1942 wasn’t a good year for the Russian Army. Not only did it have to beat the Germans back in The Battle for Stalingrad, but it also had to defend the Motherland against the largest military invasion in human history. In terms of body count, the Russian Army was getting the borscht kicked out of it—losses at Stalingrad alone eventually numbered more than 2.5 million.
To protect the men that were still left, Russian military planners searched desperately for a vehicle that could be airdropped into the fight and let the crew start raining hell the moment they hit the ground. Aeronautical genius Oleg Antonov answered the call, and came up with the Antonov A-40 Krylya Tanka (“Tank’s Wings”). It’s exactly what it looks like: a T-60 light tank bolted onto a wood-and-fabric glider fuselage. The idea behind it is simple.
- The tank would be towed on a cable like a normal glider by a Tupolev TB-3 heavy bomber.
- Once over the target, the A-40 would break its tow cable and the driver/pilot would start a pants-soilingly steep glide back to earth.
- Once on the ground, the tank would roll to a stop, detach its wings and join the fight.
There’s only one hitch to this otherwise (ahem) foolproof plan: tanks are heavy. Despite being classified as a “light tank”, the T-60 still weighed a scale-destroying 12,700 pounds. The KT was flown with no guns, no armor, very little fuel and—according to some sources—no turret. Even after these pounds were shaved, it was so massive that the TB-3 tow plane could barely fly with the KT attached, and all four of the TB-3’s engines were in danger of catching fire.
If we’re to believe test pilot Sergey Anokhin’s remarks, the test flight went very smoothly, not counting the fact that the towplane’s engines were about to explode. Despite Anokhin’s endorsements, the Antonov KT was destined not to go into production. No existing plane was strong enough to keep it in the air, and with most weight reductions made in the form of taking off guns and armor, the resulting vehicle would serve as cannon fodder for the better-equipped German tanks.
- Winchester, Jim. The World’s Worst Aircraft: From Pioneering Failures to Multimillion Dollar Disasters. New York: Metro, n.d. Print.