How did Russian aerosleds become so popular worldwide?

D. Chernov/Sputnik
Designed in Russia, aerosleds are one of the most successful vehicles designed to navigate snow-covered regions. Fast and effective, they are operating far beyond Russia’s borders.

Driven by propellers and running on skis, aerosani (“aerosleds”) are perfectly suited for Russia’s open and boundless spaces. No surprise that this type of snowmobile first appeared in the coldest country on Earth.

Aerosleds accidentally appeared in 1903 during tests of an aviation engine that was mounted on a sled. One of the engineers, Sergey Nezhdanovsky, liked the combination, and patented the world’s first aerosled.  

The primary tasks of these vehicles included transporting cargo, delivering mail and participating in combat operations.

Aerosleds were perfect for long snow-covered distances: they crossed them much faster than cars, and were far more cost effective than planes.

During World War II the Soviets established special mobile aerosled units that both assisted other troops, and operated as a separate force.

The NKL-16 carried cargo and landing parties, as well as served as a courier. Besides the soldiers inside, the aerosled could drag 20 skiers on a tow.

In 1942, the more advanced NKL-26 appeared. Unlike the NKL-16, this new model had better armour and was equipped with a 7.62mm Degtyarev machine gun. The aerosled's crew consisted of two men: a driver-mechanic and a commander-shooter.

After World War II, the new Sever-2 (North-2) aerosled replaced the obsolete NKL-16. Based on the frame of the GAZ-M20 “Pobeda”, it was equipped with an AI-14 aircraft engine. However, the vehicle failed tests and the project was shut down.

In the 1960s the more powerful KA-30 aerosled debuted,able to transport up to eight people and reach speeds of up to 100 km/h. A version made for the KGB had a more powerful engine and an enlarged body for more seats.

The A-3 aerosled probably had the most interesting fate. They were used to search for cosmonauts, served as personal hunting vehicles for Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, and were used to film of one of the world’s most ambitious productions, “War and Peace” (1967).

Today, in addition to Russia, aerosleds are produced in many northern countries, such as Canada and Norway.

Russia, however, remains the leader in aerosled production, where about 90 percent of these vehicles are designed and produced.

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