Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Saturday Night Science: Rockets and People, Vol. 1

 

Rockets and People by Boris E. ChertokThis is the first book of the author’s monumental four-volume autobiographical history of the Soviet missile and space program. I will discuss the four volumes in four installments of Saturday Night Science, one a month. Boris Chertok was a survivor, living through the Bolshevik revolution, Stalin’s purges of the 1930s, World War II, all of the postwar conflict between chief designers and their bureaux and rival politicians, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Born in Poland in 1912, he died in 2011 in Moscow. After retiring from the RKK Energia organisation in 1992 at the age of 80, he wrote this work between 1994 and 1999. Originally published in Russian in 1999, this annotated English translation was prepared by the NASA History Office under the direction of Asif A. Siddiqi, author of Challenge to Apollo, the definitive Western history of the Soviet space program.

Chertok saw it all, from the earliest Soviet experiments with rocketry in the 1930s, uncovering the secrets of the German V-2 amid the rubble of postwar Germany (he was the director of the Institute RABE, where German and Soviet specialists worked side by side laying the foundations of postwar Soviet rocketry), the glory days of Sputnik and Gagarin, the anguish of losing the Moon race, and the emergence of Soviet preeminence in long-duration space station operations.

The first volume covers Chertok’s career up to the conclusion of his work in Germany in 1947. Unlike Challenge to Apollo, which is a scholarly institutional and technical history (and consequently rather dry reading), Chertok gives you a visceral sense of what it was like to be there: sometimes chilling, as in his descriptions of the 1930s where he matter-of-factly describes his supervisors and colleagues as having been shot or sent to Siberia just as an employee in the West would speak of somebody being transferred to another office, and occasionally funny, as when he recounts the story of the imperious Valentin Glushko showing up at his door in a car belching copious smoke. It turns out that Glushko had driven all the way with the handbrake on, and his subordinate hadn’t dared mention it because Glushko didn’t like to be distracted when at the wheel.

When the Soviets began to roll out their space spectaculars in the late 1950s and early ’60s, some in the West attributed their success to the Soviets having gotten the “good German” rocket scientists while the West ended up with the second team. Chertok’s memoir puts an end to such speculation. By the time the Americans and British vacated the V-2 production areas, they had packed up and shipped out hundreds of rail cars of V-2 missiles and components and captured von Braun and all of his senior staff, who delivered extensive technical documentation as part of their surrender. This left the Soviets with pretty slim pickings, and Chertok and his staff struggled to find components, documents, and specialists left behind. This put them at a substantial disadvantage compared to the U.S., but forced them to reverse-engineer German technology and train their own people in the disciplines of guided missilery rather than rely upon a German rocket team.

History owes a great debt to Boris Chertok not only for the achievements in his six decade career (for which he was awarded Hero of Socialist Labour, the Lenin Prize, the Order of Lenin [twice], and the USSR State Prize), but for living so long and undertaking to document the momentous events he experienced at the first epoch at which such a candid account was possible. Only after the fall of the Soviet Union could the events chronicled here be freely discussed, and the merits and shortcomings of the Soviet system in accomplishing large technological projects be weighed.

As with all NASA publications, the work is in the public domain, and an online PDF edition is available.

A Kindle edition is available which is perfectly readable but rather cheaply produced. Footnotes simply appear in the text in-line somewhere after the reference, set in small red type. Words are occasionally run together and capitalisation is missing on some proper nouns. The index references page numbers from the print edition which are not included in the Kindle version, and hence are completely useless. If you have a workable PDF application on your reading device, I’d go with the NASA PDF, which is not only better formatted but free.

The original Russian edition is available online.

Chertok, Boris E. Rockets and People. Vol. 1. Washington: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, [1999] 2005. ISBN 978-1-4700-1463-6 NASA SP-2005-4110.

Here is a Russian film about the life and work of Boris Chertok, including many vintage film clips. The narration is in Russian.

This is a short memorial of Boris Chertok, in English, by Russia Today.

 

There are 26 comments.

  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Not just a great tipoff about a book, but a great summary of history, John, thanks! It pained us at the time to admit that Soviet space achievements weren’t all gifts of Germans, or spies.

    I hope you’ll forgive an unrelated space question. I’ve seen drawings from “Woman in the Moon”, the 1929 German silent picture, as well as other Willy Ley-era speculation about orbital stations and the method of generating electricity seems anachronistic: big solar reflectors heating the core of a steam turbine-generator set. At a time when selenium was the only feeble photoelectric generator, the idea of Con Edison in outer space doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

    Could the idea have worked in some form? To your knowledge has this method ever been used in flight?

    • #1
    • January 31, 2015, at 1:59 PM PST
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  2. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker

    Gary McVey:

    I’ve seen drawings from “Woman in the Moon”, the 1929 German silent picture, as well as other Willy Ley-era speculation about orbital stations and the method of generating electricity seems anachronistic: big solar reflectors heating the core of a steam turbine-generator set. At a time when selenium was the only feeble photoelectric generator, the idea of Con Edison in outer space doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

    Fritz Lang’s Frau im Mond was indeed prophetic. It always makes me shiver when I see the launcher rolled out along a crawlerway to the launch pad from a building which resembles NASA’s VAB, precisely like the Saturn V.

    Actually, with efficiency of photovoltaic power now running around 40% for the fanciest and most expensive (multi-layer, to capture multiple bandwidth) cells, a big mirror and power-tower with a Stirling-cycle motor doesn’t seem that absurd. There’s always the problem of having a cold sink, but the farther you get from Earth the easier it gets.

    Of course, when you get into the outer Solar System, the inverse square law is not your friend. The Juno spacecraft, currently heading to Jupiter, will be the first Jupiter mission to use solar power rather than radioisotope thermal generators to provide its electricity. It has large solar arrays similar to those used by communication satellites which generate around 10 kW in Earth orbit. Their output at Jupiter? Around 400 W.

    • #2
    • January 31, 2015, at 2:58 PM PST
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  3. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    The BBC did an excellent 4-part documentary on the Soviet and US space race, which covers some of this. Absolutely worth seeing.

    the idea of Con Edison in outer space doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

    Ah. Well, we’ve had this discussion on Ricochet before. The problem is one of costs. It’s easily 1000x time expensive (probably a lot more than that) than to get the same energy as from a conventional power plant on earth. Not to mention it would take the combined number of rocket launches in the history of man kind, to launch just 1 such space station.

    There’s a lot better things to do with those rockets.

    • #3
    • January 31, 2015, at 4:46 PM PST
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  4. Red Feline Inactive

    Thanks, John! History is always so interesting from the inside, as it were.

    • #4
    • January 31, 2015, at 5:05 PM PST
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  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I don’t believe in radiating the electrical energy back to the ground; I’ve still yet to see any realistic way of doing that. We were talking about steampunk methods, in effect, of generating electricity for a space station’s own use without photoelectric cells or the heat of radioactive decay; 1929 technology.

    • #5
    • January 31, 2015, at 5:08 PM PST
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  6. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Saturday Night Science is becoming an institution around these parts. It’s quickly become one of the most popular features of Ricochet and we thought many of you would like to join John and showcase your scientific geekness. We’ve added these special SNS designs to the store:

    SNSTrio

    • #6
    • January 31, 2015, at 5:25 PM PST
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  7. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    Gary McVey:I don’t believe in radiating the electrical energy back to the ground; I’ve still yet to see any realistic way of doing that. We were talking about steampunk methods, in effect, of generating electricity for a space station’s own use without photoelectric cells or the heat of radioactive decay; 1929 technology.

    What did they use in that 1929 movie? Coal? :p

    I’m amazed at science fiction movies even today. There’s always some steam poring out everywhere inside spaceships.

    • #7
    • January 31, 2015, at 5:28 PM PST
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  8. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker

    Gary McVey:I don’t believe in radiating the electrical energy back to the ground; I’ve still yet to see any realistic way of doing that.

    We discussed that in “The Case for Space Solar Power”. I think that even the most enthusiastic advocates for this technology would agree that it would take several generations of scaling-up to get from present technology to something which could deliver energy to Earth at a cost comparable to present-day grid power.

    But the reason to pursue this option is that once you’ve sunk the R&D and initial deployment costs, the marginal cost of power is zero as long as the Sun shines. Well, not really: you have ongoing maintenance costs, but they’re more like the costs to maintain a hydroelectric dam than a thermal power plant and no cost for fuel.

    The details of delivering the power back to the ground via microwaves were largely worked out in the 1970s. The largest challenges are building the power-collecting and transmitting arrays in space. Today, if you had to launch all of that mass from Earth, the economics wouldn’t work. But if you fabricate the solar arrays and antennas from resources on the Moon (where all of the required elements are available in abundance)….

    • #8
    • January 31, 2015, at 5:32 PM PST
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  9. blank generation member Inactive

    AIG:

    Gary McVey:I don’t believe in radiating the electrical energy back to the ground; I’ve still yet to see any realistic way of doing that. We were talking about steampunk methods, in effect, of generating electricity for a space station’s own use without photoelectric cells or the heat of radioactive decay; 1929 technology.

    What did they use in that 1929 movie? Coal? :p

    I’m amazed at science fiction movies even today. There’s always some steam poring out everywhere inside spaceships.

    If I read Gary’s original comment he was envisioning large solar reflectors somehow powering a steam engine in space. But all in space. A bit like what’s going on in the Mojave desert. Is that the right picture?

    • #9
    • January 31, 2015, at 5:42 PM PST
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  10. blank generation member Inactive

    Gary McVey:I don’t believe in radiating the electrical energy back to the ground; I’ve still yet to see any realistic way of doing that. We were talking about steampunk methods, in effect, of generating electricity for a space station’s own use without photoelectric cells or the heat of radioactive decay; 1929 technology.

    Satellites use heat pipes to radiate excess energy into the void. This is a closed system. I wonder if anyone’s tried to tap into it and get useful energy out.

    • #10
    • January 31, 2015, at 5:49 PM PST
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  11. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker

    blank generation member:

    If I read Gary’s original comment he was envisioning large solar reflectors somehow powering a steam engine in space. But all in space. A bit like what’s going on in the Mojave desert. Is that the right picture?

    The most plausible design based upon current technology is a large array of photovoltaic panels (solar cells) delivering power to a distributed antenna which beams power in the microwave band to the ground. Solar cells are now efficient enough that they’re more efficient than a central power generating and distribution system.

    The advantage of such a design is that it can be built from tens of thousands of identical modules assembled in space. There is no need for any single heavy structure, and you can start with a small prototype which simply provides power for a direct broadcast satellite and scale up to a powersat simply by using more modules.

    • #11
    • January 31, 2015, at 5:59 PM PST
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  12. blank generation member Inactive

    This place is interesting if you get a chance to visit –

    http://www.tsenki.com/en/about/branch/southern/museum/

    It reminded me of the AF museum at the Cape where the old blockhouse for the Mercury launches are. All the 60’s technology looked that same as ours, but the writing was in Cyrillic.

    • #12
    • January 31, 2015, at 6:03 PM PST
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  13. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    John Walker:

    But the reason to pursue this option is that once you’ve sunk the R&D and initial deployment costs, the marginal cost of power is zero as long as the Sun shines. Well, not really: you have ongoing maintenance costs, but they’re more like the costs to maintain a hydroelectric dam than a thermal power plant and no cost for fuel.

    By their best estimates (all hypothetical and with so much guess work, as to be meaningless), they would expect 2% of the modules to be replaced every year. At the scale they are talking about, that’s billions of dollars in maintenance costs per year. That’s several orders of magnitude higher than a comparable-sized hydroelectric dam.

    • #13
    • January 31, 2015, at 6:08 PM PST
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  14. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’m more skeptical about endless environmental lawsuits on behalf of the migrating geese whose gonads are being mildly fried as they nonchalantly (or I guess, chalantly) transit the target zone.

    • #14
    • January 31, 2015, at 6:21 PM PST
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  15. Peter Robinson Founder

    John, you astound me yet again. How did you even learn of the existence of these four volumes?

    One overall question, if I may ask now without spoiling your coming reviews of the remaining three volumes: How much did the Soviet rocket program end up relying on espionage? How much of their technology did they steal from us? (If that’s the right way to put it when so many of the leading scientists working in Huntsville were German.) We’ve known for years now that the Soviets had infiltrated our own programs early on. But how much use were they able to make of the information their spies gave them?

    • #15
    • January 31, 2015, at 7:27 PM PST
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  16. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    Peter Robinson:John, you astound me yet again. How did you even learn of the existence of these four volumes?

    One overall question, if I may ask now without spoiling your coming reviews of the remaining three volumes: How much did the Soviet rocket program end up relying on espionage? How much of their technology did they steal from us? (If that’s the right way to put it when so many of the leading scientists working in Huntsville were German.) We’ve known for years now that the Soviets had infiltrated our own programs early on. But how much use were they able to make of the information their spies gave them?

    An interesting question. I’d expand it by saying, how much spying did they really need to do, given the amount of info we openly published in academic and technical reports.

    • #16
    • January 31, 2015, at 8:26 PM PST
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  17. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker

    Peter Robinson:One overall question, if I may ask now without spoiling your coming reviews of the remaining three volumes: How much did the Soviet rocket program end up relying on espionage? How much of their technology did they steal from us?

    The impression I get from Chertok’s work (where you might be inclined to say, “Well, of course he’d say that as a matter of pride, even if he were free to talk about products of espionage”) but also from Fordham University and NASA historian Asif Siddiqi’s (editor of the English edition of Chertok’s books) 2000 history of the Soviet rocket and space program, Challenge to Apollo, (spoiler alert: I will discuss that book in a future installment of Saturday Night Science), there was very little contribution of espionage from the U.S. to the Soviet missile and space program. The story is complicated, but probably not so much as the previous sentence.

    The early Soviet missile program was, like that of the U.S., based entirely upon the work of the Germans. Indeed, Chertok worked in Germany with whatever German engineers and scientists could be rounded up and with hardware the Americans didn’t spirit away. Later the German scientists were shipped to a colony in Russia where they continued to work on the program. But unlike the U.S., which got von Braun and his key people, along with a huge cache of design documents and dozens of V-2 missiles, the Soviets had to work backward from the hardware they captured, often without the guidance of those who designed it to answer questions about why it was done that way.

    For example, suppose you find a part in the V-2 which is made of a curious metal alloy which Soviet industry does not produce, and which will be expensive to stand up manufacturing capability for. Did the Germans make the part from that alloy because the thermal, vibration, atmospheric pressure, etc. environment of the rocket required a metal with its properties, or did they use it simply because it was available from a source in Germany and used, say, in the aircraft industry? Making it from a different, available, metal and seeing if the rocket blows up is a difficult way to answer such questions, especially with Stalin and Beria looking over your shoulder.

    Chertok’s team were ordered to first build an exact copy of the German V-2, which was designated the R-1. Having discovered many possible improvements, they then produced the R-2, which is an “improved V-2” much like the U.S. Redstone. Von Braun’s team, by comparison, could proceed directly to the Redstone since they had already learned the lessons of the V-2.

    After the R-2, the Soviet missile program proceeded in a very different direction from that in the U.S. and produced technological solutions which did not resemble those of the Americans. The first Soviet ICBM, the R-7 (a derivative of which is still used today to launch Soyuz flights to the International Space Station), could not have been more different in design than the first U.S. ICBM, the Atlas. Technology continued to evolve in different directions in the U.S. and Soviet Union: the U.S. Saturn V Moon rocket had five enormous F-1 engines (the protracted and difficult development of which was discussed in a previous Saturday Night Science) on its first stage, while the Soviet N1 Moon rocket used 30 (thirty!) much smaller engines. The Soviets never developed either the very large engines used by the Saturn V first stage or the oxygen/hydrogen engines used in its upper stages.

    Looking at it purely from the standpoint of the technologies developed, if the Soviets were receiving information about the U.S. programs from espionage, they didn’t effectively put it to use, but went off in their own direction. This is so unlike the slavish (can I say that?) copying of the the design of the B-29 bomber to create the TU-4, or the Fat Man atomic bomb design in the RDS-1, it doesn’t seem that espionage played a significant part in the Soviet programs.

    While missile development was done in classified programs in the U.S. in the 1940s and ’50s, NASA was quite open in what it was doing, so espionage about general plans (although not detailed designs) was largely unnecessary. Chertok relates several occasions during the Moon race when senior designers were reviewing some publication or film from NASA and asking themselves, “Why are the Americans doing that?” The design philosophies had diverged sufficiently that even if the espionage had been available, it is unlikely the Soviet designers would have discarded their own approach to copy the U.S. designs.

    • #17
    • February 1, 2015, at 7:03 AM PST
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  18. David Knights Member

    If you are interested in the early development and use of the V-2 I highly recommend Hitler’s Rocket Soldiers.

    • #18
    • February 1, 2015, at 12:06 PM PST
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  19. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    RDS-1 was indeed a total copy of our bomb; as John Walker says, unauthorized initiative that resulted in test failure would have been a death certificate.

    But–

    The Soviets were already two years into exploring uranium when halfway decent espionage materials reached them. This is one of history’s rare, but intriguing cases where both sides have an incentive to lie a little about the effectiveness of spying.

    Ours was straightforward: that the Russians, in the words of Gen. Leslie Groves, couldn’t build a bomb in a suitcase because first they’d have to know how to make a suitcase. It’s a great gag; it wasn’t true. Spies cut maybe two years off the lead time for Soviet physicists, but they would have reached a bomb by 1953 instead of 1949. Steve Jobs’ famous visit to Xerox PARC is often cast as theft, but as with the A-bomb, the chief boost we gave the Russians was simply proving that it could be done, if you were willing to take years and spend billions.

    So why do the Russians so strenuously reject the idea that espionage gave them the secret? The obvious reason was pride–“we don’t need you”–but a more subtle postwar motivation was maintaining the fiction of Soviet innocence, that they were totally surprised by Hiroshima and forced to compete by American warmongers. Admitting that they were two years along the path to the bomb before 1945 would undercut that propaganda point.

    • #19
    • February 1, 2015, at 12:22 PM PST
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  20. Douglas Inactive

    John Walker:

    Peter Robinson:One overall question, if I may ask now without spoiling your coming reviews of the remaining three volumes: How much did the Soviet rocket program end up relying on espionage? How much of their technology did they steal from us?

    The impression I get from Chertok’s work (where you might be inclined to say, “Well, of course he’d say that as a matter of pride, even if he were free to talk about products of espionage”) but also from Fordham University and NASA historian Asif Siddiqi’s (editor of the English edition of Chertok’s books) 2000 history of the Soviet rocket and space program, Challenge to Apollo, (spoiler alert: I will discuss that book in a future installment of Saturday Night Science), there was very little contribution of espionage from the U.S. to the Soviet missile and space program. The story is complicated, but probably not so much as the previous sentence.

    The early Soviet missile program was, like that of the U.S., based entirely upon the work of the Germans. Indeed, Chertok worked in Germany with whatever German engineers and scientists could be rounded up and with hardware the Americans didn’t spirit away. Later the German scientists were shipped to a colony in Russia where they continued to work on the program. But unlike the U.S., which got von Braun and his key people, along with a huge cache of design documents and dozens of V-2 missiles, the Soviets had to work backward from the hardware they captured, often without the guidance of those who designed it to answer questions about why it was done that way.

    For example, suppose you find a part in the V-2 which is made of a curious metal alloy which Soviet industry does not produce, and which will be expensive to stand up manufacturing capability for. Did the Germans make the part from that alloy because the thermal, vibration, atmospheric pressure, etc. environment of the rocket required a metal with its properties, or did they use it simply because it was available from a source in Germany and used, say, in the aircraft industry? Making it from a different, available, metal and seeing if the rocket blows up is a difficult way to answer such questions, especially with Stalin and Beria looking over your shoulder.

    Chertok’s team were ordered to first build an exact copy of the German V-2, which was designated the R-1. Having discovered many possible improvements, they then produced the R-2, which is an “improved V-2″ much like the U.S. Redstone. Von Braun’s team, by comparison, could proceed directly to the Redstone since they had already learned the lessons of the V-2.

    After the R-2, the Soviet missile program proceeded in a very different direction from that in the U.S. and produced technological solutions which did not resemble those of the Americans. The first Soviet ICBM, the R-7 (a derivative of which is still used today to launch Soyuz flights to the International Space Station), could not have been more different in design than the first U.S. ICBM, the Atlas. Technology continued to evolve in different directions in the U.S. and Soviet Union: the U.S. Saturn V Moon rocket had five enormous F-1 engines (the protracted and difficult development of which was discussed in a previous Saturday Night Science) on its first stage, while the Soviet N1 Moon rocket used 30 (thirty!) much smaller engines. The Soviets never developed either the very large engines used by the Saturn V first stage or the oxygen/hydrogen engines used in its upper stages.

    Looking at it purely from the standpoint of the technologies developed, if the Soviets were receiving information about the U.S. programs from espionage, they didn’t effectively put it to use, but went off in their own direction. This is so unlike the slavish (can I say that?) copying of the the design of the B-29 bomber to create the TU-4, or the Fat Man atomic bomb design in the RDS-1, it doesn’t seem that espionage played a significant part in the Soviet programs.

    While missile development was done in classified programs in the U.S. in the 1940s and ’50s, NASA was quite open in what it was doing, so espionage about general plans (although not detailed designs) was largely unnecessary. Chertok relates several occasions during the Moon race when senior designers were reviewing some publication or film from NASA and asking themselves, “Why are the Americans doing that?” The design philosophies had diverged sufficiently that even if the espionage had been available, it is unlikely the Soviet designers would have discarded their own approach to copy the U.S. designs.

    The TU-4 was nothing more than an exercise in “Monkey See, Monkey Do” copying. The B-29 the Soviets captured had a hole mistakenly drilled into the wing frame by Boeing at the factory. It was a trivial mistake, and so they allowed the wing to be used. Every single TU-4 the Soviets built replicated that mistake hole.

    • #20
    • February 1, 2015, at 1:15 PM PST
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  21. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    Douglas:

    The TU-4 was nothing more than an exercise in “Monkey See, Monkey Do” copying. The B-29 the Soviets captured had a hole mistakenly drilled into the wing frame by Boeing at the factory. It was a trivial mistake, and so they allowed the wing to be used. Every single TU-4 the Soviets built replicated that mistake hole.

    This is most likely an “urban legend”. The Soviets weren’t that stupid. Besides, they had 4 B-29s, so if only 1 B-29 had a “random hole”, the other 3 wouldn’t have them.

    Besides, no Westerner has gotten such a close view of a Tu-4 to have known this story.

    • #21
    • February 1, 2015, at 6:02 PM PST
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  22. David Knights Member

    AIG:

    Douglas:

    The TU-4 was nothing more than an exercise in “Monkey See, Monkey Do” copying. The B-29 the Soviets captured had a hole mistakenly drilled into the wing frame by Boeing at the factory. It was a trivial mistake, and so they allowed the wing to be used. Every single TU-4 the Soviets built replicated that mistake hole.

    This is most likely an “urban legend”. The Soviets weren’t that stupid. Besides, they had 4 B-29s, so if only 1 B-29 had a “random hole”, the other 3 wouldn’t have them.

    Besides, no Westerner has gotten such a close view of a Tu-4 to have known this story.

    Actually many westerners have gotten a close look at a Tu-4. There is one at Monino. There is also a Chinese copy of the Russian copy at their National Air Museum outside Bejing.

    • #22
    • February 1, 2015, at 6:52 PM PST
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  23. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    David Knights:

    Actually many westerners have gotten a close look at a Tu-4. There is one at Monino. There is also a Chinese copy of the Russian copy at their National Air Museum outside Bejing.

    Close enough to know the internal structure? I don’t think people are allowed to go inside those planes at Monino or in Beijing. In fact, I’m quite certain no Westerner has been inside one.

    That story is very likely an “urban legend” for the simple fact that they had more than 1 B-29 to begin with. They used 2 of them for cross-referencing of parts. So it’s unlikely that mistakes in 1 plane would have carried over into the production aircraft.

    Also, this story is repeated in several different forms. Other versions of this story say that the Soviets copied a “patch” used to fix battle damage on a B-29. That also couldn’t have happened because there were 2 B-29s they cross-referenced. Another version of the story says they copied even the labels on the plane which still said “Boeing” on them. Which is also very unlikely.

    The Soviets really weren’t that “stupid”. They put a lot of effort into reverse-engineering the B-29, and it wasn’t just a “copy-paste” job. They had different tolerancing from the US imperial system, and different materials, so each part had to go through a lot of scrutiny.

    • #23
    • February 1, 2015, at 7:20 PM PST
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  24. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Interesting discussion, guys, and different from the run of the Ricochet mill while retaining the attention of the serious history buff. I learn a lot from the main text of a John Walker post, but also and frequently from the comments section.

    • #24
    • February 1, 2015, at 9:12 PM PST
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  25. Douglas Inactive

    AIG:

    This is most likely an “urban legend”. The Soviets weren’t that stupid. Besides, they had 4 B-29s, so if only 1 B-29 had a “random hole”, the other 3 wouldn’t have them.

    Besides, no Westerner has gotten such a close view of a Tu-4 to have known this story.

    Victor Suvorov… Soviet intel officer that defected to the West… has confirmed the story:

    “A little hole was found on the left wing of the [first] aircraft. No aerodynamics or durability expert had the slightest idead what the hell it was there for. There was no tube or wire attached to it, and there was no equivalent to it on the right wing. The opinion of a commission of experts was that the hole had been bored by a factory drill at the same time as the other holes for the rivets. So what to do? Most probably, the hole had been drilled by mistake, and later no one had bothered to fill it in as it was much too small. The chief designer was aked his opinion. ‘Do the Amercans have it?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘So why the hell are you asking me? Weren’t we ordered to make them identical! Alike as two peas?’ So, for that reason, a very small hole indeed, made with the thinnest possible drill, appeared on the left wing of all Tu-4 strategic bombers…’” 

    • #25
    • February 3, 2015, at 8:27 AM PST
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  26. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    Douglas:

    Victor Suvorov… Soviet intel officer that defected to the West… has confirmed the story:

    Victor Suvorov has written so much nonsense in his life, as to fill multiple books. In fact, he has. Not to mention that Victor Suvorov has never been anywhere near a Tu-4, or anyone who designed it or build it.

    This is a guy who said his “evidence” that the Soviets were going to invade Europe was the BT series of tanks, because they had a suspension system designed for speed and for use both on-road and off-road. Except that the suspension system was developed by an American, a decade earlier, and licensed to the Soviets, and also commonly used in British tank designs of the time.

    I have yet to run into anything he has said, that is real. This Tu-4 story is folklore that Russians repeat to themselves to make fun of the Soviet system. But it isn’t real.

    The fact that this “story” is repeated in some many forms, is indicative that it’s just folklore.

    Another version of the story goes that the B-29 had two interior colors because the factory in the US ran out of one color (which if anyone has ever worked at an aircraft factory knows, those “colors” aren’t just colors. So that’s not how it works). So the Soviets copied the same color scheme inside their Tu-4s too.

    Of course, it’s all funny stories, but with no truth to them. The reality of course is that, not only did they have 4 B-29s, but to reverse-engineer such a plane is no easy task. It’s a really monumental task, and the Soviets clearly weren’t stupid, because within a year or 2 they already had improved versions out, and very different versions based on the B-29.

    • #26
    • February 3, 2015, at 2:29 PM PST
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