Ukrainian Aeronautics: A Brief History


Although I am handicapped by my ignorance of both the Ukrainian language and its Cyrillic alphabet, I have begun collecting some of the highlights as I come across them. Be warned, a lot of the claims made here have not been verified. It is early days yet and this page is a bit of a mess, but it is my hope that it will eventually improve to become a reasonable summary. So if you know about stuff that is not here, I will be only too glad to hear from you.

Note on spellings. English speakers are used to the Russian-derived transliterations of names such as Kiev and Kharkov, and talking of "the" Ukraine (by which was meant the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic). Modern usage is fast adopting Ukrainian-derived transliterations such as Kyiv, Kharkiv and plain Ukraine.


Historical origins

Eastern Europe, along with neighbouring Central Asia, drew the unlucky straw when it came to political stability. Since time immemorial its history, cultures and populations have been swept over and cruelly laid waste by conquering hordes, whether unleashed by wild barbarians, coldy calculating megalomaniacs or just a grumpy neighbour. It is a civilisation where you have to fight for your existence.

During the Industrial Revolution, from around 1800 to the 1930s, many East European countries industrialised with great success and the area became a technology powerhouse in its own right. But, as ever, the megalomaniac empires of the day soon put paid to that; laid them waste, sucked them dry, and took credit for any leftovers that may have survived. To the average Westerner, East European technology of the 19th and 20th centuries remains one of history's shamefully forgotten secrets.

Ukraine is no exception, and nor is its aviation industry. The bones of the modern state lie in the Kyivan Rus, a small empire of its own during the 9th to 13th centuries. Although much of its more recent history has been spent under the Russian thumb, the modern nation emerged in the aftermath of World War I with the absorption of parts of the Austrian and Hungarian empires into the main Russian vassal, followed by a brief period of independence before the Russian grip reestablished itself. Ukraine broke away once more following the fall of the USSR in 1991, and we all know how Russia tried to grab it back in 2022; the destruction of the giant Antonov An-225 Mriya "Dream" became a poster child to history.

The people of Ukraine have a long and proud history of aeronautical achievements. Subsumed until recently under the Russian yoke and buried within the history of the USSR, since the country's liberation at the end of the Cold War it has become possible to disentangle its unique contribution from the endemic Soviet rewriting of history. The possibility of pioneer work in the areas formerly under Austria and Hungary should not be ignored.

Today, Ukraine is one of the few countries in the world where both aviation and space equipment are developed and manufactured, and qualified specialists are educated and trained. The National Aerospace University of Ukraine is a leading educational institution in the public education system. As the story emerges, it is uncovering a remarkable history of advanced research, discovery and achievement, often on a par with or even leading its Soviet and Western contemporaries.


Igor Sikorsky was born and grew up in Kyiv, and started his aircraft business there. He was of Russian descent and did not publicly consider himself Ukrainian (his parents were Russian Nationalists and committed Russian Orthodox Christians, and he later worked elsewhere in the USSR and USA). Nevertheless his early work is indissolubly a part of Ukraine's story.

He began work on helicopters in 1909 but, after failure of the H-1 and H-2, turned in 1910 to biplanes. The second of these, the S-2, was his first success. After developing the first S-6-A of 1912, he went to work for a company based in Latvia. The rest of his work in other countries is well enough documented elsewhere.

Ukraine has named its National Technical University in Kiev the Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute (NTUU KPI). (See below)


To many Western enthusiasts, the name of Antonov is synonymous with the Ukrainian aero industry. Oleg Konstantinovich Antonov was in fact born in Russia on 7 February 1906 and rose to prominence as an aircraft designer. Shortly after WWII his Antonov Research and Design Bureau was moved to Kyiv, Ukraine, and entered this story. He died there on 4 April 1984.

Antonov specialised in big transports, both propeller and jet powered. The most famous child of Ukrainian aerospace is surely the vast An-225 Mriya (Dream) transport plane. It became something of a tourist attraction wherever it landed around the world. Its wingspan of 88.4 metres (290 ft) and payload capacity of over 250 tonnes (550,000 lb) made it the largest and heaviest plane ever to see operational service.

In 1977 Oleh Antonov (Oleh is the Ukrainian equivalent of Oleg) was appointed head of the Department of aircraft design at the Kharkiv Aviation Institute (KhAI) (See below). On the breakup of the USSR, Antonov State Enterprise came into the ownership of the newly-independent Ukraininan state.

Sadly, the only AN-225 to fly was fatally damaged during the 1922 Russian invasion of Ukraine and may well prove irreparable. A second airframe remains unfinished so there is some hope that, between the two of them and some heavyweight patching up, a flyable machine may yet re-emerge.


You cannot have good aeroplanes without also having good engines. Arkhyp Mikhailovich Lyulka was a native Ukrainian who cut his engineering teeth on industrial turbines before moving to the KhAI to work on aeroplane superchargers. There he also became a pioneer of the jet engine, developing his own independent designs in parallel with Frank Whittle in the UK and Hans von Ohain in Germany.

In 1938 he set up his own design bureau and through his life took out many patents which remain key milestones of jet engine development around the world. But the war interrupted his work and by the time he could get one of his engines into the air ther war had ended and he had been moved to Russia. Its descendants went on to power several generations of Sukhoi fighters. The Saturn AL-31, which powers today's Su-27, is the last to be developed during his lifetime.

Kyiv Polytechnic Institute

The Kyiv Polytechnic Institute of Emperor Alexander II was founded on 31 August 1898. Today it is the National Technical University of Ukraine, or Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute (NTUU KPI). It includes the Institute of Aerospace Technologies (IAT).

Kharkiv Aviation Institute (KhAI)

The Kharkhiv Aviation Institute was founded in 1930. It was much expanded with new laboratories in the 1960s and today is the National Aerospace University.


The KhAI was founded in 1930. It initially had two faculties,respectively for aircraft and engine construction. It pioneered retractable undercarriage, and in 1932 the first passenger aircraft in Europe to be fitted with it took off. Planes and gliders, created at the institute, set world records.

In 1935 Arkhyp Mikhailovich Lyulka, engineer at KhAI and future general designer, developed the first domestic turbojet enginen the RTD-1.

In November 1937 a rocket engine group was formed and its first rockets built.

By the beginning of the 1940s, the institute had more than 1,000 students, a development bureau, and scientific research was actively undertaken.


The development of the institute was interrupted by the German ivasion of the USSR. More than 500 teachers and students of KhAI fought at the front, and bombers developed at the institute took part in the fighting. Due to the occupation of Kharkiv, the institute was evacuated to Kazan and continued to train specialists for the aviation industry. In those years, senior students were sent to engineering positions in defence enterprises. Many of them were awarded Orders and medals for their success in organizing the production of military equipment.

In 1944, immediately after the recapture of the city, the institute was returned to Kharkov.


The restoration of the destroyed buildings of KhAI took almost 8 years. Simultaneously, the educational process was improved, new departments were created, the program of scientific research was expanded. In the late 40-ies, the first experiments were conducted on stamping with an explosion. In 1953 in KhAI, work began on the creation of jet burners for drilling hard rocks, an aerodynamic pipe was built. In connection with the development of rocket technology, training was begun for specialists in its design and production, an open radio engineering faculty.

In the 1960s a laboratory was created in KhAI on the use of pulsed energy sources in industry, a laboratory for the study of the long-lasting strength of aviation structures. The student's design bureau, which has created more than thirty models of aircraft, has begun its work. In 1966 the Kharkov Aviation Institute was included in the number of 26 basic higher educational institutions of the USSR.

In 1977 Oleh Kostyantynovych Antonov becomes head of the Department of aircraft design of KhAI (Department 103).

The Institute's specialization has constantly expanded. By 1980, new faculties were opened - flight control systems and rocket and space technology. At the same time, the development of the material base continued. The construction of a complex of aerodynamic pipes was completed, new educational buildings and dormitories, a sports complex, a recreation center in the Crimea were built. For outstanding achievements in the field of training highly qualified specialists and in scientific research in 1978, the institute was given the name of N.E. Zhukovsky, and in 1980 KhAI was awarded the Order of Lenin. In the 1980s, faculties of advanced training for aviation and aerospace industry employees and faculty of pre-university training were opened.

Boris Oleksiyovych Khokhlov

a graduate of KhAI in 1941 (far left). In the future - a teacher of KhAI, and then chief engineer and general director of the Kharkiv Aviation Production Association. Winner of the USSR State Prize. It is under his leadership that such world-famous airliners as the Tu-104, Tu - 124 and Tu-134 will be produced at Khaz, and work has begun on preparing for the production of a new generation of Ans, An-72 and An-74 aircraft.

"The father of domestic aviation"

On March 31, 1978, the Kharkiv Aviation Institute was named after the aeronautical theorist "father of domestic aviation" M. Ye. Zhukovsky for his huge contribution to the training of aviation specialists.

Kononenko is the first cosmonaut of KhAI

In 1988, Oleg graduated from Kharkiv order of Lenin aviation institute named after M. Ye. Zhukovsky on specialty "aircraft engines". After graduating from the institute, Kononenko worked at the Central Specialized Design Bureau (CSDB) in Kuibyshev (Samara) as an engineer and rose to the rank of leading design engineer. He was engaged in the design of electrical systems of spacecraft.

The Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft was launched on April 8, 2008. The crew included the commander of the ship and the seventeenth main expedition, Sergey Volkov, and cosmonaut-researcher Lee So Young. On April 10, the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft docked to the International Space Station. During the flight, he made two spacewalks. The flight duration was 198 days, 16 hours, 20 minutes, and 11 seconds.

The Second Space Flight-December 21, 2011 together with Andre Keipers and Donald Pettit as commander of the Soyuz TMA-03m spacecraft.

On the ISS, he was a flight engineer for the 30th and commander of the thirty-first main expedition. He made one spacewalk lasting 6 hours and 15 minutes.

The Third Space Flight will take place on July 23, 2015, together with Kimi Yui (Japan) and Kelly Lindgren (USA) as Soyuz TMA-17m crew commander.

In October 2013, he was appointed deputy head of the cosmonaut squad for research and testing. 10.11.2016 by order of the head of the Cosmonaut Training Center named after Yu. A. Gagarin he was appointed to the position of instructor-test-cosmonaut-commander of the cosmonaut squad.

KhAI following independence

With the formation of independent Ukraine in 1991, KhAI became the only institute in the country that provides comprehensive training of specialists for the aerospace industry.In 1992, for the first time in the history of KhAI, he began training foreign citizens, and due to the demands of the time, the Faculty of Economics and management was established. At the same time, the study of integrated CAD / CAM / CAE software packages was included in the training programs: UNIGRAFICS, ADEM, EUCLID, etc. In August 1998, the State Aerospace University named after M. E. Zhukovsky "KhAI" was established on the basis of the Kharkiv Aviation Institute.

Over the years of its existence, the university has trained more than 53 thousand engineers. Among specialists with higher education working in the aviation and space industry of Ukraine, 80% are graduates of KhAI.  The university is justly proud of the achievements of its scientists in the field of supersonic aerodynamics, strength of aircraft structures, design of aircraft and rocket engines, aircraft control systems and many others. The inventions of University scientists are patented in more than 20 countries around the world. KhAI is a regular participant of international exhibitions.

The university continues to develop. In 1999, another faculty was established - humanities. Currently, the university has more than 7,000 students and 160 postgraduates, 700 teachers (including 95 professors and doctors of sciences, more than 400 associate professors and candidates of sciences) and more than 2,000 employees. Among the university teachers there are 1 laureate of the Lenin Prize of the USSR, 3 laureates of the State Prize of the USSR, 25 laureates of the State Prize of Ukraine, 11 laureates of the Prize of the Council of Ministers of the USSR.

KhAI today

A distinctive feature of KhAI is its close ties with production. General designers and managers of the largest aerospace enterprises taught at the University: Ya.E. Eisenberg, P. V. Balabuiev, V. O. Boguslaiev, I. V. Dranovsky, S. M.Konyukhov, F. M. Muravchenko, A. K. Myalitsa.

Now the University occupies a separate territory of the city in the Forest Park area of about 25 hectares, on which there are 8 academic buildings, 2 research institutes, scientific laboratories, a library with a fund of 920,000 volumes, a campus, a sports complex, a dispensary, canteens.

The university is a co-executor of the Alpha International Space Program, as well as research projects with firms in the USA, Japan, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands and China.

On September 11, 2000, the university was granted national status. The new name of KhAI is National Aerospace University named after M.Ye.Zhukovsky ‘Kharkiv Aviation Institute’.

The XXI century is a century of even more rapid development of aviation and cosmonautics. Scientists and teachers of the university look to the future with confidence and optimism and are ready to solve any tasks that time sets.

Aircraft of the KhAI


In 1932, under the leadership of Professor of the Department of Aircraft Design Joseph Grigorovych Nemana, an initiative group of KhAI employees and students created a high-speed aircraft project, which was called "KhAI-1". It was the first passenger plane with landing gear in Europe to be removed in flight, which set a speed record for the KhAI-1 plane. On the domestic m-22 engine with a capacity of 480 hp, it showed a speed of 322 km/h, according to this indicator, it took first place in Europe and second in the world. During the period from 1934 to 1937, more than 40 such vehicles were built at the Kyiv aircraft factory, and in the pre-war years, the KhAI-1 became the most popular passenger aircraft in the country. Achievements in this area served as an impetus for the creation of a development bureau at KhAI.

From 1936 to 1938, on the basis of the KhAI-1 aircraft, the KhAI-5 was created, a modification of which the KhAI-5 - R10 bomber was actively used during World War II, as a reconnaissance and short-range bomber, until 1943. A total of 490 such vehicles were built.


In 1934, for the first time, the glider "Osaviakhimovets of Ukraine" or " KhAI -4", the creation of which was led by Pavel Georgiyovych Banning, took off. It was he who proposed a unique hydraulic communication system between the front and rear landing gear, which made it possible to simultaneously remove and release three wheels in flight. In parallel with this, the development of the Osaviakhimovets KhAI glider, which was destined to go down in the history of World Aviation, was carried out. Pilot Ryzhkov performed aerobatics on a glider for the first time in the world, performing (please pay special attention to this figure) 26 dead loops, one of which is with an exit in the opposite direction.

During the summer of 1934, KhAI created a two-seat tailless glider - "KhAI-2", named after "Pavel Postyshev". And two months later, at the tenth all-Union gliding competition in Koktebel, KhAI -2 set a record among gliders of its class, holding 58 minutes in the air.

On the way back to Kharkiv, the glider sets another record - the glider manned by pilot Leonid Rozhkov flew 4 and a half hours in tow from the Crimea to Kharkiv without a single landing.

"Flying Wings" project

In 1935, KhAI students Fischuk, Stasyuk and Kosukhin created the project "flying wings", which allowed a person who jumped out of an airplane to make a planned flight. Today, this project has been implemented under the name “jetpack”.

Powder rocket number 2

On November 10, 1937, Academician G.F. Proskura created a group of scientists, engineers and students who study rocket thrust, design and launch the first rockets. On September 19, 1940, enthusiasts of the Jet Group launched powder rocket No. 2 near the village of Cherkasskaya Lozovaya near Kharkiv. A memorial plaque on the aircraft body of the KhAI is dedicated to this historic event.


In June 1967, KhAI students built and successfully tested the unique KhAI-20 aircraft, which was honored with awards by VDNH of the USSR.Two years later, gibcolet KhAI-21 is created in KhAI, the prototype of the current moto-hang-glider. KhAI-21 was successfully demonstrated at exhibitions in the USA and Canada.

2022 on: Drones galore

In 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine. Many drone manufacturers sprang up, producing large quantities of small, lightweight, low-cost drones for many military purposes, and these have been used extensively by the Ukrainian defence forces. Drones from foreign suppliers have also been obtained in quantity, and many are adapted to need by Ukrainian engineers and technicians before use. It is not the best reason to be a world leader in the development of military drone technologies. 2024 saw the ambition to manufacture a million military drones in the year, large and small.


Updated 4 Feb 2024