The victors get to choose the way that history is written. This is a true statement that has more then shown its way into how we Americans feel about Russian technology. Maybe its time we look at both sides of the story.
To the victor goes the spoils and along with this a chance to rewrite the way things are viewed. In other articles we will go into how the Russians were accused of stealing technology when they hadn’t. As well as where they copied a look but were unable to reverse engineer the technology and yet others where they truly innovated. So lets go back to the beginning and talk about the mother of all Russian imitations.
The Russian aviation industry was very strong in the nineteen fourties. Even under the conditions and fear they dealt with on a daily basis they had created some remarkable aircraft like the Il-2 Sturmovick and even their own rocket planes. This was more impressive considering it was before they had gotten their hands on the Germans documents and scientists postwar. The Russian designers understood the needs of their massive country and were able to create native aircraft of a far sturdier design then we would get in the west. Still they lived in fear.
Late in 1944 three B-29′s were forced to land in Russia after bombing runs on Japan. The Russians had received an unusual gift from the west that the leadership saw only one option what to do with. Although the Tupelov bureau had a new bomber on the drawing board waiting for approval to be produced they were tasked with creating exact copies of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Understand that during the nineteen thirties a large part of the nations aircraft designers had been purged leaving a gaping hole in their capability. When they were told to do something by Stalin himself there was no choice. You do as you are told or face some serious consequences.
There are many reports of how close these copies were. I have heard that the steering yoke even got the Boeing B on it for the first prototype. The video from Discovery’s Wings episode below mentions the same about the rudder pedals. Until we see photographs of these they are mere heresy but are entirely believable. The only part not directly copied was the engines but even these would be broken down and blueprinted by the Russian engineers.
We were surprised by the copies of the B-29 that when NATO gave it a codename they called it the “Bull”. You can see the influence of the B-29 even today in the, still flying, TU-95. The reality is that the time spent copying our bomber cost the Russians far more then it gained. Any innovations that would have been created in that time were put aside. All the bomber design work leading up to the arrival of the B-29 Superfortress was tossed away to complete this task. It would also start the Russians down the path of imitation versus innovation.
[all images credit wikipedia.org]