"Latvia" Former Soviet Union Military Bases
Imperial Russian Air Force Service 
Imperial Russian Air Force
Active: 1909 to 1917
Country: Russian Empire
Role: Aerial Warfare
Part of: Engineer Corps "to 1915" Stavka "from 1915"
Engagements: World War I 
     Aerial ramming attack performed by Pyotr Nesterov 
     Remains of Austrian aircraft Albatros, first enemy airplane destroyed
     in flight in the history of military aviation
The Imperial Russian Air Force "Императорскiй военно-воздушный флотъ", Emperor's Military Air Fleet  existed in the Russian Empire between 1910 and 1917.
The origins of Russian aviation go back to theoretical projects of the 1880s by pioneer Russian scientists such as Nikolai Kibalchich and Alexander Mozhaysky. During the 1890s aviation innovation was further advanced by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.
In 1904 Nikolai Zhukovsky established the world's first Aerodynamic Institute in Kachino near Moscow.
In 1910 the Imperial Russian Army purchased a number of French planes and began training the first military pilots. The history of military aircraft in Imperial Russia is closely associated with the name of Igor Sikorsky .
In 1913 Sikorsky built the first four-engine biplane, the Russky Vityaz, and his famous bomber aircraft, the Ilya Muromets.
In the same year Dmitry Grigorovich built a number of “flying boats” for the Imperial Russian Navy.
In 1914 Russian aviators conducted the first ever flights in the Arctic looking for the lost expedition of polar explorer Georgy Sedov.
At the beginning of World War I, Russia had an air force second only to France, although a significant part of the Imperial Russian Air Force used outdated French aircraft. Initially, Russians used aviation only for reconnaissance and coordination of artillery fire, but in December 1914 a squadron of Ilya Muromets bombers was formed and used against the German and Austro-Hungarian armies.
Among Russian pilots were the legendary Pyotr Nesterov, who performed the first aerial ramming plane attack in the history of aviation, and the most successful Russian flying ace and fighter pilot Alexander Kazakov, who shot down 32 enemy planes. In 1915 the Imperial Russian Air Force, formerly part of the Engineer Corps, became a separate branch of the army directly under command of the Stavka "Commander-in-Chief's HQ".
However, the war was not going well for Russia and following significant setbacks on the Eastern front, and the economic collapse in the rear, military aircraft production fell far behind Russia's rival Germany.
In late 1916 Sikorsky built a unique four-engine bomber-biplane called Alexander Nevsky, but it was never put to serial production due to the events preceding and following the October Revolution, and Sikorsky’s emigration to the United States of America in 1919.
                        Imperial airplane hangars in Tallinn harbor
The Imperial Russian Air Force aircraft hangars for seaplanes in Reval "Tallinn" harbor were some of the first reinforced concrete structures in the world. 
After the Russian Revolution of 1917 the Imperial Russian Air Force was succeeded by the "Workers' and Peasants' Air Fleet", with the status of a Main Directorate, on 24 May 1918.
Command Structure
At the beginning of the war the basic Russian unit was the Otryad or "Squadron". Originally, these consisted of only six planes, but this was soon increased to ten planes with two machines held in reserve. These Otryads were put together in to Groups of three or four and, like their German counterparts on the Western Front, moved to strategic points on the Front where and when they were needed. Even larger groups of aircraft called Istrebitelnyi Divisyon (fighter wing) were attached to each Field Army. 
Production Problems & Maintenance Issues
In spite of Czarist Russia's need for airframes and engines, between 1914 and 1917 only about 5000 planes were built in Russia. Much of this was due to the fact that Russian industry could not keep pace with demand. Imperial Russia did not possess the manufacturing capacity to produce engines and airframes in the numbers needed. Thus, the Czarist government relied heavily on imported engines and airframes from France and Britain. Czarist Russia's aircraft production slightly outpaced her Austrian opponent, who it should be noted stayed in the war one year longer, produced about 5,000 aircraft and 4,000 engines between 1914 and 1918. Of course, the output of Russia and Austria-Hungary pale in comparison to the 20,000 aircraft and 38,000 engines produced by Italy and the more than 45,000 aircraft produced in Germany.
In addition to construction problems the Imperial Russian Air Service faced great difficulties in keeping the aircraft they did have in the air. Because it was so difficult to get new machines in a timely manner and because the Russians faced a shortage of aircraft for such a large front, the Russian high command kept out of date aircraft flying as long as possible. Thus, Russian pilots flew obsolete machines in combat throughout the war in the face of much better enemy airplanes. The fact that so many obsolescent machines remained in service produced Otryads that were an eclectic mix of aircraft; some front line, others nearly so, and some that should not have been flying. With so many different engines and airframes from French, British and Russian factories, trying to keep the planes flying was a constant challenge for Imperial ground crews. One report from the American War Department dated August 24, 1916 stated that, "The great majority of Russian machines are very dangerous to fly, due to the lack of proper over-hauling and having been tinkered with by inexperienced men. Lack of spare parts induced the Russians to fit magnetos and sparking systems to motors for which they were not built, and this makes the wear and tear excessive all around." 
  • Morane-Saulnier L
  • Morane-Saulnier N
  • Sikorsky S-20
  • Nieuport 10
  • Nieuport 11
  • Nieuport 17
  • Nieuport 24
  • Nieuport 27
  • SPAD A.2
  • Sopwith Camel
  • Sopwith Snipe
  • Sopwith Triplane
  • Anatra D
  • Anatra DS
  • Lebed XII
  • Lebed XI
  • Morane-Saulnier P
  • Sikorsky Ilya Muromets
Workers' and Peasants' Air Fleet, or Soviet Air Forces
Военно-воздушные силы СССР
Voyenno-vozdushnye sily SSSR
                            Flag of the Soviet Air Force
Active: 24 May 1918
Country: RSFSR, USSR
Main Staff: Moscow
The Soviet Air Force, officially known in Russian as "Военно-воздушные силы" or "in the Latin alphabet" "Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily" literally, "Military Air Forces" and often abbreviated VVS "ВВС in Cyrillic" was the official designation of one of the air forces of the Soviet Union. The other was the Soviet Air Defense Forces. The Air Forces were formed from components of the Imperial Russian Air Force in 1917, faced their greatest test during World War II, were involved in the Korean War, and dissolved along with the Soviet Union itself in 1991-1992.
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Revised: 02/07/2013 – 08:11:16