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Sergey Ilyushin

Sergey Ilyushin

Sergey Ilyushin
(1894-1976)

Sergei Ilyushin was born on March 18, 1894 into a large peasant family in Central Russia. To help his struggling parents financially, Sergei started working at an early age changing many jobs. It was a lucky coincidence that eventually brought the 16-year-old teen to the St.Petersburg airfield where he was assigned the task of cleaning up and leveling off the runways. The airfield was then playing host to Russia’s first-ever aviation week and Sergei happily gawked at the famous Russian pilots and their planes that looked like kites gliding so easily across the skies above…

From that moment on Sergei’s life would never be the same again. He enrolled in the local pilot-training school. After the Bolsheviks took power in 1917 Ilyushin joined the Red Army and fought in the Civil War. Once he was ordered to take apart a shot down enemy airplane, an English one, and take it to Moscow. That hands-on experience was not lost on Sergei who was now increasingly thinking about someday being able to design his own aircraft. It took lots of knowledge to do that, however, and after the Civil War was over, Sergei Ilyushin entered the Air Force academy and studied day and night mastering the new profession. He successfully passed his graduation exams but, keen as he was to design airplanes, he, then 30, had to spend some time overseeing the production of new planes for the Red Army. The Second World War was already on, though, and Ilyushin saw it his duty to personally design airplanes that were so desperately needed by the Red Army. He bombarded the government with pleas and eventually he was given the go-ahead putting him at the head of a design bureau at one of the country’s plane building factories.

Ilyuyshin’s first plane, a long-range bomber, was taken up by the army right after it passed muster in the tests and was later modified and dubbed as Moskva. It was the Moskva that established a world record in 1938 flying nonstop from Moscow to Vladivostok and back. The following year it accomplished another nonstop mission across the Atlantic to North America. During World War Two the Ilyushin 4 multipurpose plane was this country’s workhorse long-range bomber boasting a clear technological edge over its western counterparts.

Soon afterwards Ilyushin designed his famous IL 2 ground attack plane the Red Army soldiers called a “flying tank” and the Germans nicknamed as “black death”… “The IL-2s are a real nightmare, they are driving us crazy!” complained the German POWs. The Soviet pilots raved about the plane relentlessly thrashing the enemy from on high…

Caught flatfooted by the IL-2’s might, the German aircraft designers, prodded by Hitler, were working flat out to their own analog of the unbeatable Russian strafer…

Meanwhile, Ilyushin kept souping up his designs presiding over the construction of more than 40,000 IL-2s – more than any designer had ever constructed anywhere before or since…

After the war Ilyushin launched a raft of safe and comfortable IL-12, IL-14 and IL-18 passenger planes. The latter one was a big hit around the world. In 1962 Ilyushin came up with his famous IL-62 intercontinental jetliner capable of ferrying nearly 200 passengers up to 10 kilometers away. The plane’s arrival in New York crated a big splash. The news people immediately dubbed it as a “flying saucer”…

The mere fact that the Russian President still uses the IL-62s and its modifications speaks volumes about the plane’s reliability and comfort.

Sergei Ilyushin’s talent and hard work won him three gold stars of Hero of Socialist labor and a wealth of state awards. Despite his well-deserved clout, Ilyushin was always a self-effacing man and hating to talk about himself. “It’s planes that should speak about their maker, not the other way round,” he used to say. And speak they always did, very loud and clear…

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