Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Pyotr Nesterov: Aviation Innovator & First Air-to-Air Combat Victor

Display at Russian Air Force Museum

In our article on 1 May 2020, "The Birth of the Air War,"  contributor Jon Guttman made reference to an 8 September 1914 air attack mounted by aviation pioneer Pyotr Nesterov (1987—1914).  Another of our contributors, Steve Miller, has informed us that the story behind the encounter is fascinating and that his brief career as as an aviation innovator is worthy of further discussion.  

Replica of Nesterov's Nieuport IV  Monoplane

Nesterov graduated as a military pilot in 1912 and was assigned to a detachment at Kiev.  He soon gained fame as the first pilot to fly a loop in his Nieuport IV monoplane. He was disciplined for his dangerous maneuver but gained international fame for it, nevertheless. Throughout his brief flying career Nesterov was a tireless student of the new science. He worked out new methods flying higher, safer, and at night. He suggested using aircraft for bombing and for ramming enemy airplanes.

Display at Russian Air Force Museum

It was this last combat tactic that would bring an end to Nesterov's career and life. Flying his Nieuport IV on  8 September 1914 would use a ramming technique to become history's first pilot to down an enemy aircraft, the Austro-Hungarian Albatros B.II of Franz Malina and Friedrich Freiherr Rosenthal. All three aviators died from the collision. It is believed that he may have been trying to disable the enemy airplane by using his wheels to rip off a wing, but a catastrophic collision resulted instead. Nesterov posthumously received the Order of St. George and is today honored at the Russian Air Force Museum near Moscow.

Sources:, Steve Miller Archives

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