Interesting Facts About Russian WW2 fighter airplanes
Russian Yak3 fighter
Prior to the Russian revolution of 1917 the majority of scout and fighter aircraft were Russian versions of French and British designs built under license agreements. After the revolution, interest in aircraft dipped as the Bolsheviks focused on establishing the Soviet State. However, during the civil war that soon followed it became clear to the Red Army that air-cover was a necessity. In 1918 Nikolai Zhukovsky became the founding head of the Central Aero and Hydrodynamics Institute. Zhukovsky forged a group of young and talented engineers, and the center would become the major center for aviation research.
Nikolai Zhukovsky, Founder of CAH Institute
Under the Soviet system OKB is an acronym for Experimental Design Bureau (Opytnoye Konstruktorskoye Buro). OKBs were usually established at the factory and identified by a factory number, and sometimes by the name of the lead designer. A good example was Lev Lyulyev: "OKB-8", also known as "OKB Lyulev", was established by Lev Lyulyev after he was promoted to Chief Designer of Factory No. 8. Russian aircraft produced in the 1920’s still maintained a European influence, but young emerging engineers began to push ideas for their own designs.
Alexander Alexandrovich Novikov, Chief Air Marshall
The Russian design and aircraft production differed greatly from that of the west. While aircraft designs in both cases began with a government request that stated specific requirements, in the west the government armed services would turn to multiple private industry companies to design and produce prototypes. In the Soviet case, every step in the design and construction was controlled by the state. Rather than depend on the manufacturers to design the aircraft, in the Soviet system the design bureau completed the entire design process and then handed it off to a state run factory for production. Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich would team up and become the MiG bureau. And array of others would follow and soon become synonymous with the future of Soviet aircraft development.
Nicolai Kikolaevich Polikarpov
Nicolai Kikolaevich Polikarpov, chief designer of the design bureau of NN Polikarpv. In the period between 1934 to 1942 16,000 Poliarpov’s were produced. It must be noted that for a period the Soviet Union was only armed with his fighters. Early in his career Polikarpov worked under the legendary designer, Igor Sikorsky at the aviation department of the Russian-Baltic Carriage Factory. One of his earliest designs was a reconnaissance plane to replace the r1. It was called the r5 a bi-plane design that entered service in 1930, and in its seven-year run six thousand were produced. In what would become a sign of the times Polikarpov fell out of favor with the government and was imprisoned and ordered to be shot. Thankfully for him the sentence was never carried out. Polikarpov regained his status in 1933 and went on to produce two fighters.
Polikarpov I-15 (Chaika)
The first, the I-15 was a streamlined bi-plane and the second, the I-16 a clean clean-break with the bi-plane era. The I-16 would first see action in 1937 in the Spanish Civil War when the Soviets came to the aid of the Spanish government. Early in the engagement the I-16 achieved some success against bi-plane fighter aircraft. However, when the Germans introduced the ground-breaking Messerschmitt Bf 109 the I-16 was no match. The I-16 also saw action against the Japanese when they invaded China.
Alexander Aleksandrovich Yakolev
Alexander Aleksandrovich Yakolev was the chief designer of the Yakolev Design Bureau which began operation in 1934. In 1931 Yakolev graduated from the Air Force Military Engineering Academy and was assigned to the Moscow Aviation Plant No. 39, where his first design bureau of lightweight aviation was established in 1932. Yakolev was promoted to main designer in 1935, and then chief designer from 1956 to 1984. Yakovlev served under Joseph Stalin as a Vice-Minister of Aviation Industry between 1940 and 1946. Yakolev is credited with the development of a string of single-seat, single-wing fighters, the Yak-1, Yak-3, Yak-7, and Yak-9.
Yak-1 fighter plane
Formal specifications were released on 29 July 1939 for a design of a new fighter with a Klimov M-106 V-12 liquid-cooled engine. The specifications called for two prototypes – I-26-1 with a top speed of 620 km/h (390 mph) at 6,000 m (20,000 ft), combat range of 600 km (370 mi), a climb to 10,000 m (33,000 ft)) of less than 11 minutes, equipped with 2 × 7.62 mm (0.300 in) ShKAS machine guns and 1 × 12.7 mm (0.50 in) Berezin BS heavy machine gun. I-26-2 had a turbo-charged M-106 engine with a top speed of 650 km/h (400 mph) at 10,000 m (33,000 ft) and armament of 2 × 7.62 mm (0.300 in) ShKAS machine guns. Since the M-106 was delayed, the design was changed to incorporate the Kilimov M-105 P V-12 engine, with a 20 mm (0.787 in) ShVAK cannon in the "vee" of the engine block, in a motornaya pushka mount. Both prototypes experience problems in manufacturing, the biggest being oil overheating along with persistent sub-assembly problems. Problems continued to persist, so much so, that it drew the ire of Stalin. However, the saving grace for Yakolev was that his competitors were also experiencing problems with their designs. The composite-wooden structure proved easy to maintain under often extreme weather conditions, and the engine proved to be reliable enough. The production of the Yak-1 ended in July 1944, with over 8,000 built.
Yak-3 fighter plane
The Yak-3 entered service in 1944, as a substantial upgrade of the Yak-1. The scarcity of aviation aluminum and the pressure of the Nazi invasion led to work on the first Yak-3 being abandoned in late fall 1941. Many of the issues that befell the Yak-1 were addressed i.e., plywood instead of fabric covering of the rear fuselage, mast less radio antenna, reflector gunsight and improved pilot-armor and engine cooling. The first group of Yak-3’s was armed with a single 20 mm ShVAK cannon and one 12.7 mm UBS machine gun. The Yak-3 was a forgiving, easy-to-handle aircraft loved by both rookie and veteran pilots and ground crew as well. It was robust, easy to maintain, and a highly successful dogfighter. Russian pilots preferred to engage in dogfights below 13,000 ft against their German adversaries. By late summer of 1944 the Yak-3 began to gain superiority over the Germans, consequently, the Luftwaffe issued an order to "avoid combat below five thousand metres with Yakovlev fighters lacking an oil cooler intake beneath the nose!”
Yak-7 fighter plane
The Yak-7 began life as a pilot trainer aircraft for the promising line of Yak fighters. However, the fortunes of war dictated the Yak-7 transition to a fighter plane. Thus the designation of the Yakovlev trainer was changed from UTI-26 to Yak-7. Under the designation Yak-7A the first two-seat fighters reached front line units during late 1941. Armed with a 20-mm ShVAK cannon and two 12,7-mm Berezin UB machine guns with 300 rounds each. Provision was also made for six RS-82 rockets or a pair of 220lb (ca. 100 kg) Type FAB 100 bomb. Once accepted by leadership, production was switched to the Yak-7B with a wingspan reduced to 32ft 9.75 in, installation of an RSI-4 radios and a number of aerodynamically refinements which increased the normal load weight to 6,703 lb (ca. 3,040 kg). The Klimov M-105-PF engine replaced the M-105-PA power plant during the summer of 1942, along with the installation of new exhaust stubs, rudder trim tab, and the two-machine gun cocking mechanism fairings in front of the windshield. The production run of the Yak-7B totaled over 6,000 with production ending in 1943.
The Yak-9 was the best iteration of the Yak series of fighter aircraft. Fundamentally a lighter development of the Yak-7 with the same armament, it arrived at the front at the end of 1942. The Yak-9 had a lowered rear fuselage decking and all-around vision canopy. Its lighter airframe gave the new fighter a flexibility that previous models had lacked in the air war. The pilots who flew it regarded its performance as comparable to or better than that of the comparable German fighters of the day. Yak-9 variants carried two different wings, five different engines, six different fuel tank combinations and seven types of armament configurations. December 1943, saw the install of the more powerful M-107 engine on a new Yak-9U airframe. After many upgrades the Yak-9 revealed a clear superiority in top speed over all other fighters in service on the Eastern front, up to 6,000 m (19,685 ft).
In 1927 Seymon Lavochkin began his career at the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute under the tutelage of Andrei Tupolev. Lavochkin was a champion of fighter aircraft, and in 1939 he formed the Lavochkin Design Bureau, along with chief designer Vladimir Gorbunov. His first aircraft design was the LaGG-1. Throughout his career his design bureau designed some the best WW II Russian fighters planes.
LaGG-1 fighter plane
Work on the LaGG-1 began in 1938 as a light-weight aircraft designed around the Kilmov-105 liquid-cooled V-12 engine (1100 hp). Like with the majority of Russian aircraft of this time wood consisted of the majority material used in construction. The first prototype took flight in March 1940, and once some initial difficulties had been worked out of the design, proved to be promising, however, the LaGG-1 fell somewhat short of what its designers had hoped for. Some 100 aircraft were sent to evaluation squadrons, where their shortcomings quickly became obvious. The aircraft was clearly underpowered and lacked agility and range. Furthermore, while the seven prototypes had been carefully custom-built and finished to a very high standard, the mass-produced examples were comparatively crude, and this only added to the existing weaknesses. As reports of these problems came back to the design team, a series of modifications were needed. The LaGG-1 reached a speed of 377 mph, a ceiling of 31,550 ft and a range of 346 miles. It was armed 2X 7.62 ShKAS machine guns and a 1X 20 ShKas cannon.
LaGG-3 fighter plane
The LaGG-3 was a replacement for the LaGG-1. Like the L-1 its construction was nearly of timber. The designers had anticipated upgrading the LaGG-3 with the powerful Kilmov-106 engine, however, the 106-engine proved to be a bad fit. Overall, the LaGG-3 proved to be somewhat hard to control as it reacted sluggishly to stick forces. In particular, it was difficult to pull out of a dive, and if the stick was pulled too hard, it tended to fall into a spin. Making sharp turns a very risky procedure. A better engine was found, however, the increase in power was minimal at best. Changes were made to the fuselage to lighten the aircraft. The LaGG-3 first saw action in the dark days of 1941, and the results were not good in combat with the Messerschmitt Bf 109. In the final analysis, the LaGG-3 proved to be very unpopular with pilots.
LaGG-5 fighter plane
The La-5 was the off-shoot of the hard lessons learned with the LaGG-1 and 3. The improvement began with the install of the powerful Shvetsov ASh-82 radial engine. The new engine required a grafting on the nose section of a Sukhoi Su-2 which also used the same engine. As a result of the poor performance of the first aircraft, chairman Stalin was dis-pleased with Lavochkin. As a result, factories once assigned to the LaGG’s were now directed to build other aircraft. Undeterred Lavochkin and his team returned to the drawing board during the winter of 1941-1942 and accomplished what was needed. Now Lavochkin finally had a powerplant that allowed his aircraft to perform as well in the air as it had been supposed to on paper. After flying, the LaG-5 Russian Air Force test pilots declared it superior to other aircraft already in service. With Stalin’s approval the La-5 went into immediate production summer of 1942. While still inferior to the best German fighters at high altitudes, the La-5 proved to be every bit their match closer to the ground. With most of the air combat over the Eastern Front taking place at altitudes of under 5,000 m (16,404 ft), the La-5 was very much in its element. Its rate of roll was excellent. La-5s had three Berezin B-20 cannon installed in the nose capable of a salvo of 3.4 kg/s rounds. Altogether, 9,920 La-5s of all variants were built, including several dedicated trainer versions.
LaGG-7 fighter plane
Production of the La-7 began in the autumn of 1943 to address the shortcomings of the La-5. Wind tunnel testing was conducted, with the aim of improving the aerodynamic performance of the aircraft which was the main problem presented by the previous model. However, Lavochkin was not authorized to install the Shevtsov M-71 radial engine, the Lavochkin La-7 proved to be little more than a La-5FN improved. Their armament was not standardized since so much was made of two or three 20mm cannons. The main change was the aerodynamic changes that have reduced consumption and gave the aircraft a greater operational range. Over 5700 La-7’s were built in its production run that ended in 1946.
Artem I. Mikoyan and Mikhail I. Gurevich
Under Joseph Stalin’s direction a new department was formed within the Moscow-based design bureau of the prominent aviation designer Nikolay N. Polikarpov to develop a new military fighter. Chosen to lead the project was a promising engineer in the bureau, Artem I. Mikoyan, who in turn requested Mikhail I. Gurevich, a close colleague, as his deputy. The two men, possessed of complementary skills and personalities, would remain associated throughout most of their successful and prolific careers. While the duo experienced a little successful, they would not achieve legendary status until the development of the jet powered MiG-15 after the war.
MiG-1 fighter plane
The MiG-1 was another Russian low-wing monoplane with a tailwheel undercarriage of mixed construction. Due to shortages of light alloys, the rear fuselage was made from wood, but the front fuselage, from the propeller to the rear of the cockpit, was a welded steel tube truss covered by duralumin. The majority of the wing was wooden, but the center section was all-metal with a steel I-section main spar, the wings were evenly tapered with rounded tips and the outer wing panels had 5° of dihedra. The landing gear wheels retracted hydraulically, the main units inwards into the wing center section. The cockpit was situated well aft, which seriously limited forward vision when landing and taxiing. The preferred engine was not available so the less powerful V-12 Mikulin AM-35A had to be substituted. Armament included two fuselage-mounted 7.62 mm (0.300 in) ShKAS machine-guns and one 12.7 mm (0.50 in) UBS machine gun. On 9 December 1940 the first 100 model I-200s were designated as the MiG-1. The production run was limited to 100 aircraft.
MiG-3 fighter plane
The MiG-3 replaced the MiG-1 on the production line at Factory No. 1 on 20 December 1940 and was built in large numbers during 1941. By 22 June 1941, at the beginning of the German invasion of Russia (Operation Barbarossa), some 981 were in service with the Soviet Air Forces. The MiG-3's top speed of 640 km/h (398 mph) at 7,200 metres (23,622 ft) was faster than the 615 km/h (382 mph) of the German Messerschmitt Bf 109F-2F-2 in service at the beginning of 1941 and the British Supermarine Spitfire V's 603 km/h (375 mph). At lower altitudes the MiG's speed advantage disappeared as its maximum speed at sea level was only 505 km/h (314 mph) while the Bf 109F-2 could do 515 km/h (320 mph). Unfortunately for the MiG-3 and its pilots, aerial combat over the Eastern Front generally took place at low and medium altitudes where it had no speed advantage. By 1 June 1941, 1,029 MIG-3s were on strength, but there were only 494 trained pilots. In contrast to the untrained pilots of the 31st Fighter Regiment, those of the 4th Fighter Regiment were able to claim three German high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft shot down before war broke out in June 1941.
The next two aircraft that we will discuss are not Russian fighter planes in the larger sense but were important as symbols of the Russian people in defense of their homeland. Russia became the first country to officially allow women to fight in combat, realizing that desperate times required all hands-on deck. At the urging of Marina Raskova (The Russian version of Amelia Earhart) the 588th received the approval form unit. Raskova received 2000+ applications from around the country. The 588th set up camp in the small town of Engels north of Stalingrad at the Engels School of Aviation. The young women ranging in ages 17 to 26 were put through a rigorous two-month course of pilot training, navigation, and ground crew maintenance. The women were given hand-me-down equipment, including the Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, 1920s crop-dusters that had been used as training vehicles. These light two-seater, open-cockpit planes were never meant for combat. Flying at night, pilots endured freezing temperatures, wind, and frostbite. In the harsh Soviet winters.
588th women pilots
The Polikarpovs were armed with two bombs at a time, one under each wing. The tactic was to attack the German front lines, the regiment sent out up to 40 two-person crews a night. Each would execute somewhere between eight and 18 missions a night, flying back to re-arm between runs. he planes, each with a pilot upfront and a navigator in back, traveled in packs: The first planes would go in as bait, attracting German spotlights, which provided much needed illumination. These planes, which rarely had ammunition to defend themselves, would release a flare to light up the intended target. The last plane would idle its engines and glide in darkness to the bombing area. It was this “stealth mode” that created their signature witch’s broom sound. The Germans nicknamed them the Nachthexen, or “Night Witches,” because the whooshing noise their wooden planes made resembled that of a sweeping broom. Altogether these daredevil women flew more than 30,000 missions in total, or about 800 per pilot and navigator. Thirty of the pilots were killed in action and 24 were awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. The flyers conducted their last mission on May 4, 1945—when the Night Witches flew within 60 kilometers (37 miles) of Berlin. Three days later, Germany officially surrendered.
The Ilyusin-2 also known as the Stormovik, a single-seat assault bomber that was a mainstay of the Soviet Air Force during World War II. Experts generally feel the Il-2 is considered the finest ground-attack aircraft produced by any nation during World War II. It was designed by Sergey Ilyushin beginning in 1938 and went into production in 1940. The Il-2 was a single-engine, low-wing monoplane 38 feet (11.6 m) long and 48 feet (14.6 m) in wingspan. The early version was armed with two 23-millimetre powerful cannons and two 7.6-millimetre machine guns mounted in the wings. The aircraft strapped on about 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of bombs or a lesser quantity of rockets. Later versions mounted two 37-millimetre cannons, and a two-seat version had provision for a tail gunner. The entire forward part of the aircraft was constructed of a single armour-plated shell that afforded maximum protection to the pilot. The Il-2’s cannons and other armaments made it particularly effective at destroying tanks, and its use against the German panzer divisions in 1941–43 helped turn the tide of battle in the Soviets’ favour. Stalin said of the Il-2 that it was “as necessary to the Red Army as air or bread.” Approximately 36,000 Stormoviks were produced during the war, more than any other aircraft in history. German pilots dubbed the Il-2 the “Concrete Bomber”—a commentary perhaps both on its durability and agility, or lack thereof. During periods of intense fighting, one Sturmovik was being lost for every ten combat missions, a ratio that would “improve” to one loss for every twenty-six missions in 1943.
P-39 Airacobra fighter plane
After horrendous loses at the beginning of Operation Barbarosa suffered by the Red Air Force in 1941, made it necessary for the Allies to provide massive amounts of military aide until Soviet industry could produce modern aircraft in large quantities. The first foreign airplanes to arrive were two squadrons of Hawker Hurricane fighters, which were flown in combat by RAF pilots in the autumn of 1941 and then handed over to the Russians. Under the Lend-Lease act large numbers of American aircraft were assigned to Russia. Nearly 15,000 aircraft of all types were sent to Russia between 1942-1944. Between 1942 to 1944 Russian industry produced 42,000 aircraft. 20% of the Soviet fighters were American built. American manufacturer Curtiss supplied the Russians with 2,000 of their venerable P-40, the British provided 3,000 Hurricanes and 1,300 Spitfires. However, the overwhelming favorite of the Russians was the American Aircraft Company, Bell Corporation’s P-39 Airacobra (4,200) and the P-63 Airacobra (2400). While the P-39 did not perform up to the standards of the Mustang, Thunderbolt, and Lightnings at high altitude interceptions, it fit perfectly with the Soviet doctrine of battling the Germans at 16,000 feet or lower. The Russians also appreciate the powerful cannon in the nose of the aircraft which was accomplished by installing the Allyson engine behind the cockpit.
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