An aerosani (Russian: aэросани, translit. aerosani, literally 'aerosled') is a type of propeller-driven snowmobile, running on skis, used for communications, mail deliveries, medical aid, emergency recovery and border patrolling in northern Russia, as well as for recreation. Aerosanis were used by the Soviet Red Army during the Winter War and World War II.
The first aerosanis may have been built in 1903-05 by Sergei Nezhdanovsky. In 1909–10, young Igor Sikorsky tested a self-designed aerosani, before he built multi-engine airplanes and helicopters. They were very light plywood vehicles on skis, propelled by otherwise-disused vintage aircraft engines and propellers.
Military use of the aerosani goes back to at least the 1910s. During World War I, aerosanis were found to be useful for reconnaissance, communicating and light raiding in northern areas. During the 1939–40 Winter War against Finland, some were equipped with a machine gun ring mount on the roof. They could carry four to five men, and tow four more on skis. The aerosanis were initially used for transport, liaison, and medical evacuation in deep snow, and mostly used in open country and on frozen lakes and rivers because of their poor hill-climbing ability and limited maneuverability on winding forest roads.
During World War II, aerosanis were found to be useful for reconnaissance, communication and light raiding in northern areas, thanks to their high mobility in deep snow (25–35 km/h, where many vehicles could not move at all). Responsibility for aerosanis was transferred to the Soviet Armoured Forces (GABTU) and orders were submitted for design and fabrication of lightly armoured versions, protected by ten millimetres of steel plate on the front. They were organized into transport or combat battalions of 45 vehicles, in three companies, often employed in cooperation with ski infantry. Troops were usually carried or towed by transport aerosanis, while fire support was provided by the heavier machine gun-armed, armoured models. Aerosanis were not used for direct assault because of their vulnerability to explosives such as mortar rounds.
The ANT-I through ANT-V were a successful series of aerosanis of the 1920s and ’30s, designed by aircraft engineer Andrei Tupolev. However, a claim exists that in 1924 the Soviets obtained plans and specifications for 'air sleighs' from Chester B. Wing, an aviator, automobile dealer and former mayor of St. Ignace, Michigan, U.S.A. He had built practical aerosleds to aid transportation across the ice between St. Ignace and Mackinac Island, and for use by fishermen. The Spring 1943 issue of the magazine Science and Mechanics states that "from his aerosleds the Russians developed their present battle sled." The claim though has to be viewed in the context of a pre-World War I picture of an Igor Sikorsky machine in Kiev.
The first military aerosanis used in Finland, the KM-5 and OSGA-6 (later called NKL-6), were initially built at the Narkomles Factory in Moscow. During World War II, improved NKL-16/41 and NKL-16/42 models were built, and production started at the ZiS and GAZ car factories, and at smaller industries such as the Stalingrad Bekietovskiy Wood Works. In 1941 the armoured NKL-26, designed by M. Andreyev, started production at Narkomles. The following year, Gorki Narkorechflota developed the smaller, unarmoured GAZ-98, or RF-8, powered by a GAZ-M1 truck engine and a durable metal propeller. There was also an ASD-400 heavy assault sled used in World War II.
- "The Propeller-Driven Sleigh". SelfSite. July 26, 2005. Retrieved 2008-09-11.
- Chris Bellamy (2008). Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 9780307481139. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
- Nigel Thomas (2011). World War II Soviet Armed Forces (2): 1942–43. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781849088282. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
- Zaloga, Steven J., James Grandsen (1984). Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War Two, pp. 185–87, London: Arms and Armour Press. ISBN 0-85368-606-8.
- Science and Mechanics, Spring 1943, p. 49.
- Propellor-driven sleds at Lonesentry.com
- The Propeller-Driven Sleigh
- N007 Tupolev, aerosled with ground effect
- At the Russian Battlefield:
- Boyevyye aerosani 'Combat Aerosanis' at Brone-Sayt (Russian language)
- Aerosani-amfibiya AS-2, a modern amphibious recreational vehicle from aircraft manufacturer Tupolev (Russian language)
- Aerosani in WWII Article in Poligon magazine, 1'2002 (at Otvaga site).