Planes come first: the oldest aircraft engine manufacturer is 105 years old

Planes come first: the oldest aircraft engine manufacturer is 105 years old
Photo: Photo by the Mayor and Moscow Government Press Service. Yevgeny Samarin
Planes with Salyut engines have set many records, performed the first basic loop stunt and the legendary flight from the Soviet Union to the United States.

19 October 2017 marks the 105th anniversary of the Salyut Gas-Turbine Engineering Research and Production Centre. Its engines have made Russian aviation famous all over the world. This mos.ru story looks at the company’s history and the legendary flights made possible by its engines.

Small plant on Nikolayevskaya Street

In 1912, French aircraft engine manufacturer Gnome-Rhone established a small plant on Nikolayevskaya Street. The plant assembled 80 hp Gnome-Rhone aircraft engines that were later mounted on Nieuport-IV and Farman-XVI planes. In 1913, famous Russian pilot Pyotr Nesterov performed the first basic loop stunt in history in a Nieuport-IV with a Gnome-Rhone engine.

In 1915, the Motor Plant moved from Riga to Moscow. Seven-cylinder Calepe engine and the ten-cylinder RHONE-110 engines were made there. The Nieuport-X and Niueport-XV planes used these engines. Two years later, a French entrepreneur built the Salmson Plant on Nikolayevskaya Street. The company delivered Salmson engines to the Russian War Ministry.

After the 1917 revolution, the Soviet Government nationalised the aviation industry in December 1918. The Gnome-Rhone and Salmson plants were renamed as Ikar and Amstro, respectively.

The Soviet aviation industry thrived in the 1920s with the M-5 engine, followed by the M-11, M-15 and M-26 engines. All of them were designed and manufactured under the supervision of designer Arkady Shvetsov. They were followed by several other engine models.

At that time, several engine plants were merged and renamed. The Frunze Plant No. 24, now Salyut, was established after several mergers in 1927.

The 660 hp M-17 engine went into production in 1927. This engine was installed on engineer Andrei Tupolev’s ANT-4 Strana Sovetov (Country of the Soviets) plane. It performed the first Moscow-New York flight and flew 21,000 kilometres, later flying to Tokyo.

In the 1930s, the plant started building Alexander Mikulin’s AM-34 engines, the first engines in the big AM engine family. Planes with these engines flew history-making long-range missions and set world records. Soviet pilots performed 110 record-breaking flights during that decade.

Hero of Socialist Labour Alexander Mikulin, a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, in his laboratory in Moscow. Photo: B. Yaroslavtsev. 1952

Moscow-North Pole-Washington state

On 18 June 1937, an ANT-25 with an AM-34 engine took off from Scholkovo airfield near Moscow. Pilots Valery Chkalov and Georgy Baidukov and navigator Alexander Belyakov flew the plane towards the United States via the North Pole on the first non-stop flight from the Soviet Union to the United States. 

Foreground from left: The crew of the ANT-25 that flew from the Soviet Union to the United States non-stop in 1937: Georgy Baidukov, Valery Chkalov and Alexander Belyakov. Photographer unknown, June-July 1937

The crew faced tremendous hardships while flying over the North Pole. The plane encountered cyclones and clouds and was covered with ice. It was very cold, and the three men did not have enough oxygen. On 20 June, the pilots successfully landed their plane near Vancouver, Washington, the United States, after covering 9,130 kilometres, including 5,900 kilometres over oceans and sea-ice formations. The plane’s fuel tanks contained about 70 litres of fuel when it touched down.

Almost everyone welcoming the crew wanted to know the specifications of its sturdy engine that made this long and difficult flight possible. As one story has it,   Valery Chkalov said proudly: “All right, brothers, let’s open the cowling, and let them admire the engine.” The engine’s builder’s plate read: “Frunze Aircraft Engine Plant.”

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt congratulated the crew in the White House’s Oval Office. The legendary crew members went on a lecture tour of the United States and were very popular.

The pilots and the navigator sailed back home aboard the SS Normandie. The heroes arrived in Moscow on 26 July 1937 and were given a spectacular welcome. They rode in a convertible through central Moscow as people cheered. A reception in their honour was organised at the Kremlin. They also visited various companies and military units for a while.

The triumphant polar flight set a national record, and the crew members each received the Order of the Red Banner.

From left: Test Pilot and Hero of the Soviet Union Georgy Baidukov, Navigator and Hero of the Soviet Union Alexander Belyakov and Test Pilot and Hero of the Soviet Union Valery Chkalov at the SS Normandie’s Winter Garden. Photographer unknown, July 1937

Martial law

On 15 October 1941, the Frunze No. 24 Plant was evacuated to Kuibyshev, now Samara. In 1942, it was renamed Plant No. 45 and resumed aircraft engine production. The first five AM-38 engines for the famous Il-2 strike planes were manufactured by July. Over 41,000 Il-2s were assembled during the Great Patriotic War, with over 10,000 of them featuring engines from the No. 45 Plant.

In 1945, the company received the Order of Lenin for unfailingly manufacturing warplane engines. During the war, its employees won the challenge Red Banner of the State Defence Committee for 19 months. The banner remained at the plant permanently after the war.

Today

Today, the Salyut Gas-Turbine Engineering Research and Production Centre is a major Russian company that develops, manufactures and maintains aircraft engines. It also assists aircraft operators and aircraft repair plants under supervision contracts and is successful on the global market. This full-cycle company includes a research and development institute, a design bureau and production facilities.

The company’s main headquarters are in Moscow with many subsidiaries in various locations. Salyut manufactures, repairs and maintains AL-31F and other related versions of this engine for Sukhoi aircraft. They also build the AI-222-25 engine for Yakovlev Yak-130 subsonic advanced jet trainers. The company is also involved in the design of the PD-14 engine for the new Irkut MC-21 passenger airliner. In 2016, the company developed a bench for testing gas-turbine engines for Russian Navy ships. The company is developing strategic long-term projects to manufacture components for VK-2500 engines for Mil and Kamov helicopters, and is developing the TV7-117ST engine for Ilyushin Il-112V and Il-114 planes. It is also a contractor with the Russian Defence Ministry.

Salyut manufactures modern engines, improves production processes all the time and introduces new machining methods and systems. The company has a unique quality management system under ISO-9001 international certification standards for monitoring the development and manufacture of gas-turbine engines, gas-turbine units and production equipment, including repairs, maintenance and disposal.

Salyut is part of United Engine Corporation under the Rostec Corporation.

Photos courtesy of Moscow Main Archive Directorate