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The I-16 in Plastic

Comparing kits of the Polikarpov Fighter in 1:72 and 1:48 Scales


    Perhaps no other VVS aircraft has been the subject over the years of so much speculation, misidentification, and sheer interest than Polikarpov's I-16. I certainly count myself amongst those so befuddled, and for many years the exact identification of the various I-16 variants has been virtually impossible to undertake with any accuracy. It is now clear that I have--along with virtually everyone else--largely gotten all of my I-16 identifications wrong all along.
    However, with the publication of Mikhail Maslov's searchingly brilliant study of the I-16 in the Armada publication on this aircraft the foundation was laid at last for a proper identification of the various I-16 variants and types. Now, perhaps, it is time for us all to step back, discard the old ideas, and for once approach the task of sorting out the I-16 types afresh. Maslov has gone very far indeed toward this goal, explaining the development of the TsKB-12 with a clarity and accuracy heretofore unknown. It is to Maslov's credit that this article, quite in fact, can even be attempted.
 

Part I: What version is it?

    After much thought, and with the new information in hand, it occurred to me that all I-16s are characterized by four major components: Fuselage, Engine, Wing, and Spinner. Thus, one can actually identify any I-16 by comparing the combination of these components to the aircraft in question. This is true largely because the I-16 was very much a developmental programme, and the successive types tended to be derived directly from the preceding model(s), at least in many respects.
    With this concept in mind, I have drawn up a series of tables describing the different permutations of these four components over the developmental life of the I-16 fighter. Each thumbnail links to a larger line drawing of the part in question, and these are color coded for easy identification on the matrix below. The idea here literally is to think of an "I-16 Type 10" as in fact an 'I-16 with this type of wing, those types of engine and spinner, and that type of fuselage'. I believe that this makes a great deal of sense once the idea clicks home, but some readers have preferred to read the I-16 Development section first.

Spinner
 
 

Early cone shaped spinner used with the original two-pitch propeller (usually M-25 radial).
Larger rounded spinner used with the constant-speed propeller (usually M-62 radial).
Rounded spinner with a flared base used with the AV-1 propeller (usually M-63 radial).

Wing
 

Original I-16 wing with full-length ailerons and ShKAS guns.
Improved wings with full-length ailerons and ShKAS guns.
Improved wings with shortened ailerons and ShKAS guns.
Improved wings with shortened ailerons and ShVAK cannon.
Improved wings with shortened ailerons and no guns.

Fuselage
 

1 Original I-16 fuselage with sliding canopy, telescopic sight, and tail skid.
2 Original I-16 fuselage with fixed windscreen, reflector sight, and tail skid.
3 Original I-16 fuselage with fixed windscreen, reflector sight, tail skid, and cowl gun fairings.
4 Improved I-16 fuselage with fixed windscreen, reflector sight, tail wheel, cowl gun fairings, radio access hatch, and starboard crew door.
5 Improved I-16 fuselage with fixed windscreen, reflector sight, tail wheel, cowl gun fairings, radio access hatch, starboard crew door, and radio mast.

Cowling
 

Original NACA cowling with fixed inlet grilles.
Improved aerodynamic cowling with shutter type cooling grilles, eight exhaust blisters, and tear-drop shaped outlets.
Improved aerodynamic cowling with shutter type cooling grilles, eight exhaust blisters, lower 'T' shaped intake, and upper ShKAS guns and fairings.
Improved aerodynamic cowling with shutter type cooling grilles, six exhaust blisters with ski troughs, lower rectangular shaped intake, and upper ShKAS guns and fairings.
Improved aerodynamic cowling with shutter type cooling grilles, six exhaust blisters with ski troughs, lower 'T' shaped intake, upper ShKAS guns and fairings, and upper triangular intake.
Improved aerodynamic cowling with shutter type cooling grilles, six exhaust blisters with ski troughs, lower inverted 'T' shaped intake, upper ShKAS guns and fairings, and upper triangular intake.
Improved aerodynamic cowling with shutter type cooling grilles, six exhaust blisters, lower intake shifted to starboard, upper ShKAS guns and fairings, upper triangular intake, radio mast, and lower center-line UBS gun.

    Those, then, are the various components. The aircraft types resulting from them are as follows:

I-16 Variant matrix, by Component
 

Aircraft Spinner Wing Fuselage Cowling
Type 4
-- 1
1
1
Type 5
1
1
1
2
Type 5, 1938 production
1
2
2
2
Type 6
1
1
1
2*
Type 10 1
3
3 3
Type 12
1
1* 1
2
Type 17
1
4
3
4
Type 18
2
3
3
5
Type 24
3
3
4
6
Type 27
2
4
3
4
Type 28
3
4
4
6
Type 29
3
5
5
7

The I-16 Development Page describes each Type's evolution in the programme.

The Family Tree displays the same information in visual format.


Part II: The Kits

Part III: Aftermarket