PZL M-15 ‘Belphegor’ walkaround.
At the beginning it supposed to be only photo walkaround, but it would be a shame to not tell at least very short story of such exotic aircraft from behind former Iron Curtain.
First (shocking) impression.
When you look at this plane you don’t wonder if the engineers were drinking during designig, your question is how many bottles of not enough distilled hootch they had to drink to create this admittedly unique aircraft, moreover people who approved it for mass production had to be drunk even more…
Lads and Gents, mc cezet proudly presents PZL-M15 “Belphegor” the first and fortunately last agricultural jet ever designed and produced, it was also the second jet biplane after Conada’s biplane built in 1910… Photos were taken in Polish Aviation Museum in Krakow.
A new “Bear’s” secret weapon.
During the dark years of cold war soviets had been thinking about a new weapon for chemical warfare, it supposed to be useful in both roles: for the defense (chemicals neutralization) and for chemical/biological attack. Soviets decided to design it under the guise of agricultural aircraft, so it could be useful also during the peace for chemical spraying enormous fields of cotton, grain, corn, whatever. Another official reason for starting the project was Aeroflot wanted to have only one type of fuel for the fleet – the jet one. But nobody who was in one’s right mind (designers form known design bureaus) wanted to undertake the task – Oleg Antonow said something about ‘rocket potato excavators’ :)
Since 50s polish aviation industry each year has been getting better and better, TS-8 “Bies” and TS-11 “Iskra” designed by Tadeusz Soltyk were built in Poland, Soltyk’s next babe, TS-16 “Grot” (supersonic jet trainer) was on the drawing boards. Such independence in military aviation was frowned upon by our big brother (Soviet Union), so they decided that Poland should focus on the agricultural aircraft, so maybe polish engineers were not drunk, maybe it was perfidious revenge for their degradation or legendary lancer fantasy ;)
Phantom’s of the Louvre parents and birth.
The true story is more mundane and matching to reality of communistic system. There was a Russian constructor Riamir Izmajlov. He had been member of Oleg Antonov Design Bureau, before he was fired (he was a mediocre designer). He was possessed with an idea of creating agricultural jet, unfortunately he was influential person in decision circles. The idea of creating something never made by evil capitalists was tempting despite it was insane too. So they made the decision – let the Poles bother with project and with “finest soviet aviation engineer” Riamir “Possessed” Izmajlov as the main designer of this project.
The front part and wings were taken from worthy An-2, Ivczenko AI-25 engine placed on top, two tanks for chemicals (~1500 l each) between wings, tail from OV-10 Bronco ;) fixed landing gear and bewildering speed 108 knots. Spraying installation was fully integrated inside the wings. Because of Blephegor’s flight characteristics and risk of power line strike, the front window was made of armored glass; the nose flat shape and angle was designed to allow power line cable slip over the nose and engine inlet. Name was given by Andrzej Ablamowicz – great test pilot, who had flown on almost everything, including the gates from the barn, but he hadn’t seen anything such ugly before.
Amazingly, plane flew much better than it looked, but it was dangerous. He was very stable in flight, stable like a dagger pounded between the ribs; any kind of maneuver was slow and took a lot of space. Slow throttle response of jet engine caused problems with rapid climb against trees and power lines surrounding the fields. Jet fumes were contaminating the cotton to the extent, that cotton was not suitable for further use. Emptying the tanks for chemicals took a lot of time, in case of emergency… well if I were pilot I would not like to land with almost three tons of chemicals on wings or fly around and wait until tanks are empty.
Ground crews and pilots didn’t like M-15, not only because its performance, but also because of fuel and flight recorders installed – they couldn’t use the jet fuel for their private purposes (cars), and they couldn’t make flights only on paper. These problems forced Aeroflot to adopt M-15 to other purposes, some genius had idea of regional passenger plane – two passengers in nacelle and chemical hoppers changed into passenger cabins for three people each, fortunately the idea died. The oil crisis in ’70s was the final nail in the coffin, finally only 175 aircraft were built in PZL Mielec (Polskie Zaklady Lotnicze – Polish Aviation Works) instead of 3000 planned.
The remains of the beast.
Not many of them survived, so far I’ve found 1 in Poland, Krakow (Polish Aviation Museum, www.muzeumlotnictwa.pl), 3 in Russia: Monino, Samara, Ulianovsk and one in Hungary – Szolnok – Szandaszolos.
Post scriptum. Big thanks to Jan Hoffman from Polish Aviation Museum for a bunch of interesting facts – it seems that it is just a top of iceberg – the history of PZL M-15 Belphegor is worth writing much more, so wish me good luck and patience with original aircraft documentation written in russian.