Legends of the East Part Two: Yakovlev’s Yak-1 and Yak-7

For the first aircraft in the series I focus on Yakovlev’s famous Yak-1 and Yak-7 series of fighter that is popular in the virtual skies of the IL-2 series. We’re going to look at this aircraft with an eye to everything from its history to its performance both in the real world and in the virtual skies of the IL-2 series. Let’s get started!

A legendary fighter

The I-26 was later designated the Yak-1 after its designer Aleksandr Yakovlev.

The Yak series of fighters achieved legendary status in the east much as the Mustang and Spitfire did in the west.

The birth of the Yak series starts with a story of three fighter designs that came out of a request in the late 1930s for a replacement to the popular but aging Polikaprov I-16 design. The Soviet Union was looking for a new generation of inline engine fighter that could match the new generation of fighters being designed in Europe including German’s Bf109 and Britain’s Hurricane. This process came far later than similar projects in France and Britain at the time and designers had limited time to work out the bugs on a new generation of fighter.

Three designers rose to the challenge. Mikoyan and Gurevich submitted a design for the MiG-1 (and later MiG-3), Lavochkin, Gorbunov and Gudkov submitted the LaGG-1 (later becoming the LaGG-3) and Aleksandr Yakovlev’s team submitted their I-26 prototype which would later receive the designation of Yak-1.

Just as the I-26 project was coming to fruition, Yakovlev submitted a second design proposal for an aircraft of similar size and dimensions but with an extra seat for a pilot trainer. This revised aircraft would have structural strengthening that would include a more robust landing gear. This UTI-26 prototype would gain the designation Yak-7 and it was quickly found to have handling and durability qualities that would make it an excellent fighter in its own right – production on a fighter version commenced quickly after that.

Early versions of the Yak suffered from a variety of teething issues. Excessive oil leaks from its Klimov M-105 engine, poor quality of canopy glass that quickly yellowed under sun exposure, and many production issues that sometimes resulted in poor quality airframes. In one case, a substitute paint ingredient caused wing surfaces to deteriorate and fail during combat – something that Stalin interceded in personally – such was the critical nature of the issue and of the aircraft in question.

The Yak, regardless of version, was a popular fighter with its pilots that could closely match the Bf109 in most ways at low and medium altitudes and it could do it while also being relatively rugged and able to handle the austere conditions of most eastern front airbases. It was fast, agile, and packed a small yet potent punch.

The relatively simple, unsophisticated construction of the aircraft and its straightforward purpose has seen some disregard it or downplay its abilities. However, having spent several years reading about it, I’ve found that its simplicity and reasonably high-performance levels made it well suited to the battles it fought giving low-hour Soviet pilots a weapon easily wielded and experienced aces an ideal foil for their chief opponents.

Into action

Few Yak-1 or Yak-7 fighters were ready at the start of hostilities in 1941, however, the Yak-1 quickly became a popular fighter even in the early days of the war. Initial production Yak-1 fighters had a maximum speed of 348 mph at 15,570 feet and it could climb to 16,400 feet in 6.8 minutes. These were respectable numbers for a fighter of 1941. Standard armament of two 7.62 mm ShKAS machine guns and a 20mm ShVAK cannon gave the fighter adequate punch and put it roughly on par with the early Bf109 series.

On March 9 of 1942, the Yak-1 scored what was likely its first real success as newspapers carried the story of Boris Eryomin and his flight of Yak fighters. While on patrol the fight encountered six Bf109 fighters at a similar altitude with another formation of several Ju88s and a third group of Bf109Es carrying bombs flying beneath them. Flying off to the south-west of the formation, Eryomin lead his flight into an attack with two Ju88s and two Bf109s downed in the first pass. A second attack would see three more Bf109s shot down with two Yaks damaged. The “battle of seven versus 25” became a minor legend that would portent many future victories as the Yak series improved alongside Soviet pilot training.

In late 1942 new versions of the Yak-1 came into production with the rear fuselage cut away and a new bubble canopy with armored glass installed. This improved version of the Yak had a better propeller and a revised armament removing the ShKAS machine guns in favour of a single Berezin UB 12.7mm heavy machine gun. Weight of fire was improved while overall weight was reduced. This version of the Yak-1 would be flown by dozens of the Soviet Union’s top aces and pilots held on to their Yak-1 fighters through to the end of the war.

The Yak-7 series saw successes as well. Early versions gave way to improved production series with aerodynamic improvements, simplified construction, and enhanced firepower. The Yak-7B introduced a pair of Berezin UB 12.7mm machine guns firing through the propeller in the upper nose while retaining the ShVAK 20mm cannon. Performance increased despite the improved firepower.

Later versions of the Yak-1 would eventually be replaced by the Yak-3 – a development of the Yak-1 series with smaller wings as well as a more refined engine and aerodynamics. The Yak-3 was considered one of the most dangerous fighters to fight in the East. Meanwhile the Yak-7 would also become more refined with a cut down rear fuselage (similar to the Yak-1B) and other refinements leading to the Yak-9 and later the Yak-9, M, K and the ultimate version the Yak-9U which would close out the war.

The Virtual Yak-1 and Yak-7

The IL-2 series currently has three versions of the Yak fighter series available. This is a breakdown of some essential basics of performance for each of the aircraft and at the bottom there’s some information on engine management too.

Yak-1 Series 69

Representing a refinement of the Yak’s that saw service earlier in the war, this Yak-1 Series 69 is one of the last with the traditional canopy design before switching to a bubble canopy. The Series 69 also came with the improved Klimov M-105PF engine developing 1240 HP. This is a series version representative of a mid to late 1942 fighter.

Speed

  • Maximum true air speed at sea level, engine mode – Nominal, 2550 RPM: 514 km/h
  • Maximum true air speed at 2000 m, engine mode – Nominal, 2700 RPM: 549 km/h
  • Maximum true air speed at 4000 m, engine mode – Nominal, 2700 RPM: 582 km/h

Climb

  • Climb rate at sea level: 16.9 m/s
  • Climb rate at 3000 m: 15.0 m/s
  • Climb rate at 6000 m: 9.4 m/s

Turn

  • Maximum performance turn at sea level: 19.2 s, at 270 km/h IAS.
  • Maximum performance turn at 3000 m: 24.6 s, at 270 km/h IAS.

Armament

  • 20mm gun “SsVAK”, 120 rounds, 800 rounds per minute, nose-mounted
  • 2 x 7.62mm machine gun “ShKAS”, 750 rounds, 1800 rounds per minute, synchronized
Yak-1B formation loaded with bombs for a vehicle convoy strike

Yak-1B Series 127

Later Yak-1 fighters saw dramatic changes that removed the traditional canopy in favour of a bubble one with near 360-degree uninterrupted view. Aerodynamic refinements, weight savings, and the replacement of the two ShKAS machine guns with a single Berezin UB 12.7mm machine gun ensured that the simple lightweight Yak was keeping pace with the best German fighters of the time. The Series 127 variant represents an early 1943 version of the Yak-1 fighter.

Speed

  • Maximum true air speed at sea level, engine mode – Nominal, 2550 RPM: 530 km/h
  • Maximum true air speed at 2000 m, engine mode – Nominal, 2700 RPM: 567 km/h
  • Maximum true air speed at 4500 m, engine mode – Nominal, 2700 RPM: 600 km/h

Climb

  • Climb rate at sea level: 17.0 m/s
  • Climb rate at 3000 m: 15.0 m/s
  • Climb rate at 6000 m: 9.5 m/s

Turn

  • Maximum performance turn at sea level: 19.0 s, at 270 km/h IAS.
  • Maximum performance turn at 3000 m: 24.1 s, at 270 km/h IAS.

Armament

  • 20mm gun “SsVAK”, 140 rounds, 800 rounds per minute, nose-mounted
  • 12.7mm machine gun “UB”, 220 rounds, 1000 rounds per minute, synchronized
  • Optional: 2 x 50 kg general purpose bombs “FAB-50sv”, 2 x 104 kg general purpose bombs “FAB-100M”

Yak-7B Series 36

The Yak-7 was developed from a trainer variant of the Yak. This fighter, though heavier and more robust, was nearly equal to the Yak-1 in its agility and thanks to its added strengthening was even better suited to operate from remote airbases and be flown by less experienced pilots. The Series 36 represents one of the last of the Yak-7 series before a new bubble canopy arrangement was introduced.

Speed

  • Maximum true air speed at sea level, engine mode – Nominal, 2700 RPM: 526 km/h
  • Maximum true air speed at 2000 m, engine mode – Nominal, 2700 RPM: 565 km/h
  • Maximum true air speed at 4000 m, engine mode – Nominal, 2700 RPM: 586 km/h

Climb

  • Climb rate at sea level: 16.9 m/s
  • Climb rate at 3000 m: 14.3 m/s
  • Climb rate at 6000 m: 8.6 m/s

Turn

  • Maximum performance turn at sea level: 19..20 s, at 310 km/h IAS.
  • Maximum performance turn at 3000 m: 24..25 s, at 310 km/h IAS.

Armament

  • 20mm gun “SsVAK”, 120 rounds, 800 rounds per minute, nose-mounted
  • 2 x 12.7 mm machine gun “UBS”, 400 rounds, 900 rounds per minute, synchronized
  • Optional: 2 x 50 kg general purpose bombs “FAB-50sv” or 2 x 104 kg general purpose bombs “FAB-100M”

Managing the Yak’s M-105 engine

The Yak series in IL-2 are all using essentially the same engine: the Klimov M-105PF. This engine was first introduced in 1942 and boasted increased horsepower and low to medium altitude performance at the cost of higher altitude performance.

Though engine management on Russian aircraft in IL-2 is a bit more difficult than their German counterparts – the differences are typically not worth the anxiety that I think many new pilots worry about.

For the most part, the M-105 is actually very easy to manage having nothing except a nominal operating mode. There’s no emergency power either so power at 100% doesn’t feel nearly as explosive as a DB605 on Emergency. Prop pitch can be left at 100% or reduced to 90-80% during cruise. For maximum propeller efficiency at low altitudes and extremely high speeds its also advisable to reduce prop pitch just slightly down to 90%. Fuel mixture should be put to 100% during engine start-up (or the engine will fail to start) and can be backed off on as altitude increases.

The supercharger needs to be changed manually at roughly 2100 meters.

The Yak-1 has oil and water radiators which I personally leave both set at 50% (or thereabouts) except in cases of prolonged climbs or while taxiing in very hot conditions. Other guides may suggest more specific settings to the get the absolute most out of the Yak but these settings will get you going.

Throttle, prop pitch, fuel mixture, and oil and water radiators aren’t all that difficult to manage and while you can tweak the settings to get the most out of each aircraft – for the most part they fly alright if you keep an eye on the temperatures.

Conclusions and final thoughts

The Yak series was produced in huge numbers and was immensely popular with their pilots. Their simple construction and equipment betray the advanced design work behind the aircraft to achieve a high level of performance despite not having the best fuel or engines available.

Both Yak-1 and Yak-7 are fighters that were designed to be just the essentials and nothing extra. There is the ability to carry bombs or rockets on the wings but aside from these concessions the Yak is a pure, simple, fighter designed to get the most out of even average pilots. This translates into the sim world well and I highly recommend any of the Yak fighters to virtual pilots looking to get started on the Eastern Front.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Luke says:

    I enjoy flying the Yak fighters but I’ve always struggled hitting with their 20mm cannon, it always seems slow firing and lower velocity compared to the German 20mm’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      A little practice can usually help get used to a weapon with a different ballistic profile. Ironically by the information I have (and this excellent website http://users.skynet.be/Emmanuel.Gustin/fgun/fgun-pe.html) the ShVAK has a higher fire rate and muzzle velocity than the MG151/20 if only slightly.

      Like

  2. Stephen Parker says:

    Excellent article and series on Legends of the East. I hope the 1944-45 Yak and La fighters appear to balance the later-war German Bodenplatte fighters. In Tangmere Pilots we just finished a Luftwaffe Kuban Collapse campaign and after our summer break we’d replay the mid-September to mid-December 1942 campaign but as Soviet La-5FN Series 2 pilots with maybe a scattering of Pe-2 pilots.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      I’ll be doing the La-5FN as part of my series for next week so stay tuned for that 🙂

      Like

  3. StiFFman says:

    Look what I’ve found on WT forum (there’s a link to IL2 forum in it also):
    https://forum.warthunder.com/index.php?/topic/415056-do-shvaks-underperform/

    Seems ShVak has higher rate of fire and muzzle velocity indeed, but it’s rounds are far less efficient than German ones. In game, It feels to me Berezin MGs are doing maybe even bigger damage than ShVak (the have also higher ROF). That’s reason why I don’t like LA5 much, armed only with ShVaks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very nice article, well put together. Could you do Sturmovik next?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      I’ve got a few being prepared now, however the LaGG-3 and La-5 are furthest along with the IL-2 planned for part four. Stay tuned!

      Like

  5. matt says:

    Yak-7 is my ace-maker, fast, maneuverable, and well-armed. I would love to try the Yak-3.

    Like

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