Designed by Ukrainian aviation engineer Igor Sikorsky, the S-16 was developed to a Russian Empire requirement for a capable two-seat biplane fighter to serve as escort for the large, ponderous, multi-engined Ilya Muromets bomber. The bomber itself was a design from Sikorsky and the world's first four-engined bomber type when it appeared in 1913. Over 85 were built for the Imperial Russian Air Service and saw combat in World War 1 (1914-1918). The S-16 fighter appeared some years later and its production totals were much less. It was also recognized under the designation of RBVZ S-XVI which noted the manufacturer ("Russo-Baltic Wagon Works").
Externally, the S-16 featured a conventional arrangement for the period and was constructed largely of wood with fabric skinning. An equal-span biplane wing arrangement was selected which featured single bays and parallel struts. The fuselage held slab-sides and mounted the engine in a frontal compartment shrouded over in thin metal. The tail utilized a shallow vertical fin and low-set horizontal planes. The undercarriage constituted two main legs, via a strut network, and double-wheeled bogies were seated under the center mass of the aircraft. Interestingly, the crew of two was seated side-by-side in a staggered, open-air cockpit arrangement. Initially intended to carry a French Le Rhone engine of 100 horsepower, the S-16 was instead finalized with a Gnome air-cooled rotary engine of 80 horsepower driving a two-bladed wooden propeller unit due to limited supplies of the 100 horsepower form. This would ultimately derail the fighter's performance when compared to its contemporaries. Performance specifications included a maximum speed of 75 miles per hour and a rate-of-climb nearing 410 feet-per-minute.
Armament amounted to a single 7.7mm Lavrov (or British Vickers) type machine gun fitted over the engine cowling. The weapon was synchronized (with Lavrov synchronization gear) to fire through the spinning propeller blade marking the S-16 as one of the first combat aircraft of the war to feature this revolutionary trait. About 500 7.7mm rounds were afforded this gun.
First flight of an S-16 prototype occurred on February 6th, 1915 and service introduction came during January of 1916, the stock formed from a contract order for eighteen of the type. In practice, the line was agile enough but its underperforming engine would not allow it to become a classic of the war. Additionally, the events of 1917 and the immediate period following took the Russian Empire out of its war with Germany and forced the S-16 to be used in anger against Russians themselves during the Russian Revolution. The Soviet Union was born in place of the Empire during 1922 and those S-16 aircraft that remained in service were taken into the inventory of the newly-formed Soviet Air Force. These did not survive much longer for the line was retired in full in 1923.
Before its end, engineers attempted several experiments through the S-16 design including an additional machine gun installation (along the upper wing), floats for water-born landings and take-offs and different wing and engine fits.
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