Alexander Mozhaysky. Sails and Wings

21 March 2020

Alexander Mozhaysky is one of the most significant and at the same time ambiguous figures of Russian history of the 19th century.

A talented representative of the officers, Mozhaysky was a professional sailor and shipbuilder, a participant in Russian military diplomatic missions, helped to implement the peasant reform of 1861, designed, manufactured and brought the aircraft to the level of flight tests. At the same time, national historiography covered his activities for the most part incomplete and biased.

The future rear admiral and aircraft builder was born on March 21, 1825 in the city of Rochensalme of the Vyborg province of the Principality of Finland into a family of hereditary sailors. He was educated and trained in St. Petersburg, in one of the best military educational institutions in Russia - the Naval Cadet Corps. Then he was headed by naval commander and researcher Admiral Ivan Fedorovich Krusenstern. After brilliant graduating of the Cadet Corps, Mozhaysky’s naval service and military career began.

He sailed in the Baltic and White Seas on various ships, and in 1853 went on a diplomatic expedition to establish trade relations from Kronstadt to Japan. Despite the fact that the frigate “Diana”, which team included Mozhaysky, suffered from a tsunami and an earthquake in the Japanese port, the crew helped the local population restore the destroyed coastal structures, and according to the drawings of Mozhaysky they managed to jointly build the schooner “Kheda” - the first ship in Japan created on the European model, on which the expedition returned to Russia. Largely thanks to the ensuing friendly relations between sailors and local residents, the first Russian-Japanese treaty was concluded.

Historians also characterize Mozhaysky as “...a good draftsman with a keen eye for a researcher who knows how to use the new technique at that time - daguerreotypes”. It is assumed that "... the first photographs in Japan were made precisely by A. F. Mozhaisky". This is stated in a detailed analysis of his life and career carried out by Yuri Anatolyevich Nikulin in his dissertation Alexander Fyodorovich Mozhaysky - Russian naval officer and aircraft designer: life and career: 1825-1890, an abstract of which is available on the Presidential Library’s portal.

Participation in another military diplomatic mission led the lieutenant to Khiva and Bukhara. He organized the delivery of people and goods on specially built ships, compiled a description of the Amu Darya River, along which the border of the Russian Empire ran, kept a diary of astronomical observations. For the successful completion of the expedition, Mozhaysky received another rank of lieutenant commander.

Alexander Fyodorovich filled breaks in the maritime service with vigorous civic activities. In Vologda province, he took an active part in the reform of 1861. In Nikulin’s aforementioned work it is noted that Mozhaysky “as a world mediator, participated in the preparation of statutory letters, in the allotment of land to peasants who were freed from serfdom, the transfer of estates, the measurement of land, in the analysis of numerous lawsuits and complaints”.

In 1882, Captain 1st Rank Mozhaysky was awarded the rank of Major General with dismissal from service "for domestic reasons". Soon he received the title of Rear Admiral.

Alexander Mozhaysky’s service in the fleet took place in the era of replacing sails with steam engines. Hence his interest in the interaction of a steam engine, propeller and sail. Nikulin "... assumes that this factor influenced the formation of the idea of ​​creating a flying wing with a screw rotated by a mechanical engine".

Back in 1855, Mozhaysky, observing the flight of seabirds, swallows and pigeons, as well as kites, began to think about creating an aircraft heavier than air. His first ideas are ripening - the need to take off, the pointed form of a fixed oblique wing, special motors.

In 1876, the designer began work on the first model of his brainchild. Successful test flights inspire him to build a full-scale aircraft with a human-powered aircraft engine. The device was created as an amphibious aircraft, designed for reconnaissance and bombing. Neither the lack of funds for the implementation of the project, nor the indifference of the state, nor the skepticism of authoritative scientists could stop the inventor. After several years of developing the drawings and obtaining the world's first patent for an airplane - the “air projectile” - in 1882, its first test was carried out. During the run on wooden rails, the “steam airplane” tilted and lost its wing. Until his death, Mozhaysky tried to repair and modify his invention.

Alexander Mozhaysky died on March 21, 1890. He was buried at the Smolensky Cemetery in St. Petersburg.

According to his fate Alexander Fyodorovich remained a brilliant loner. Mozhaysky, who embodied the design of the aircraft, all the basic elements of which are inherent in modern aircraft, overtook his time. Among the names that make up the pride of Russia, the name of Alexander Mozhaysky has a worthy place.