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What's New in the VVS??

New Research and Discoveries since SAFFC
Part 1

Research into the various matters of the VVS continues all the time. New discoveries are made, and old ideas corrected or discarded. This is true for myself, as a researcher and historian, just as with all other such authors. Therefore, in this article we will seek to document a bit better some of these new discoveries about VVS aircraft. The importance of this type of updated material is obvious for modeling, of course, but also for investigation into the history of the VVS in general.

Join us for a look at the new discoveries into this most fascinating subject.

The MiG-3

The history of the development of the I-200 has been one of the most dramatic of all the discoveries since the publication of Soviet Air Force Fighter Colours. For years, historians had misinterpreted some key statements within the material available on the early Mikoyan and Gurevich OKB about the nature of the MiG fighter. Specifically, this material makes it quite unclear where the precession arises between the MiG-1 and the MiG-3, and the relative difference between the two models.

A number of outstanding historians have taken part in unraveling this mystery; allow me to mention Alexey Matvienko, Alexandr Ruchkovski, and of course Evgeniy Arsen'ev, in particular. And, it can be said that the full details of the situation are still not entirely agreed by all parties. However, the main portions of the development of the I-200 are now clear at least to the point to put forward a number of new discoveries and details.

The first matter is the classic notation of fuselage length. For years, MiG-3s have been classified as 'long' and 'short' nosed versions. That, as it turns out, was not the case. The matter of fuselage length was exceedingly confused by a number of statements in the OKB material. However, these have now been worked out in their correct meaning, and the results of the new interpretations corroborated with various physical and photographic evidence. The original I-200 prototype had a fuselage of unknown length. It is thought to have been just over 8100 mm; alas, no known engineering calculation of the length remains.

The Prototype No.2 is much better known. This machine had a fuselage length of 8155 mm. This No.2 Prototype (and the No.3, as well) led directly to the manufacture of approximately 20 pre-Series aircraft during 1940. These machines were very unsatisfactory, it must be said, and replete with problems and design flaws. But, the extreme haste of the programme required the instigation of Series manufacture at the earliest moment, and with this in mind production of the MiG-1 started during September-October 1940.

The MiG-1 was based directly on the No.2 and No.3 Prototypes, and the fuselage length was 8155 mm, as before. However, the host of repairs, modifications, and improvements (whether alleged or actual) to the production machines were so vast, we simply cannot contemplate them here. Amongst these improvements were numerous discussions within the OKB's archival material about the MiG-1's centre-of-gravity, and the need to move this value forward. The solution was submitted to increase the fuselage length and mount the engine further away from the cockpit. These recommendations were made during the construction of the No.3 Prototype, in fact, and it was this timing which confused the resulting interpretation.

Production MiG-1, length 8155 mm

However, the MiG OKB was quite clever in the development of the I-200; more so than realized hitherto. In fact, the bureau was attempting to rectify the various problems with the initial production machines by working on a revised prototype even before manufacture of the MiG-1 in series took place. This aircraft, the No.4 Prototype, was nebulous for many years. This was so because this aircraft was also the same machine referred to in the OKB material as the izdel' no.61 (Project no. 61). This revised I-200 Prototype was in fact built already with a fuselage featuring a forward mounted engine and a total length of 8250 mm. The outer wing panels also had increased dihedral, it would appear, and in many other respects this Prototype was much closer to a MiG-3 production machine that thought previously.

As a result, when production of the MiG-3 commenced in December 1940, there was already a clear demarcation between the MiG-1 and -3 models. This was so because the design parameter for the MiG-3 was based on the No.4 Prototype, with its greater length and increased wing outer section dihedral. So, minus any hybrid manufacture models (and one suspects that there were some), the Series MiG-3 featured a fuselage length of 8250 mm from the outset.

Production MiG-3, length 8250 mm

The changes to the engine cowling seen later were not, as we now can see, related to the fuselage length. This interpretation resulted from the confusion mentioned previously in understanding the OKB papers. The new cowling was developed to be more rational and facilitate maintenance, and it coincided on the production lines with a new engine (AM-35A) and reduction gearing mostly by accident. Indeed, we know specifically from PARM documents that the different cowling units and engines were interchangeable. The new reduction gearing and anti-fire system bleed tube were associated with the AM-35A.

Production MiG-3 with later cowling, length 8250 mm

Therefore, to sum up, the MiG-1 had a length of 8155 mm, and the MiG-3-- regardless of details--had a different length of 8250 mm.

The La-5FN

The latest "discovery" concerning the La-5FN's cowling is surely one of the most irritating episodes I have encountered during research on the VVS. I say "discovery", because in fact this was no new finding at all, but rather old information which was subsequently proved to be correct.

For years and years, we were all subjected to various drawings of La-5s in Czech aviation journals depicting a cylindrical cowling. This was to include all La-5s, from the -5 to the -5F to the -FN, to the extreme irritation of many VVS researchers. The shape of the La-5 cowling was thought not to be in doubt. After all, there were surviving specimens in the various Soviet Museum collections, available photographs of the La-5 from above (notably from TsAGI testing), and other evidence. The cowling was 'onion' shaped, not cylindrical.

However, perhaps a bit more charity was in order. Obviously, the Czechs had examples of the -FN in their Air Force. They had surviving specimens of the -FN in their Museum (Kbely). So, is it not reasonable to assume that their depiction of the cowling might be correct? Hmmm. In fact, the answer was a bit mixed. The Czechs had indeed drawn the shape of the La-5FN's cowling correctly-- it was a cylindrical shape after all. Their error was to assume then that all La-5s had a similar shaped cowling; this was grossly incorrect. The majority or VVS historians rather threw out this idea completely, on that basis, which in retrospect was a mistake. Such things make up 'History', I suppose.

In any case, the reality is now known and confirmed. The La-5 and -5F models had cowlings with the classic onion shape, one that we know so well. The La-5FN, however, had a new cowling which prefaced the unit on the La-7. It was shaped as a cylinder, and featured piano hinges along the top edges to facilitate opening the unit.

Diagram of La-5FN cowling showing new details and shape


The I-16 Type 24

A new discovery with regards to the tubby little ishak was found, appropriately enough, on the blunt nose-- a new spinner. The fact that the various details of the I-16 family were only recently sorted out in correct fashion meant that such an additional finding was not very much unexpected, frankly.

The new spinner was a curious unit. It would appear to be found only on the Type 24 model. More than one dozen examples have now been identified, and all on this version only. The newly identified spinner is comprised of the usual flared base for use with the M-63 and AV-1 propeller. However, the 'cap', or forward portion, is blunter than usual. As well, this spinner stands away from the face of the cowl to a very noticeable degree, quite unique from all other I-16 spinners. This unit was thought to have been used at Zavod 153 (Novosibirsk) only, being yet another example of curious behaviour at this factory.

Classic photo of Romanenko's I-16 Type 24 showing the Novosibirsk spinner

La-5 Camouflage at Zavod 21

A host of new material on Gor'ki painting practices has been unearthed by researcher Milos Vestsik. This information is a bit in raw form at present, and indeed a lot of the meaning of this new documentation is still sharply debated. Nevertheless, some clear indications from these papers overturn, to a degree, interpretations laid down in SAAFC.

The clearest example of this new interpretation is a revision in both scale and depiction for a common camouflage scheme applied at Gor'ki. This pattern, which I regarded as 'common', really must be seen as a de facto 'default' application for this factory. That is not to say that Zavod 21 did not use other camouflage applications--far from it. But, they did use this one application quite heavily, and furthermore quite consistently, right up until the advent of the new grey AMT lacquers in 1944. As well, some of the schemes seen in SAFFC might well be camouflage which was systematically applied at one or more PARM. This was done due to the odd practice at the factory to use a winter MK-7 finish without first applying the temperate camouflage; a practice that was unheard of under usual conditions.

This 'default' Gor'ki application, seen from 1942-43, also therefore appeared in both AII and AMT lacquers. Here is a typical depiction of the application theme.

La-5 in AMT-4/-6/-7 lacquers showing port side of Gor'ki default theme La-5 in AII Green/Black/Blue lacquers showing starboard side of Gor'ki default theme, unpainted cowl bands La-5 in AII Green/Black lacquers showing upper side of Gor'ki default theme

Indeed, only subtle changes from the depiction in SAFFC, but important nonetheless. This application may be applied to any La-5 or -5F manufactured at Zavod 21 on which a clear deviation from this pattern is not evident. It was, indeed, that common. Investigations about the use of this theme at Ulan-Ude and Moscow are continuing.

[To Be Continued...]