Widely accepted as the world's first purpose-designed airliner, the Ilya Muromets was a visionary concept. Designed and built by Igor Sikorsky, it featured a heated, sound-insulated cabin with comfortable seating in a well-appointed lounge, a separate bedroom and the world's first airborne toilet. All this just ten years after the Wright Brothers' first hop into the air.
Although originally designed as an airliner, its service as such was long delayed. With the intervention of WW1, the type was converted to become the world's first four-engined bomber (and the first to incorporate a tail gunner).
The aircraft is named after a Russian folk hero from the Kievan Rus' tribes. He was a bogatyr - similar to a medieval knight-errant - who was endowed with superhuman strength by a dying knight. His many adventures include single-handedly defending the city of Chernigov from invaders, killing a whistling monster called Nightingale the Robber and becoming chief bogatyr to Prince Vladimir of Kiev. His quick temper once led him to destroy all of the church steeples in Kiev - possibly making him an inauspicious choice for naming a massive lumbering aircraft!
Sikorsky based the Muromets on a previous design, the Russky Viyaz, originally a twin-engined transport and later upgraded to become the world's first four-engined aircraft. He intended it from the outset to represent the epitome of airborne luxury. The cabin was sound-insulated and provided with heat by routing the exhaust pipes from the inner engines along the sides of the passenger saloon. There was electric lighting, comfortable seating and even a toilet compartment. VIP passengers could avail themselves of a private bedroom. Ample space was provided for passengers to look over the crew's shoulders and admire the miracle of flight.
Two prototypes were built, and No 107 flew for the first time in January 1914. History was made the following month, when No 128 took off with 16 passengers aboard, a world record. In June, another record was set when the Ilya Muromets flew from St Petersburg to Kiev and back, a total distance of 2,400km (1500mi). The outbound trip began on 30th June, taking 14 hours and 38 minutes, with a fuelling stop at Orsha. The return included a fuelling stop at Novosolniki and took a little over 13 hours, landing back at Kiev on 12 July. The flight earned the Order of St Vladimir from Tsar Nicholas for his ground-breaking¹ achievement.
WW1 prompted Sikorsky to consider the military potential of his design. Its prodigious lifting power and range were already proven, while the roomy passenger nacelle offered ample space for a large bomb load. Production of his Type V military version progressed rapidly, and ten were ready for squadron operations by December 1914. It made its first attack on German lines on 12 February 1915. Amply defended with up to nine machine guns it proved an unpopular target for German scout fighters, and good use was made of armour plating to protect it from ground fire. Nevertheless, its slow, unmanoeuvrable flight meant that it was vulnerable to anti-aircraft cannons and losses were heavy.
The February Revolution of 1917 saw the Muromets used by opposing sides. Several were seized by the provisional government and used against the Russian Imperial Army.
After the war, surviving Muromets were converted to their originally intended role as passenger aircraft, and production of new machines continued until 1921. The great machine finally retired from service in 1922, having set a marker of innovation for the future of air transport.
¹ Ironically, for not doing any ground breaking!
|Ilya Muromets by numbers|
|First Flight:||January 1914|
|Powerplant:||4 x Sunbeam Crusader V8 engines of 110kW (148hp)|
|Range:||Approx 800km (500mi)|
|Maximum Speed:||110km/h (68mph)|
|Length:||17.5 m (57 ft 5 in)|
|Wingspan:||29.8 m (97 ft 9 in)|
|Height:||4 m (13 ft 1 in)|
|Weight:||3,150 kg (6,930 lb)|