“Blue Bird” and other incredible machines for astronauts

“Cadillacs”, “Mercedes” and expensive sports cars. On such cars as heroes, they met astronauts who returned to earth. True, during official visits, many days after the flight itself. And at the time of landing of the conquerors of space, a completely different transport was waiting …

We all know perfectly well what happened on April 12, 1961. After 108 minutes of flight, having made one turn around the Earth, the Soviet citizen Yuri Alekseevich Gagarin landed near the town of Engels in the Saratov region, becoming the first man in the world to have traveled to outer space. Thanks to his act, he will become a real hero not only in the Soviet Union, but also for all mankind. Senior Lieutenant Gagarin will be promoted to the major, awarded many awards, as well as a bunch of gifts, among which there were also cars . This is all known. But few people thought that it was April 12, 1961, also begins a new chapter in the history of the automotive industry. And all thanks to one minor detail.

As you know, Gagarin landed in the steppe, apart from his descent vehicle. But what happened then? The historical record clearly states that Major Gassiev arrived first to the landing site of Gagarin, who delivered the world’s first pilot-cosmonaut to the unit to meet with the personnel. According to another version, already unofficial, the first people Gagarin met were local residents, and only then the military arrived in the place. Whatever it was, but to the nearby part of Gagarin went by car. What exactly? Now it’s hard to say. It is known only that it was a truck. Scientists would then have to think about the fact that when flying into space, something can go not according to the scenario, but the cosmonaut-to land in a completely different place, where he was not expected …

Similarly, several subsequent flights were completed. Only in 1964 on the initiative of S.P. Queen Special Design Bureau ZiL was given the task: to develop a search and rescue vehicle that would be able to take astronauts out of the most inaccessible corners of the Earth. In December 1964, technical requirements for such a machine were approved, and in the beginning of 1965 – the technical task was formulated. The work was not fast enough, and the car was oh, as needed! This was confirmed by the emergency landing of the Voskhod-2 spacecraft with cosmonauts P. Belyaev and A. Leonov. Due to the failure of the landing system, the descent vehicle landed in the hard-to-reach Taiga near Perm. The astronauts had to wait for help two days in the middle of the snow-covered forest.

The first working copy of the car for cosmonauts named PEU-1 (“Search and Evacuation-Setup-1”) was presented only in 1966. Work on it was headed by the chief designer G. Khovansky and head of the SKB ZIL Vitaly Grachev. The vehicle was a classic amphibious car with a fiberglass displacement body. At the same time, the car was compact enough to enter the freight compartments of transport aircraft. The car was built on a three-axle landing gear, and it was driven by a 6.0-liter ZIL-375 engine with 180 hp. Transmission – hydromechanical, planetary type. Also, PEU-1 was equipped with a special crane for lifting the descent vehicle. The new car was hosted by a government commission, which included cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Alexei Leonov. PES-1 tests were successful, the model was adopted for the rescue service of the Air Force.

However, PEU-1 was never produced in large editions. Time passed, and the space industry needed new machines. It was necessary that a new all-terrain vehicle could not only reach remote places, but also bring the necessary equipment there, as well as medical personnel. Therefore, in addition to the car with a crane, Soviet specialists began to develop another all-terrain vehicle – with a passenger compartment. So ZIL PEW-2 appeared, work on which began in 1967, and ended – in 1970.

The new amphibian combined the advantages of PEU-1, but was more perfect than the latter. First, the model was equipped with two engines ZIL-375, and not one. One motor was responsible for the drive of the left wheels, and the other for the right-hand drive. From the ZIL-E167 all-terrain vehicle, the new car borrowed a chassis layout with three equally spaced bridges, wheelbase and track dimensions, and large wheels with fiberglass wheels. The designers thought that thanks to the latter the car could move better along the deep snow cover. The box – “automatic” -hydrotransformer from the experimental Lvov bus LAZ-695ZH. Disc brakes were installed on all wheels.

No less interesting was the equipment of the ZIL-5901 PES-2 compartments. In the cabin there were two heaters from ZIL-130, in the cabin – four from the bus ZIL-158 and air-conditioner from ZIL-114. And in the passenger compartment was a real wood burning stove and a stove! In addition, the car’s standard equipment included 5 radio stations, the Druzhba chainsaw, an inflatable boat, various tools, winter clothing sets, a lightweight diving suit, medical equipment and fire extinguishers. Do not forget that the PES-2 was ready to take on board the descent vehicle for transportation. To do this, the body had a special platform with a manipulator.

PEU-2 went well not only off-road, but also on public roads. Although for such trips it was necessary to accompany the traffic police and special permission. But with all its advantages, PES-2 had one global drawback – its size. The dimensions of the all-terrain vehicle were 11 665 x 3275 x 3050 mm, the car was too large and simply was not included in the cargo compartments of military transport aircraft. Because of this, the operational transportation of the amphibian to the landing site of the descent vehicle became practically impossible. As a result, ZIL-5901 PEU-2 was still built in a single copy. Now the car is exhibited in the Military Technical Museum in the Moscow region.

But, perhaps, the most famous all-terrain vehicle involved in the space industry, was ZIL-49061 “Blue Bird”. This car was the result of accumulated experience in the operation of various off-road vehicles, including – for work with astronauts. The developers came to the conclusion that the new rescue vehicle should be sized so that it could be loaded into the cargo bay of the aircraft. But it also needed a vehicle capable of quickly overcoming any swamps and huts. Such a car already was – it’s the PES-3 juniper, built shortly after PES-2. But this all-terrain vehicle was too big, moreover, unsuitable for ordinary roads. What to do? The solution was found in the release of several vehicles, combined into a single complex. The main all-terrain vehicle was to be a wheeled vehicle with increased terrain, and for the most inaccessible places a small auger was intended, which could be transported on a special platform. Complemented the picture of a passenger car, which was to go the personnel of astronauts, who returned from the stellar distances.

The result of the works of designers were two unified cars, presented in May-June 1975. The first of them, the cargo ZIL-4906, will be called “Crane” in the slang, and the other, the passenger version, ZIL-49061, will be called “Salon”. As an attachment to the cars, there was a light scraper ZIL-29061, transported by Crane. For all vehicles of the new complex, a special bright blue color was chosen so that all-terrain vehicles could be seen on any background – and in snow, and in the forest, and in the steppe, and in the desert. For this color of the car and nicknamed “Blue Birds”.

The sizes of “Blue Birds” were smaller than those of PES-2. So, the dimensions of the car were 9250 x 2480 x 2537 mm. The gross weight is 9260 kg. In this case, such a car on the highway could accelerate right up to 75 km / h. All thanks to a 6.0-liter eight-cylinder engine from ZIL-130 with a power output of 150 hp, which was substantially modified. True, the expense of the all-terrain vehicle was huge – about 50 liters per “hundred”. But who cares about such a specific industry? By the way, the transmission here was mechanical, 5-speed. From the use of the “machine” refused for the sake of ease of maintenance. Also, the car received a transfer box with an airborne differential, which allowed the right and left wheels to rotate at different speeds, as well as a planetary-type demultiplier, responsible for a number of lower gears. All three axles were “crowned” by independent torsion pendants, and the front and rear wheels could be turned. Thanks to such solutions, the “Blue Bird” had excellent off-road maneuverability.

In the cockpit of the “Blue Bird” could fit up to four people. The same number – in the passenger cabin of the corresponding modification, plus three more people – on a stretcher there. By the way, the creators of the car took into account all the experience, so the passenger compartment was more comfortable. Of course, as far as possible for such a technique. Initially ZIL-4906 and ZIL-49061 were equipped with the most modern navigation equipment and communications. And later the Blue Birds have complexes that allow to determine the exact landing of the descent vehicle and maintain two-way communication, both with cosmonauts and with crews of aircraft and helicopters.

“Bluebird” was, perhaps, the most successful project of its kind. Not surprisingly, six years after the premiere show, such cars entered the arsenal of the Unified State Aviation Search and Rescue Service of the USSR. For 10 years, ZiL’s forces built 12 “Cranes”, 14 “Salons” and another 5 small sneakers.

However, in the future, the project to create search and rescue vehicles for the discovery of astronauts has not been developed. And it’s not even the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the crisis that has arisen in this connection. Just the purpose for which such machines were created, has lost relevance. The fact is that the electronics of spacecraft and descent modules has become more reliable. The calculation of the exact landing place of the apparatus ceased to be as difficult as it used to be. Therefore, powerful all-terrain vehicles began to be used for more trivial tasks. For example, “Blue Birds” went to work in the Ministry of Emergency Situations, they were used in oil production, rescue operations, agriculture, and so on.

Of course, no one says that in our days “machines for astronauts” have finally ceased to exist as a class. Moreover, in Russia an all-terrain vehicle for the new generation of astronauts is being tested on the basis of the four-wheeler “Shaman”, which in the second half of April will welcome the cosmonaut Sergey Volkov, who returned from the ISS (see the video of this car below). And yet such machines differ already much more versatility of their application than in the past. It remains only to be glad that all those Soviet citizens, who long ago decided to be pioneers in space, influenced their development in one way or another.