In the late 1960s, the space race between the USA and USSR had reached a fever pitch. Both nations poured untold resources into exploration of the final frontier, and technology rapidly evolved through all aspects of the programs, not only in rocketry, but in computers, guidance systems, and even support vehicles and training equipment.
In the interest of secrecy, Soviets guided their capsules toward Siberia for their return to earth. The remote environment was the ideal landing site for its seclusion, but the hostile climate made for challenging rescues of the cosmonauts. Enter Andrei Tupolev, the USSR’s foremost aircraft designer. In 1961, he had designed the top-secret N007, a high-performance vessel designed to skim over water, ice, and marshland by means of its wing-shaped profile and massive rear-facing prop (some sources credit his son, Aleksey for the design). The government wanted to use Tupolev’s machine to retrieve the cosmonauts, but the narrow 3-person cockpit couldn’t accommodate an additional man in a bulky space suit, and it couldn’t be expanded without compromising the design or its ability to be transported by helicopter. So Tupolev devised a method to strap the suited cosmonauts to the outside of the machine! After surviving a trip back to earth in a space capsule, what was another few minutes of discomfort being lashed to the outside of an 85 mile-per-hour radial-powered air boat?
Offered here is one of the few known surviving and functional examples of the Tupolev A-3 007 Aerosledge. It was liberated from Russia by a German businessman during perestroika and once in Germany, was painstakingly restored in silver with red and black graphics. The original 260 hp engine was updated with a massive 10-litre, 9-cylinder Vedeneyev M14P radial developing 360 horsepower. The Vedeneyev M14P is a robust and proven engine and is used in other aeronautical applications like the Pitts Model 12 stunt plane. In the Tupolev, the radial utilizes twin parallel-rotating props and compressed air starting (as batteries and electrics would freeze in the harsh Siberian winter), with twin air tanks mounted on the custom trailer. The hull is constructed of riveted alloy and features low-friction polyethylene pads on the bottom to protect it and help it skim over ice and terrain. The cockpit allows room for four, with additional space for gear or a small passenger at the rear bulkhead. Instruments and controls are restored original items, and from the pilot’s seat, it feels very much like a blend of airplane and boat – as it should.
A captivating machine, the Tupolev A-3 007 is not only historically significant but is a positively fascinating piece of Soviet-era engineering and a highly collectible relic from the Cold War era Space Race.
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