Aviation of World War II

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The Soviet and German fighters of WWII

Engineers from the N. Ye. Zhukovskiy Air Force Academy, who performed a special assignment from the Red Army Air Forces Staff on the Kalinin Front, made a significant contribution to the collection and examination of the captured equipment. The team of specialists that Brigade Engineer V. A. Semenov led selected the most interesting German innovations and defined that they could be employed under our conditions. Special attention was paid to measures the Germans took to operate aircraft in winter. It turned out that electrical heaters, devices for local heating of engine parts, and heating lamps were similar to those employed by our Air Forces. The engineers noticed new versions of the Erlikon aircraft cannon, MG 81 turret machine guns, small bombs with rapid-fire fuses, and delayed action bombs, which the enemy began using in winter.

As was the previous case, German fighters aroused the greatest interest. Military Engineer 1st Rank A N. Frolov, Chief of the Soviet Air Forces Scientific Research Institute Fighter Department, carefully analyzed and evaluated all available information on the Bf 109F He compared the Messerschmitt with new types of Soviet fighters beginning to be widely employed in August-September 1941. In a report signed 14 February 1942, the statement was made that the YaK-1 was most suitable for employment against the Bf 109F, although its speed and rate of climb were "worse at low altitudes than those of the Messerschmitt. The Yakovlev aircraft lacked reliable self-sealing fuel tanks, radios (they were found in only 10 percent of the aircraft), and their rollout was considered intolerably long.

The Soviet LaGG-3 faced even more difficulties battling the Bf 109F since it compared unfavorably in the main flying qualities; it was better only where armament was concerned. Besides that, the Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov fighter remained hard to handle, especially when transitioning from one maneuver to another. As for the MiG-1, it had leading-edge flaps that improved flight safety at minimum control speeds and was good at altitudes of 5000 meters and more. But, combat occurred very rarely at such altitudes and it lost to the lighter Messerschmitt near the ground. The weight of a MiG-3 salvo proved inadequate to hit and destroy enemy aircraft, especially bombers.

In his conclusions, Frolov wrote: "The enemy outperforms all types of our new fighters in the main flight performance categories to an altitude of 2000 meters... The takeoff and landing qualities of our machines are not satisfactory (the LaGG-3 is especially bad). The ground roll is long and the tendency to pull to the right makes takeoffs in formation difficult and takeoffs from limited field areas require special attention. The high landing speed and long rollout also require exceptional attention and sufficient experience for an accurate landing approach...."

In mid-1943, the main focus of Red Army Air Forces Scientific Research Institute efforts was more joint comparative tests of Soviet and German aircraft. Thus, in August, the newest Yak-9D and La-5FN were tried out in simulated aerial combat against the Bf 109G-2 and Fw 190A-4. Flight and combat capabilities (the maneuverability of the fighters, in particular) were especially stressed. Seven pilots, moving from cockpit to cockpit, engaged in simulated combat, first in the horizontal and then in the vertical planes. Increasing speed from 450 km/h to maximum speed defined the advantages in acceleration, and aerial combat began with head-on attacks.

Characteristics of Soviet and German Fighters Based on Air Forces Scientific Research Institute Materials

WWII Soviet and Luftwaffe Fighters
Fighter Yak-9 La-5FN Bf 109G-2 FW190A-4
Loaded weight, kg 2873 3148 3023 3989
Maximum speed, km/h at sea level 520 562/595* 524 510
at altitude 570 626 598 544
m 2300 3250 2750 1800
at altitude 599 648 666 610
m 4300 6300 7000 6000
Power, hp 1180 1850 1475 1730
Wing area m2 17.15 17.50 16.20 17.70
Wing loading, kg/m2 167,5 180,0 186,6 225,3
Power loading, kg/hp 2.43 1.70 2.05 2.30
Time to 5000 m, min 5.1 4.7 4.4 6.8
Time of turn at 1000m, sek 16-17 18-19 20,8 22-23
Climb for fighting turn, m 1120 1100 1100 730

Note:* With use of a boosted mode

After combat with a "three-pointer" Messerschmitt (piloted by Captain Kuvshinov), test pilot First Lieutenant Maslyakov wrote: "Up to an altitude of 5000 meters, the La-5FN had an advantage over the Bf 109G-2 and could attack both in the horizontal and the vertical planes. In banked turns, our fighter could make a rear-hemisphere attack after 4-8 turns. In a vertical maneuver up to 3000 meters, the Lavochkin had an obvious advantage. It gained an "extra" 50-100 meters in a combat turn and zoom climb. From 3000 meters, this advantage decreased and, at 5000 meters, the aircraft became equal. The La-5FN was somewhat slower in climbing to 6000 meters. In diving, the Lavochkin -was also behind the Messerschmitt but in pulling out, it overtook the latter again owing to a lesser radius of curvature. This point must be used in aerial combat. One has to battle the German fighter at altitudes of up to 5000 meters, employing a combined maneuver in the horizontal and vertical planes."56 The Yak-9D found it more difficult to battle German aircraft. The relatively large fuel capacity had a negative effect upon Yak maneuverability, especially a vertical maneuver. Therefore, its pilots were recommended to fight in banked turns.

The appearance of the Fw 190A-5 modification meant that the German command element considered the Focke-Wulf the most promising ground-attack aircraft. Indeed, its considerable armor protection (the Fw 190A-4 had 110 kilograms of armor) was reinforced by 16 additional armor plates weighing 200 kilograms, mounted on the lower parts of the center section and engine. Two inner-wing Erlikon cannon were removed. This reduced the salvo weight to 2.85 kilograms, but partially compensated for the takeoff weight increase and positively affected aircraft handling qualities. Its stability was enhanced thanks to the center of gravity moving forward. The altitude gain in a combat turn increased 100 meters while rotation time decreased by about 1 second. The airplane reached 582 km/h at 5000 meters, taking 12 minutes to reach that altitude. Soviet engineers made this supposition: actual Fw-190A-5 flight data were higher since its air-fuel ratio controller was not working properly and the engine was smoking noticeably while the plane was still on the ground.


  • "The German Imprint on the History of Russian Aviation " /D.A. Sobolev, D.B. Khazanov/