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Digital Subscriptions > Scale Aircraft Modelling > December 2017 > Raised in a prison

Raised in a prison

Petlyakov’s Pe-2

AIRCRAFT IN PROFILE

Russian pilots and ground crew stand in front of a Pe-2 at Poltava, Russia during the first shuttle raid from Italy to Russia and return in June 1944. The US serviceman is TSgt. Bernard J. McGuire of 348 Bomb Squadron, 99 Bomb Group
Pe-2s in flight. The original caption claims the date as 1940, which seems unlikely given the aircraft’s timeline. Winter 1941-42 would seem more likely
Finnish aircraft PE-215 seen here in June 1944. PE-301 and PE-215 were destroyed when Soviet aircraft bombed the Lappenranta airfield on 2nd July 1944. PE-212 was shot down in 1943, PE-213 was destroyed in an emergency landing in 1942. PE-214 was destroyed in a failed take-off attempt at Harmala on 21st May 1942, as Harmala airfield was quite short and the pilot had to try to lift off without sufficient airspeed, which caused the aircraft to stall and crash, killing the crew. PE-217 is recorded as having shot down a Soviet fighter in 1944. PE-216 was destroyed in a forced landing in 1944 while PE-211 survived the war and was apparently still intact albeit unserviceable at Kauhava airfield in 1952

Another of those I-onlyknew- it-existed-because-I-b uilt-the-Airfix-kit types, the Peshka (Pawn) is well deserving of a place in the aviation hall fame being one of those unsung types that went everywhere and did everything for longer than most of its contemporaries. Regarded by some as one of the best ground attack aircraft of the war it was also successful in the roles of heavy fighter, reconnaissance and night fighter, and with 11,427 machines built it can claim to have been manufactured in greater numbers than any other twin engine design during World War II with the exception of the Junkers Ju 88 and the Vickers Wellington, although it was a faster and more manoeuvrable machine than the Wimpey at least! The aircraft’s service history lasted right up until 1954 serving with Warsaw Pact countries after the war as well as some ad hoc service with the Finnish Air Force when captured examples were sold on by the Germans for use during the Continuation War.

The Pe-2 had the dubious distinction of being designed in a prison. Only in the Soviet Union under Stalin can one imagine the existence of such a concept as the sharashka, but this was the informal name for secret research and development laboratories within the Soviet labour camp system, the word deriving from a Russian slang expression sharashkina kontora, which might equate approximately to the term ‘thieves kitchen’, in an ironic and self-deprecating reflection of the inmates circumstances. The scientists and engineers in these underground bureaus were prisoners picked from various camps and prisons and assigned to work on scientific and technological problems for the state. Living conditions were generally much better, but the results of their research were usually published under the names of prominent Soviet scientists without credit given to the real authors, whose names frequently have been forgotten

Up until 1936 Vladimir Petlyakov had worked at the Central Aero Hydrodynamic Institute (Tsentralniy Aerogidrodinamicheskiy Institut or TsAGI) under the guidance of Andrei Tupolev, where he was involved in wing design and the development of gliders. In 1936 he became a chief aircraft designer at an aviation plant where he was directly involved in organization and development of Soviet metal aircraft construction, calculating durability of materials and theory on designing metal wings with multiple spars. Petlyakov assisted in designing the first Soviet heavy bombers, the TB-1, TB-3 and a longrange high altitude four engine bomber, the Pe-8. In October 1937 Petlyakov was arrested together with Tupolev and the entire directorate of the TsAGI on charges of sabotage, espionage and of aiding the Russian Fascist Party. In 1939 he was moved from prison to a NKVD sharashka for aircraft designers near Moscow, where many ex-TsAGI designers had already been sent to work. Here he was put in charge of a team to develop a high altitude fighter escort for the ANT-42 under the designation VI-100. The first of two prototypes flew on 22nd December 1939 and was a sophisticated aircraft for its time, featuring a pressurised cabin, all metal construction, superchargers and many electrically actuated systems. The aircraft was displayed to crowds watching the annual May Day parade in 1940, apparently within sight of the design team incarcerated nearby.

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