In 1914, Igor Sikorsky’s engineering success continued. His S-12 monoplane, a streamlined version of the prize—winning S-11 modified to optimize its aerobatic performance, received rave reviews that spring, Piloted by the skilled Yankovskiy, it placed first in the aerobatic competition during the aviation week held at Kolomyazhskiy hippodrome, located not far from the IRAC‘s Komendanskiy aerodrome on the northern outskirts of St. Petersburg. Of even greater significance, though, was Sikorsky’s development of the “llya Muromets,” an upgraded version of the world renowned Grand. In January construction was completed. The new giant, although larger than the Grand– weighing 5,100 kilograms (11,220 pounds)–and powered by the same 100 horsepower Argus engines, had improved performance because of refinements to the high-aspect ratio wings, which were Iengthened to a span of 32 meters (105 feet). The Ilya Muromets could fly at 95 kilometers per hour (59 miles per/hour) at an altitude of 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) and boasted a comfortable, enclosed passenger cabin complete with engine—exhaust duct heating, electric lighting, a bedroom, and even a toilet. 1
In June Sikorsky again astonished the world by successfully completing a 1,600 mile round-trip flight from St. Petersburg‘s Korpusnoi Aerodrome to Kiev‘s Kurenev Aerodrome, home of the Kiev Aeronautical Society. For this flight, the Ilya Muromets was fitted with more powerful Argus engines. The two inboard engines produced 140 horsepower each and the outboards 125 horsepower each. With the additional 130 horses and total weight trimmed to 4,650 kilograms (10,230 pounds), Sikorsky could pilot the Ilya Muromets to a speed of 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) at 3,000 meters (9,840 feet). 2
During this epic flight, Sikorsky and his crew of three co-piloted by naval Lieutenant Georgi lvanovich Lavrov, who would later be instrumental in the design and production of another successful R-BVZ aeroplane, the S-16 fighter, encountered many harrowing experiences. After departing from a refueling stop at the city of Orsha, the halfway point of the first leg of their journey, the left inboard engine caught tire, forcing the crew to make an emergency three-engine I landing. Even more frightening was the fierce turbulence, caused by electrical storms and forest tires that twice tossed the Ilya Muromets into spins that were controlled only after a considerable loss of altitude. Poor weather conditions also required Sikorsky to fly “blind,” using only his flight instruments to maintain directional and attitudinal control, through thick layers of clouds on numerous occasions–an amazing feat for the time. Despite these challenges, the Ilya Muromets and her crew survived. During the return trip from Kiev the aircraft set l a world record for long—distance flight by remaining airborne for nearly 500 miles I before landing for fuel. Sikorsky had clearly demonstrated the practicality of multi-engine aircraft.3
For this achievement Sikorsky was showered with praise. He received the Order of St. Vladimir, Fourth Degree, was exempted from the draft to allow him to continue his design work, and was promised a grant worth 100,000 rubles from the State Duma. During an Imperial military review at Krasnoye Selo in July, Tsar Nicholas II decorated and christened the Ilya Muromets, “Kievskiy.” Also in attendance was French President Raymond Poincaré, who was so impressed with the four-engine giant that he scarcely noticed the squadrons of French-made machines lined up for review along the Held.4
Yet even with this publicity, official recognition, and admiration from the French president, the R—BVZ did not receive the expected government order for serial production of Ilya Murometsy (IM’s), the world’s most impressive aircraft. Furthermore, Sikorsky’s grant never materialized, providing yet another indication that the government either could not, or would not support domestic aircraft production, no matter how sophisticated the design.
1.”High-aspect ratio” refers to a long, narrow wing which produces maximum lift with minimum drag. This feature was essential to the success of Sikorsky’s large aircraft considering the low power of the engines that were available. Finne, 33, 40-41, 185-188.
2. Igor I. Sikorsky, The Story; of the winged—S (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1938) 106-117. Finne, 47-55, 187.
3. The flight instruments on the Ilya Muromets were primitive. They included four tachometers–one per engine, a compass, a crude altimeter and airspeed indicator, two glass V-shaped tubes and a ball for bank indication, and a series of horizontal bars situated vertically on the nose of the fuselage for measuring climbs and descents. Later, a drift indicator was added to aid bombing. See Finne, 174. Reflecting on his “instrument flying” during the Kiev flight Sikorsky recognized the danger of his feat, given the crudeness of the instrumentation; “I might say that with the instruments we had then, I would not now fly blind, I would not even go up with them in bad weather.” See Sikorsky, 109.
4. Finne, 53-55.