Lavochkin La-5 Vol. I

The history of the I-28 is in many ways instructive and symptomatic. Its design, construction and testing took an incredibly short time. Unfortunately, Saratobayn plant in Saratov was hardly suited for the purpose and its workforce lacked experience in woodworking to rise to the challenge posed by the all-wooden structure of the airframe. Another issue was the unavailability of suitable powerplants – a perennial weakness of Soviet aviation industry. Since the existing engine couldn’t be upgraded to deliver an additional 300 hp needed to eke out the desired performance from the I-28, the commission supervising the tests recommended that the aircraft’s weight should be reduced by 300 kg – a formidable task to achieve.
After the work on I-28 was abandoned, Yatsenko lost all hope in his design. In July 1941, he was transferred to a factory manufacturing MiG-3 fighters and later worked as one of A.I. Mikoyan’s and then S.V. Ilyushin’s deputies.
Both the I-180 and the I-28 were well-thought-out designs that never made it into mass production, mainly due to the unavailability of high-power radial engines. Another design that emerged during the push to modernize the Soviet fighter aviation in the late 1930s was Silvansky’s I-220, also known as the IS, which according to various sources translates as “Iosif Stalin” or “Istriebitiel Silvanskogo” –  “Silvansky’s fighter”. The history of that project is another example of how modernization programs should not be run.
In early January 1938, the People’s Commissar of Aviation Industry, Mikhail M. Kaganovich, was approached by his son-in-law, then twenty-two, Alexander Vasilyevich Silvansky, who decided to try his hand in aircraft design business. The young man’s idea was quickly blessed by Kaganovich and Silvansky received not only the green light to develop a single-seat fighter, but also starting capital and a full access to a design bureau staffed by former associates of recently deceased D.P. Grigorovich – all consummate professionals in their fields of expertise. According to the memoirs of V.B. Shavrov, this is how the Design Bureau No. 153 at the recently opened plant in Novosibirsk came to be.
Needless to say, none of the established Soviet designers could hope for such a lucky break and a lightning-fast decision-making when dealing with the authorities, but Silvansky’s “successes” didn’t end there. To spare the talented young man from the tedious and time-consuming task of actually designing an aircraft, Sylvansky received full technical documentation of Polikarpov’s I-16 fighter powered by the prototype of A.S. Nazarov’s M-58 engine with a take-off power of 680 hp.

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In Novosibirsk, both the chief designer of the new OKB-153 and his associates were accommodated in comfortable conditions (at least by the Soviet standards of the day), but it wasn’t long before things began to go south. Although Silvansky was in fact a complete ignorant in the field of aircraft design, he seemed to be convinced of his omniscience and superior skills. The perfect storm was brewing on the horizon.
When Nazarov was arrested, the work on his M-58 engine was discontinued. Apparently this wasn’t much of an issue for Sylvansky, who promptly decided to equip his fighter with a much more powerful M-88 engine rated at 1,100 hp. The problem was that the M-58 drove a three-bladed propeller with a diameter of 2.85 m, while the M-88 was designed to use a 3 m propeller. Polikarpov designed the entire airframe taking into account the diameter of the propeller and the need to maintain an adequate clearance between the propeller tips and the ground. This included the dimensions of the wing’s center box, which in turn determined the track and length of the main landing gear legs. By using a more powerful engine and a larger diameter propeller without changes to the airframe structure, Sylvansky ignored the fact that the tips of the propeller blades would end up dangerously close to the ground. This resulted in damage to the propeller when the prototype was first fired up on October 6, 1939. Sylvansky’s reaction was typical of “party pets.” He didn’t want to hear about the need to extend the wing’s center section and insisted instead on lengthening landing gear struts. This would have brought the gear wells closer to the fuselage longitudinal axis, and towards engine components that couldn’t be moved. At some point Sylvansky went so far as to send a telegram to S.K. Tumanski, requesting the relocation of these components, because “the fighter is more important than the engine.” Not surprisingly, the telegram was ignored and so other solutions had to be found. According to some sources, Sylvansky himself, or perhaps a practical joker on his team, had put forward the idea of ​​digging a trench along the runway, which would protect the propeller from damage. Thankfully, no such steps were ever taken. Instead, the chief designer decided to cut off the tips of the propeller blades using an ordinary saw!

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In early October 1939, test pilot I.S. Baranov attempted to take off in the I-220 for the first time. The machine rolled up and down the runway, its engine roaring furiously, but failed to get airborne. After this test, the mercilessly mimed propeller was removed and destroyed, while the overheated engine was covered with a tarpaulin. In January 1940, the I-220 prototype was delivered to Moscow to undergo wind tunnel tests at TsAGI. As a new M-88 engine was unavailable, the machine was equipped with a less powerful M-87A motor driving a 3 m propeller. During the overhaul, the aft part of the fuselage was strengthened and a number of other improvements were made, which resulted in a significant increase in the weight of the aircraft. Sylvansky managed to persuade Polikarpov’s chief test pilot, Ye.G. Uliachin, to attempt the first flight of the rebuilt prototype. However, it went just as badly as the first try. After a number of unsuccessful attempts, Uliachin finally managed to get the machine off the ground, but landed quickly and stated bluntly that “this piece of **** will never fly!”. The I-220 turned out to be very unstable in flight, badly designed and seriously overweight.
On January 11, 1940 M.M. Kaganovich was dismissed from the post of People’s Commissar of the Aviation Industry, which also brought Sylvansky’s brief career as an aircraft designer to an end. The first prototype of the I-220 was handed over to MAI as a training aid, while the second machine was abandoned at the Novosibirsk plant, where it remained until mid-1944. The history of the I-220 is an interesting example of how the political intrigues and support of influential patrons shaped the development of aviation programs in the Soviet Russia.

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