From my Western perspective as a non-aviation person, it appears that most aircraft innovations throughout history (whether commercial or military) were pioneered by Western countries/corporations. These innovations then were adopted (whether the information was obtained legally or by spying) by Eastern (aka Soviet) countries/manufacturers.

However, I fully admit my Western perspective on this topic, and am wondering if there have been significant aircraft innovations throughout history where the ideas were first formulated/developed in the East, and that information then adopted by Western countries/corporations later on?


3 Answers 3


Innovations developed by one side significantly before the other adopted them were not as common. With how long it takes to complete an aerospace program and the espionage capabilities of both sides, it was far more common for them to be developing similar technologies at approximately the same time. If the Soviets couldn't be first, they were sometimes the biggest or fastest instead. If there was a large gap, it was generally the Soviets that were behind, but they did succeed in bringing some technologies to production that never made it out of testing in the West. There are also some areas where the Soviets were the first and only to develop something uniquely useful to them.

Firsts (or close)

  • The Tupolev Tu-104 was the second jet airliner after the De Havilland Comet, and the only one flying following the grounding of the Comet and before the introduction of the 707.
  • The Tupolev Tu-144 was the first supersonic passenger airliner, beating the Concorde in both first flight and introduction by a few months. It was also both larger and faster than the Concorde, though not quite as many were produced and it was retired sooner.
  • The Antonov An-22 was the first wide-body transport aircraft and is still the largest turboprop aircraft, beating the A400M.
  • The Antonov An-70 was the first aircraft to fly powered only by propfans and is still the only production propfan aircraft.
  • The Buran spacecraft that the An-225 was built to carry was well behind the Space Shuttle, but was the first spacecraft to complete a mission autonomously, including landing, in 1988. Although the Space Shuttle got capability for autoland in the 1990s, it was never fully tested, and the next fully autonomous spaceplane flight including landing was not until 2010 with the X-37.
  • The Sukhoi Su-30MKI, developed by Sukhoi in Russia and built under license in India, had thrust vectoring in both pitch and yaw, entering service in 2002. Other than vertical takeoff use in the Harrier, the West did not have a thrust vectoring fighter in service until the F-22 in 2005. The F-22 only has thrust vectoring for pitch.


  • The MiG-25 and MiG-31 are still the fastest fighter aircraft in the world.
  • The Ilyushin Il-62 was the largest jet airliner when it entered service in 1963.
  • The Tupolev Tu-114 was the largest and fastest passenger airplane on its introduction in 1961, and is still the fastest propeller-driven aircraft.
  • Though developed after the C-5, the An-124 is larger, making it the largest aircraft ever mass produced.
  • The Antonov An-225 was the largest aircraft in the world and set 240 records, including heaviest single cargo item, heaviest payload, and longest cargo. Although the Stratolaunch aircraft has a longer wingspan, the An-225 was still longer and had a heavier max takeoff weight and payload capacity.
  • The Mil Mi-26 is the largest helicopter to be serially produced.
  • The Tupolev Tu-160 was developed in response to the B-1, and entered service a year later. It is the largest and heaviest Mach 2+ military aircraft ever built. It is still the largest and heaviest combat aircraft, the fastest bomber in use, and the heaviest variable-sweep wing airplane ever flown. Only the experimental XB-70 was longer and faster.

Unique Aircraft

  • The Be-10 was a jet-powered flying boat that only lagged the Martin P6M by a year, and entered (limited) service while the P6M was canceled. The newer Be-200 appears to be the only large jet-powered flying boat currently in production and service.
  • The An-72 was developed well after the AMST program (which eventually led to the C-17) but is unique in being a production aircraft using the Coandă effect.
  • The Soviets were pioneers in Ground Effect Vehicles. Though service was limited, these include the massive KM known as the Caspian Sea Monster, with a maximum takeoff weight of almost 1.2 million pounds (544,000 kg). The KM was the largest airplane in the world during its time, and was only surpassed by the An-225.
  • The concept of a coaxial rotor helicopter was actually a originated in Russia by Mikhail Lomonosov in 1754. In modern times, Kamov is known for their coaxial rotor helicopters, with their first mass-production version being the Ka-15 in 1955. The Ka-50 and Ka-52 from the 80s and 90s respectively are modern attack helicopters. These appear to still be the only large mass-produced coaxial helicopters.
  • The Mil Mi-24 is still unique in operating as a troop transport and attack helicopter at the same time.
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ The second jet airliner to fly after the Comet was the Canadian Avro Jetliner, which flew a few weeks after the Comet and would've been first if not for a last minute technical glitch. It was a sensation when it went on a US sales tour. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Feb 13 at 3:44
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ First off-boresight missiles was also Soviet. The Americans was especially surprised that the Su27 could fire a missile at a target behind it (not directly behind, more like 130 degrees or so) $\endgroup$
    – slebetman
    Commented Feb 13 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ Also, let's not forget that while most of the development of delta wing aircraft in the West is attributed to Lippisch, in USSR Kalinin was also developing delta wing designs contemporary with Lippisch $\endgroup$
    – slebetman
    Commented Feb 13 at 8:39
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Re the Tupolev-144, it was an attempt at a direct clone of the Concorde. Nothing innovative about it. More specifically, it lacked Concorde's supercruise development, so flying it commercially was impossible; and it lacked all the control technology that went into Concorde, so it crashed at the Paris airshow and remained untrustworthy. I'm not sure how it belongs on the list. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Commented Feb 13 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ About Tu-104 - by some it was considered the deadliest aircraft, and while Comet cancelled its flights to improve, soviets cared less and only cancelled it after it was (ab)used for more than 20 years and went out of commercial service in 1979. It onlyness was not technical, if british didn't care, they would use the Comet and tu-104 would not be the only. An-70 - despite tears in my eyes, I would not agree with you that this is a production aircraft. But thanks for the awesome answer! $\endgroup$
    – Mykola
    Commented Feb 13 at 16:57

Yes actually there were some innovative aircraft developed in the East. The Soviets built the ultra long range ANT-25 in the 30s, which flew across the North Pole to the USA non-stop.

Check out this youtube channel, by the son of a Soviet Air Force fighter pilot on stories of Soviet aviation. Fascinating and amusing. A real gem.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, the channel's author sacrifices faithfulness for drama, giving a skewed perspective in many cases. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 15 at 22:03

The next information might be considered:

  1. Year: 1867

  2. Year: 1933

  3. Year: 1911

  4. Year: 1909

    • Name: N V Gerasimov
    • Turbojet engine
    • Pic:
  5. Year: 1914

On race of who made the invention, invention is usually made in an improvement process as a whirl, where some time one person is higher, some time another, naming one person an inventor would cause the other people work to be attributed to him/her. A point would be even and unbiased if people had been granted according to their contribution. At the same time the system of attributing the invention to a single (or a single entity) inventor makes possible to hide, transfer, misattribute, and practically sometimes is grounded on misattribution because usually there are certain contributions of other people. Then, it makes possibility to fix invention on certain points of the process where certain people are ahead trying to hide same points when other people are ahead, not including theoretical researches being more important. It highly depends on capabilities to reach a Patent office, profitability of invention business in a country, possibility to get required research and production equipment, even the mood and social realm, for example in socialism to use invention for personal profit is not very much respected, but to share with people for common profit is respected; therefore, who has invented may share new method or apparatus openly. There were author certificates, they were not of huge profit, more as points of recognition. The invention may be then reused and improved.

  • $\begingroup$ I made some formatting changes to make it come out the way I think you wanted it. I do note, though, that point 1 claims a jet airliner in 1867! I'm sure that's a typo for 1967. You can edit that yourself to clarify. The wall of text after that, though, seems entirely off-topic as a discussion/rant about attribution of credit for an invention. If I'm reading that correctly, it really doesn't have anything to do with the question or answer and can easily be deleted without losing anything. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 21 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ Also, if you'll take the tour and spend a few moments reading up on how to write a good answer, you can edit this to better fit the format here. "Consider this information" isn't really the type of answer we're looking for. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 21 at 19:08

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