Tupolev ANT-20 / PS-124
Unshaken by this official lack of confidence, Tupolev began planning the world's largest aircraft and found support in Union of Soviet Writers and Publishers to celebrate the career of the writer Maxim Gorkii (or Gorky). Workers all over Russia donated money for the construction of not just one giant aircraft, but a whole Maxim Gorki Propaganda Squadron of them, for which 6,000,000 roubles were collected.
This aircraft flew for the first time on 19 May 1934. When it appeared at Moscow's Central Airport in the spring of 1934, Tupolev's first ANT-20 Maxim Gorki spanned 63 m (206 ft), with eight engines totalling 7200 hp, and a gross weight of 52.8 tonnes (52 tons). Within its fuselage and wings were seats for up to 80 passengers, a cinema, newspaper office, darkroom, printing press, radio station, buffet bar, toilets, sleeping quarters and an internal telephone exchange. Beneath its wings loud-speakers and illuminated signs were installed to broadcast political slogans; engineers could walk through the inside of the structure to attend to its engines.
The six engines originally fitted were not enough and an extra pair were added on a pod above the fuselage. The giant ANT-20 toured the otherwise inaccessible areas of the USSR, bringing the communist message to the masses.
Four smaller auxiliary engines were required to drive various devices, including the giant sound system and a series of lights for displaying propaganda slogans at night. The crew is said to have been up to 23 people, although most of these were associated with the propaganda function. Between eight and 10 crew were involved in actually operating the aircraft.
In 1934 workers at the institute were invited to fly in the giant machine which they had designed and built. Thirty-six passengers boarded, along with 11 crew, and Maxim Gorki took off, accompanied by a Polikarpov I-5 fighter which was to formate with it for air-to-air photographs. During the flight the fighter pilot, disorientated during a barrel roll, collided with the Gorki, which broke up in the air and exploded in a fire-ball, throwing bodies and equipment out in full view of spectators at the airport. The fighter pilot, all 47 aboard the giant aircraft and three bystanders died. The Russians subscribed for three more ANT-20s, with just six engines of greater power, and eventually 16 were built, eight of which survived World War II.
A replacement aircraft for the ANT-20 Maxim Gorki, with only six engines but the same dimensions and an even greater all-up weight, was built as the PS-124 or ANT-20bis.
Engine: 6 x AM-34FRNV,
Max take-off weight: 44000 kg / 97004 lb
Wingspan: 64.0 m / 210 ft 12 in
Length: 34.1 m / 112 ft 11 in
Height: 7.0 m / 23 ft 12 in
Wing area: 486.0 sq.m / 5231.26 sq ft
Max. speed: 275 km/h / 171 mph
Cruise speed: 225 km/h / 140 mph
Ceiling: 5500 m / 18050 ft
Range: 900 km / 559 miles
Tupolev ANT-20 Maxim Gorki