos from The Aviation Careers of Igor Sikorsky.

Aft of the flight deck, its eight passengers had large windows, wicker chairs, a folding table, electric lighting provided by a wind-driven generator and a cloak room. I like to think the table held a samovar dispensing tea. Some reports say there was even a loo as well.

Skeptics called the huge aeroplane “the Petersburg Duck.” They doubted that such a large and heavy craft—the Grand weighed about 9000 lb.—could get off the ground. But on May 26, 1913, it did.

My Microsoft Flight Simulator model of the Bolshoi Baltisky gives Tsar Nicholas II a view from the balcony.

In July, Sikorsky flew the Grand 22 miles to Krasnoye selo, the site of Russian military maneuvers. There, no less than Tsar Nicholas II inspected the aeroplane. A month later, the Grand established a record flight of 1 hour 54 minutes with eight passengers aboard.

Here’s Tsar Nicholas II again, to the right of Sikorsky on the balcony of the Bolshoi Baltisky.

A freak accident put an end to the Bolshoi Baltisky. In September 1913, the aeroplane was parked on the flight line as another aircraft passed over—and lost its engine! The motor fell through the Grand’s port wing and caused considerable damage.

The tangled mass on the ground is an engine that broke loose from a passing aircraft and fell through a wing of the Grand. Igor Sikorsky is the man at left.

Alas, Sikorsky lost interest in the Grand. He was already deep into design and development of his next project, the Il’ya Muromets, an aeroplane even larger than the Grand.

The Bolshoi Baltisky remains important in the history of aviation—and an intriguing project in the flight-sim hobby.

The virtual Bolshoi Baltisky does a flyover of the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, tomorrow, across the Atlantic, in another St. Petersburg…. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2012


  1. oldmaven
    October 27, 2012

    Not about this plane, but: In Sikorski’s autobiography, he said he had an early dream that he was walking down a passageway like that of a railway car, lined with small passenger compartments, and was convinced by the nature of the vibrations that he was in an airplane. Decades later, in the corridor of one of his first flying boats, he suddenly recognized it as the airplane of that old dream.

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This entry was posted on October 27, 2012 by in Vintage Aero and tagged , , , .
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