Most people have a pretty well-established idea of what a snowblower is, and how it works. Terms like “single-stage”, “two-stage”, “three-stage”, as well as the associated brand names are frequently referred to whenever these machines are the topic of discussion…but not today.
A Russian snow blower can be a more traditional variation, but there is a unique version that involves jet engines used to melt snow in locations that are difficult for traditional solutions. These are used in Russia and now in colder regions around the world to clear train tracks.
The following article is an exploration of the lesser-known snow-blowing solutions employed beyond the borders of most Western countries. Join us as we take a trip to Russia and observe how its harsh winters have necessitated the invention of a unique solution.
What Are Russian Snow Blowers?
It’s fair to say that they do certain things differently in Russia. The Eastern European giant is home to peoples, cultures, and practices that are (occasionally) a bit different from those found in the Western world. Of course, as a nation that has long jockeyed with the United States for global superpower status, that may be expected.
One major difference is the economic approaches adopted by the two countries.
The U.S., as we all know, is the model representative of free-market capitalism: a system that promotes and rewards key innovations across all aspects of life. Novelty is king, and the next billion-dollar idea is always around the corner.
Naturally, such an environment incentivizes members of the public to pursue entrepreneurship in both product and service markets. If you look closely, you will find that lot of the products and services we use in this country were originally the brainchildren of sole individuals or groups.
In Russia though, things are a little different.
Although modern Russia has made incredible strides towards capitalism in the last thirty-or-so years, the specter of the collapsed Soviet Union still looms large in many areas. As a result, the country has a somewhat hybridized system that is commonly referred to as “state capitalism”.
Engineering is one such area, as evidenced by the state’s direct influence over the majority of the country’s inventions.
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Snow Blowers In Russia
One curious class of Russian machines we should definitely look at is heavy-duty snowblowers.
Of course, North Americans are no strangers to commercial-grade snowblowers. Brands like Columbia, Craftsman, Toro, and Troy-Bilt are some of the champions in that particular market. But, in Russia, snow-removal efforts are at a whole other stratosphere…almost literally!
Believe it or not, Russia has repurposed some of its vast range of Soviet-era military equipment to help deal with their notoriously harsh snow and ice. One of the most eye-catching innovations is the use of jet-powered snowblowers!
You didn’t read that wrong.
Russian municipalities, as well as the military, have repurposed old fighter jet engines to be fitted to trucks, tanks, railroad cars, and other vehicles. This isn’t “snow-blowing” in the traditional sense of the phrase…this is “snow-melting”, as you can imagine.
The most common engine employed for this purpose is the Klimov VK-1, a centrifugal-flow jet engine that powered the famous Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15. The MiG-15 is most renowned for its feats in the bloody Korean War of the early ’50s.
The single-seater fighter represented peak Soviet engineering, and it was tipped to be one of communism’s last great hopes in the latter half of the 20th century. Communist allies like China and North Korea had their respective fleets bolstered by the deadly bird, which boasted a revolutionary airframe and, of course, a peerless engine.
The Klimov VK-1 is actually a derivative of Rolls-Royce’s iconic RB.41 Nene, which employs centrifugal compressor technology. Star Soviet engineer Vladimir Yakolevich Klimov was in charge of the engine’s development.
Like the Nene, the VK-1 boasts about 6,000lbs of thrust, which could propel the Mig-15 to speeds of over 670 miles per hour.
The jet engine measures 102 inches in length, 51 inches in diameter, and has a dry weight of 1,922 lbs. Power is generated in nine can combustion chambers, which in turn drive a single-stage axial turbine. The engine has a 3:1 thrust-to-weight ratio.
After the success of the Mig-15, the Klimov VK-1 was then used to power the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17, another classic Soviet fighter that is still in operation. It was also the driving force behind the Ilyushin Il-28 “Beagle” (aka Harbin H-5 in China), a devastating jet bomber that is still employed by the Korean People’s Air Force.
As time went on, and new engines were invented, the VK-1 was slowly phased out and grounded. The Soviet Union (and later Russia) soon found itself with hundreds of functional VK-1 engines that were just sitting idly.
Jet Engine Snow Blowers Arrive In Other Countries
During the 1960s, Polish State Railways officials came up with the bright idea to use de-winged MiG-15s to clear railroad tracks. An operator would sit in the cockpit and fire up the engine towards the lines. In the earliest applications, the cockpit would be sat atop a rail car, with the exhaust hanging over the edge and aimed at the track.
This idea was a hit and soon spread to various parts of Europe and Siberia. The first Russian snowblowers were born. As the saying goes, “if it looks stupid but works…it ain’t stupid”.
It quickly became apparent that these tools could also be used for other things, such as melting ice on public roads, airplane propellers, wings, as well as airport and aircraft carrier runways. However, using the Mig’s entire front fuselage (body) was deemed somewhat of an impracticality for these latter applications.
Modifications were in order, and the result has been a series of Frankenstein-esque creations featuring the jet engine. Tanks, trucks, tractors, and everything in between, have been tried and tested for compatibility with the Klimov VK-1. Wheeled vehicles are the most efficient way to transport the snow melters to where they are needed.
The snow melting engines are most commonly wedded to heavy-duty commercial or industrial trucks, most of which are from the Soviet era as well. Trucks, such as the KRAZ-255 6×6 offer greater load-bearing capacity and can traverse multiple terrains with ease.
The jet engines are usually mounted to the front of their respective vehicles, although top or rear-mounted setups are also pretty common. To be fair, there is no one-size-fits-all policy (or any policy, really) governing the configurations.
Sometimes, special funneling chutes are installed to the end of the engine exhaust to channel heat towards the ground if that particular snow melter is to be used to de-frost roads. Some engines are fitted with lengthened exhausts to help with reach, which is helpful for de-icing certain parts of a plane, for instance.
The possibilities are quite endless, with creativity and daring engineering at the driving seat of these remarkable contraptions, which remain fairly popular in the brutal climes of Eastern Europe and surrounding areas like the Czech Republic.
The U.S. has also got in on the act, with the CSX Jet Engine performing a similar function at Croton West Yard.
However, do not expect to see snow melters sweeping through your local town anytime soon. The Western world’s environmentalist stance means that this invention will probably pass us by. The fuel demands alone would be a slap in the face of carbon emissions regulations.
There is also the inherent danger of blasting jet exhaust so close to civilians. Snowplows can be pretty dangerous in crowded cities, for instance, so there’s no telling the kind of disaster(s) that could occur when operating an engine that flirts with the speed of sound.
Additionally, there is simply no way lawmakers would permit some of the shoddy-looking setups currently in operation in Russia. We were unable to find any reports of injuries or fatalities related to the operation of these machines…but we didn’t expect to.
So, traditional snowblowers it is…for now.
The Final Touches On Russian Snow Blowers…
Though these may not end up on your block clearing your street and neighborhood, they could end up in nearly every railyard around the world. There will have to be more safety measures and adaptations before mass production can be relied upon.
You have to admit, these are innovative ways to reuse old machinery that doesn’t have use in any other way.
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