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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 more months.

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

The Yak-1

Another 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-7

The Yak-3 and Yak-9: The Promise Fulfilled

The Yak 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.

The Yak-9D
(note that the tail wheel doors are stuck
open on the plane in the foreground)

The final 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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