Vakhmistrov's Circus...

...Zveno Combined Aircraft, from Helion & Co, via Casemate

Title:  Vakhmistrov's Circus

Author: Mikhail Maslov

Publisher:  Helion and Company

ISBN:  978-1-911096-75-7


I never cease to be amazed at the new information that get to see thanks to an enthusiast who spends years researching a subject.  In this case, author Mikhail Maslov was an aerospace engineer working for the Tupolev design bureau, but later transferring to a Museum to work as his historical interests took him over.  In this case we see the results of some 20 years of research into the topic of aircraft designer Vladimir Vakhmistrov.  Between 1931 and 1941 he led a team, unofficially named his 'circus', looking into the potential for aircraft combinations, particularly with a large bomber carrying multiple small fighter aircraft.

In WW2 the question of providing fighter escorts for large bombers was a problem for both Allied and Luftwaffe bomber formations.  The US designed longer range fighters to solve the question but much earlier, starting in 1932, Vladimir Vakhmistrov was coming up with another solution, to have a bomber carry the fighters and then able to launch and even recover them when they came under attack.  There are a variety of combinations they explored, some not built while others actually took to the air.  As well as multiple drawings illustrating the various designs, there are plenty of photos showing the combinations both on the ground and in flight.  One alone features a large, 4-engined TB3 bomber carrying as many as 5 fighters.  The huge bomber, with corrugated wing surfaces and open cockpit (and gun turrets on the early versions) are shown carrying 2 biplanes mounted on the upper wings of the bomber while it carried another 3 (!) monoplanes underneath.  Mostly the fighters are the small I16 but others are also detailed in the book.  The photos of this huge combination is almost unbelievable, but it flew and photos show it in flight, and launching the fighters.  The designer referred to these designs as 'Zveno' projects, a word that in Russian means 'Chain Link' or 'Flight Combination'.  Not only could they launch the fighters, but they also mastered the trick of recovering a fighter in flight as well.  The thought of piloting either the bomber or the fighters, in open cockpits doesn't bear thinking about in my mind.

Covering each of his designs, and illustrating them with photos and drawings, these are quite amazing.  A couple of drawing illustrate a design never actually built, of a large delta shaped flying wing, a 'carrier' for no less than 15 (!!!) fighters.  Designs from the 1930s to make use of the then obsolete TB3 bombers, there is some fascinating aircraft engineering in here.  The aircraft enthusiast will I am sure enjoy this one, while the modeller may well find inspiration for a subject that might otherwise be thought to be a Heath Robinson affair.  With pictures showing large, improvised wooden ramps built to allow the fighters to be moved up to their mounts on the upper wing of the bomber it could inspire some really interesting and impressive dioramas.  A really interesting book and an intriguing topic.