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Yangel, Mikhail Kuzmich
Soviet Chief Designer 1954-1971 of OKB-586. Preeminent designer of ballistic missiles and light satellites. His Ukraine bureau designed the R-12 and R-14 IRBM's; the heavy R-16, R-36, and R-36M ICBM's; and the Zenit space launcher,

Born: 1911-10-25. Died: 1971-10-25. Birth Place: Irkutsk.

Yangel was born in Zyryanova in Irkutsk, Siberia. In 1926 he moved to Moscow to join his older brother Konstantin. He worked at first in a weaving factory, but managed to be accepted for admission to the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI) in 1931. He graduated in 1937 and went to work at the Polikarpov fighter design bureau. In 1938 he went to the United States and was trained in a factory there as part preparation for licensed production of American aircraft. On his return to Russia he was named an assistant of Polikarpov, and in 1940 made deputy director of the main Polikarpov factory in Novosibirsk. In March 1944 he took a post with the Mikoyan fighter design bureau, and then in January 1945 was named a lead engineer in Myasishchev's bureau. He worked briefly in the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Aviation Industry before being sent for a higher degree to the Academy of Aviation Industry in 1948 to 1950. On 12 April 1950 he was appointed chief of the guidance systems section at Korolev's ballistic missile research institute NII-88.

At this time, in the aftermath of the R-3 fiasco, NII-88 was conducting a fundamental re-examination of missile technology possibilities and designs. Yangel was deeply involved in these, especially with the R-5 (, R-11, and R-12 designs. Due to this extensive preparatory work, Yangel completed and delivered the six volume R-5, eight volume R-11, and R-12 drafts projects forty days after receiving formal go-ahead. Yangel seems to have become convinced that operational military missiles should use toxic but storable propellants a position that Korolev and his lead deputy Mishin totally disagreed with.

In May 1952 Yangel was named director of NII-88. This made him the supervisor of Korolev (who was still officially a convicted enemy of the state). Yangel was a committed Communist with good connections with missile czar Ustinov. In February 1953, just twenty days before his death, Stalin ordered parallel development of the R-5, R-11, R-12, R-7 ICBM, and EKR intercontinental cruise missile.

While these new rockets were being designed, a facility at Zlatoust had been selected for production of the R-1 rocket (the Soviet copy of the V-2) in 1949. But the work dragged on without results, and on 1 June 1951 secret police chief and secret weapons manager Beria switched R-1 production to Factory 586 at Dnepropetrovsk. The plant was equipped with equipment looted from German Porsche and BMW plants after the war and at that time was producing tractors. The first Dnepropetrovsk production R-1, albeit still containing many parts and assemblies fabricated at NII-88, was finally completed in June 1952.

At the end of 1953 Khrushchev decided to decentralize the missile industry, since a single nuclear bomb on Moscow would wipe out Korolev's factories. Ustinov was requested to draw up a plan for two additional completely independent missile design bureaus, one in the south of the Soviet Union. This effort cost tens of billions of rubles. While the managers and lead technical staff would be taken from Korolev's bureau, the working engineers, technicians, and workers for the bureau and associated factories would be recruited locally at each site. This would avoid the additional expense of building extra housing. Korolev fought to keep control, wanting to make the new bureaus just branches of his own, but Khrushchev was adamant that only completely autonomous organizations would be acceptable. Yangel was easily selected for the southern bureau and was made manager of factory 586. His job was to convert it to an independent missile design and production facility. Since Korolev had never been able to put him on a leash anyway, he was well suited to this role. The enabling decrees were issued in April-July 1954. Yangel moved to the Ukraine and began development of the R-12 in earnest.

When the R-12 began state trials in 1957, the Soviet military was finally provided with a usable ballistic missile weapon. It was the first Soviet ballistic missile to be put into mass production. In the absence of a usable ICBM from Korolev, the R-12 played a key role in the Cold War when it was deployed to Cuba in 1962, precipitating the Cuban Missile Crisis. By the time the last R-12 was destroyed under the terms of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty - on 21 May 1990 the Cold War was over.

The success of the R-12 and the willingness of Yangel to listen to the needs of the military led to follow-on mass production orders for the R-14 IRBM and the R-16 and R-36 ICBM's. The R-16 finally provided the Soviet Union with an ICBM to counter the Atlas and Titan missiles being deployed in the hundreds by the United States. However it was also responsible for a terrible accident when the first prototype blew up on the pad on October 24, 1960, killing Nedelin, the Chief of the rocket forces, and nearly 100 others. Yangel was only saved because he had gone into a bunker for a smoke just before the explosion.

By this time the space age was under way and despite the press of missile work, Yangel managed to carve a niche for himself by being assigned responsibility for development of the lightweight Cosmos 63S1 launcher (using the R-12 as a first stage) and its accompanying DS (Dnepropetrovsk Sputnik) satellites. These began flying just fourteen months after go-ahead. 185 were launched and performed a range of scientific, technological, and military missions. Reshetnev used the R-14 IRBM for the Kosmos-3 launcher, which remained in use into the next millennium.

Yangel's attempts to get a bigger role in the space program were less successful. From around 1961 he had designed the mammoth R-46 ICBM and the R-56 space launcher against the GR-2 global rocket requirement. Chelomei's Proton UR-500 was selected for the global rocket requirement and Korolev's N1 for the super booster requirement, but Yangel continued to refine the design of the R-56. By 1965 Yangel had decided that the bitter fight between Chelomei and Korolev over control of manned programs was damaging the Soviet space effort. In any case he could see that the size of the projects had reached such a scale that it was impossible for one design bureau to handle all of the required elements. He proposed a collaborative effort: Yangel would design and build the launch vehicle; Korolev the manned spacecraft; and Chelomei the unmanned spacecraft.

However this was not to be. The leadership was loath to change course with funds already invested in development of boosters and spacecraft by Chelomei and Korolev. The other Chief Designers objected that use of the R-56 for a manned lunar landing would require two R-56 launches in the place of one UR-700 or N1 launch. This would mean use of untried earth orbit rendezvous techniques to assemble the spacecraft in earth orbit. Development of the R-56 was not authorized, and for once in his career Yangel gave up the fight.

As a practical matter it was not possible for one bureau to handle the moon-landing project. Although Glushko and Chelomei refused to co-operate with Korolev on the effort, most other rocket design bureaus were involved. Yangel agreed to develop the critical rocket stage of the LK lunar lander that would have landed a cosmonaut on the moon. The LK flew in three flawless unmanned test flights in 1970-1971. Yangel died in 1971 soon after completion of three flawless unmanned LK flights, content that he had done his part for the program.

The organization he had created continued to be the sole supplier of heavy ICBM's to the Soviet Union. They were tasked with developing the new-generation booster stages for the Zenit and Energia launch vehicles in 1976. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Yangel's factory wound up in the independent country of the Ukraine. The Zenit went on to successful international commercial use by the Sea Launch consortium, providing the major source of foreign revenue for the country.

Yangel was seen as an intelligent person and a talented organizer. He created an open atmosphere in his design bureau, devoid of dogma, in which existing and new ideas could be examined critically. His attention to the needs of his military customers and willingness to cooperate led to the following aphorism:

Korolev works for Tass, Chelomei works on crap, Yangel works for us

Country: Russia. Agency: Yuzhnoye. Bibliography: 433, 539, 6234.
Photo Gallery


1911 October 25 - .
End of 1953 - . LV Family: R-12. Launch Vehicle: Kosmos 2.
1954 July 9 - .
Summer 1958 - . Launch Vehicle: R-16.
Summer 1959 - . Launch Vehicle: R-16.
1960 May 30 - .
1960 June 23 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1961 January 26 - .
1961 January 31 - .
1961 June 1 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1962 During the Year - .
1962 During the Year - . Launch Vehicle: UR-700.
During February 1962 - .
1962 September 24 - .
February 1963 - . LV Family: UR-100. Launch Vehicle: R-26.
1964 July 19 - .
1964 September 24 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
November 1964 - .
1965 During the Year - . Launch Vehicle: R-56.
1965 August 24 - .
1968 January 23 - .
1968 December 23 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1969 May 29 - .
1971 October 25 - .

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