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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, tomorrow, across the Atlantic, in another St. Petersburg…. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012