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Tupolev Ant-20 Maxim Gorky

If there was ever an aircraft that could be described in terms of "multimedia" it has to be the
Tupolev Ant-20. This monster was used to shove stalinist propaganda down the throats of the Soviet people on its long flights across the country, with the aid of advanced sound- and light equipment never seen before.


The Ant-20 was designed By Andrei Tupolev and two aircraft were built between July 1933 and April 1934. As a tribute to writer Maxim Gorky and his forty years of public work, it was named after him. It was the largest aircraft of its time, with a wingspan of 63 meters and almost 13 meters high. The power plant was eight Mikulin-engines of 900 hp each, and it had a flight crew of 11. If transportation on land was necessary, it could be dismantled and carried by railway.

The purpose of the Ant-20 was to function as a platform for propaganda, and was consequently equipped with its own radio station, printing office, photo lab, movie theatre and, last but not least, a very powerful loudspeaker device called "The voice from heaven" which, especially combined with leaflets and parachuters, must have scared the wits out of many a poor farmer in the Russian countryside.

Assembly of the wings. They were thick enough to accommodate sleeping bunks. Considering
that the engines were just a few meters away there could not have been much chance of beauty sleep, though. Note the observation post on top of this starboard wing.

On May 18, 1935 Maxim Gorky and three other aircraft did a demonstration flight over Moscow. The pilot of a I-5 fighter was performing loops around Maxim Gorky, but made a misjudgment. The two airplanes collided and crashed, Maxim Gorky straight into a residential area just west of today's Sokol metro station. 45 people were killed, among them relatives of the workers who built the aircraft.

One of the displays over Red square, Moscow. On this occasion the escorting fighters seem to be on a steady course.  

A replacement aircraft was constructed and flew for the first time in 1938. It was called Ant-20bis and did service as a transport aircraft for Aeroflot. This one also crashed, on December 12, 1942, when the pilot allowed a passenger to take his seat for a short while. The passenger somehow managed to disengage the autopilot and the aircraft went nose first into the ground from an altitude of 500 meters.

The intention had been to build an entire fleet of Ant-20, but this plan had to be
abandoned when one effect of Stalin's purges became clear; not enough qualified engineers were still around for the job.


Tupolev Ant-20 Maxim Gorky being built and displayed to the press by Andrei Tupolev. Some time into the movie, a crew member can be seen with microphone in hand, just about to get the infamous loudspeaker going. French speaker on this video.