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I-185 on Front-Line Trials

Mikhail Maslov

I-185 in flight

The appearance of four I-185s in the airspace above the front line is one of the most significant in the history of the aircraft.

By the way, this was not the only case of testing a small group of aircraft in combat conditions. In particular, in early June 1942, three MiG-9 fighters (the first with that name), which are a modification of the MiG-3 with the M-82 engine, were sent to the 34th IAP of the 6th Air Defense Fighter Corps for military testing. Aircraft with serial numbers 6503, 6504 and 6505 from the military series were, in fact, experimental machines with a number of defects. Therefore, in October 1941 they were returned for revision. In general, the MiG-9 received an unsatisfactory rating - the maximum speed was 565 km / h at an altitude of 6 km - therefore it was not built in the series. In the case of the I-185, the assessments were extremely positive, however, like Mikoyan's aircraft, the I-185 met the same fate.

The decision to test the I-185 in combat conditions was made at the end of August 1942. Their conduct was entrusted to the 728th Guards Fighter Regiment operating on the Kalinin Front. On September 4, 1942, Deputy People's Commissar of the Aviation Industry for Experimental Aircraft Building A.S. Yakovlev instructed N.N. Polikarpov to prepare four I-185s for dispatch to the front. Nikolai Nikolaevich called, and then sent a telegram to Novosibirsk to plant No. 51 with a request to immediately ship three I-185s to Moscow to the plant's branch, along with a service team. I-185 M-71 No. 6204, I-185 M-71 ("exemplary") and I-185 M-82A (second copy) were sent. Another I-185 M-82 "I" was being repaired at the Moscow branch of the plant after the I-185 M-82 pilot of the Air Force Research Institute Nikashin landed outside the airfield on July 5, 1942 and demolished the landing gear.

It was no accident that the Kalinin Front was chosen for front-line trials. The commander of the 3rd Air Army was the famous test pilot, Hero of the Soviet Union, Major General M.M. Gromov, former head of the LII NKAP, who is well aware of the features of test work. It is also no coincidence that Gromov appointed the 728th Fighter Aviation Regiment to conduct tests. It was formed at the end of 1941 from instructor pilots from the Chuguev Aviation School. Heroes of the Soviet Union A.E. fought twice in the regiment. Borovykh, A.V. Vorozheikin, Heroes of the Soviet Union N.P. Ignatiev, A.E. Novikov and others.

At the end of September 1942, pilots of the 728th GIAP captain D. Kupin, senior lieutenant N. Ignatiev, sergeants A. Borovoykh, A. Tomilchenko and a group of technicians were sent on a business trip to Moscow, where they learned that they front-line tests of the I-185 fighter designed by N.N. Polikarpov. All of them perfectly mastered the technique of piloting, had sufficient front-line experience, fearlessly entered into battle with a numerically superior enemy. So, in July 1942, six (according to other sources, eight) I-16s, led by N.P. Ignatiev in the Rzhev region attacked a large group of Ju-88 bombers flying under the cover of Bf-109 fighters (according to pilots, up to 70 aircraft). In aerial combat, our pilots shot down six bombers and three fighters without loss on their part, for which each participant in this battle was awarded the Order of the Red Star.

Upon arrival in Moscow, the front-line soldiers, led by Polikarpov Design Bureau engineers, spent a month studying the material part, preparing and accepting the I-185 for testing. Factory test pilot P.E. Loginov advised front-line soldiers on the practice of piloting the machine. Polikarpov himself explained some design features.

In the course of training, each of the pilots performed several flights to the zone for practicing aerobatics and shooting guns. At the end of November, preparations began for departure to the front. On December 3, 1942, Nikolai Nikolaevich warmly said goodbye to each pilot, admonished them with a wish: “God bless!” - and crossed them, which surprised them a lot. As N.P. Ignatiev recalled, he received such parting words before the flight for the first time in his life.

Rising into the sky, four I-185 flew to the front. The course lay on the Migalovo airfield near Kalinin, where the headquarters of the 3rd Air Army was located. The pilots introduced themselves to the commander, Major General M.M. Gromov, who personally instructed them on how to conduct front-line tests of the I-185. For reasons of secrecy, pilots were forbidden to fly over the front line, engage in air battles and conduct a maneuverable battle.

According to the memoirs of N.P. Ignatiev, they were told:

"The fall of I-185 on the territory occupied by the enemy will be regarded as treason."

Flights were to take place at an altitude of 3-4 thousand meters at a speed of 500-550 km / h, depending on the weather, and each flight required special permission from the army commander, Major General M.M. Gromov or his chief of staff, Colonel Dagaev. : The 728th Fighter Aviation Regiment was based near the ancient Russian city of Staritsa, sixty kilometers up the Volga from Kalinin. The situation on this sector of the front at the end of 1942 was tense, but stable. The Rzhev-Sychevsk operation carried out in the summer ended in vain, despite the massive use of large tank formations. Also, the Rzhev operation of the Kalinin Front (November 24, 1942 - January 20, 1943), which was a distraction (according to a common version) from the main Stalingrad direction, ended without a visible result.

This distracting operation was a success: until the summer of 1943, the Germans kept a large group of troops on the Rzhev-Vyazemsky ledge, and not only ground forces. At the end of October 1942, it was here that the first batches of FW-190 fighters arrived on the Eastern Front. Apparently, the I-185 tests on the Kalinin Front also pursued the goal of misinforming the enemy by demonstrating the presence of the latest fighters in this sector.

The first sortie of the I-185 took place on December 9, 1942, the last - on January 12, 1943. They flew in two pairs, and the leader was usually an officer (Ignatiev, Kupin), and the follower was a sergeant (Borovykh, Tomilchenko). Fighters were often released into flight when an air battle was going on over our territory. At full speed, the I-185 rushed through the formation of fascist aircraft, firing from cannons, and then with a turn they left for their airfield. Two flights were made to cover the reconnaissance officer Curtiss P-40 "Kittyhawk" operating in the Rzhev area. One flight was carried out for "free hunting" over our territory. According to the memoirs of N.P. Ignatieva A.E. Borovoy shot down or damaged one German aircraft.

Kupin flew mainly on the experimental I-185 with M-71 No. 6204, Ignatiev - on the "exemplary", Borovykh and Tomilchenko - on the I-185 with M-82A. In air battles with the FW-190, they did not have a chance to meet.

Group I-185 often changed its location, either relocating to Staraya Torop, then returning to Staritsa again. The goal was to create the illusion of the German aviation command having at least a regiment armed with the I-185 on the Kalinin Front, to reduce the likelihood of fighters being hit in the event of possible enemy raids on the airfield. In total, each pilot completed 10-11 sorties. For reasons of secrecy, they were recorded in the flight book mainly as training in the airfield area. In addition to Kupin, Ignatiev, Borovykh, Tomilchenko I-185, the commander of the regiment Vasilyaka and Kustov flew around in training flights.

IAP - Istrebitel'nyy aviatsionnyy polk - Fighter Aviation Regiment

GIAP - Gvardeyskiy istrebitel'nyy aviatsionnyy polk - Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment

LII - Letno issledovatel'skiy institut - Flight Research Institute

NKAP - Narodnyy komissariat aviatsionnoy proomyshlennosti - People's Commissariat of Aviation Industry

VVS KA - Voyenno Vozdushnyye sily Krasnoy armii - Air Force of the Red Army

At the direction of the command, reports on front-line tests were to be written only by pilot officers, and they diligently emphasized the performance of only training flights on the I-185. The commander of the 728th regiment, Captain V.S. Vasilyaka, indicated the following in his report:

“5 people fly in the regiment on I-185 aircraft, all 5 people. took off and fly without difficulty both after the Yak and after the I-16. Personally, I flew on planes: I-16, Yak-1, Yak-7B, LaGG-3, La-5, Hurricane and on an I-185 aircraft with an M-71 and M-82 engine and came to the following conclusion:

1. The transition from other fighter-type aircraft to the I-185 aircraft is simple and does not cause any difficulties for the pilots.

2. The aircraft is easily controlled in flight, very stable and without any whims.

3. Taking off and landing is extremely easy.

4. The advantage of the aircraft is its exceptionally high vertical maneuverability due to its good rate of climb, which makes it possible to conduct air combat with enemy fighters, which is not always possible on Yak-1, Yak-7B and La-5 aircraft.

5. In horizontal speed, the I-185 aircraft has a great advantage over domestically produced aircraft, as well as enemy aircraft.

The range of horizontal speeds near the ground is exceptionally large: 220-540 km/h, which is an important factor for a modern fighter.

The aircraft develops speed along the horizon from evolutionary to maximum very quickly compared to LaGG-3, La-5 and Yak's, i.e. has good acceptance.

Performs aerobatics easily, quickly and energetically, similar to I-16.

Disadvantages found during operation, which I recommend the plant to eliminate when releasing new machines:

1. Make the front of the canopy faceted.

2. Simplify or facilitate motor blind control.

3. The insulation of the rudder cables (thimbles) is unsatisfactory when performing aerobatics, such as: barrel rolls, flips over the wing; the heel of the shoe catches on the thimbles.

4. Improve aircraft taxiing control in terms of making turns easier.

5. Move the gas sector forward at least 100 mm; with the old position of the sector, it is not possible to remove the gas completely, without special combinations.

6. It is necessary to install a compressor to replenish the air flow for lifting the chassis and shields.

7. Oblige to equip the engine start with compressed air.

8. To develop an emergency opening of the canopy on newly produced machines.

9. Improve cab ventilation (very hot).

I think that the I-185 aircraft with an M-71 or M-82 engine and armed with 3 ShVAK guns meets all the requirements for combat work.

It must be considered that at present the I-185 aircraft is the best fighter-type aircraft in terms of its ease of control, speed, maneuver (especially in the vertical), armament and survivability.

Front-line pilots are looking forward to this aircraft at the front."

And here is a review about the I-185 aircraft of the pilot of the 728th IAP, junior lieutenant Kustov I.E .:

“Combat work on the front of the Patriotic War all the time he conducted on the I-16 aircraft, on which he made more than 100 sorties, personally shot down 7, in a group - 7 enemy aircraft.

The transition from the I-16 aircraft to the I-185 aircraft was not difficult for me, therefore I believe that pilots who have mastered the technique of piloting the I-16 aircraft with an assessment of good can freely switch to I- 185.

Airplane takeoff and landing is simple. From the flights I have made, I can conclude that the aircraft has a speed that surpasses all types of aircraft in service with the VVS KA. It has good vertical and horizontal maneuverability. With these flying qualities and the powerful armament that the aircraft possesses, it can be considered one of the best Soviet fighters.

The disadvantages of the aircraft are:

1) The highly distorting spherical front visor should be replaced with a visor with flat edges.

2) The gas sector is located inconveniently, it is necessary to move it a little forward.

3) The motor blinds are awkwardly positioned and hard to control.

4) No motor compressor.

My wish to the plant is to produce more such aircraft to the front as soon as possible."

Despite such flattering assessments regarding the I-185, the wishes of front-line pilots were not heard. Although by the middle of 1942 the domestic aircraft industry had surpassed the German one in terms of the rate of production of combat aircraft, neither the Headquarters of the Supreme High Command nor the People's Commissariat of the Aviation Industry were in no hurry to revise their policy regarding changes in the qualitative composition of the Air Force. Any, even temporary, reduction in the rate of production was still considered unacceptable.

Other factors also played a role. The release of the I-185, which was superior in flight characteristics to other fighters, ultimately raised the question of reducing their production, which for a number of reasons did not suit either certain circles in the leadership of the People's Commissariat and the Air Force, or, of course, the chief designers. Therefore, “mouse running around the plane” took place, as Nikolai Nikolaevich wrote about it with a bitter smile.

The chapter was prepared based on the materials of V.P. Ivanov.

Another Try

Even before the start of testing the four "one hundred and eighty-fifths" at the front, in November 1942, the All-Russian Research Institute of the Air Force received the I-185M-71, which is the standard for mass production. State tests were carried out until December 26, test pilot P.M. Stefanovsky flew. Although the engine did not work quite reliably (two M-71s were replaced during the tests), very good results were obtained in terms of aircraft flight speed, which is still the main measure of the dignity of new machines. Near the ground, the maximum speed was 560 km / h (600 km / h - afterburner), at an altitude of 6 km - 680 km / h. It was noted that in some flights Stefanovsky exceeded the flight speed of 700 km/h.

State tests of the standard for the series were completed in January 1943. Taking into account the truly outstanding data of the aircraft, a number of appeals were made to higher authorities for the speedy launch of the I-185 into production.

In particular, pilots Stefanovsky, Loginov and chief engineer Lazarev addressed I.V. Stalin personally:

« Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks Comrade. Stalin I.V.

Dear Joseph Vissarionovich!

We, testers of the I-185 fighter designed by N. N. Polikarpov, are forced to turn to you, Iosif Vissarionovich, with the following:

1. The I-185 fighter passed factory and then state flight tests at the Research Institute of the Air Force of the Spacecraft. Factory tests were carried out by the pilot comrade. Loginov, and in the Research Institute of the Air Force KA - pilot comrade. Stefanovsky.

As a result of the tests, the following data was obtained:

A) Maximum ground speed = 600 km/h

B) at 6100 m = 680 km/h

B) 5000m climb rate = 4.7 min.

D) Average time to complete a turn at H= 1000m = 22-23 sec.

E) The fighter has a powerful frontal fire - installed: 3 cannons of 20 mm caliber with a combat reserve of 600 shells.

E) The aircraft is available for pilots of medium qualification, which is confirmed by the pilots who flew it (12 people, including 4 ordinary pilots of the Guards Regiment).

Aircraft is the most easily learned aircraft for most pilots in our country.

G) The fighter is easy to operate. Its units are easily accessible for repair in the field.

2. We know that Comrade Polikarpov has a project to modify the I-185 fighter, the implementation of which will give the following flight data:

A.) Maximum ground speed 650 km/h

B.) at an altitude of H=6250 m 710 km/h

B.) Climb 5000 m 4.2 min.

D.) The power of frontal fire can be increased up to 4 cannons of 20 mm caliber.

According to its flight and tactical data, the I-185 aircraft is one of the best at the present time, therefore we are asking you for permission to build a military series and test the aircraft in combat conditions at the front.

Test Pilot of the Research Institute of the Air Force Colonel Stefanovsky

Leading Engineer of the Research Institute of the Air Force of the Spacecraft Engineer-Colonel Lazarev

Test Pilot of Plant No. 51 NKAP Loginov".

On February 4, 1943, N.N. Polikarpov. He concluded his message with the words:

"The I-185 M-71 is waiting for your decision to start mass production."

It is difficult to say whether these appeals to the "leader of the world proletariat" contributed, however, in February-March 1943, on the instructions of the People's Commissariat of the Aviation Industry, work began on the preparation of mass production of the I-185 at the Moscow aircraft factory No. 81. A "model" aircraft was transferred there for repair and study (during additional tests, it received minor damage).

The work progressed slowly, and in April it stopped altogether. On April 5, 1943, the experimental I-185 M-71 crashed due to an engine malfunction. Test pilot V.A. Stepanchonok died.

By decision of the authority, work on introducing the aircraft into the series was stopped. "Exemplary" I-185 after repair was returned to the plant number 51 in flying condition.

January 25, 2013

  Here Maslov probably mixed up the chronology of events. The letter cited here to Stalin by Stefanovsky, Loginov, and Lazarev was written on September 6, 1943. [RGAE, f 8044, op. 1, file 1006, ll. 92-93]

1999 "I-180. A documentary history of a super ish". Mikhail Maslov.

In August 1940, on the sidelines of the People's Commissariat of the Aircraft Industry, there were rumors about the M-88 being taken out of production and, as a result, the I-180 program was being taken out. Circumstances turned out to be very favorable in order to finally put an end to Polikarpov's "super donkey". Experienced fighters of other designers had been flying for a long time, and there were plenty of people who wanted to get the Gorky aircraft plant.
In September 1940, by order of the People's Commissar of Aviation Industry Shakhurin, the I-180 was taken out of production, with its replacement by the IP-21 fighter designed by Pashinin. A little later, Pashinin's plane was also removed from the plan, replacing it with the I-200 (MiG-1), even later, and this time - finally, they decided to release LaGGi in Gorky. Everything seemed to make sense. Nevertheless, it can be said with full confidence that the continuation of the I-180 production would be the right decision. At the end of 1940, it was the only fighter with an air-cooled engine prepared for serial production. Even more advanced I-185, which was a consistent development of the previous design, as they say, stepped on his heels. As for air-cooled engines, the period of difficulties associated with their development seems to be ending. If we adhere to the theory that there is some kind of cyclicality in the improvement of aircraft engines (first, air-cooled engines lead in development, then liquid-cooled in-line engines, etc., etc.), then by all indications, the time of star-shaped air-cooled engines was approaching.
The development of the M-88 in 1938 slowed down mainly due to the arrest of the Chief Designer AS Nazarov. S. K. Tumansky, appointed in his place, tried to solve the problem by storm, but nothing came of it. In the fall of 1940, another change of leadership took place at the Zaporozhye Motor Plant No. 29. E. V. Urmina was appointed head of the design bureau, who brought the M-88, and with a significant increase in power - up to 1375 liters. With. It happened already in 1941 in the evacuation.


  • "Fighter I-180, I-185" /Mikhail Maslov/