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TsAGI centenary in the history of aviation: The Tupolev ANT-20 Maksim Gorki

17 May 2018

“I went by the Maksim Gorki aircraft,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry explained enthusiastically. The French pilot and writer continued: “The aisles, the cabin, the eight-engine roar, and the internal telephone communication — everything was unlike the usual airplane.” The famous author of “The Little Prince” flew on the ANT-20 on May 1935 when he worked in Moscow as a reporter for a French publication.

The story of the aircraft’s creation documents the unique color of the pre-war years: the enthusiasm for aviation, the thrill of new records and more flights. In those years we came up with an idea to celebrate Maksim Gorki’s jubilee by naming the giant aircraft squadrons after him.

TsAGI was charged with the aircraft design and constructing. The team of Y.M. Petlyakov heavy aircraft under Tupolev’s leadership led the creation of the aircraft. B.A.Saukke was appointed the senior engineer.

The ANT-20 was created in a short span of time. The aircraft construction began in July 4, 1933 and after factory tests in August 18, 1934 the aircraft was transferred to the Gorky air squadron. The “Maxim Gorky” was a true engineering miracle for its time. Any aircraft, even the largest in the world of aviation, envied its size and flying weight. Its was 33 m long, height — over 11 m, wingspan 63 m. The multi-ton giant flew at a speed of 260 km/h and could seat 72 passengers with 8 crewmembers.

The Maksim Gorki aircraft had many innovations. Its wing, for example, was unusually long. The wingspan-to-mean chord ratio was 8,2. No heavy machine at that time had such a lifting surface. But all aircraft designers sought this: the larger the wing aspect ratio is, the closer the wing is to its ideal aerodynamics characteristics, but difficult in terms of strength. Specialists found a happy medium. With all their talent and experience they managed to construct an inelastic and endurable giant wing.

The “Maxim Gorky” unfortunately crashed in May 18, 1935. Its civil version The “PS-124” flew on Aeroflot lines until 1942.

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