Category An Illustrated History of the World’s Largest Airline

The Mini-Liners

The Mini-Liners

The Smallest Jetliner

The Soviet industry had, by the late 1960s, acquired a reputa­tion — deserved, no doubt, in some cases — of copying western aircraft designs. But one aircraft owed nothing to western influ­ence. The Yakovlev Yak-40 was a small jet, seating up to 32 passengers, for use on feeder routes which did not generate enough traffic to justify even the 40-48-seat Antonov An-24.

The distinguishing feature of the Yak-40 was its tri-jet engine configuration, with two in fuselage-mounted pods, and one fared into the vertical stabilizer, all at the rear, like the engines in the Trident, the Boeing 727, or the Tupolev Tu – 154, but on a much smaller scale. The normal entrance was by a ventral stair. A. S. Yakovlev, who had produced the Yak-9 and Yak-3 fighter aircraft that did such an outstanding job in the Great Patriotic War, thus made his debut in the commercial arena with a unique formula. Not only that, but in so doing, and allowing for certain shortcomings such as a shortage of baggage space (only one overhead rack, as a rule, on the right side; and no under-floor hold), Yakovlev pro­duced a small jet airliner for successful inter-city use; and this accomplishment has not been matched in the West.

The Yak-40 made its first flight on 21 October 1966 and entered service with Aeroflot on 30 September 1968. More than 1,010 were built at the Saratov production line and 130 were exported to 17 countries.

A. S. Yakovlev

Yakovlev pro­duced a mini-air­liner that has no equivalent in the west, (courtesy: Von Hardesty)

The Smallest Turboprop

Not long after the introduction of what may be described as the world’s first mini-airliner, another small aircraft, designed for a similar air transport role, appeared on the scene. This was the 15-seat Let L410 (later produced as a 19-seater), sometimes known as the Turbolet, and was produced by the Let Narodni Podnik (Let National Corporation) in Czechoslovakia. The pre-war Czech aircraft industry had been obliterated by the Nazi occupation, but it pulled itself togeth­er again after the War, and by the late 1960s, was ready with innovative designs. The small turboprop seemed to be just

The Mini-Liners

Line-up of more than 20 Yak-40s at Krasnoyarsk in 1992.

right for Aeroflot as a replacement for the aging Antonov An-2.In the event, it did not completely replace, but was a worthy complement to the ‘Annuchik’ in its versatility in using grass or gravel strips.

Like the Yak-40, the L410’s baggage hold is at the back, but access is through a hydraulically actuated door in the left rear fuselage. Unlike the small tri-jet, however, there are no overhead baggage racks in the three-abreast configuration. A total of 902 of the Czech mini-airliners were exported to the Soviet Union.

The Mini-Liners

LetL410 SSSR-67544 at Khabarovsk.

The Mini-Liners

Cabin of a Yak-40 in 24-seat layout. In this version, baggage racks are open and on one side only. (Photos: R. E.G. Davies)

To The End of the Line


Island Outposts

While the Soviet Union was, geographically, one vast land area, there were a few offshore islands. Those in the Arctic Ocean were of little commercial importance, although they had some strategic value; but those in the far east were very important strategically, and contained some natural resources. If only because of a latent suspicion of Japanese ambitions in the area, Moscow had to ensure close ties to the extremes of its empire. The island of Sakhalin, though only a few kilometers from the Asian land mass at one point, was difficult to reach; while the peninsula of Kamchatka, separat­ed from the rest of Russia by the Sea of Okhotsk, might as well have been a distant island.

A plan to build a railway from Khabarovsk to Nikolayevsk – na-Amure was postponed because of the difficulties of build­ing a line through the Amur swamplands. Instead, Dobrolet was given the task of building an air route.

Pioneer Route

During 1929, Comrade Nijnakovsky blazed a trail by dog-sled from Khabarovsk to Nikolayevsk. He laid down supplies of fuel, food, shelter, and medical supplies (and not forgetting waterproofed packets of matches), ready for any emergency en route. Then, on an historic day, 9 January 1930, Mikhail Vodopyanov left Khabarovsk in a Junkers Ju 13 floatplane (illustrated on page 15), and flew to Aleksandrovsk- Sakhalinskiy, the chief city of Sakhalin, which in those days

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  To The End of the Line To The End of the Line


  To The End of the Line


  To The End of the Line



To The End of the LineTo The End of the LineTo The End of the Line

MARTIN 156 50 SEATS ■ 225km/h (140mph)

Подпись: Flying Boats of the Far EastTo The End of the LineWright Cyclone GR-1820-G2 (4 x 850hp) ■ MTOW 28,100kg (62,0001b) ■ Normal Range 2,000km (l,200mi) ■ Length 28m (92ft) ■ Span 48m (157ft)

Подпись: The Martin 156 'Russian Clipper', (photo: Far Eastern Regional Directorate Museum, Khabarovsk) Подпись:

The Savoia-Marchetti S.55P

Local services began to develop In the Far East area. A circular route was established to some small communities to the north and east of Blagoveschensk, with Polikarpov Po-2 and Shavrov Sh-2 amphibians, and the Junkers Ju 13s were replaced with larger aircraft. Aeroflot negotiated for five Savoia-Marchetti S.55P twin-boom flying boats, the same type that had been used by Marshal Balbo in the famous trans-Atlantic squadron flight from Italy to Brazil in 1930. The S.55P inaugurated Aeroflot service to Petropavlovsk in 1933, by the circuitous route around the Sea of Okhotsk (see map opposite), the aircraft having been delivered from Italy by a circuitous route via the Black Sea, the great Russian rivers, as well as Lake Baikal.

The Russian Clipper

Flying to Sakhalin, and especially to Kamchatka, was an adventure, and the journey by S.55P to Petropavlovsk usually took about five or six days in the summer. Accordingly, Aeroflot upgraded to larger equipment, the Martin 156, the so-called ‘Russian Clipper’, an improved version of the famous China Clipper Martin 130 delivered to Pan American Airways in 1935.

The Far East Region of Aeroflot needed an aircraft that could combine a good payload with a good range, enough to traverse the southern part of the Sea of Okhotsk, preferably non­stop from Khabarovsk to Petropavlovsk. The Glenn Martin (as it was always referred to in Russia) could normally carry 50 passengers, and on shorter trips, for example, Khabarovsk to Nikolayevsk-na-Amure, it could carry 70. The Martin 156 — designated SP-30 by Aeroflot — was delivered in 1940 and operated successfully during the summer months until 1944, when it had to be retired because of the difficulty in obtaining spare parts.

The Clipper was replaced by the Consolidated Catalina in 1943 or 1944. Three Consolidated Model 28-ls had been imported from the U. S. in 1938 and, from 1940, license pro­duction of the type was undertaken at Taganrov, on the Sea of Azov, as the GST (Gidro Samolyet Transportnyi, or hydro aircraft transport) for the Soviet Navy. A few civil examples, designated MP-7, were delivered to Aeroflot. Some Lisunov Li-2s are believed to have been used also.

Подпись: An Aviaarktika ANT-7 (SSSR-N28) on skis. (Vdovienko) To The End of the LineПодпись: Special container attached to the wing of the Polikarpov R-5C aircraft, to rescue survivors of the wrecked Chelyuskin in 1934. (Vdovienko)Подпись:Подпись:

Mil Mi-8

28 SEATS ■ 200km/h (125mph)

The Thoroughbred

Rather as the Mil Design Bureau had developed the Mi-1 into the far superior Mi-2 by conversion to turbine power, so, in 1960, it turned its attention to doing the same with the Mi-4. The Mil Mi-8 first flew in 1961, and by the following year had been further improved with a five-blade rotor. It could carry 28 passengers — about the same as a DC-3/Li-2 — and for freight use, its rear fuselage was fitted with clam-shell doors.

Such a combination of characteristics made the Mi-8 into a thoroughbred aircraft, reliable and versatile. For example, during the construction of the BAM Railroad during a typi­cal year, 1976, seventeen construction organizations together employed helicopters for almost 22,000 flying hours. Almost exactly half of these were with Mil Mi-8s.

Helicopter Capital of the World

Mil Mi-8Mil Mi-8The Tyumen region of Russia, with its world’s largest deposits of natural gas, and one of the world’s largest producers of crude oil, has been remarkable for its extensive use of heavy – lift helicopters for pipe-laying and as flying cranes for build­ing tall towers for electricity transmission lines. Thus, the Mi-8 was quickly found to be an essential maid-of-all-work. The Tyumen sub-division of Aeroflot (or Tyumen Aviatrans, T. A.T. under the new reorganization) lists 450 helicopters in its fleet inventory of 660 aircraft. No less than 360 of the rotorcraft are Mil Mi-8s. Other regions of Aeroflot do not boast such numbers, but more than 1,000 Mi-8s are to be found east of the Urals alone.

Mil Mi-8

Holiday-makers disembark from a Mil Mi-8 at the helicopter pad at Yalta. (Boris Vdovienko)

A Mil Mi-8 on an improvised ‘pad’ of oil pipes on the Yamal Peninsula, in northwest Siberia.

The good ship Inniy, stuck in the Arctic ice, but with a Mil Mi-8 available to prove that all is not lost. (Photos: Vasily Каїру)


This book started a long time ago. In the late 1950s, when I was researching material for my History of the World’s Airlines, I was fascinated by the Soviet airline that seemed to be performing an enormous task, but of which little was known. An almost impenetrable curtain shrouded all but a trickle of information from Moscow. Travel was severely restricted, and even in the decades that followed, was scanty and sporadic, to selected tourist destinations. In 1988, however, when Mikhail Gorbachev drew aside the curtain, an opportunity seemed at last to be in sight, and I once again approached the Soviet Embassy for per­mission to visit Aeroflot.

In 1990, I made the first reconnaissance to Moscow, and asked to see the workings of the secondary, feeder, and bush services of the vast domestic network. The International Department responded admirably. I visited the Far Eastern Division, flew in the Antonov An-2 and An-24, and, in a Mil Mi-2, made a pilgrimage to the dignified monument to the Chkalov crew on the former Udd Island. I began to feel the pulse of Aeroflot, to meet its pilots, its managers, and its staff, and to realize that this huge airline was as dedicated to its task as any other airline of world stature.

Returning to Moscow, I was privileged to sit at the desks of the late Andrei Tupolev and Sergei Ilyushin, and to visit the museums of the great design bureaux. Welcomed every­where with courtesy and enthusiasm, my appetite was whet­ted for more.

In 1991, I cohtinued the mission. I visited the Leningrad Aviation Academy, did some simulated crop­dusting at Novgorod, and rounded off a round-the-world trip (all on Aeroflot) by visiting old friends in Khabarovsk. On the return to the U. S., I made the decision to begin this book.

In 1992,1 made a whistle-stop tour of Siberia (by this time the Soviet Union had become the CIS) and gained first-hand knowledge of the array of different roles played by Aeroflot, in agriculture, forestry, fishing patrol, ambulance and emer­gency work, and construction, especially in oilfields, pipelines, power lines, and railroads. Everywhere, I enjoyed visits to museums. Every region of Aeroflot has its historians, justly proud of their heritage.

Telling the story, and meeting some of the people who have contributed to it, has been an exciting and stimulating exercise. Finally, I must record the great pleasure of working once again with the ‘Old Firm’ who produced the previous books in the series: Pan Am, Lufthansa, and Delta. To con­sult, to review, to plan, and to organize — and yes, some­times to argue — with my good friends artist Mike Machat and producer/editor John Wegg has been a rewarding, (if at times strenuous), and totally fulfilling experience.

— R. E.G. Davies.

Tupolev Tu-124

Momentum Maintained

Подпись: TU-124 REGISTRATION NUMBER BLOCKS (all prefixed SSSR-I 45000-45095 45135 45173 45146 45199 45158 64452 With a variety of airliners coming off the production lines (see opposite) Aeroflot entered the 1960s with prospects of expansion and upgrading of equipment in all directions. On 3 January 1960, it took over Polar Aviation (Aviaarktika) and directed attention to the northern routes, to new settlements on the Arctic Sea, and a new route to the Far East. On 24 April, a Tupolev Tu-114 non-stop Moscow-Khabarovsk schedule inauguration immeasurably extended the range potential. On 15 December 1961, a specially-equipped Ilyushin 11-18 became the first airliner to fly to Antarctica, and this aircraft opened up new routes to several African countries during the next few years. The Tupolev Tu-104, too short in range for use on trans­ocean routes, was nevertheless able to carry Aeroflot’s flag to south-east Asia, with a service, opened on 31 January 1962, to Jakarta, via Tashkent, Delhi, and Rangoon. By this time, Aeroflot was carrying more than 20 million passengers each year (with fares at railroad levels) with a total fleet of about 2,000 aircraft.

Junior Jet

Подпись: Not all registrations in the 45xxx block have been confirmed as allocated to Ти-124s.Подпись:Tupolev Tu-124
The short-haul routes were not neglected. While the U. S.S. R. was a country of vast distances, much of the western parts embraced an area characterized by dozens of cities only an hour’s flight from Moscow. Many of these were of medium size, not large enough to justify 100-seat aircraft such as the Tu-104 or the 11-18. To meet this need, the Tupolev design bureau produced a scaled-down version of the Tu-104, the 44- seat, later 56-seat Tupolev Tu-124, which entered ser­vice on the Moscow — Tallinn (Estonia) route on 2 October 1962. Trailing the French Caravelle by over three years, and a derivative, rather than an original design, it was, however, ahead of British and American short-haul jets by a similar margin.

Tupolev Tu-124

Tupolev Tu-124 SSSR-4S013 in flight, (photo: Boris Vdovienko)

Tupolev Tu-124





Aircraft Type











Normal Range km (mi)







6 May 1959

Sud SE 210 Caravelle



700 (435)






Air France


2 Oct! 962



31 (100)

26 (84)









Antonov An-124

Antonov An-124150 TONS ■ 800km/h (500mph)

Antonov An-124

Lotarcv P-18T (4 x 113,700kg st, 51,5901b st) ■ MTOW 405,000kg (892,9001b) ■ Normal Range 4,500km (2,700mi)

Antonov An-124
















Normal Range km (mi)





ehp (or thrust)



23 Aug 1954



















27 Feb 1965


















30 Jun 1968


















30 Nov 1971



















26 Dec 1982











Lotarev D-18T







21 Dec 1988



















Notes: Boeing 747-200F may also be powered with Rolls-Royce RB211 and GE CF6 engines: An-22 production total does not include prototypes. *Production continues

Formation of Dobrolet

Formation of Dobrolet

Russian Aviation Recovery

By 1922, aviation in Russia was slowly recovering. The service to Berlin (pages 12-13) carried 400 passengers and 18 tons of mail. And some progress was being made elsewhere. On 8 July 1922 in Moscow, for example, the first experimental flight was made spraying insecticide from the air, as a prelude to developing aviation for agricultural use (page 82). Aerial pho­tography was quickly recognized to be ideal for mapping

Russia’s vast eastern expanses, almost totally devoid of surface transport north of the trans-Siberian Railway.

Other than Deruluft, another small air transport service, the All-Russian, was offered in 1922. On 1 August, flights began between Moscow and Nizhne Novgorod, in conjunc­tion with the annual fair. The aircraft used were Junkers-F 13s, lent by the German Junkers firm, which was planning to establish an assembly plant in Moscow (see opposite). The service operated until 25 September, and 57 flights were made, carrying 209 passengers and 2,600kg (5,8001b) of freight over the 420km (260mi) distance.

As a result, the Russian authorities ordered 20 Junkers-F 13s for future use, and the national budget for aviation pur­poses was raised to 35 million rubles. During 1922 also, the first Soviet-built aircraft made its debut in Leningrad. It was a small training model, designated the U-l, and named Red Pilot. Some 700 are reported to have been built, as well as 120 of the Mu-1 floatplane version. The U-2 was built in 1928.

Formation of the U. S.S. R.

Political consolidation was delayed until the end of 1922, when the Far Eastern Republic, which had declared independence during the turmoil of the Revolution, finally agreed to merge with the Russian S. F.S. R. On 30 December 1922, the 10th All­Russian Congress of the Soviets (and the First All-Union Congress) officially declared the formation of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (U. S.S. R.), consisting of Russia, the Ukraine, Byelorussia (White Russia), and Transcaucasia. Russia effectively controlled central Asia, but the republics in that region did not become part of the Soviet Union until 1924.

A Civil Aviation Administration

On 23 November 1922, the Institute of Engineers of the Red Air Force (page 12) in Moscow became the Academy of the Air Force, which was also named after its driving personali­ty, Nikolai Zhukovskiy. On 1 December, as the threat of war receded, the Revolutionary War Soviet of the Republic, under the Chief Directorate of the Workers and Peasants of the Red Army Air Force (Glavvozdykhoflot) was charged with the responsibility of inspecting all civil aviation and overseeing its technical activities. Simply put, this Inspectorate of the Civil Air Fleet was akin to the U. S. Civil Aeronautics Authority, and it paved the way for the establish-

Poster advertising the Junkers ‘Aviakultura’ flights between Moscow and Nizhne Novogorod in 1922.

ment of civil air transport. On 9 February 1923, the Soviet Council of Labour and Defence issued a decree whereby the establishment of airlines was entrusted to Glavvozdykhoflot, through the Inspectorate of the Air Fleet. With the support of the post office and other government agencies, the operation was, in turn, placed under a full-time Civil Aviation Board (or Council) and this event is recognized as the official birth date of Aeroflot.


First Cautious Steps

As early as 1912, Igor Sikorsky himself had visualized the possibility of using aircraft to survey and explore the frozen wastes of Russia’s northlands. Even before the Revolution, this advice was soon followed, when, in 1914, Jan Nagursky a Pole, flying a Farman, helped to locate the Sedov expedition that was lost in the Arctic ice of Novaya Zembla. On 20 April 1920, barely two months after the last British troops had left Arkhangelsk, the Northern Sea Route Committee was formed, and this was reinforced in March 1921 by the forma­tion of the Floating Naval Scientific Institute.

During 1924, Boris Chukhnovsky made a dozen flights in a Junkers Ju 13 to survey the Barents and the Kara Seas; while on 4 August 1925 Otto Kalvits reached Matochkin Shar, at a latitude of 73° on Novaya Zembla. During the latter 1920s, led by Mikhail Babushkin, aircraft were used to aid seal hunters and to guide shipping. On 15 February 1929, Ivan Mikheyev made a successful ambulance mission. Soviet aviation was ready for the Arctic.

The Northern Sea Route Administration

Much in the same manner that western navigators had specu­lated about the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, so did Russian seamen dream of linking Arkhangelsk and Murmansk with Vladivostok via the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Strait. The role of the airplane was fully recognized from the start, and in 1 September 1930, Glavnoe upravle – nie Severnogo morskogo puti, or Glavsevmorput (Northern Sea Route Administration), was formed, head­ed by Dr Otto Schmidt, known familiarly as the Ice Commissar. He had made several voyages in the Arctic, reach­ing Franz Josef Land, the northernmost islands of Eurasia.

Glavsevmorput’s Department of Polar Aviation, established at Krasnoyarsk on 1 September 1930, and familiar­ly known as Aviaarktika, was headed by Schmidt’s deputy and right-hand man, Mark Shevelev. It moved to Moscow in 1932, and survived independently from Aeroflot until 3 January 1960, when the state airline took over all its opera­tions. Except for the wartime years and until he retired from the Air Force, Shevelev was in charge throughout.

The Administration was equipped from the start with a fleet of Junkers Ju 13 floatplanes and six Dornier Wal flying boats. By 1933, the fleet had been increased to 42, including among other types, the four-engined ANT-6 and the twin – engined ANT-4. Much pioneer work was done in establishing air routes with waterborne aircraft along the great rivers of

The Chelyuskin Rescue

Soviet aviators won their spurs in a remarkable rescue mission. In 1933, the good ship Chelyuskin left Leningrad to attempt another circumnavigation of the Soviet Union, at least as far as Vladivostok. It was almost within sight of the Bering Strait when in November it stuck in the ice. On 12 February it was crushed by an iceberg and the entire ship’s company were marooned. Dr Schmidt organized a floating — and constantly moving — camp on the ice flows, and built a landing field — also con­stantly moving — in preparation for the rescue aircraft. A whole team of aviators won their spurs, including Mikhail Vodopyanov, and especially Vasily Molokov. In a series of flights from a coastal airstrip near the ship, they saved all 104 marooned personnel, a great testimonial to the new aviation technology.

Siberia: the Ob, with a base at Omsk, on its tributary, the Irtysh; on the Yenesei, at Krasnoyarsk; at Irkutsk, on the Angara, near Lake Baikal; and on the Lena, at Yakutsk.

Expanding the Horizons

During the mid-1930s, Glavsevmorput sent out its long tenta­cles throughout the sparsely populated Siberian lands that occupy more than half of the area of Russia. Its achievement could not be measured by conventional statistics — in 1933, only 180 passengers and about 15 tons of mail were carried; but Polar Aviation pilots were learning their trade. They car­ried vital supplies, including medicines, doctors, and teachers out-bound, and valuable furs inbound — furs that would oth­erwise have taken two years to reach the stores in Moscow or Leningrad. Gathering confidence, the aircraft flew further and more often, with some pilots making some notable flights, such as those of Chelyuskin hero Molokov, reviewed on the opposite page.

Kamov Virtuosity

Kamov VirtuosityKamov VirtuosityПодпись: THE KAMOV CONTRA-ROTATING FAMILY First Flight Date First Aeroflot Service Aircraft Type Dimensions-m(ft) Speed km/h (mph) Seats I4TOW kg (lb) Normal Range km (mi) No. Built Fuselage Length Rotor Diam. 1952 1955 Ka-15 6.2 10.0 125 2 1,410 390 300+ (20.5) (32.8) (78) (3,100) (240) 1957 1959 Ka-18 7.0 10.0 115 4 1,480 165 200+ (23.1) (32.8) (72) (3,260) (102) 1965 1967 Ka-26 7.75 13 110 6 3,250 400 600+ (25.5) (42.8) (70) (7,165) (250) 1980 1983 Ka-32 11.3 15.9 230 16 11,000 800 200+ (37.1) (52.2) (143) (24,250) (500)


Rather overshadowed by the preponderance of the Mil heli­copters in service throughout the Soviet Union, and some­times forgotten as world-wide interest tended to concentrate on the Mil giants (see pages 80-81), the generally smaller Kamovs deserve attention. Just as Mil perfected the tech­niques of single main rotor-plus-anti-torque tail rotor combi­nations, so did Nikolai Kamov solve the mechanical com­plexities of coaxial contrarotating main rotors, thus eliminating the need for any anti-torque device.

Getting under way with his first designs after the end of the Second World War, Kamov’s first light helicopters were for the Soviet Army, for observation and reconnaissance. But as time went on, opportunities for civilian use arose.

The Kamov Ka-15, Ka-18, and Ka-25

As with subsequent designs, the first effective Kamov heli­copter, the Ka-15, first produced in 1952, had two contra­rotating rotors, each with three blades. The Ka-15 demonstrat­ed a brisk performance, and it went into service with Aeroflot in a variety of working roles: crop-spraying, power­line patrol, gas pipeline patrol, and ambulance work.

The slightly larger Ka-18 incorporated an improved fuse­lage structure, which was slightly longer, and with modified twin vertical stabilizers, but had the same rotors as the Ka-15. In the Ka-18, however, the rotor blades could easily be removed individually, and this made the aircraft especially useful for reconnaissance in the Arctic Ocean, where the convenience of storage space on the depot ships was at a premium.

A further stage of adaptability was achieved in the new Ka-25 which made its first appearance in 1961. This had the novel arrangement by which the individual rotor blades could be folded, under power, so as to be aligned together while not in use; such mechanical ingenuity was a great credit to the Kamov design team. Also, the Ka-25K featured a small cabin underneath the main flight deck. This contained a backward­facing seat, for controlling operations when the helicopter was being used as a flying crane.

The Kamov Ka-26

All aircraft manufacturers have problems with reconciling conflicting requirements from different customers. In Kamov’s case, these appear to have been stringent demands for versatility both from the State Scientific Institute and from Aeroflot. The former wanted a helicopter that could out-per-
(Top) A Kamov Ka-32, on fish-spotting patrol, hovers over its depot ship, the Kherluf Bidstrup, in the Sea of Okhotsk.

(Bottom) Reminiscent of the Los Angeles freeways and the control thereof, this Kamov Ka-26 keeps an eye on the traffic in Vladivostok. (Vladimir Kuznetzov)

form the previous Kamovs in such activities as mapping, geo­logical survey, fish-spotting, fire-fighting, and ice reconnais­sance; Aeroflot needed one for normal passengers, mail, and freight, as well as for general agricultural use, and gas and oil pipeline patrolling. To quote John Stroud: "What Kamov pro­duced was a most ingenious multi-purpose helicopter capable of almost any task except feeding itself."

The Kamov Ka-26 was larger than the Ka-15 and Ka-18 but smaller than the Ka-25. But it was far more efficient than any previous design. Like the Ka-25, it was twin-engined, but unlike it, the tail unit was supported by twin booms, rather than by an extension of the fuselage. Its unique feature was what can only be described as the come-apartness of the fuse­lage. The rear half of what would normally be a complete fuselage could be interchanged, according to the require­ments: a small cabin for up to seven passengers, a pallet for cargo, or apparatus for crop-spraying, including a large hop­per. This could spray dry chemicals as an alternative to liquid spraying throughout extended spray-bars, and the downwash of the rotors served to disperse the powder or granules in a uniform manner.

Later versions of the Ka-26 improved the performance and capability. The Ka-226, for example (fitted with Allison engines) could carry a chemical load of almost 1,000kg (compared with the 530kg of the Ka-26) on a 1 Уг-Іюиг mission, with full reserves.

Throughout the develop­ment of the versatile Kamovs, the accent was always on economy of oper­ations — for even under the Soviet system, considerable accountability was often exercised. To borrow a sporting term, in this respect, the Kamov Ka-26 was the top seed.