<b><big>The Tupolev TB-3 mothership with parasite Polikarpov I-16 fighters (aka “Shubikov’s Circus” as explained below)</big></b>
About this creation
About the airplanes:
A flying aircraft carrier is not simply the fantastic dream of the creators of The Avengers movie. History tells us it has already happened.
Vladimir Vakhmistrov is credited with creating configurations of fighter planes attached to heavy bombers to accomplish missions that they would be unable to do separately. The project being a sort of “combined dive bomber” became known as Zveno-SPB, or “Sostavnoi Pikiruyuschiy Bombardirovschik” (try saying that three times rapidly).
The base was a Tupolev TB-3 heavy bomber acting as a mothership for between two and five fighters. The TB-3 was the world’s first cantilever wing four-engine heavy bomber. Besides toting parasite aircraft as described here, it could even carry a light tank beneath its powerful airframe.
The Zveno project had at least 7 major stages, including designs for the mothership to serve as many as eight (!) parasite aircraft (but not simultaneously). The project took on the nickname “Vakhmistrov’s Circus.” Vakhmistrov himself is reported to have flown in the front gunner’s turret in the early stages of testing.
The operationally effective combination paired up the TB-3 with two Polikarpov I-16 fighter planes each carrying two 250 kg (550 lb) bombs. Among other benefits, the range and power of the TB-3 enabled the smaller fighters to deliver bombs heavy enough to have prevented them from taking off on their own to targets beyond their own range of operation. A squadron of six TB-3 / twelve I-16 combos was developed under the command of Arseniy Shubikov – so it was nicknamed (what else?) “Shubikov’s Circus.” This combo was used effectively by the Soviets against targets in Romania during the German-Soviet war. It is estimated that Zveno-SPB flew at least 30 combat missions. Within a decade, though, advances in aircraft technologies made this combination vulnerable to defeat, so it was retired from service.
If only the Soviets had developed a naval aircraft carrier from which this flying aircraft carrier had been launched – it would make the story that much more incredible.
About the model’s design:
This design is 1:39 scale, so if actually built the TB-3 would be 24 inches long with a 41-inch wingspan, standing 14.5 inches tall. The I-16’s would be just over 6 inches long with a 9-inch wingspan. The TB-3 is comprised of 1360 LEGO elements, the I-16’s are 63-elements apiece, but there are few functional parts. Yes, the propellers spin, wheels turn, and vertical and horizontal tail fins move (ho hum). The TB-3’s non-retractable main landing gear has a ‘rocker’ to ensure both wheels maintain ground contact once the tail sits. I used a technic liftarm ideally suited to that function. In the pictures below, the axles tilt backwards as the plane rests on its tail.
In this design I have simplified the trapeze mechanism which lowers the I-16’s into position prior to their detachment. The real-life configuration had additional latching points – maybe if I update this model later I will add more latching. My design’s trapeze has two hinge points, highlighted in yellow in the pictures just below, one right beneath the wing and the other nearest the I-16. The cutaway pictures display the up and down positions of the trapeze. Other pictures show them retracted and extended beneath the TB-3’s wing.
The TB-3’s overall profile is admittedly very dull visually, having a long fuselage with flat sides. True to the planes of that era, the cockpit and gunners’ nests are open, drawing the eye towards these crewmembers. The nose has what apparently was an observation window underneath, probably for the spotter in TB-3’s role as a bomber or ferry for infantry drops via parachutes.
Sculpting the huge wings took much time. Going from five studs tall at the fuselage, the wings taper down to one plate’s thickness at the tip. The TB-3’s wings are mostly hollow and supported by spars (the long red bricks shown below) in order to save weight and achieve structural integrity. The yellow plates ensure the horizontal stability of the spars. I think I saved myself much re-work by sculpting the outer edges and surfaces first, then building inward the pieces needed to support the exterior. Thank goodness for the "hide" function in the CAD software.
The I-16 as designed omits its retractable landing gear. The curving underbelly is well served by inverting a long sloping wedge, though needing the usual handstands to shift from elements that go from studs-up to studs-down. The pin hole in the black cylinder just behind the propeller made for a convenient connecting point to the trapeze.
A few more images of the design:
Thanks for visiting! Comments and ratings welcomed.
And if you are interested, check out my other MOCs:
Quoting Henrik Jensen
A very interesting plane concept! You should change all the picture-size to the largest possible, it would be so much better than clicking all these postage stamps!
Thanks for the Like and the tip! It seems I need to learn quite a bit more about HTML to catch up to what I learned about using LDD and STUD.IO since retiring two years ago... I will get to that task promptly.
Quoting Doug Hughes
Awesome!! Love the aircraft choice and your attention to getting the details right!
Thanks! I do admit to 'simplifying' the trapeze, as I have discovered from making other Lego models that building struts onto aircraft wings is already a bit of a tricky business, and putting a working latch at the end of a strut would be even harder to do.
Quoting Sam Sanister
I must have been much scarier flying in an aircraft attached to the wing of a larger aircraft, especially since they were also designed to detach...
I read that the parasite planes always used their engines/propellers during take-off. You've got a point, though - if they unexpectedly detach, they either self-propel, glide, or bury themselves. But I've known pilots who refer to landings as controlled crashes, anyway. Thanks!