Yakovlev Fighters of the Great Patriotic War
The Yak-1: The Promise of the Future
The I-26 prototype
The first fighter designed by Alexander Yakovlev was the Ya-26 Krasavec. This fighter was first flown in
March of 1939. Designed to the Soviet fighter requirement issued in 1938, the Ya-26 utilized wood as
its major construction material. Determined to be the better of those designs submitted by the various
design bureaus, it was ordered into production in as the I-26. Re-designated as the Yak-1, production
had barely begun when Germany invaded in June 1941. By October of that same year, all production
had been transferred east of the Ural mountains to protect the manufacturing facilities from German
bombing attacks. Within 2 months, miraculously, production had actually increased to levels greater
than those before the move. Albeit, the level of overall quality would not rise to that level for several
Designed to be as simple to manufacture as possible, while still retaining the robust strength that had
always characterized Russian aircraft, the Yak was surprisingly nimble
and fast for its generation of design. The Yak-1 had considerably closed the "fighter gap" that existed at the beginning of the Russo-German conflict. The Yak-1 was able to hold its own to some degree with the Bf-109. Never satisfied
with almost good enough, the Yakovlev Bureau maintained a constant
development program. This resulted in the Yak-1M (see errata notation at
the end of the article). This improved fighter had the fuselage behind the pilot cut down and a new
cleverly designed semi-bubble canopy was installed which provided for vastly improved rearward vision.
What the Yak-1M lacked in sophistication, it made up for simplicity of service. Unfortunately, the little
fighter was under-armed although it matched the weaponry of its main rival, the Bf-109F. The -1M
was fitted with the Klimov VK-105PF V-12 engine. The original intent was to install the more powerful
VK-107 engine. However, due to development problems the Yak-1M was built with lesser output motor.
Several Yak-1's on a Soviet airfield
Yakovlev design was intended as a two seat aircraft (originally
designated as the I-27). However, it displayed better performance than
the -1 and a single seat version was quickly designed. The aircraft
incorporated several other design improvements including an improved engine of greater horsepower.
Designated the Yak-7, it reverted to the original canopy design in early
models (Yak-7A). Later variants incorporated the improved canopy and
cut down rear fuselage (Yak-7B). Other Yak-7 variants included the
Yak-7V two seat trainer, the original design purpose of the -7.
The Yak-3 and Yak-9: The Promise Fulfilled
fighters were gradually improved with the structure being redesigned
with increased use of metal in the fuselage and wing structure. Two new
Yakovlev fighters were developed in parallel programs. The Yak-3 was a
further development of the Yak-1M. First flown in late 1943, the -3
proved to be an extremely capable dogfighter. Finally getting to
operational squadrons in July of 1944, the new fighter quickly began
taking a serious toll on the Luftwaffe. Demonstrating outstanding maneuverability
and a very high rate of climb, the Yak-3 was to become the bane of
Luftwaffe fighter pilots for the remainder of the war. Finally, there
was a Yak that was markedly superior to the fighters flown by Germany.
As the more powerful VK-107 engine became available, Yakovlev installed a small number
into existing airframes. Meanwhile, development of a lighter weight fighter with far more metal in the
airframe resulted in the Yak-3U. This aircraft arrived too late for the
war and never went beyond a single prototype. It did offer better performance
than the rare VK-107 powered Yak-3. Top speed was about the same at 446 mph (vs 407 mph for the
VK-105 powered Yak-3), but the rate of climb improved from 4,400 fpm to
over 5,100 fpm. The Yak-3U was powered by the ASh-82FN 14 cylinder radial engine. In terms of
dogfighting ability, the Yak-3 was the best developed by the Soviet Union during the war years.
A Yak-3 of the Free French Normandie Nieman Group
The second of the two fighters developed in parallel was the Yak-9. Essentially a development of an
experimental Yak-7, the new fighter was designed with aluminum wing spars. The fighter entered into
production in October of 1942 and became a significant factor in the air battles over Stalingrad. By
mid 1943, the aircraft was evolving with more and more aluminum in the wing, including its ribs.
Fitted with increasingly more powerful versions of the VK-105 engine, the various variants include the
Yak-9M (the standard model) and the long range Yak-9D and the even longer ranging Yak-9DD.
Also developed was the Yak-9B with a small internal bomb bay behind the cockpit. This variant was used
for light bombing and interdiction missions.
(note that the tail wheel doors are stuck
open on the plane in the foreground)
major variant of the Yak-9 was the all metal Yak-9U. First flown in December of 1943, the
-9U was first fitted with the VK105PF-2 engine. The VK-107A engine was
phased into later production, giving it a maximum speed of 434 mph.
Entering into service in late 1944, it remained in production well into
1946, the Yak-9 was the most numerous of all the wartime Yak fighters.
Yak-9D fighters on Soviet airfield
The following correction is supplied by Terrill Clements-
"The common designations for Yak-1 fighters used by most
Western sources are erroneous in several
significant respects. The biggest error is the use of the 1M designation
for the "bubble canopy" version of the Yak-1. In actuality, the -1M was
an experimental prototype used in the Yak-3 development program, and
only a few were built. What most everyone calls a Yak-1M was not really
given a separate designation at the time. It was just another Yak-1, and
these came in several distinguishable versions themselves. For the sake
of postwar discussions, these have come to be known as the Yak-1b, but I
think that is only an after-the-fact designation, as indeed so many
designations are for Soviet wartime aircraft. During the war the
Russians themselves seldom bothered with the same sort of elaborate
designations and sub-designations that the other combatants used, other
than to sometimes designate major engine changes".
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