Dictatorship of the Air http://www.dictatorshipoftheair.com Russia History Culture Technology (and, of course, Aviation) Sat, 10 Apr 2010 14:29:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 The Cranes are Sleeping http://www.dictatorshipoftheair.com/2009/07/03/the-cranes-are-sleeping/ Fri, 03 Jul 2009 17:43:00 +0000 http://dictatorshipoftheair.com/?p=299 Sheremetevo airport, Moscow’s main international terminal, is located eighteen miles NW of the city’s center. Given the Russian capital’s expansion since the airport opened in 1959 this is now not at all far from Moscow proper, though it seems much farther to downtown by car. (It can easily take over an hour to reach the heart of the capital when traffic is bad. And in Moscow, traffic is almost always bad.) As Moscow is Europe’s largest metropolis (current population approx. 10.4 million ), you might expect that city vistas would figure prominently in your airplane window during final approach and landing. By and large, though, there’s not much to see. At least, not in comparison to the amazing views afforded by some of the world’s other great cities.

On a clear day, the approach is dominated by the mundane topography of podmoskv’e (the city’s suburban region): a few roads and railway tracks intersecting forests and fields, accompanied by clusters of small summer cottages (dachas) and some non-descript buildings that grow a bit denser as the plane nears the runway. Although the landscape has altered somewhat recently thanks to increased development near the airport, arriving into Moscow, I’ve always been keenly aware of how much the view is dominated by the countryside: flat, open, and seeming endless. From the air, the city is hard to discern. It’s almost as if it is in hiding, enveloped by prostranstvo – the vast space that encompasses the country’s near limitless hinterlands. In direct counterpoint to the sharp verticality of its politics, Moscow’s topography is decidedly horizontal.

I am always excited to find myself returning to Moscow. But from the standpoint of an aerial eye, the arrival has never made much of an impression.

That changed last week.

As my plane descended toward Sheremetevo last Friday morning I noticed something that I hadn’t seen before: Moscow now has a skyline. Or, to be more accurate, it has a skyline now visible from an airplane. And it’s modern one at that: a distinct cluster of steel and glass high-rises that emerge from the Eurasian plain to mark the location of the capital and its bustling business center. It’s certainly not much compared to New York, Tokyo, or Chicago, but it is definitely there.

The “cluster” is Moscow-City (Москва-Сити) — a gigantic $12 billion (and counting) development project first begun in 1995. It’s the latest in a long line of grand strategies to renovate Moscow. However, as I rode into town toward the apartment where I’m staying (located a brisk twenty-minute walk from Moscow-City itself) I noticed something else – there’s little activity at the construction site. From up close, Moscow-City has all the appearances of an abandoned development surrounded by sleeping boom cranes. Thanks to the onset of Russia’s worst economic crisis since 1998 – work on the architectural mega-project (like others elsewhere) has slowed to a crawl. Although spokesmen for the project pledge that construction will continue, the opening of some of Moscow-City’s partially built structures will be delayed until 2016 — four years behind schedule. The again, things could be worse.

It would seem that skyline that I saw through my airplane window was something of a mirage. At least for now.

Crumbling Colossus http://www.dictatorshipoftheair.com/2009/06/10/crumbling-colossus/ Wed, 10 Jun 2009 14:32:32 +0000 http://dictatorshipoftheair.com/?p=274 Even by the typically monumental standards of Soviet-era memorials, “The Motherland Calls” is an impressive sight. Towering seventeen stories above the Russian city of Volgograd, the monolithic statue depicting a windswept woman holding aloft a sword is a striking combination of neoclassical styling and Stalinist kitsch. A symbolic representation of Soviet victory over Nazi invaders, the figure intentionally recalls the “Winged Victory of Samothrace.” Like that ancient masterpiece, the Soviet composition communicates dynamism and strength. A closer inspection of “The Motherland Calls,” however, reveals at least one important difference. Cast entirely out of reinforced concrete, the dull, grey surface (interrupted here and there by cracks and the rust marks caused from embedded rebar) suggests none of the solidity and timelessness of the marble Greek statute…

To read the rest of the piece, head over to The Russian Front by clicking HERE.

“Americans in the Land of Lenin” http://www.dictatorshipoftheair.com/2009/06/05/americans-in-the-land-of-lenin/ Fri, 05 Jun 2009 15:22:18 +0000 http://dictatorshipoftheair.com/?p=271 This past month, Duke University Libraries unveiled a new digital collection documenting daily life in the early Soviet Union. Titled, “Americans in the Land of Lenin,” the photographic archive contains 750 images drawn from the personal papers of two Americans who found themselves in the USSR during the two decades that followed October 1917.

Robert L. Eichelberger (1886-1961) was a U.S. military officer who was served in Eastern Siberia with the American Expeditionary Force during the Civil War.

Frank Whitson Fetter (1889-1992) was an economist who toured southern Russia in the summer of 1930 — the height of Stalin’s forced collectivization campaign.

I’ve only had time to scan the contents of the collection (which is freely available for use in teaching, research, and private study), but from what I’ve seen so far, it looks fantastic.

For the entrance to the collection, just click here.


Getting back up to speed http://www.dictatorshipoftheair.com/2009/05/20/getting-back-up-to-speed/ http://www.dictatorshipoftheair.com/2009/05/20/getting-back-up-to-speed/#comments Wed, 20 May 2009 14:29:10 +0000 http://dictatorshipoftheair.com/?p=185 [While in Europe in late November and early December, my friend and colleague Nathan Wood began research on his next project, a book-length study that will explore the introduction of bicycles, automobiles, and airplanes in the lands of East Central Europe (specifically Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland). Tentatively titled, “East Central Europe in the Age of Speed” Nathan’s future work promises to shed a great deal of light on a region typically ignored by historians of technology. It’s a terrific concept. Soon after his return from Poland, Nathan drafted a short piece describing his project accompanied by a few photos he collected during his travels. He graciously agreed to allow me to post them here — back in January. But as one thing led to another (including my first site hack) I put-off blogging altogether. At long last, I have resolved to get back up to speed blogging about Russia, technology, aviation, and whatnot. So without further delay… ]

Here’s Dr. Nathan Wood on East Central Europe’s “Age of Speed”:

If East Central Europe is often considered backwards in comparison to its Western neighbors, what did this mean in an age of fast new forms of personal transportation? Could transportation technologies be seen as a way to “catch up” or even surpass the center? I will look at the mechanics and specialists who built and steered the machines, the avant garde and futurist artists and poets who rhapsodized about them, and the popular reception of these machines in the illustrated press.

In the four photos I have selected here, you can see something of the interconnectedness of these machines. The people who were interested in bicycles were also intrigued with automobiles and airplanes. Recall that Orville and Wilbur Wright had a bicycle shop and that Charles Howard, the owner of Seabiscuit, worked in a bicycle shop before specializing in cars. Moreover, to the public, his knowledge of bicycles meant that he should also know something about cars.

The inventors of the first plane in Cracow were a Czech and a Pole who worked in an auto garage. The Czech pioneers of motorcycles and autos, Václav Laurin and Václav Klement, were cycling specialists first and then they designed airplane engines. Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) designed a revolutionary airplane engine, and BMW first built airplanes, before specializing in cars. In my research, I found that bicycling magazines soon had sections on automobiles, while car magazines, like Samochód (the Polish word for automobile) had sections on motorcycles, motorboats, and especially airplanes. The question on the cover of this issue, one frequently asked in the popular press, is: Who’s faster and defter? (The plane or the car)

There is also a sense of progressiveness connected to the new machines, especially for women. For a woman to ride a bicycle was at first scandalous, but of course it was also empowering, offering her freedom of movement otherwise impossible in an age when a respectable woman was expected to have an escort in public. Note that the girls in the top photo from the 1920s demurely pose sidesaddle for the picture, even if they did not ride that way.

The cover from Auto and Sport from 1928 seems so familiar to us today because we are accustomed to seeing pretty women and fast machines on the cover of specialty magazines almost exclusively for men. It is also telling that automobiles and sport are connected. Dunlop, the company that made the tires for 60% of the early automobile racers also made tennis racquets. The connection between cars and sport was natural. To play tennis, ride motorcycles, and drive cars was all part of being modern.

The final point, and this should come as no surprise, is the fact that much of the language regarding the new machines is readily recognizable in a variety of languages. Just as the driver in this last photo probably looks no different from a motorist in any other country at the time, so too, do many of the words look familiar. I suspect you had no trouble deducing what “Auto i Sport” is all about, or “Auto i Turysta”–especialy given the clue in the Polski Touring Klub’s title. The Polish word for bicycle, “rower,” came from an English invention, the Rover, the “safety bicycle” invented in 1885 that looks like the bicycles of today and gradually rendered the large front-wheeled “pennyfarthings” obsolete. Does this make everyone who used slight variants of the original word derivative, or are the terms simply evidence of the interconnectedness of the users of these new technologies in the Age of Speed? Well, that is something I still have to work out. . .


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Back in Action http://www.dictatorshipoftheair.com/2008/10/05/back-in-action/ Sun, 05 Oct 2008 14:17:53 +0000 http://dictatorshipoftheair.com/2008/10/05/back-in-action/ This past Thursday the USS Intrepid returned to New York harbor to take-up her post at Pier 86 along Manhattan’s West Side. The Intrepid‘s arrival marked the end of a two-year hiatus during which time the ship (and its Hudson River berth) underwent a $120 million restoration. A veteran of the Second World War, Korean War, and the conflict in Vietnam, the Intrepid, since 1986, has served as home to the floating Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The museum is scheduled to re-open to the public in early November.

Today marks my own return to action here at DotA following a late-summer hiatus. I suspended blogging during September in order to wrap up one scholarly project and to begin two new ones. I’ve also returned to teaching following a year off devoted to research and writing courtesy of American taxpayers. In the days and weeks to come, I’ll have more to say about what I was doing with my time (and our money). I’ll also have DotA’s first guest article, updates to an older, favorite post, and new articles of my own, together with links to related new items, and the like.

In the meantime, visitors concerned about recent Russian military developments may want to check out this post from The Russian Front.


Georgia on Your Mind? http://www.dictatorshipoftheair.com/2008/08/11/georgia-on-your-mind/ Mon, 11 Aug 2008 23:59:52 +0000 http://dictatorshipoftheair.com/2008/08/11/georgia-on-your-mind/ Readers interested in commentary regarding the ongoing conflict between Russia and Georgia should head over to The Russian Front. There, Dr. David Stone has posted a thoughtful (and, to my mind, quite accurate) article describing how American foreign policy in the Balkans during the 1990s established (unintentional) precedents for the current Russian actions in the Caucasus.

Stone begins:

There is a great deal of blame to go around for the disastrous war over South Ossetia. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili deserves the greatest share, for starting a war to reassert control over South Ossetia that Russia can now finish on its own terms. The Russian government, with former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the lead, has cynically taken the conflict Saakashvili began as a golden opportunity to flex its muscles, make Georgia an object lesson for the rest of Russia’s neighbors, rally Russian voters, and tighten its grip on Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

But in a classic example of blowback, past American policy also bears some responsibility for the mess in the Caucasus…

For the rest of the piece, click here.

1418 Days http://www.dictatorshipoftheair.com/2008/07/15/1418-days/ Tue, 15 Jul 2008 16:14:37 +0000 http://dictatorshipoftheair.com/2008/07/15/1418-days/ [Cross-posted from The Russian Front]

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: It’s amazing what one can find on the Internet. 22 June 1941. Moscow.

In the summer of 2005, the city of Moscow played host to a photographic exhibit honoring the 60th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War. Titled, “1418 Days,” the exhibit drew upon a collection of rare wartime images contained in the archives of the Moscow House of Photography (Московский Дом фотографии) to tell the story the USSR’s wartime experience.

Not surprisingly, most of the images concerned the battlefield heroism of Red Army soldiers at the front. But the exhibit included more than a few photographs drawn from the rear as well including scenes of factory life, public demonstrations, the air-raid shelters in Moscow’s metro, and bears (no, really).

The material from the 2005 exhibit (including a 40-minute video produced for the occasion) is available for viewing on-line. As is so often the case with these types of things, English-language translations are few and far between, so non-Russian readers will find themselves at a disadvantage.

To view the photographic collection in chronological order, click HERE.


The Air Force Museum at Monino: A Reader’s Report http://www.dictatorshipoftheair.com/2008/06/22/the-air-force-museum-at-monino-a-readers-report/ http://www.dictatorshipoftheair.com/2008/06/22/the-air-force-museum-at-monino-a-readers-report/#comments Sun, 22 Jun 2008 14:42:18 +0000 http://dictatorshipoftheair.com/2008/06/22/the-air-force-museum-at-monino-a-readers-report/ Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Tom Geisler, a reader who has recently returned from a visit to the Russian Federation. While in Moscow, Tom organized his own trip out to the Russian Air Force Museum at Monino. He’s been kind enough to permit me to post his letter. Here’s what Tom had to say about his visit to the museum:


I contacted you about visiting the Russian AF Museum at Monino a few weeks ago.

We actually went to the museum. The directions provided by your website were of indispensable help.

We were in Russia with a tour company called Overseas Adventure Travel. They tried their best to not have us go there by ourselves by first saying that we needed a driver/guide at 500 rubles/hour. That cost eventually went to 1,000 rubles/hour. Then they said we could not get in under any circumstances. They then tried to discourage us by saying the train was dirty and dangerous. It was not!

We rejected all of those scenarios and told them we would take the Metro and the train to the museum anyway.

We followed the directions from your website. We only had two minor problems. We missed a checkpoint and probably walked an extra 5 minutes when going to the museum. It took us twenty minutes total to get from the train station to the museum. And, in going back to our hotel, we found that we could not get back into the Metro Station building from which we had exited at the Yaroslavskii Station. The entrance is a set of steps going down on the street in front of the Station.

There was no problem getting into the grounds of the museum/academy. We noticed while walking to the museum that all of the gates to the academy were open and there were no guards. I think we could have walked right through the academy and no one would have cared. There were knots of cadets or officers standing around here and there smoking.

My partner speaks German and she was able to converse with some of the cadets in that language. We wanted to be reassured occasionally that we were still going in the right direction.

We arrived at the museum and a lady walking behind us showed us where the ticket office was. She worked there. We were there at 0900 when it opened and were the first ones there. The museum director who spoke English, greeted us and asked where we were form and when we said the USA, he put his arms around us and said, “Welcome my friends. Come in.” He asked whether we wanted a guide and when we said no, he said. “You came to just take pictures, fine.”

He then offered us a picture booklet with explaining the aircraft on display. A retired Colonel Victor Kazashvili had authored the booklet. He was there too so I bought the booklet ($10) and shook his hand and suggested he sign it. He did and inscribed: “To Thomas. Thank you for your love of aviation.” It was in Russian of course and I had to have it translated later. The Colonel was 81 years old and started flying the Yak 3 in WW-II and flew a succession of aircraft finishing with the MiG-17.

At that point the director asked in we needed the lavatory and when we said yes he said, “I take you.” It was in a different building. When we got there he said, “I wait you.” Afterward he walked to the museum gate with us where an old lady was taking tickets and selling souvenirs (the only ones available other than the booklet at the ticket office). The director wished us a good visit and bid us farewell.

Now could it have been more friendly that that?! Overall it was easy to there. An hour and twenty minutes by train from the Yaroslavskii Station. However, it is important that you have all the Metro Station and train station and other pertinent names in the Cyrillic spelling otherwise you will not recognize anything and will be completely confused.

There were a total of 108 actual aircraft on display. They say 185 but that must include models, etc.

No prior notice is required, the people are friendly and the museum is definitely a worthwhile visit.

As an aside, the tour company did get us into Star City where we inspected the facilities. We also had a half hour session with cosmonaut Sergei Zalyotin who had been in space twice. The first time was a 180 day stint aboard MIR. He was scheduled to do one more mission to the International Space Station. It was revealing that he was able to stand there at Star City and say out loud without fear that all the astronauts and cosmonauts get along like brothers. It’s just the politicians that screwed things up. He suggested that they all ought to sent into space so they can look back at the fragile earth and begin to make the right decisions.

I was in the Strategic Air Command in the 1950s. At one point I was stationed with our B-52s at Brize-Norton RAF Station in England. We had a C-47 which we could fly to Western Europe and Denmark on weekends. But we were forbidden to go to Sweden, Norway or Finland due to the Cold War paranoia. If at that time someone had said I would be sitting in the Cosmonauts Cafeteria in Star City enjoying lunch, I would have had believed them to be insane.

We spent 4 days in Kiev, Ukraine, 4 days in Moscow, then took a 6 day, 1,000 mile cruise up the Volga and other rivers and lakes to spend 4 days in St. Petersburg. A marvelous trip.

PS. The Central Museum of the Armed Forces in Moscow has about 20 aircraft and helicopters and lots of tanks, etc. on display.


Tom Geisler

Many thanks to Tom for the report on his trip to the Air Force Museum (as well as his visits to Star City and the Red Army Museum)!


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Showdown: Air Combat http://www.dictatorshipoftheair.com/2008/06/11/showdown-air-combat/ http://www.dictatorshipoftheair.com/2008/06/11/showdown-air-combat/#comments Thu, 12 Jun 2008 01:30:37 +0000 http://dictatorshipoftheair.com/2008/06/11/showdown-air-combat/ This coming Sunday, 15 June at 9 pm (CST) the Discovery network’s Military Channel debuts a new program aimed at aviation history buffs. Showdown: Air Combat uses restored aircraft and interviews with veteran pilots to recreate aerial combat encounters from the First World to the (almost) present.

Showdown is hosted by Major Paul “Max” Moga (an F-22 Raptor pilot with the Air Combat Command’s 1st Fighter Wing) and Dr. Jim Mowbray (Professor of Strategy, Doctrine, and Airpower at the Air War College). Among the individual encounters slated to appear are match-ups between an F-86 Saber and MiG-15, a P-51 vs. an Me-109, and a P-38 vs. a Zero. The Great War will be featured in an episode devoted to the famous June 1917 dogfight between France’s “ace of aces” Georges Guynemer and Ernst Udet (Germany’s #2 ace after you-know-who).

As a run-up to the program’s debut, the Military Channel invited a small group of air-minded bloggers to contribute comments and questions to Showdown‘s hosts via a telephone roundtable. The half-hour conversation covered a wide range of issues including: WWII pilot training, ground-support operations in Afghanistan, and the rapidly escalating costs of developing 21st-century fighter aircraft. Once the recording of the roundtable has been made available by the folks at the Military Channel, I’ll post a link to it here.

In the meantime, you can look forward to Showdown‘s debut this weekend.

UPDATE: To listen to the audio file of the roundtable click the “play” arrow below…


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A Note from Underground http://www.dictatorshipoftheair.com/2008/05/22/a-note-from-underground/ Thu, 22 May 2008 19:43:23 +0000 http://dictatorshipoftheair.com/2008/05/22/a-note-from-underground/ Although I don’t often post material relating to faculty life, teaching, and other sundry academic matters, this morning I came across two articles on higher education that non-academics really should read.

The first is a short piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education titled, “Did You Publish Today?” It’s a light-hearted column intended for those people “who believe that academics have summers off, for those who argue that we have cushy jobs because we have to teach only a few classes a week for a couple of hours at a time, and for those who think that reading books isn’t work.”

If you have ever wondered what it is that academics (especially those in the humanities) actually do, “Did You Publish Today?” is a good place to start.

The second piece is less mirthful.

Written by the necessarily anonymous “Professor X” and appearing in the current issue of The Atlantic, “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” describes the routine frustrations encountered by the author while moonlighting as a composition instructor. Called upon to

teach young men who must amass a certain number of credits before they can become police officers or state troopers, lower-echelon health-care workers who need credits to qualify for raises, and municipal employees who require college-level certification to advance at work

Professor X finds that the majority of his “students” are grossly unprepared for the basic assignments expected of them. As he insists on maintaining academic standards, the results ain’t pretty:

For I, who teach these low-level, must-pass, no-multiple-choice-test classes, am the one who ultimately delivers the news to those unfit for college: that they lack the most-basic skills and have no sense of the volume of work required; that they are in some cases barely literate; that they are so bereft of schemata, so dispossessed of contexts in which to place newly acquired knowledge, that every bit of information simply raises more questions. They are not ready for high school, some of them, much less for college.

If the essay is anywhere off the mark, it is in Prof. X’s apparent belief that the poor quality of his students is somehow related to their status as “non-traditional, adult learners” and the nature of the institution in which they are enrolled (a community college in the northeastern United States).

The unfortunate reality is that what Professor X has observed applies as well to far too many students at colleges and universities across the USA. It’s true of institutions both public and private, both famous and forgettable, and it is especially pronounced at academe’s bottom-feeders: those state-affiliated, cardinal point colleges of last resort where administrators measure success by ever-increasing enrollments while constantly lowering admission standards to attract more student-customers.