He rammed an enemy plane at the cost of his own life. Thus he made history - for the second time in less than a year. Two milestones in the history of aviation - "dead loop" and air ramming - are inseparable from his name.
Pyotr Nesterov was a pilot, an aircraft designer and an aerobatics pioneer. The son of a military academy teacher, he decided to choose a military career. In August, 1904 he left the military school in Nizhny Novgorod and went to the artillery school, considered one of the best of its kind. He became a second lieutenant and served in the 9th East Siberian artillery brigade in Vladivostok. In 1909, he built his first glider and learned to fly it.
In 1911 Nesterov began formal training as a pilot and graduated on October 11, 1912. A short time later, after a new round of exams, he enlisted into Imperial Russian Air Force (established in 1910) as a military pilot. In May, 1913 he became leader of a relay in Kiev, completing night flights at that time.
Nesterov believed an aircraft could fly a loop, a feat not previously performed. Despite the doubts of his peers, he proved his theory on September 9, 1913 and became the first pilot to fly a "dead loop". This was done in a Nieuport IV monoplane with a 70 hp Gnome engine over Syretzk Aerodrome near Kiev, before a large crowd. For this he was disciplined with ten days of close arrest, ostensibly "for putting government property at risk". His achievement made him famous overnight and the punishment was reversed; he was promoted to Staff Captain (a rank equal to Major in US and British Armies) and later awarded with a medal. He founded the practice of aerobatics, stressing the value of these exercises for a military pilot. He also designed an curved-wing monoplane to set a speed record (WWI started before the airframe could be built):
Aircraft were unarmed at this early stage, and Nesterov became the first Russian pilot to destroy an enemy airplane in flight in the history of military aviation. On August 25, 1914, flying a Morane-Saulnier Type G monoplane (s/n 281, pictured above), he rammed an Austrian reconnaissance plane Albatros B.II of Observer Baron Friedrich von Rosenthal and pilot Franz Malina from FLIK 11 after firing at them with a pistol.
Eager to destroy enemy aircraft, he probably intended to hit it with a landing gear of his monoplane, but instead he hit it the propeller. Both planes crashed. Nesterov, who had not strapped himself in, fell from the plane to his death. The Austrian pilot and observer were also killed. The remains of their Albatros were photographed by Russian press:
Later Nesterov's ramming method was more successfully used by a number of pilots. The air combat technique of ramming Nesterov pioneered became known in Russian as "taran" (ram). In honor of Nesterov the Soviet Union established the Nesterov's cup for the best aerobatics crew. The cup was donated to the International Aeronautics Federation in 1962. Next year, Soviet Mail Service issued a stamp to commemorate the 50th anniversary of "Nesterov loop":
A minor planet 3071 Nesterov discovered by Soviet astronomer Tamara Smirnova in 1973 is named after this brave aviator.