THE IMPERIAL RUSSIAN AIR SERVICE: FAMOUS PILOTS AND AIRCRAFT OF WORLD WAR I
Aviation history enthusiasts have long had limited access to the few works dealing with Russian aviation history for the period leading up to and including World War I. The average Russian knew only what the Communist Party allowed him to know about imperial Russian aviation, which was very little.
A small group of scholars in the West, including the late Jean Alexander and Harry Woodman of England, and Dr. J. Kipp and Von Hardesty in America, began to study the era and publish their research on early Russian aviation. They were assisted in their work by the recollections of a few early Russian aviators who had managed to escape from the Bolsheviks and who took up residence in Europe and America. Among them was my father, the late Igor I. Sikorsky.
As a young boy, I was fortunate enough to meet many of these Russian airmen and engineers when they visited with my father.Men like Alexander Seversky, Boris Sergievsky and Vadym V. Utgoff are “bigger-than-life” childhood memories. I clearly remember my first airplane ride in a Sikorsky S-38, seated on my father’s lap in the co-pilot’s seat with the charismatic Sergievsky at the controls. I was about 7 years old.
Wandering through The Imperial Russian Air Service not only brought these unique people back to life but also told me much about their early careers in Russia. This 560-page book has more than 600 rare photographs, scale drawings of over 40different aircraft, and 48 pages of color illustrations. In addition, the book is nicely divided into several sections, which makes it easier for the reader to cross-check between subject chapters. I understand that more than 10 years of research went into this book. Knowing how difficult it was (and often still is) to extract historical information and photographs from the former Soviet Union, I am impressed by the extent of detailed information that the authors were able to gather.
The first sections of the book review the army, navy and EVK (bomber) branches of the Imperial Russian Air Service in a brief and easily understood manner that clarifies both the organizational and operational aspects of a little-known military service. The “Russian Aces” section covers, in considerable detail, the aviation careers of some 17 World War I Russian pilots. The amount of information on these early airmen is remarkable. The section covering French aviators who earned ace status while flying for Imperial Russian Air Services is equally good.
The “Distinguished Russian Pilots” section details the aviation careers of many Russian aviators, not all of them aces, who made significant contributions to aviation in Europe and America, as well as in Russia. This section was of particular interest to me,since I had met a number of these pilots in my youth.
In the “Famous Russian Aircraft Designers” section, a great deal of detailed data on the work of Dimitri Grigorovich and Sikorsky is presented. The section on Russian aircraft manufacturers is also packed with much valuable information, some of which I believe is being presented for the first time in the English language. The 48-page color section shows the colors and markings of a great variety of Russian Air Service aircraft, as well as individual aircraft markings and decorations. An added bonus is the inclusion of three paintings by renowned aviation artist James Dietz, adding a touch of action to the beautifully crafted, three-view designs of Alan Durkota.
The book’s final sections are appendices that cover Imperial Russian awards, lighter-than-air aviation, combat victory tables from each aviator in the book, and nearly 60 pages of three-view drawings by Ian Stair and Harry Woodman.
In short, this book is an overview of the birth and organization of the Russian Imperial Air Service, the production plants created to supply it with aircraft, and some of the earliest Russian aeronautical engineers who prevailed despite the official opinion that French and British designs were superior. In addition to the technical data, the book provides a unique source of information on the men who flew those aircraft during World War I, the forgotten aces of that war. It is a valuable addition to any serious collection of aviation history.