Little is known about the city of Samara prior to the collapse of the USSR, but this once secretive closed city is yet to be fully explored especially its rich aerospace and aviation history that spanned from the time of the Great Patriotic to the Space Race of the 1960s.

Production line of the Ilyushin IL-2 at Kuibyshev Aviation Plant No.18.

Samara or previously known as Kuibyshev (1935-1991), is the largest city of the Samara Region located in western Russia, 862 kilometers south of Moscow. The city's aviation and aerospace legacy can be traced back to World War II when it became a critical center for military production. Most of Russia's military industry prior to the war were based in other cities that were forced to evacuate during German invasion to avoid destruction or capture. Many of these organizations were relocated to Kuibyshev, and included among the evacuees were aircraft design bureaus and manufacturers like Ilyushin, MiG, Polikarpov, Aviacor, Plant No. 145 (Specialized experimental design bureau) and others. The city of Kuibyshev from this point on would devote most of its resources and manpower to making military machines primarily aircrafts throughout the war and after. It was most famously instrumental in producing much of the Ilyushin IL-2 units handling over 80% of its production.

Ilyushin IL-2 Attack Aircraft

Ilyushin IL-2 aircafts at the plant.

Factory workers at the Kuybyshev Aviation Plant No.18 working on IL-2.

Simultaneous to the influx of the industries in the city was the need for more engineers to support it's scientific and technological development. To address this need, the Kuibyshev Aviation Institute (later known as Samara State Aerospace University/Samara National Research University) was established in 1942. The institute's first teaching staff would be made up of top scientists evacuated from Moscow, Leningrad and other major cities to the relative safety of Samara. The institute's support during the war proved to be essential and further expansion of its research activities during the post-war years would be equally important as they were used in the development of the production of jet fighters and bombers such as the MIG-9,MIG-15, MIG-17, IL-28, TU-16, TU-95, and the creation of engines for VK-1, NK-12 and others.

Kuibyshev Aviation Institute (Samara State Aerospace University/Samara National Research University) in 1942. Source: Samara University

The aviation industry of Samara would continue to develop after the war and its manufacturers were assigned to build more aircrafts mostly the Tupolev series. Among the models they built were the Tupolev Tu-4 (B-29 copy) which was made from 1949 to 1953, the Tu-95, Tu-114, T-126 and the Ilyushin IL-58 which were all manufactured from the 1950s to the 1960s, and later on the Tu-154 and Tu-142 in the 1970s.

Assembly of the Tupolev Tu-154 in one of factories in Samara during the 1970s.

Samara's plants however weren't limited to aircraft manufacturing but were also involved in producing the latest missile technology. From 1954-1959, the Aviacor plant manufactured the Burya Lavochkin La-350 intercontinental nuclear cruise missile with ramjet engines, and it would similarly support many of Russia's space program such as the Vostok, the first manned vehicle to orbit space, the 11A52 N-1, the 3-stage rocket for landing the first cosmonaut on the moon and the first cosmonaut on a flight around the moon and components of the MTKK Buran.

Lavochin La-350 prototype intercontinental cruise missile.

Many of Samara's aviation and aerospace industry remains to this day and manufacturers like Aviacor still exist and primarily focuses in aircraft production while other major companies like Rocket and Space Center Progress, JSC, Kuznetsov, OJSC, OJSC, Aviaagregat, OJSC, Agregat, OJSC, Metallist-Samara, OJSC, State Enterprise “Ekran” Scientific Research Institute, Salyut and OJSC also develop and manufacture spacecraft and aircraft units, its components as well as providing maintenance support and power units.

For ordinary aviation and space enthusiast, Samara offers numerous places dedicated to its aviation and aerospace heritage like the Avenue of Labor Glory at Young Pioneers street where one can see photos and read about the history of the various plants of the city during the war, view the interesting exhibits in the Samara National Museum of Cosmonautics and Aviation as well as the Samara Space Museum, or see the beautiful monuments like the Ilyushin IL-2 Monument and the Monument of Glory near the Volga River.

Avenue of Labor Glory Park, at Young Pioneers street

One of the exhibits at the Samara National Museum of Cosmonautics and Aviation

The Soyuz display at the Samara Space Museum

Ilyushin IL-2 Monument. The IL-2 was found in the swamps of Murmansk and was restored and subsequently placed in this monument.

Monument of Glory, located in Slavy Square overlooking the Volga River to the north-west. The monument is dedicated to the Kuibyshev workers of the aircraft industry for their efforts during and following the Great Patriotic War. 

Check out the albums I compiled of Samara National Museum of Cosmonautics and Aviation, the Samara Space Museum and Avenue of Labor Glory Park. All Photos in the albums were personally taken in Samara by a fellow aviation enthusiast and friend.