Aircraft of the Baltic States
Although the Baltic States Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania gained their independency shortly after the First World War, they were at the outbreak of the Second World War occupied by Soviet forces. “Liberated” for a short period by the Germans, the were again occupied by Soviet forces until the Soviet Empire fell apart. In spite of this, all three Baltic States were active with the development and construction of aircraft of their own design!
Latvia started with its aviation industry in 1924 when pilot Nikolajs Pullins flew the small biplane P-1 ”Spirditis” (Little Thumb). He soon came into contact with a mechanical engineering student named Karlis Irbitis who completely redesigned the P-1 into the first of a long line of Irbitis designs. Irbitis joined later the State Electrotechical Works (Valst Elektroteckniska Fabrika) V.E.F. and designed and built here a number of light planes of which the I-12 sport plane, the I-14 fighter trainer and I-16 lightweight fighter were the most well known. After the war Irbitis emigrated to Canada and joined Canadair as an aircraft designer. He retired in 1970 and died in 1997.
The most important second aircraft factory was LKOD, originally a ship’s wharf and tool-work factory. They built small series of the types KOD-1 to KOD-4
In Lithuania the ANBO works was the most important aircraft manufacturer. The ANBO-1 was a small low wing monoplane built in the mid twenties. It was later followed by the ANBO-II and -III two-seat trainers, ANBO-IV light bomber and reconnaissance plane, ANBO-Vand -VI trainers and finally the ANBO-VIII light bomber and attack plane. The invasion by Russian troops ended further work!
Estonia hardly had an aviation industry and most types acquired were of foreign design. Only a small number of Estonian design were built and flown. Most known were the low-wing monoplane types PTO-4 trainer and the Rolls Royce Kestrel powered PN-3 fighter trainer of 1939 as last modern type.
Most important book on Latvian aircraft is ‘Of struggle and life’ written by Karlis Irbitis and published in Canada. It is hard to find an quite expensive and I really wished I had it!
The Dutchman Frits Gerdessen has published an extensive article on Estonian aviation in AIR ENTHUSIAST no.18. In the Dutch periodical LUCHTVAARTKENNIS he has published a series of extensive articles on Baltic aviation
A detailed article on the I-16 was published in AIR ENTHUSIAST no. 48 by Chuck Davis.