A World War II wonder weapon?
Russia Turned a Bomber Into a Mothership-Style Flying Aircraft Carrier
Soon, however, Shubikov’s Circus would be called on to hit a much more vital target—and this time, Axis forces would be expecting them.
Since their debut of aerial warfare, air arms have struggled to find ways to extend the range of small, agile fighter aircraft optimized for speed and maneuverability rather than fuel capacity. In modern times, airliner-sized in-flight refueling tankers are a favored, though expensive, solution.
But before inflight refueling began to be widely adopted in the 1950s, no one found quite as creative a solution to this problem as Vladimir Vakhmistrov, who tested nine different Sveno mothership bombers designed to carry ‘parasite’ fighters on their wings and fuselage.
Remarkably, not only did the unwieldy-seeming contraptions of “Vakhmistrov’s Circus” prove air worthy, but the Sveno-SPB production model demonstrated surprising effectiveness during its brief combat career early in World War II.
In June 1931, Vakhmistrov, a test-pilot Vladimir of the VVS’s (Soviet Air Force’s) Scientific Test Institute, proposed that Soviet fighters could be usefully mounted on heavy bombers.
The bombers could allow the fighters to lift off with heavier weapons, while the fighters in turn could protect the bombers and even run their engines to speed along their motherships while attached. Umbilical fuel lines would allow the fighters to draw from their mothership’s much larger fuel supply, greatly extending range.
While the United Kingdom and U.S. Navy had tested docking “parasite” airplanes onto zeppelin-like airships, Vakhmistrov project was the first to mate one airplane to another.