For the second aircraft family in this series I focus on the legacy of the Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov designed LaGG-3 and, its far more successful follow-up, the La-5. This aircraft family often played second fiddle to the better liked Yak series, however, with 6,528 LaGG-3s and 9,920 La-5s completed before the end of the war, its hard to discount the enormous impact these aircraft types had on the front-line.
If at first you don’t succeed…
Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov responded to the urgent request for a new generation of Soviet fighter to match the Bf109 and other fighters being developed in the East with the I-301 prototype. This would form the basis of the LaGG-1 and LaGG-3 fighters that were competing with developments from other design groups including Yakovlev’s excellent Yak-1 and Yak-7 as well as Mikoyan’s MiG-1 and MiG-3.
To save on strategic materials, the LaGG-3 was constructed using a resin-wood multi-ply veneer that gave the aircraft similar strength as that of non-hardened aluminum alloys. This was an ingenious solution but it came at a cost to weight.
The LaGG-3 was paired with the same Klimov in-line engine powering the Yak, Pe-2, and other aircraft in the Soviet arsenal. However, early versions of the LaGG-3 suffered because of the added weight of its construction and initial performance numbers fell below expectations. The LaGG-3 had intended to be fitted with the powerful M-106 engine but when that engine was cancelled it lesser powered M-105 was all that was available.
Early pilots of the LaGG-3 were typically not fans of the aircraft’s performance. A slow climb rate requiring a 6.5-minute climb to reach 16,500 feet and a top speed of 360 mph were less than hoped for though still adequate enough to secure early orders – such was the desperate situation for new fighters.
There’s a story that Soviet pilots soon joked that LaGG stood for Lakirovanny Garantirovanny Grob or Varnished Guaranteed Coffin. Some authors have called this joke into question but the meaning behind it certainly represents the poor reputation that early LaGG fighters had.
Early versions did have a formidable battery of guns with a pair of ShKAS 7.92mm machine guns, a pair of Berzin UBS 12.7mm guns and a single ShVAK 20mm cannon. This provided greater weight of fire than anything else in the Soviet arsenal. Slowly this immense grouping of guns would be whittled down to a more reasonable single UBS 12.7mm machine gun sitting above the engine and firing through the propeller and a ShVAK 20mm cannon in the nose as the default standard (though other armament options were trialed, such as the Shpitalny Sh-37, often in combat).
Despite issues with the LaGG fighters, Soviet pilots still scored successes and sometimes made the best of difficult circumstances.
5 IAP-KBF ace Igo Kaberov in September 1942 was scrambled to defend the Khronshtat base from German attacks but soon found that his undercarriage would not fully retract – unless he held the gear up switch. Pressing on (and holding the gear switch), Kaberov soon found himself in a sky full of Stukas and other German planes. Firing on a Ju87, Kaberov took his finger off the undercarriage switch and quickly missed his target. Bf109s pounced on the obviously disadvantaged fighter, however, Kabeov’s wingman was able to intervene.
A series of improvements were ordered to the LaGG-3 including lightening the airframe and reduction of armament, simplifying production methods, and introducing overall quality improvements to the aircraft and all of its component parts. 66 series batches were produced before the LaGG-3 production ended. The final series, the Series 66, widely being regarded as an excellent fighter but it came just a little too late to save the initial LaGG-3 design with production ending in 1943 and all future development now focused on its successors.
Despite the end of production, thousands of LaGG-3s saw service through to the end of the war only slowly being replaced in front line use by its successors.
Lavochkin’s perfected fighter
While the LaGG-3 soldered on through the first couple of years of war, Lavochkin was hard at work to try and improve the performance of the fighter with both Gorbunov and Gudkov eventually dropping out of the limelight.
Replacing the M-105 engine with a Shvetsov ASh-82 radial engine intended for attack aircraft like the Su-2 had a dramatic impact on the performance of the fighter. The renamed LaG-5 M-82 was declared superior to the Yak-7 during pilot trials and series production was ordered in mid 1942. The first versions being retrofitted LaGG-3 fuselages while later versions were purpose built.
With just Lavochkin now leading the effort the fighter finally was renamed La-5.
Further changes were due and Lavochkin continued to refine the fighter adding the improved M-82F engine to the aircraft. The rear fuselage was also partially cut down improving rear visibility.
Finally, by mid 1943 the updated M-82FN engine was introduced to the series along with changes to the engine cowling, radiator and other airframe upgrades. This was the definitive La-5FN which would initially see service alongside its predecessors before replacing all of them as one of the best frontline fighters that the Soviet Union would field during the war.
At low altitudes the La-5 was as fast as or faster than its German counter parts while possessing a climb, roll and turn rate advantage against the Bf109 especially at higher speeds. Like most Soviet fighters, the La-5 and La-5FN were not well suited to combat at higher altitudes but with most combat taking place under 10,000 feet on the Eastern Front it was rarely an issue.
In one battle during the Kursk offensive, 5 GIAP Soviet Ace Popkov was part of an alert fighter group that was sent to intercept Ju87s on a strike mission. The Germans sent six Bf109s and then a further 16 Bf109s while Soviet forces dispatched Yak-1’s to join the La-5’s. In the resulting dogfight, the Russians would claim 10 aircraft destroyed and three damaged while 5 GIAP lost just two of their own.
The La-5FN would see service to the end of the war and would also spawn a late series version that further refined the aircraft’s aerodynamics leading to the ultimate La-7. Post war the aircraft lived on with follow up La-9 and La-11 fighters that saw service into the early 1950s and combat during the Korean war.
The Virtual LaGG-3, La-5 and La-5FN
The IL-2 series currently has three versions of the Lavochkin fighter series 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.
There are three main models of the Lavochkin line of fighters in IL-2: Great Battles Series. The LaGG-3 Series 29, La-5 Series 8 and La-5FN Series 2. Included in these aircraft are a few more subtle variations with, the La-5 Series 8 coming with a couple of modifications that make it an early series La-5F (with an M-82F engine with enhanced boost) and the La-5FN which is the ultimate version of the series currently in the IL-2: Great Battles Series.
LaGG-3 Series 29
The LaGG-3 Series 29 is a typical 1942 era version of the fighter with an upgraded M-105PF engine and several weight reduction techniques employed to try and improve the fighter over some of the earlier series. In IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad, the LaGG-3 represents a few different series with some more experimental armament options. The 23mm VYa cannon was trialed and the 37mm Sh-37 cannon was used operationally during the Battle of Stalingrad. Both cannon options replace the default 20mm ShVAK cannon.
- Maximum true air speed at sea level, engine mode – Nominal: 505 km/h
- Maximum true air speed at 2000 m, engine mode – Nominal: 548 km/h
- Maximum true air speed at 4000 m, engine mode – Nominal: 573 km/h
- Climb rate at sea level: 14.9 m/s
- Climb rate at 3000 m: 13.3 m/s
- Climb rate at 6000 m: 8 m/s
- Maximum performance turn at sea level: 22.2 s, at 280 km/h IAS.
- Maximum performance turn at 3000 m: 28.9 s, at 270 km/h IAS.
- 20mm gun “SsVAK”, 160 rounds, 800 rounds per minute, nose-mounted
- 12.7mm machine gun “UB”, 200 rounds, 1000 rounds per minute, synchronized
- 23mm gun “VYa-23”, 90 rounds, 600 rounds per minute, nose-mounted (modification)
- 37mm gun “Sh-37”, 20 rounds, 185 rounds per minute, nose-mounted (modification)
La-5 Series 8
Replacing the M-105PF engine with the more powerful M-82 radial dramatically improved performance of the Lavochkin fighter series. The renamed La-5 went through a few early iterations to improve the initial fighter and the Series 8 represents a mid to late 1942 variation of the aircraft. One of the refinements includes leading edge slats which improve the aircraft’s stability in tight turns.
- Maximum true air speed at sea level, engine mode – Boosted: 544 km/h
- Maximum true air speed at 3000 m, engine mode – Nominal: 571 km/h
- Maximum true air speed at 6500 m, engine mode – Nominal: 603 km/h
- Climb rate at sea level: 18 m/s
- Climb rate at 3000 m: 13.3 m/s
- Climb rate at 6000 m: 8.2 m/s
- Maximum performance turn at sea level: 23.4 s, at 270 km/h IAS.
- Maximum performance turn at 3000 m: 35.3 s, at 270 km/h IAS.
- 2 x 20mm gun “SsVAK”, 170 rounds, 800 rounds per minute, synchronized
La-5FN Series 2
The La-5FN represents a key point in the development of the La-5 series where the aircraft finally came into its own offering performance that met or exceeded the Luftwaffe’s best fighters. The La-5FN was faster, lighter, and better climbing than earlier versions and was even able to out run or chase down many FW190s and Bf109s at low and medium altitudes. Like most Russian planes, the La-5FN’s weaknesses are primarily centered around altitude performance.
- Maximum true air speed at sea level, engine mode – Boosted: 583 km/h
- Maximum true air speed at sea level, engine mode – Nominal: 552 km/h
- Maximum true air speed at 2500 m, engine mode – Nominal: 605 km/h
- Maximum true air speed at 6000 m, engine mode – Nominal: 646 km/h
- Climb rate at sea level: 20 m/s
- Climb rate at 3000 m: 16.7 m/s
- Climb rate at 6000 m: 12.5 m/s
- Maximum performance turn at sea level: 21.0 s, at 320 km/h IAS.
- Maximum performance turn at 3000 m: 28.0 s, at 340 km/h IAS.
- 2 x 20mm gun “SsVAK”, 170 rounds, 800 rounds per minute, synchronized
The LaGG-3 Series 29 has a very similar management requirement to the Yak-1, Yak-7 and Pe-2 which should make this aircraft very familiar to fly. This is owing to the similar M-105PF engine.
The M-105 is actually very easy to manage with no boosted modes and no emergency power. Prop pitch can be left at 100% or reduced to 90-80% during cruise. 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. Supercharger stage 2 can be engaged above 2100 meters.
By contrast, the La-5 and FN are quite a bit more difficult to manage than other Russian aircraft and require a bit of a specialist’s touch.
There are inlet and outlet cowl shutters for cooling the radial engine, an oil cooler shutter, fuel mixture, prop pitch (RPM percentage in this case) and a super charger setting that all need to be monitored which makes this a bit more difficult. There’s also engine boost which comes with a 5-minute timer in the default La-5 Series 8 and unlimited with the M-82F engine and can be used up to 3000 meters after which it becomes useless.
The recommendation is to run the aircraft at 100% fuel mixture (which is auto full rich and is adjusted automatically) to help keep the engine cool in most situations. The same can be said for the engine RPM (prop pitch) settings which can frequently be left on at 100%. The supercharger should be switched to the second stage at 3500m.
The inlet shutters should be your primary adjustment for engine cooling. Open the inlet shutters as needed and use the outlet shutter sparingly – the outlet shutter can cause almost 40km/h worth of drag while the inlet shutters cause far less.
With a little bit of practice and knowledge this aircraft can be made into a fearsome machine.
There are plenty of great gameplay videos of the LaGG-3 and La-5 out there but are a few that you might find entertaining and educational.
Conclusions and final thoughts
There is such a mix of reputations for the Lavochkin series of aircraft that it sometimes gets a little confusing which type historical figures were talking about and even more confusing when it comes to the modern-day flight simulation community.
The LaGG-3’s earliest models helped cement a poor reputation being overweight and poorly constructed, however, as the aircraft developed it improved significantly. The IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad LaGG-3 Series 29 is a later version of the type with a better engine and significant refinements as well as almost 150kg of weight removed compared to the early model (depending on the configuration).
Though the LaGG-3 in IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad is good it still has to face some excellent enemy fighters in the form of the Bf109F-4 and G-2 as well as the FW190A-3 of which it has few advantages. Nonetheless, well flown the LaGG-3 can do fairly well and even if its not superior in any category it does a decent job of trying to keep up.
The story changes with the La-5 and the La-5FN. Let’s start with the La-5 which is an excellent fighter but only situationally. At low altitudes and at high speeds the La-5 is excellent and when flown well and managed properly can catch German fighters and out speed them. In tight turning battles the La-5 suffers from higher wing loading and can succumb to a well flown Bf109 at lower speeds.
Enter the La-5FN with its better maneuverability, a top speed that is better than anything in the 1943 aircraft set, and enhanced all around visibility with the exception of over the nose. This aircraft is possibly the best fighter available although it still sometimes suffers at low speeds.
All three types are what I might call a specialist’s aircraft. The LaGG-3 is the easiest to fly and manage while the La-5 and La-5FN require more careful attention to engine management. When done so they turn into fearsome opponents and Luftwaffe pilots should fear a well flown La-5 every time.