Glen Curtiss
Alexander Graham Bell
Fort Meyer Trials
Louis Blériot
Reims air race
the first U.S. airshows
Santos Dumont
squaring up for war
the first bomb run
the amazing Dreadnought 1

The Amazing Dreadnought No. 1
By: Raul Colon
PO Box 29754
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00926

Aviation was in its infancy when the Great War began in August 1914. Still, many historians point towards the ‘War to End All Wars’ as the single, most important event in the transformation of the aircraft from a novelty to a much sought- out commodity. No one would look at aviation the same way after 1914. That’s because the antagonist in this cataclysmic period utilized the airplane as a purely tool of war, rather than for communication or reconnaissance duties as it was customary during the first years of the twentieth century.

By the outbreak of hostilities, all combatants had air forces of some sort. The Germans had the biggest force with about 250 aircraft on inventory. The French, although outnumbered 3 to 2 in airplanes by the Germans, had a much greater understanding of aviation tactics. A foundation that would serve them well as its country became the main battlefront throughout the four year struggle. Farther behind the Germans and French were the British. The Royal Flying Corps, created in 1912; two years after France had done the same, could only field 60 airframes by July 1914. For the first two years of the war, Great Britain depended heavily on French engines and airframes. However, with its much larger industrial base, the island nation quickly recovered and surpassed both the Germans and French in aircraft output. On the other side of Europe, the other Allies, Russia was in possession of more planes than the British and French combined. They also had a better command structure than the French. But the confusing variety of types made maintenance of their aircraft difficult. Meanwhile, the chief culprit for the start of the war, Austria-Hungary, had only a tiny force by comparison.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, in the vast territory controlled by the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungry, many aviation pioneers started developing and testing indigenous flying platforms. In the Czechoslovak part of the empire, some aircraft inventors like Jan Kaspar began gaining a reputation for excellence in designs and development. Many aspiring pioneers became interested in Kaspar’s achievements. One of those people was Jan Stastik. The life of this remarkable, yet, unknown aviation trailblazer is one of the most mysterious ones. The holes and hiatuses in his curriculum vitae are one of history’s greatest travesties.

The bits and pieces of what is known are tantalizing. What is certainly accepted is that his public life started in the spring of 1911, when he applied as a student pilot in Kaspar’s flying school at Pardubitze. After this period, little information is available, but it is safe to assume that Stastik was fulltime alumni at the Technical University in Prague. By 1912, he introduced to the public his first aircraft model mockup in front of a jam packed crowd at the Prague Car Exhibition. He called the biplane on display at the exhibition that day Bomber Project Number One or Dreadnought No.1. Accordingly to the October 30th, 1914 issue of Flight, a prestigious British aviation magazine, Stastik’s biplane bomber mockup has several similarities in design with that of Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky’s famous Ilya Moroumetz heavy bomber, prompting many to conclude this was a copycat. Little did they know that the entrepreneur had secretly commenced work on his dream plane almost two years before the great Russian inventor.

In 1913, the Stastik began to work full time on his concept. The task of transforming a design mockup to a full size aircraft was a daunting. One that required time and money. Time he had, but money was in short supply. It was at that time that he turned to fellow countrymen Horak and Vonka to sponsor the project. The banking duo, famous for establishing several financing regulations in Imperial Austria, gave Stastik the generous amount of 130,000 koruny (crowns). With the money, a year later, Stastik was able to present his semi-completed aircraft to an impressed gathering at the Prague Car Exhibition. In May, with the initial funds dwindling, he managed to finish the installation of the wing fittings and power plant. The final pieces needed before the aircraft could take to the air. By early June, and with his beloved bomber completed, Stastik began to plan for the initial flight test phase. At the time of its completion, Dreadnought No.1 was the Danube Monarchy’s first operational-capable bomber.

The Dreadnought was a remarkable flying machine for its time. It was a three strutted biplane design, built from wood coverings and fiber. It was powered by two Gnome rotary engines capable of generating up to 100 horse power per unit. The power plants were placed at the front and rear sections of the fuselage. Each of them drove a two-bladed airscrew-a tractor and pusher propeller-rotating in opposite directions. Originally, the front faced Gnome engine got a hood cover but it was soon removed due to problems associated with the cooling of the motor. The rear engine was never housed. The upper wing structure of the airplane was fitted with a two sets of ailerons for additional control and had a span of 18 meters. The lower wing area was shorter by a couple of meters.

The tailplane was assembled in two frames meeting at the ruder post that carried one rudder and one elevator which was built in a T-configuration. Below the tailplane sat a tailskid. The main undercarriage was completed with another carriage that was mounted under the cockpit and used two metal wheels without rubber tires. These metal wheels had S-shaped spokes that served as additional suspension for the airplane. On the air frame, fitted in a compact cabin, sat the two man crew. Behind the pilot and co-pilot, was an intriguing apparatus for mounting the bomb load. The mechanism looked like a revolver drum. A remarkable similar system was used by the United State’s B-1A Lancer bomber for the deployment of cruise missiles in the early 1980s. The handling of the system was performed by lever controls and a special indicator that noticed the number of bombs attached to the barrel. Depending on the size and weight, the No.1 could carry a total of 200, 250 kilograms bombs.

Next to the bomb-barrel were the fuel tanks. The empty weight of this twin-engine plane was 750kg. It soared to 1,200kg when fully fitted. Stastik planned to enhance that capacity two-fold, to around 2,000kg. Top operational speed for the bomber was estimated at 150 to 160 kilometers, with a maximum flight endurance time of nearly six hours. By the middle of the summer of 1914, the massive Dreadnought began its flight test phase at Pardubitze. A year and a half later, the biplane finally joined the K.U.K. Fligerarsenal, the technical test center for the fledgling Luftschifferabteilung, the forerunner of the K.U.K Luftfahrtruppen (Austro-Hungarian air force), at Fischamend, downriver from the imperial capital of Vienna. From there, the aircraft would never emerge.

During the initial test flight, the aircraft began to gather speed for the takeoff and the front carriage broke, propelling the plane to a somersault crash. As the pilot emerged from the crash site, he managed to see what remained of the bomber catching fire. The end came quickly as ground crews were ill prepared to extinguish the fire. After the debris was removed, Stastik was contacted to do a follow-up project. But this never made it out of the board room. The end of Dreadnought No.1 also signalled the end of Stastik’s aviation career, as he and his remarkable plane, faded away in the fog of history.

No longer an Island: Britain and the Wright Brothers, 1902-109, Stanford Press University, 1984
The R.F.C. in the War, Flight Magazine No.6, 1914
Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War I, Random House, 2001
Bombers and X-planes, from 1901 to 1915, Carson Palmer, Rodger Press Books 1971

Jan Kaspar was born in 1883 in the East Bohemian town of Pardubice. From his early childhood he was an active sportsman: he was keen on cycling and horse riding. After finishing secondary school in Pardubice, he went on to study at Prague's Technical University. After graduating, he left for Germany to further his education. He studied engine construction and later worked in a factory producing parts for the Zeppelin airships. Young Kaspar was a big technology fan: he rode a motorcycle and promoted motor sports in his hometown. He was also interested in motorboats and took part in a series of car races, mainly abroad. Jan Kaspar admired Zeppelin's airships but he was keen on the idea of constructing his own aircraft propelled by a combustion engine. He saw the famous Louis Bleriot - the first man to fly across the English Channel - take off from a Vienna airfield. Jan Kaspar was enchanted - he wanted to fly too. He gave up the career of a racing driver, returned to his native town and started working on a Czech aircraft - a simple monoplane. Kaspar made a number of attempts to take off - some of them ended in disaster and nearly cost him his life. His first success was a two-kilometre flight over fields near Pardubice on April 16, 1910. Later, Kaspar ordered a Bleriot plane from Paris. It was a one-seat single-engine monoplane, and Kaspar fitted it with a liquid-cooled four-cylinder Daimler engine. On May 13, 1911, at six a.m., the 28-year old Kaspar took off for his first long-distance flight from Pardubice to Prague. The flight was an undeniable success. Jan Kaspar covered the distance of 120 kilometres from Pardubice to Prague in 1 hour and 32 minutes, at an average speed of 80 kilometres per hour. At that time, it was the longest flight carried out in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Kaspar landed on a racecourse in Chuchle, south of Prague, where crowds welcomed him as a hero.

No longer an Island: Britain and the Wright Brothers, 1902-109, Stanford Press University, 1984

The R.F.C. in the War, Flight Magazine No.6, 1914

Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War I, Random House, 2001

Bombers and X-planes, from 1901 to 1915, Carson Palmer, Rodger Press Books 1971