When asked, every school child in the west will undoubtedly tell you that the Wright Brothers were the first to fly. Well, they would be half right. The Wright Brothers were the first to fly in the western world but few Ukrainians and even fewer westerns know that they were not the very first in the world to perfect man-made flight. That aeronautic breakthrough and honor goes to a Ukrainian inventor Alexander Mozhayskyi, and predates the Dec 17, 1903 Wright Brother’s attempt by a full two decades.
This was one of the historical curiosities that was highlighted at the 2010 Bloor West Village Ukrainian Festival in Toronto this past weekend. One of the most popular displays that garnished the most visitor attention was the collection from the national historical museum in Kyiv, the world heritage site of Kyiv’s St. Sofiya cathedral and others, that featured vignettes of Ukrainian history. Produced by Taras Hukalo, assisted by Victor Glasko -this quote caught most people’s attention:
“In 1876 ALEXANDER MOZHAYSKYI flew 20 meters in steam-powered heavier than air aircraft of his own design in Voronovytsia, Vinnytsia region, Ukraine. He flew again twice in 1886. That is why Ukrainians call Voronovytsia the cradle of aviation.”
One article written in Ukraine’s Castles called “Voronovystia’s Wings opines: “Disputes about the question of who invented the first aircraft, Alexander Mozhayskyi or the Wright Brothers, can make for fascinating fireside chats and will never be settled. However, Ukrainians keep calling the Voronovysia village in Vinnytsia the cradle of aviation. The fact remains that in 1876, a strange machine built by Mozhayskyi , took off and flew in the Ukrainian skies.”
So Ukraine has a century old tradition of avionics.
Ukrainians and westerners are likely more familiar with Ihor Sikorsky. Hukalo’s display offers the following about Sikorsky: “Loosing friends in the midst of rising communist terror and mounting oppression, in 1919, after building the world’s first four engine bomber and other aircraft for the Tsar, Ihor Sikorsky , immigrated from Kyiv, Ukraine to USA. In 1923 he established the first aircraft manufacturing company in the world and created the world’s first commercially produced helicopters, taking the lead in the world of design and manufacture of military, civil, commercial helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Sikorsky’s helicopters are reputed to be the best in the world. “ Torontonians will remember Sikorsky helicopters, that were used to finish off the top sections of the CN Tower.
The other jewel in Ukrainian industrial aviation crown are Antonov and Motor Sich.
Hukalo & Glasko add: “Ukraine is one of just nine countries worldwide currently designing and building transport and top class civil aircraft. One plane, the Ukrainian AN-225 “Mriya”, NATO designation “Cossack”, is the largest aircraft in the world. General designer Petro Balabuyev said the Mriya can lift a payload of 250 metric tons in its huge belly or outside firmly secured to the top of its fuselage. Further more, despite its heavy weight (628,315 lbs. empty), with its 32 wheels it is capable of landing and taking off from sodden grass and /or ice covered fields.”
“The Antonov Design Center built the AN-225 in Kyiv, Ukraine where it also produces the second largest plane in the world, the AN-124 “Ruslan”. Involved in producing the Antonov Mriya and Ruslan’s engines model D-18T, in Zaporizhia, Ukraine, is Sich Motors. Founded in 1907, it is one of the largest enterprises in the world, the only one in Ukraine, manufacturing airplane and helicopter engines as well as industrial gas turbines.”
But Ukraine’s pre-eminence in aviation may be at risk from Russia.
On Sept 18, 2010 Interfax reported that “Ukraine is ready to offer Russia a number of joint ventures in various fields.”, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said during a meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev last week, the eight since Yanukowych came to power.
One such proposal is Zaporizhia-based OJSC Motor Sich, who plans to set up a joint venture with the Defense Ministry of Russia in Gatchina in Leningrad region by the end of 2010 to manufacture at least 100 TV3-117VMA-SBM1V helicopter engines per year .
Red flags and alarm bells should be ringing right across Ukraine.. Politicians in Ukraine who have an interest in protecting Ukraine’s strategic national interests should be protesting this Party of Regions decision at all costs. There is no economic benefit to Ukraine in this JV, since Russia brings nothing to the table. Most importantly, Russia will gain access to and steal world-class Ukrainian engine design know-how and intellectual property, which Russia desperately needs to fulfill its military contracts with India and China to supply future unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) and next generation helicopters.
The communist government in China is using a similar tactics to Russia, trying to pressure US auto manufacturers in establish JV’s in China if they want to sell electric cars to the Chinese. The USA fears losing their electric battery technology know-how to China (Wall Street Journal Sept 16 2010). Ukraine should have similar fears about aviation and Russian attempts to muscle in.
Walter Derzko is a Senior Fellow at the Strategic Innovation Lab (S-Lab) at OCAD University in Toronto and teaches at the MA program in Strategic Foresight and Innovation (SFI) at OCAD University in Toronto.