Aviation of World War II

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Polikarpov I-16

I-16, designed under the leadership and at the initiative of Polikarpov, became the ancestor of a new type of combat aircraft - high-speed fighters. Its appearance led to a revision of the basic ideas about the nature of the actions of a fighter, the tactics of their use and the main technical requirements for aircraft of this class. In a word, the I-16 opened a new stage in the development of fighter aircraft. True, all the advantages of fighter aviation did not immediately become apparent, since their effective use required significant changes in tactics, the organization of air combat, and even in the psychology of the pilot. Therefore, for some time, high-speed monoplane fighters and maneuverable biplanes developed in parallel, but by the end of the 30s, monoplanes occupied a dominant position in aviation.

The creation of high-speed machines, as a special class of combat aircraft at that time, was associated with the use of a monoplane scheme, which, in fact, could only provide a significant advance in speed. The transition to the high-speed monoplane scheme required the solution of a whole range of scientific and technical problems. During 1933-1934, three types of high-speed fighters were created, developed under the leadership of Tupolev (I-14), Polikarpov (I-16) and Grigorovich (IP-1). The most successful among them was the I-16. This aircraft embodies the best qualities of a high-speed combat aircraft: high flight characteristics and, first of all, speed, relatively good maneuverability for such an aircraft, unpretentiousness in ground operation, survivability in combat. The I-16 was a free-carrying monoplane with retractable landing gear. Air-cooled motor M-25. The fighter was unusually small in size, which ensured minimal aerodynamic drag. One of the features of the I-16 was a very rear centering. In accordance with the ideas of those years, this was done in order to improve maneuverability. It was believed (for some reason) that the less stable the aircraft, the lighter and better it is controlled. Because of this, the I-16 turned out to be very strict in piloting and did not forgive mistakes.

Serial production of the I-16 began in 1934, and until 1937 the USSR remained the only country that had high-speed fighters in service.

Since 1936, the I-16 began to be produced with a more powerful M-25A engine. From about that time, various modifications of the I-16 began to be designated as a type of aircraft. So the I-16 variant with the M-25A engine was called the I-16 type 5. It was one of the most massive modifications.

The I-16 received its baptism of fire in Spain, where Soviet volunteer pilots and trained Spanish pilots fought on it. Then the air war in China and Mongolia. And everywhere the high-speed I-16 had superiority over enemy aircraft. Only towards the end of the 30s did more modern high-speed aircraft appear, such as the Messerschmitt Bf-109E.

In the process of serial production, the I-16 was constantly improved. More and more of its modifications appeared, distinguished by more powerful and high-altitude engines (M-25V, M-62, M-63) and enhanced weapons (including rapid-fire aircraft guns and rockets, which was the first time on fighters). Two-seat training versions of this aircraft were also produced.

Aircraft Modifications

From the second half of 1936, aircraft improvements were carried out mainly at the Nizhny Novgorod aircraft plant No. 21.

One of the priorities for the plant was the creation of a two-seat training fighter. Back in early 1934, such an aircraft was created on the basis of the I-5 fighter. Double I-5 No. 6211, which, according to the accepted factory classification, meant - type 6, factory No. 21, the first copy, was tested by pilot Pavlushev in the period from August 5 to August 8, 1934. The aircraft, however, did not go into the series due to the cessation of production of the I-5, the serial number of the type was subsequently used to designate the "Spanish" three-machine gun "donkey". In connection with the development of the I-16 plant, the attention of factory designers, first of all, was drawn to the creation of its two-seater version.

Already in May 1935, such an aircraft, designated UT-2 No. 8211, was flown around. The machine had a cockpit completely closed by a common canopy. Subsequently, two more similar aircraft were built. However, a variant designated UTI-2 type 14 went into mass production, which did not have a common canopy, but only individual pilots' visors. The chassis was not retracted. Subsequently, when the UTI-2 machine with retractable landing gear was built (it was undergoing state tests in July 1937), it turned out that there were no stocks of M-22 engines, and the production of the motor itself had already been discontinued. An attempt to get a cheaper training fighter did not take place (there were other options for savings - for example, installing the M-26 engine), so the aircraft with the M-25 engine - UTI-4, type 15 went into mass production.

In 1935, in addition to the UT-2, another two-seat version was tested with the M-22 - UTI-3 No. 11211, equipped with the Soviet M-58 engine. Chkalov flew on it. He liked the plane, especially after comparing it with UT-2 No. 8211. The difficulties of mastering another new engine in production, despite its advantages, did not give rise to UTI-3.

Already at the end of 1935, the plant number 21 was developing an aircraft, designated I-161. The machine was armed with 4 ShKAS machine guns in the wings, a suspension of 4 twenty-kilogram bombs was planned. However, an aircraft with even more powerful cannon armament was launched into the series, which received the designation I-16 type 12 (more on that below).

Two years later, the I-161 designation was used again. This was the name of the lightweight I-16 type fighter planned for mass production in 1938. The I-161 of 1937 was also calculated for the M-88 engine, but the work did not progress further than the calculations. During 1936-1937, the plant carried out work on the following experimental machines.

I-163-1 - the standard of 1937 (lightweight - weight 1600 kg). It was the first aircraft equipped with landing flaps, outwardly resembled a conventional type 5. To the differences, one should add a modified design of the landing gear, tail assembly and the presence of a mast antenna. Beginning in April, this aircraft made about a thousand flights throughout 1937. He completed his task, but the innovations on the serial type 5 were not applied. Landing flaps were introduced on the I-16 type 10.

I-163-2 - an aircraft with enlarged flaps, the landing gear had an oil-air cleaning system. Didn't fly.

I-164-1 (the first with M-25V engine) - also called I-16s or escort aircraft (so in the documents) was equipped with two additional gasoline tanks in the wings. Initially, it was rejected due to poor quality performance and was reworked for a long time. Factory tests took place in February 1938. Test pilot Susie flew. With a total fuel filling of 500 kg, a flight range of 2000 km was obtained.

I-165- / I-16bis - this aircraft, like the previous one, had wing tanks, a new improved, so-called high-speed rigid-skinned wing, a modified fuselage shape, a modified engine cowling, oil-air cleaning of the landing gear. Two copies were built with M-62 engines. Due to poor quality performance (many parts were made on site, without drawings), both aircraft were not allowed to fly.

I-166 with M-25V - lightweight, with a flight weight of 1383 kg, was made on the instructions of TsAGI. The main difference is the NACA hood with an adjustable rear slot (using a “skirt”) with an exhaust manifold, with a frontal annular oil cooler. Thomas Susi flew. I-166 was a direct consequence of the requirements of the "Spanish" war. In addition to him, a number of aircraft that did not have designations received various modifications in order to facilitate the design.

Separate I-16s were equipped with electron wheels with lightweight pneumatics, lightweight armored backs, hoods of the I-15bis type, but shortened, with separate pipes. The relief was up to 230 kg. All these works, however, were not reflected in serial aircraft. The relief was used only for a series of aerobatic I-16s intended for demonstration flights. According to the documentation, these machines, whose flight weight usually did not exceed 1490 kg, passed as "red". These were special aircraft for the "red fives" (silver stars), from which weapons were removed (not always) and even part of the equipment and instruments. The turn time of these aircraft was 12.3 seconds versus the usual 15-16 seconds. At the end of 1937, it was decided to stop this kind of relief work. However, a certain number of aerobatic "red" I-16s were produced by the plant and used in military districts for demonstration flights.

The works described above mostly did not appear on widely replicated serial samples. The first production aircraft, which followed the standard I-16 type 5, was the cannon version of the fighter.

In April 1936, Polikarpov proposed the I-16 project, armed with cannons in addition to the existing machine guns. This project, which received the designation TsKB-12P (cannon), was the last one carried out on the basis of plant No. 39 and, accordingly, the last to have the TsKB designation.

TsKB-12P or I-16P was equipped with two ShVAK cannons and two ShKAS machine guns. They were placed in the wing in such a way that the shooting was carried out outside the disk of the rotating propeller. The guns were placed in the center section, in place of the previously installed ShKAS. And the ShKASs themselves migrated to the detachable part of the wing. Cartridge feed machine guns passed through the entire length of the detachable console. The cartridge belt was laid through a hatch in the upper surface of the wingtip.

The I-16P was tested from July to September 1936. Already in the next 1937, this modification under the designation type 12 began to be mass-produced at plant No. 21. Subsequently, when the type 10 appeared with the forced M-25V engine and ShKAS synchronous machine guns in the fuselage, the weapons in the cannon machine were also rearranged. Powered by the M-25V engine, with fuselage machine guns like the Type 10, this I-16 was designated Type 17. Both aircraft types were produced during 1938* and tested under combat conditions in Spain. State tests of both machines took place in February 1939, at the airfield of the Air Force Research Institute in Shelkovo. A feature of these tests was that the aircraft were equipped with retractable skis of the R-39 type. In general, Russian climatic conditions, characterized by a long winter and an abundance of snow, from the very beginning of aviation meant putting skis on airplanes. With the growth of flight speeds and the appearance of retractable landing gear, the problem became more complicated, since it was much more difficult to remove bulky skis than wheels. On the I-16, such work began in the winter of 1935-1936.

On February 2, 1936, Plant No. 39 completed the installation of retractable skis on the I-16 with the M-22. The NACA bonnet was cut off at the bottom for this purpose. Tests carried out on two aircraft No. 123904 and No. 123906 showed the mechanism to work, but the issue of the series did not arise. Over the next two years, military units flew with skis that could not be removed in flight, but already in 1938 the issue of cleaning was resolved. Aircraft manufactured in the second half of the year had a knockout-lodgment in the lower part of the hood for the above purpose. The cleaning mechanism itself was worked out - from that moment on, all production aircraft (with the exception of type 29) could be rearranged on skis in winter without noticeable damage to flight performance.

At the beginning of 1939, the issue was resolved with the replacement of the M-25 engine with a more powerful M-62. The eight-strong M-62 also determined the appearance of a new modification of the I-16 type 18. However, before the type 18 began to be mass-produced, the engine was replaced in combat conditions.

* The production of serial products at aircraft factory No. 21 in 1938 looked like this:

I-16 type 5 - 169; I-16 type 17 - 27; I-16 type 10 - 508; I-16 type 15 (UTI-4) - 352; I-16 type 12 - 12

Dull silver I-16 type 24

1933-1939 Fighters
I-153 Chaika I-16 type 5 I-16 type 24
Crew 1 1 1
Year of issue 1939 1936 1940
Length, m 6.17 6.07 6.13
Wing span, m 10.0 9.0 9.0
Wing area, m² 22.14 14.54 14.54
Weight, kg:
Loaded weight 1765 1590 1882
Engine M-62 M-25A M-63
Power, hp 1000 715 1100
Maximum speed, km/h at sea level 364 390 415
at altitude 424 445 470
m 5000 2700 4800
Time to 5000 m, min 5.7 7.4 5.8
Time of turn, sec 13-13.5 14-15 17-18
Service ceiling, m 10700 9100 9900
Service range, km 560 540 440
Machine guns 4 2 4
Photo Discription

Drawing I-16 type 29

I-16 type 29

The-16 type 29 armed with RS-132 unguided rockets.

The "Red Five" demonstration team leading by M.Yakushin (extreme right).

Starting up the 1-16 type 17 engine.

Mission discussion in 13th fighter squadron of Baltic Fleet in 1940. Note the 1-16 type 10.

Pilots near the 1-16 type 5 in the late thirties.

13-en Special Squadron of Baltic Fleet. 1940.

Camouflaged I-16's (type 28 on foreground). Summer 1941

1st leutenant G.S. Zhuikov with his 1-16 type 17. Leningrad front, summer 1941.

I-16 type 27 at taxiing area.

The UTI-4 (I-16 type 15), October 1942.

One of the last operational I-16 — UTI-4 advanced trainer at the airfield prior to Victory day parade in August 1945.


  • "The history of designs of planes in USSR 1938-1950" /Vadim Shavrov/
  • "The planes of Stalin falcons" /Konstantin Kosminkov and Dmitriy Grinyuk/
  • "Fighter I-16" /Mikhail Maslov/
  • "The Soviet planes" /Alexander Yakovlev/