They were the first! Let's start with the shortcomings of the book. The aviation prehistory of Latvia (when it was not called that yet) is outlined in it abruptly and deafly. The fact that one of the first airplanes in Russia was built in Riga and demonstration flights were carried out at the Zolitude airfield is given by the "dotted line". The presentation begins with the first ethnic Latvians who sat at the helm in the Air Force of Tsarist Russia, the Latvian rifle regiments, the Latvian division of the Red Army ...
But the official birthday of the Air Force of the Republic of Lithuania can be considered June 7, 1919 - then an aviation group was founded under the command of Senior Lieutenant Alfred Valeika, a graduate of the Sevastopol flight school, holder of the orders of George, Stanislav and Anna, who deserted from Soviet Russia. The first captured Sopwith and Nieport biplane fighters flew to the front against the Bolsheviks and the Bermondtians. The pilots, of course, were also "from the other side" - Janis Prieditis and Voldemar Yakubov.
The take-off sites of 1919-1920 were located in Sigulda (from there Russian bomb carriers Ilya Muromets took off at the Germans during the First World War), in the area of ​​​​the current Ropazhu Street (the airfield of the Church of the Cross), then they began to use the "cement factory airfield", which was later called Spilve. By the way, until the irrigation system was built on it, the lowland of the Spilva meadows was regularly flooded by the Daugava, sometimes ice floes walked along the airfield, and fragile airplanes had to be sheltered on the roofs of hangars!
From "Ansaldo" to "Gloucester"
The creation of the regular Latvian Air Force in the form of an aviation regiment is associated with the figure of Jazeps Baško, a lieutenant of the imperial army, who became the first aviation general of the Republic of Latvia (by the way, he was one of the few military pilots who escaped repression after 1940, probably because shortly before the change of power he went to resign). In Latvia in the 1920s, aviation was extremely popular - aviation holidays were organized, fundraising was held. The pilots tried to demonstrate the chic of aerobatics - and often died from their own recklessness, for example, when trying to fly under the bridge in Daugavpils ... In just 20 years, 46 Latvian military pilots died in disasters, the largest number - 9 people - in 1931.
Gradually, captured airplanes were replaced by those purchased abroad. The first batch was Italian Ansaldo fighters, then there were British Avro training machines, Martynside fighters, De Havilland, Hawker reconnaissance aircraft, Czech Letov, hydroplanes from Germany - Heinkel and from Italy - Savoya.
The most modern in the pre-war Latvian Air Force were the English Gloster Gladiator fighters, which in 1936 were also replaced by the British Bristol Bulldog. The Gladiator was a fairly advanced machine - all-metal, with a closed cockpit, four 7.7 mm Vickers machine guns and a speed of 407 km / h. The statistics of the Soviet-Finnish war speak about the quality of the Gladiators compared to Soviet aircraft of that time - 41 air victories were won on British aircraft with the loss of 16 Gloster Gladiator fighters. It was a real World War II aircraft, used on many of its fronts, and in Sweden was in service even after 1945. However, it is hardly correct to talk about the possibility of resistance to the Soviet Air Force in 1940 due to the small number of Gloucesters - only 25 aircraft.

The echoes of World War II, which hit neighboring Poland, were the first to be felt by Latvian aviators. In September 1939, as many as 83 Polish aircraft flew to Latvia, which had a 105-kilometer border with Poland! Basically, these were training machines and only one PZL-11 fighter (by the way, in 1939, the Latvian pilot Vaiders also gave up on the SV-5 reconnaissance aircraft - only in the USSR). A total of 143 Polish pilots were sent to internment camps in Ulbroka and Tsekula with a completely free regime, and the planes were placed in the empty buildings of the Provodnik plant (later - REZ).
Ironically, it was there that, after 1940, the dismantled planes of the Latvian aviation began to be brought. On June 15, the air regiment received an order to relocate from the main base in Spilva to alternate airfields (seaplanes left Liepaja in the autumn of 1939 - Soviet flying boats flew in their place). A couple of days later, the Red Army entered the airfield with six tanks. Command staff began to be arrested. Although Spilve was last seen by the Latvian Gloucesters in August 1940, three fighters took part in an aviation festival along with Polikarpov's fighters. History is silent about what signs were on the planes of the People's Army of Latvia - red stars or still red swastikas?
The year 1941 drew a line under the 20-year history of Latvian aviation. On the first day of the war, the Germans bombed the modern Spilve airfield complex, a military and civilian unit built in the late 1930s. Most of the Gloucesters died at the alternate airfield in Krustpils (the Germans captured one and used it to tow their landing gliders), then the Soviet troops sank four English Fairey Seal hydroplanes on Kisezers during the retreat. Only a few Belgian-made SV-5 reconnaissance aircraft flew to the East. But since they were not able to serve them in the USSR, by decision of the Air Force command they were used as targets for the Germans at the "false airfield" near Pskov. As if in the summer of 1941 the Luftwaffe lacked real targets...
The Latvian aviation personnel made their choice. Moreover, sometimes pilots of the same crew became enemies - for example, during the flight of an SV-5 reconnaissance aircraft to Russia, a Latvian aviator shot a colleague and sat down on the territory occupied by the Germans. The vast majority of those Latvian pilots who were not arrested or deported joined the night bomber squadron of the Luftwaffe - INSG-12, and then emigrated to the West. Tellingly, the Red Army Air Force also had a PO-2 night squadron, but there were only a little more than a dozen of those who had previously served in the Latvian Air Force. Thus, most of the personnel of the national air force chose the war with the Soviet Union - probably because they were a kind of elite in pre-war Latvia and because aviation was the most ethnically pure branch of the military. In the end, "ugunskrusts" played a role
Made in Latvia
An interesting aspect of E. Bruvelis's book is the description of aircraft built in the Republic of Latvia. You will not find information about them in any even the most detailed aviation guide. Although this is an obvious misunderstanding, because the Latvian aircraft of the 30s were quite at the level of world models, although they were built in scanty series. The aviation workshop of the VEF plant produced a number of training aircraft designed by Karlis Irbitis - these were elegant monoplanes with excellent aerodynamic "slickness" of forms.

That was the Latvian aircraft designer. Karlis Irbitis was born in 1904 on October 14 in Latvia. He invented several airplanes during his lifetime and one of them was the I-16 Light Fighter. Not the Ishak that many thought about, but a completely different plane.

 This was its description on the website: I-16 is a light fighter with a fixed landing gear, developed by the Latvian company Irbitis. The aircraft was an all-wooden low-wing aircraft with an air-cooled engine. 3 aircraft were built. After joining Latvia in the USSR in 1940, it was tested in the Air Forces of the USSR and Germany.
According to some information, Germany became interested in the I-16, but only for the training of Luftwaffe pilots.

Tactical and technical characteristics:

Year of acceptance into service 1940
Wingspan, m 8.23
​​Length, m 7.30
Height, m ​​2.40
Wing area, m2 11.43
Weight, kg
- empty aircraft 1100
- normal takeoff 1540
Engine type 1 PD Walter Sagitta I-SR
Power, hp 1 x 454
Maximum speed, km/h 483
Cruising speed, km/h
Practical range, km 400
Maximum rate of climb, m/min
Practical ceiling, m 8000
Crew 1
Armament: 2 20 mm cannons and 2 7.9 mm machine guns

VEF I-16 (photo from the Luftwaffe-Experten website)
The plane turned out to be unusually beautiful and “flying”. By June 1940, both prototypes were completely flown and adopted by the Air Force of the Republic of Latvia, however, due to the “people's revolutions” in the Baltic states provoked by the Stalinist regime, they remained at the test airfield in Riga. Soviet test pilots overtook one of them to the LII of the Red Army Air Force, where the aircraft did not arouse interest due to the launch of the LaGG-3 with higher flight data. Like the Me-209, the I-16 was destroyed during the evacuation of the VEF. Unlike the Soviet ones, German engineers transported the VEF product to Berlin, where it was thoroughly tested and even recommended to start its production.