Lebed Type XII - Russia, 1915
Detailing the development and operational history of the Lebed Type XII Reconnaissance Aircraft.
Entry last updated on 1/20/2014; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Lebed XII reconnaissance biplane was one of the few indigenous Russian aircraft designs to emerge during World War 1.
The Russian Empire did not field many indigenous aircraft designs during World War 1, instead relying on purchase or local production of foreign-born types. One locally-designed system, however, became the oft-forgotten Lebed Type XII, a practical two-seat reconnaissance biplane that saw only a few hundred produced do to lingering issues. The Lebed manufacturing facility was based in St. Petersburg, Russia and previously handled reconstitution of captured/recovered Imperial German aircraft as well as license production of British Sopwith Tabloids. The Lebed Type XII, therefore, attempted to put into practice the methodology and techniques displayed by competing foreign examples.
World War 1 began in the summer of 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Serbia on June 28th. Austria-Hungary then declared war on Serbia on July 28th which prompted Russia to mobilize its forces. Germany followed this mobilization by declaring war on Russia on August 1st. Russia joined the Triple Entente which included France and Britain while Germany joined Austria-Hungary and Italy to form the Central Powers (though Italy did not enter the war at this time).
Fully committed to the great gamble by 1915, the Russian concern of Lebed began work on a new reconnaissance biplane to which a prototype was made ready by December. The prototype was powered by a 130 horsepower engine. The aircraft underwent testing throughout the early part of 1916 and proved satisfactory enough to warrant a production order for 400 units in February. However, in April the contract was amended to reduced the count to 225 aircraft. It was also suggested that a more powerful 150 horsepower engine be fitted to offset handling issues encountered during evaluation which necessitated some considerable changes to the aircrafts design while also delaying production. Testing of a revised form continued into October before production-quality systems were delivered in early 1917.
The Type XII included seating for two crew, a pilot in the front open-air cockpit and an observer/gunner in a rear open-air cockpit (tandem seating). Its structure consisted of wood and fabric construction while steel tubing was used in the tail section. The method was essentially garnered from the captured German examples and utilized to good effect by Russian engineers. The general layout was conventional with the engine fitted to a forward-most compartment, the cockpits aft of the engine and a traditional tail unit sporting a single tail fin and a pair of horizontal planes. The undercarriage consisted of two landing wheels affixed to struts in the usual fashion. The tail was supported by a simple skid. As a biplane aircraft, the Type XII made use of an upper and lower wing assembly, these joined by a network of parallel struts and cabling.
Power for the series was through a French-designed Salmson water-cooled radial engine outputting at 150 horsepower. The engine operated in a "puller" configuration, leading the airframe through the skies while driving a two-bladed wooden propeller. Performance specifications included a maximum speed of 84 miles per hour, a service ceiling of 11,500 feet and an endurance time of 3 hours.
When armed, the Type XII was modestly fitted with a single 7.7mm machine gun on a trainable mount at the rear cockpit intended to protect both aircraft and crew from marauding scouts.
The Type XII was fielded across four Russian army air divisions operating along the East Front. The hastily modified aircraft soon exhibited several faulty (and at times lethal) issues including engines prone to bursting into flames and general structural weaknesses. Russian authorities then delayed further deliveries of the Type XII until a formal resolution was realized. However, by the time the military completed its findings, the Type XII was all but a moot design in the grand scope of the war - already severely outclassed by newer mounts appearing over the West Front. The Type XII was now regarded as a limited, underpowered and unreliable platform - neither suitable for frontline service nor for the training of new Russian pilots. Regardless, the Type XII was retained in service and deliveries continued in an effort to shore up the fledgling Russian aircraft inventory. Many were therefore relegated to training groups while a reliance on foreign aircraft for frontline service persisted. Of the 225 aircraft originally ordered by the government, only 214 were ultimately delivered - bringing total production output to 216 units.
After Russia formally removed herself from the war due to the internal upheaval caused by the revolutions of 1917 and the rise of the Bolsheviks, an armistice was signed with Germany in December and this was then followed by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk which was signed in March of 1918 (World War 1, itself, ended in November of that year). When the Russian Empire transitioned to become the "Soviet Union" in 1922, all Type XIIs still in service were inherited by the new Soviet Air Force. Estonia became the only foreign operator of the Type XII and this with only a single example used by its air force.