MILESTONES—The Pioneers and their Aircraft

1903

  • Karlis Skaubitis - c.1903
    Built a quadruplane glider, but had little success with it and, for the time being, switched to ballooning.

1908

  • Friedrich Zander - 1908
    Zander was unique among early Latvian aviation enthusiasts—he was focused, from the very beginning, on space travel and exploration. In 1908 he began recording his thoughts and theories on the subject and he continued his work right up to his death in 1933, culminating in the design of the OR-2, the first Soviet liquid-fueled rocket engine.

1909

  • The First Student Society for Aeronautics and Flight Technology - 1909
    Built a biplane hang glider which they flew frequently in the vicinity of Riga.

1910

  • Teodor Kalep's "Motor" Factory - February 1910
    Kaleps was a graduate of the Riga Polytechnical Institute who was the supervisor of the "First Transmission, Machinery and Foundry Factory" (commonly known as "Motor") in Zasulauks, a suburb of Riga. In 1908 he began to consider assembling aircraft at the factory, and in February 1910 he ordered a biplane from the Berlin branch of the Wright Aeroplane Company. The aircraft arrived on March 1 and was a success. Kaleps was manufacturing engines intended for use in the airplanes and, while his first engines resembled the bulky gasoline engines used on the Wright aircraft, he soon switched to building Gnome seven cylinder rotary engines. Soon, he had designed a rotary engine of his own - one which was both more powerful and reliable than the Gnome and it was named the M-1. In 1911 it was accepted for use by the Imperial Russian Air Service.
  • Russo-Baltic Wagon Works (RBWZ) Begin Producing Aircraft - 1910
    The RBWZ establishes an aeronautical division and begins producing aircraft under the direction of technician Rudolfs Vitols. Their first aircraft was a biplane, designed by Roger Sommer and built under license. By 1912 they had produced ten aircraft - seven of the Sommer biplanes, two biplanes designed by Jacob M.Hackel, and a Kudashov IV, the fourth model by Russian designer Kojaz Kudashov.
  • Teodor Kaleps Begins Production - July 1910
    The first powered aircraft completely manufactured by Kaleps' "Motor" factory, was test flown by T.Meibaums on July 10, 1910.
  • Eduards Pulpe and his Aviation Society - 1910
    Pulpe, who had already studied aeronautics in Germany, returned to Latvia and, while employed as a teacher in the Kenins private school in Riga, he organized a Society for Aviation Enthusiasts. The group, mostly made up of his students, designed and built a small powered airplane which he flew a number of times that summer from a beach at the Riga seashore.
  • The First Aviation Festival in Latvia - March 7, 1910
    This was a strictly Russian affair, with no real Latvian participation. It was held at the Hippodrome in Riga, continued for a few months, and drew an enormous amount of interest, which certainly spurred the development of Latvia's own pioneer aviation.
  • The Hans Grade Biplane comes to Riga - May 22, 1910
    This was purchased by Riga bicycle manufacturer A.Leitner directly from Hans Grade of Germany.
  • The Wright Biplane's first appearance in Latvia - May 30, 1910
    A Wright Biplane was scheduled to make demonstration flights at the Hippodrome on May 30, intended to be the high point of the Aviation Festival mentioned above. The event was a complete failure when, after six attempts, the pilot (Dr. Orla Arnzen) could not make a long enough takeoff run to permit him to clear the obstacles at the end of the field. The crowd, which had paid as much as three roubles apiece to witness the spectacle, went home disappointed.
  • First Powered Flight in Riga - June 6, 1910
    T.Meibaums, a Latvian technician, flies the Grade Biplane from Solitude (a horse racetrack in Zasulauks, a Riga suburb). He records a flight time of 56 seconds, an estimated altitude of 8 metres, and was the first powered flight recorded in Riga.

1911

  • Kuzminskis Raises the Latvian Flight Endurance Record - March 5, 1911
    A.Kuzminskis flies a Bleriot IX at Solitude for a record-setting 110 seconds at an estimated height of 24 metres.
  • Smits Raises the Latvian Flight Endurance Record - March 6, 1911
    V.Smits flies a Sommer Biplane at Solitude for a record-setting 3 minutes and 44 seconds at an estimated height of 80 metres.
  • Smits Raises the Latvian Flight Endurance Record - March 10, 1911
    V.Smits flies a Sommer Biplane at Solitude for a record-setting 9 minutes and 37 seconds at an estimated height of 170 metres.
  • Janis Steglavs' First Aeroplane - May 1911
    Janis Steglavs was a very talented sheet-metal worker from Jelgava who moved his business to St.Petersburg. While there, he learned that the Russian War Ministry was holding a design competition for new military aircraft. Steglavs decided to try his hand at aircraft design and construction. He produced an innovative biplane, powered by a 100 hp Argus engine. He first flew it, in St.Petersburg, in May 1911 and used this aircraft to teach himself to fly. This aircraft was known, simply, as Biplane No. 1.
  • First Public Powered Flight Demonstration in Latvia - June 15, 1911
    Until now, all these powered flights had been essentially private affairs, witnessed only by a handful of aviation enthusiasts and assistants. On June 15, Russian pilot Sergei Utochkin organized a public demonstration in his Farman IV biplane. He flew from the Hippodrome to the Riga seashore (about 15 km distant) and then returned, which was a considerable feat for that time.
  • Alfred Rozentals First Hang Glider
    Rozentals, while still a high school student, built and flew his own hang glider. With this glider he made many successful flights in Meza Parks.
  • Abrams, Vizins and Treibergs Build a Glider - 1911
    Peteris Abrams, a future Aviation Regiment aviator, and his two friends Karlis Vizins and Treibergs, built a successful biplane hang glider. They flew it frequently from various locations around Riga and were looking to acquire an engine for it when the First World War broke out and ended their plans.
  • Vilis Balcers and Rudolfs Celms - c.1911-1913
    Balcers and Celms, still in their teens, were fascinated with aviation. Over the years they produced a string of home-built hang gliders. These were, for the most part, unsuccessful and crashed frequently, but Celms went on to fly with the Imperial Russian Air Service and, later, the Latvian Air Regiment.
  • Janis Sumanis Hang Glider - 1911
    Sumanis produced a home-built hang glider, which he first flew in 1911. He continued with many successful flights until, in 1914, he joined the Imperial Russian Air Service.

1912

  • Janis Steglav's Second Aeroplane - 1912
    After beating up Biplane No.1 as he learned to fly, Steglavs set about building a second aeroplane incorporating a number of design ideas which were suggested by his experience with his first aircraft. Biplane No. 2 (alternate Image) was flown in the 1912 St.Petersburg competition and was the fastest of the aircraft present, attaining a top speed of 130 kph. Sadly, he did not obtain any military contracts to produce this airplane or a third, better one, which followed. His business foundered and his career as an aeronautical designer and builder came to an end.
  • Kristaps Cirulis' Airplane - c.1912
    Kristaps Henrijs Cirulis was a truly self-taught aviator. Rather than working with the young aviation enthusiasts in Riga, he toiled alone at his farmhouse in Kurzeme, building a powered airplane. After a great deal of trial and error, he had taught himself to fly and, until the beginning of the war, he travelled around Russia with his airplane doing demonstration flights.
  • Kaleps Produces Two Original Designs/Prototypes - c.1912
    Teodors Kaleps, at his "Motor" factory, produced a monoplane and a twin-engined biplane. Prototypes failed to attract much attention, but he continued with his other aviation projects until his death on April 30, 1913.

1913

  • Vladimir V. Sljusarenko and Lidija V. Zvereva-Sljusarenko
    This Russian pilot and his wife Lidija established an aviation facility in Riga in the spring of 1913. They would construct and repair small aircraft, and they also operated a very successful flying school. Their workshop produced a number of Farman designs both for the school and also under contract for the Imperial Russian Air Service. Their business thrived in Riga until, during the war, the German army approached and the Sljusarenkos withdrew into Russia.
  • Alfred Rozentals' Powered Airplane - June 1913
    In mid-1913 Rozentals designed and built his own airplane, powered by a 25 hp Anzani engine. The aircraft resembled a Grade design, with distinctly "Taube-like" wingtips, but he added a great many innovative ideas of his own. Unfortunately, he had to take out a loan to purchase the engine and, when he was unable to repay the loan, the bank repossessed his airplane. It is not known what the bank did with the flying machine.
  • The Russo-Baltic Wagon Works (RBWZ) Relocates to St.Petersburg
    The successful RBWZ aeronautical division relocates to St.Petersburg and is renamed the Russo-Baltic Aircraft Factory. They do, however, leave behind their engine manufacturing facility and this factory produces the RBWZ-6, a large engine designed specifically to power the massive Ilya Mourometz designed by Sikorsky. The first of these engines is installed in an airframe in July 1915, but the engine factory has to be withdrawn into Russia when the facility is in danger of falling into German hands.
  • Teodors Kaleps Builds a Dibovski Powered Aircraft - 1913
    Kaleps' factory begins producing an aircraft designed by Russian Viktor V. Dibovski. This was a streamlined monoplane powered by the Kaleps-designed rotary engine.
  • Olgerts Teteris' Hang Glider
    Olgerts Teteris, while a Chemistry student at the Riga Polytechnical Institue, develops an interest in aviation and builds his own hang glider. He flies this regularly from various hilltops in the Riga vicinity, but when war breaks out he leaves Latvia to become a pilot in the Imperial Russian Air Service.

1914

  • Eduard Pulpe's Plans for an Aircraft Factory - 1914
    Pulpe returned from Paris, where he had been studying aeronautical engineering at the Sorbonne. He had plans to establish an aircraft design and manufacturing facility in Riga, had even arranged for the financing, when World War One broke out. He dropped his plans and joined the Imperial Russian Air Service instead.

Sources

  • Bruvelis, Edvins Latvijas Aviacijas Vesture
  • Irbitis, Karlis Latvijas Aviacija un tas Pionieri
  • Irbitis, Karlis Of Struggle and Flight

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