Robert Bartini – Italian aircraft designer
Aircraft designer Robert Bartini is a mystery man. Until now, it is unclear who he really was: aircraft designer ahead of time, a brilliant self-taught physicist or maybe just an artist with a capital letter? Probably, no one will answer these questions – the archives about Bartini disappeared as mysteriously as he lived himself…
Biography of Bartini is complicated from the very beginning. According to the official version, Robert was an illegitimate son of the Italian count, the vice-governor of the Austrian province, Fiume Lodovico Oros de Bartini. The baby was allegedly given to a count’s gardener, and one day the countess, walking in the garden, noticed the adorable baby, fell in love with him and adopted him. The boy grew up in a happy family without any worries and hassles. Robert had another version, as if he was the legal son of Baron Formah… There is only one discrepancy: neither the Bartini family nor the Formahs ever existed. In general, a mystery covered in darkness…
Robert spoke several languages, was fond of sports, physics and mathematics, drawing and writing poetry. But his main passion was aviation. The father gave the young man an airplane, hired a coach. During the First World War Robert managed to graduate from high school and enter an officer’s school. He was drafted into the army and was in Bukovina just when Brusilov’s troops were making their famous breakthrough. Bartini was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp in the Far East. For a few years he learned the Russian language and was imbued with the ideas of socialism. As a result, he returned to his homeland a convinced communist. He did not live in his father’s estate, but went to Milan, where he lived in doss houses, worked in a factory and studied in absentia at the Polytechnic Institute at the aeronautical faculty. In 1921, he joined the Communist Party of Italy and began to finance the Italian Communists.
In 1923, a young Communist was in the Soviet Union. According to the official version – Bartini was saved from the persecution of the fascists. But how he managed to escape from Italy?
What Bartini did before 1930 was a new mystery. The official version reported that our hero served in an experimental plant in Moscow, headed the Black Sea Fleet aviation in Sevastopol and even began to engage in design activities, but there are no documents confirming this information.
One way or another, Bartini was appointed chief designer of the Civil Fleet Research Institute, where, under his keen guidance, a project of a 40-ton sea battleship MTB was developed. Aircraft of such weight did not yet exist in world practice at that time.
I must say, all his projects had one feature: they were vivid, original and innovative. Probably, it is because many of them remained on paper only. Bartini created a distant Arctic spy Dar which could land on the ice and water, the experimental aircraft Steel-6 (Stal-6), in which Robert first used steel instead of wood sheathing and increased the speed – more than 420 km / H, 60 km more than the foreign fighters of the same year of release. In addition, Bartini first guessed to make the chassis fully retractable after take-off and released before landing. In 1936, at the International Exhibition in Paris, the Soviet high-speed aircraft Steel-7 with flight characteristics exceeding all world records was exhibited. But Bartini went even further and soon developed a fighter Steel-8, designed for an even greater speed – 630 km / h. However, it wasn’t built for various reasons.
In 1938 Bartini was arrested. He was charged with links with Tukhachevsky, as well as in espionage in favor of Mussolini (from whose regime he once fled!). Just at the moment when a solemn reception was taking place in the Kremlin on the occasion of the successful completion of the tests of the aircraft Stal-7, its creator was tortured in the cellars of the Lubyanka.
Bartini was sentenced to 10 years in camps. But he was lucky (if, of course, it can be called luck): he got into the so-called “sharaga”. In such special prisons there were the best people of the country, working on the development of equipment under the reliable supervision of the NKVD. Bartini was in one “sharaga” with Sergei Korolyov and Andrei Tupolev. There, in Omsk, he developed a project, absolutely unique for his time, of a supersonic jet fighter.
In the early 1950s he was sent to Novosibirsk, where he worked at the Institute of Aerodynamics of the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences. And only in 1957, he returned to Moscow and headed the design bureau in Lyubertsy.
In total, he created more than 10 experimental aircraft and in 1967 the designer was awarded the Order of Lenin.