DMITRY PAVLOVICH GRIGOROVICH was an aviator, inventor, the father of the world’s first seaplane and fighter-boat with an armored cockpit, and also of the M-9 flying boat, which was a military sensation of its time.
ACCIDENTS AND CORRUPTION AS ENGINES OF PROGRESS
Surprisingly, a powerful career boost to Dmitry Grigorovich’s design career was given by the accident and corruption. On the eve of the First World War, a military pilot who was a friend of Grigorovich was sitting on the water on the French “Donne-Levek” seaplane, when he accidentally damaged the aircraft. The rules were strict: the pilot faced either a long-term grounding, or he had to repair it at his own expense. The pilot didn’t have any money. It would have seemed that his military career had come to an end. But not so fast: Dmitri Grigorovich came to his aid and decided to repair the French aircraft.
And he did it without any schematics. By reverse-engineering this French seaplane Grigorovich got some invaluable experience. And two years later (after the outbreak of World War I), another, much more serious scandal occurred: the Americans were selling used, refurbished aircraft to the Russian military, pretending they were new ones. When this scam was discovered on both sides, the decision of the admiral Andrei Ebergard was tough: “We do not accept these machines and no one should fly in them.” This began a time of flourishing for this native of Ukraine, who began to design and build planes to replace these – and his aircraft were unique.
BOATS THAT FLY, OR PLANES THAT SWIM?
The first airplane that was capable of landing on water was created by the American Glenn Curtis in 1909. But, in fact, it was really just a normal airplane mounted on some floats. The sensational difference between Grigorovich’s seaplanes, the first of which he developed in 1912-1913, is that no floats were required: the fuselage was the landing-gear, the aircraft hull was a boat (to this day most seaplanes still operate using this principle).
The M-5 was extremely successful and became the main seaplane used by the military, displacing all its foreign counterparts that were worse in tactical and technical characteristics. The M-9 seaplane, also created by Grigorovich, was able to sail safely on the water even during large storms. It could take off and land freely in waves up to a half-meter tall. It was also able to land without skis on snow-covered fields. His M-21 aircraft also introduced an innovative design. It was able to take off using wheels from a normal airfield, store its chassis while it was flying, and then land on the water.
OUT OF A PRISON AND UP FOR A PRIZE
After the revolution of 1917, Grigorovich decided not to emigrate and continued to build aircraft. This was “appreciated” by the Bolshevik secret police: the aviator was supervised by the NKVD (Soviet counter-intelligence). Dmitry Pavlovich was not killed as many were during that time, but he was not unscathed either: he was charged with “wrecking” and was expelled to a special design bureau where the secret police could watch him closely.
In the 1930s, he worked as the chief designer of the infamous TsKB-39 (known as the “sharashka”) a special hybrid prison/aircraft design bureau run by the Soviet secret police, by then called the OGPU. He was granted amnesty in 1931 in a strange way – he was presented with a certificate and a prize of 10 thousand rubles. In the spring of 1938 Grigorovich was appointed head of the newly organized design bureau in Novosibirsk. But a few months later the inventor died of leukemia. His M-24 flying boat was used for decades in the USSR: for exploring and photographing the Far North and for exploration over the ice-shelf. Grigorovich’s ideas are still being used in aviation.
– Grigorovich built his first biplane without funding. It was made out of bamboo in his native Kyiv, in a barn on the Kurenivsky airfield.
– While testing the M-5 flying boat in 1915, Lieutenant George Friede flew under all the bridges of the Neva river in Petrograd.
– Having received several of Grigorovich’s seaplanes, the US military department organized their mass production in 1918.
– A four-seater civilian aircraft created by the Grigorovich design bureau was ordered by an airline based in Kharkiv and was used only in Ukraine.
– In the bomber TB-5 there were hammocks for the pilots to resting in and toilet.
– While creating the MK-1 aircraft Dmitry Grigorovich was the first in the introduced the unconventional scheme of mounting the biplane’s wings to the fuselage using shock absorbers. Only a few years later, the French also began to do this, but they named the method after Henri Farman.
– Under Grigorovich’s leadership the future designer of the first spacecraft, Sergei Korolev, who was also a native of Zhytomyr, Ukraine, worked at TsKB-39.
– Grigorovich was an athlete and a man of great physical strength. According to contemporaries, he would exercise easily with a 32 kg kettlebell.
FROM THE DOSSIER OF DMITRY GRIGOROVICH
– Grigorovich was born on February 6, 1883 in Kyiv.
– He graduated from the Kyiv Practical School, Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, and studied aerodynamics and engine theory at Liege University.
– At the end of 1917, he created only one fewer model of aircraft than another famous Kyiv resident, Igor Sikorsky (21 vs. 22). He was fluent in Ukrainian, Russian, English, French, and German.
– He died on July 26, 1938 in Moscow.
– His first wife Nadiia Suknevich and youngest daughter Roxanne left memoirs of his first steps in aviation and his life.
“The airplane is no longer a toy, but a powerful and always-ready means of communication, intelligence gathering, and even combat”– Dmitry Grigorovich.
This article by Nadiia Avramchuk and Mykola Sukhomozsky is reprinted with the publisher’s permission from the book (UN)Celebrated Ukrainians Who Changed the Course of History, SAMIT-KNYHA, Kyiv, 2020.
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