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 Semen Lavochkin

Born:   September 11, 1900
Deceased:   June 9, 1960

eminent airplane designer


Semen Lavochkin, an eminent engineer and aircraft designer, was born on September 11, 1900, in the city of Smolensk. His father was a schoolteacher. In 1917 Semen graduated from secondary school with a gold medal, which is the highest appreciation of a pupils abilities to study, and joined the Red Army as a volunteer. As a private, Lavochkin spent three years of military service in a frontier division. In 1920 Semen was sent to get higher education to Moscow Higher Technical School, now known as Bauman Technical University, and graduated from it in 1929 with a specialization of airplane-mechanics engineer. Since 1930 Semen Lavochkin was employed in several design bureaus in Moscow, and in 1938 A. Tupolev invited the engineer to join the team of Chief Office of Aviation Industry.

It was a hard time for the Soviet Union the war was in the air, Soviet aviation lagged well behind the German airplane designers. The Soviet government launched a contest for the best design of a fighter airplane. Semen Lavochkin and two other engineers, Gudkov and Gorbunov, submitted an airplane design and unexpectedly found themselves among the contest winners.

Production of a new airplane LaGG started in the town of Khimki in 1939. In 1940 Lavochkin, Gudkov and Gorbunov each headed a design bureau. Semen Lavochkin later moved to Gorkiy (now Nizhniy Novgorod) in order to launch production of LaGG-3 airplane. During the Great Patriotic War Lavochkins design bureau designed over 10 experimental and several production fighter aircrafts La-5, La-5FN and La-7. La fighters were produced on 5 plants of the Soviet Union with 22.5 thousand planes built between 1941 and 1945. Nearly one out of three fighters was La airplane. The history knows examples of extreme heroism of pilots, flying on La fighters, no matter aces, or recent graduates of flight schools.

Work of the Chief designer and his bureau received a high appraisal in March 1943 Semen Lavochkin became the hero of socialist labour and laureate of Stalin award, while his fellow workers received orders and medals. Descendants of a propeller-driven La-7 were piston-engined full-metal aircrafts La-9 and La-11, which were the backbone of Soviet fighter airplane fleet in the forties and early fifties of the 20th century.

When the Great Patriotic war ended, Semen Lavochkin actively participated in construction of jet aircrafts. His design bureau, which returned to Khimki from Gorkiy in 1945, was assigned to develop experimental and production jet fighters. The La-160, designed in 1947, was the first Soviet airplane with arrowhead wings. New design concept allowed La-167 fighter to reach supersonic speed during descending flight. Semen Lavochkin got his fourth Stalin award for his work on high-speed jet fighters with arrowhead wings. In the fifties the design bureau developed the all-weather interceptor L-200, equipped with a radiolocation station. The airplane could pursue and destroy enemy aircrafts under any weather conditions and at any time of day or night.

1950 was a critical year for the design bureau of Semen Lavochkin, since Soviet government entitled the engineer to design, build, test and put to production advanced surface-to-air missiles with almost impossible technical characteristics for first Soviet air-defence system. Lavochkin had to start from the very beginning and end up with ready-to-use missiles. Between 1951 and 1955, designers developed, built and tested surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles. In 1955 Moscow was surrounded with famous protective circles the air-defence system Berkut, equipped with missiles, designed by Semen Lavochkin and his colleagues. The missiles protected the Soviet capital till 1980s. The design bureau of Semen Lavochkin was awarded the medal of Labour Red Banner, and the chief designer received the second golden star of the hero of socialist labour.

Semen Lavochkin kept working on missiles, but in 1950 started a new task development of a drone target aircraft La-17, which could be also used as battlefield photoreconnaissance aeroplane, when equipped with appropriate photo cameras. This creation of the genial designer lived an unexpectedly long life 500-600 of these drones were produced each year until 1993, and they worked for air defence troops.

In 1954 Semen Lavochkin launched two ambitious projects development of a intercontinental supersonic cruise missile Burya (The Storm) and design of a new anti-aircraft air defence system Dal (The Distance), which mainly consisted of long range (up to 500 kilometres) surface-to-air missiles for destroying high-speed flying targets. The designer worked on the Burya project till 1960 and ended it with successful tests. While designing, the engineer solved a number of very difficult technical and design tasks, such as breaking the sound barrier, providing steady flight at velocities, exceeding 3500 kilometres per hour, building framework, able to operate under extremely high temperatures, and etc. And he had a very tight schedule for doing all that, since the Soviet Union was in the cold war state with the United States of America. The project overcame all difficulties and had 18 successful test launches. Buryas analogue, American cruise missile Navajo, which was designed in the USA between 1961-1963, was far away even from the stage of flight tests, since technical difficulties, which Anerican designers experienced, were enormous.

In June 1960 the great designer and engineer Semen Lavochkin died suddenly at one of southern testing grounds from a heart attack. Last launches of the Burya missile were performed without its father. Semen Lavochkin was the founder of a design school, which exists and flourishes in the present days. The enterprise, which he created, is a successful design bureau, which proudly bears the name of a gifted engineer with a great capacity for work. People, who were lucky to work with Semen Lavochkin, now pass their knowledge and experience to further generations of aircraft designers.


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