November 01, 2003

Andrey Tupolev

Andrey Tupolev, founder of the Soviet aerospace industry, was born on November 10, 1888, in the village of Pustomazovo (Tver region). He became interested in aeronautics early, starting to build gliders in his twenties. In 1918, he received his engineer’s degree.

In 1922, Tupolev founded a commission at the Central Aero-Hydrodynamics Institute (TsAGI), the premiere Soviet aeronautical research institution, to design and develop metal aircraft for the Red Air Force. In 1923, Tupolev, preferring not to use foreign technology in Soviet aircraft, designed his first plane — the ANT-1. In 1925, his first, all-metal military plane, the ANT-3, was unveiled. By the late 1920s, Tupolev’s team was starting to dominate the Soviet aviation industry. They could no longer remain subordinate to TsAGI and, in 1936, separated as the Moscow-Based Plant No. 156 (later “OKB-156” — Experimental Design Bureau No. 156).

Tupolev’s aircraft were important in improving the Soviet Union’s aeronautical reputation. Some 28 historic flights and 78 world records were set with Tupolev’s planes. His ANT-25 set the world record for long-distance flight. And yet, Tupolev’s meteoric rise suffered a catastrophic setback in 1937, when he was arrested on the trumped-up charge of selling military secrets to the Nazis. Stalin soon realized, however, that he needed aviation designers like Tupolev who had been sent to the gulag. In late 1938, he authorized the creation of a special prison camp in the Bolshevo suburb of Moscow, to develop new bombers for the Soviet military. Prominent engineers who worked in this prison had no authorship rights and were not permitted to sign their design drawings. 

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