In 2019 I wrote a series called Legends of the East intended to boost familiarity of readers with eastern front aircraft featured in IL-2 Sturmovik: Great Battles. I write about a variety of types including the I-16, MiG-3, Yak and IL-2 series of aircraft and they were well received by readers at the time. Recent conversations around the community inspired me to write a part eight focused on what will be the newest aircraft to the eastern front line-up: the Romanian IAR-80 and 81 fighter. Let’s have a look!
During World War II, Romania’s Air Force fielded a number of aircraft with some diverse backgrounds. They operated the Hurricane, Ju87, PZL P-24 and later the Bf109 series. But only one aircraft was ultimately of Romanian origin that went to production and that was Industria Aeronautică Română’s (IAR) 80 and 81 fighter and fighter-bomber.
Using the experience gained in building the PZL P-24 under license, IAR offered the Romanian Air Force a home built fighter option. Designed by Ion Grosu, IAR continued to build PZL P-24s under license while funding its design studio to build something new.
With a bubble canopy, a slender fuselage mated to a French sourced Gnome-Rhône 14Kfs engine (later fitted with the IAR K14-IV C32 1000A) with straight wings, the IAR has a look of its own. IAR did borrow some design elements, such as the rudder, from the PZL P-24 as the company drew on their experience from their license with PZL. The Romanian air force ultimately accepted a contract for an initial 100 aircraft after a brief competition with the Heinkel He 112 fighter.
There were a number of modifications to the design. The initial batch of aircraft had short wings and were fitted with two or four of the FN 7.7mm machine guns. Supplies of the gun had been disrupted due to the invasion of Belgium. The next batch took advantage of increased availability of the FN 7.7 and mounted six of the machine guns – although this configuration would prove to be inadequate once in combat.
The IAR-80B had a slightly more powerful 1000hp engine, a longer wing and increased firepower adding a pair of FN 13.2mm machine guns in the wings. Notably, this machine gun was a variation on the Browning M2 design but with a slightly different bullet (13.2 x 99 Hotchkiss), a higher fire rate around 1000 rpm, and explosive shells.
About 20 of the IAR-80B series also had the ability to carry two 50kg bombs under the wings.
Romania was attempting to secure delivery of the Ju87 Stuka dive bomber, however, the on again and then off again nature of the delivery process had the air force searching for other options. The IAR was then modified with a sling release bomb rack under the fuselage to toss a 225kg bomb free of the fuselage during diving attacks.
From then on, the IAR80 and 81 were developed side by side and often built next to each other on the factory floor. The 81A and 80B were roughly equivalent while development shifted to a more multi-role approach with the IAR-81C. The Ju87s, having finally been delivered, changed plans once again and the 81B and 81C variants were typically delivered as fighters with the option remaining in place to use the bomb sling.
The IAR-81B changed the 13.2mm FN machine guns out for two MG-FF 20mm cannon while the IAR-81C, perhaps the definitive version, was equipped the MG151/20. It seems through all of this modification process that the IAR maintained at least two FN 7.7mm machine guns as a backup to the cannons.
There was also an IAR-80M which was an effort to standardize all aircraft to the IAR-81C standard undertaken in 1944.
The IAR 80 saw combat on the eastern front from the start of the war and Romania had enough of the IAR fighters by 1942 to equip several squadrons with them. Notably, these squadrons were in full use in the lead up to and battle for Stalingrad in the summer through fall of 1942 before fighting on through the winter of 1943 both at Stalingrad and further south on the Black Sea. These aircraft were then almost entirely withdrawn to Romania in the summer of ’43.
From that point the IAR 80 and 81s were largely used for home defense. Here, in the skies over Romania, the IAR-80 and 81 fighters went head to head with a new enemy – the USAAF’s long range P-38 fighter bombers and escort fighters as well as the B-24 Liberator heavy bombers.
When USAAF P-38s attacked the oil refinery at Ploiești, IAR fighters intercepted the raiding force. Varying accounts of the battle suggest that the IAR’s were able to succeed in shooting down several of the attacking Lightnings. However, losses began to mount and the IAR’s success against the USAAF aircraft was considerably less than what had been found against the Soviets in the years prior.
The IAR was ultimately withdrawn as a frontline fighter in favour of the Bf109 which was by then being produced locally within Romania. Several examples of the IAR survived the war and were in service until the late 1940s before all examples were ultimately destroyed.
The IAR-80/81’s performance varied only a small amount during its design and development process. The biggest change in performance was the boost from about 900hp to 1,025 hp with the installation of the IAR K14-IV C32 1000A 14-cylinder two-row air-cooled radial piston engine. It is this version that I suspect we’ll see in IL-2 as it was the predominant type.
With that engine and various equipment options, the IAR-81C is listed as having a top speed of 510 km/h or 320 mph and a climb rate enabling a climb to 5,000 meters in anywhere between 4 minutes and 41 seconds to 7 minutes depending on variant and fitted equipment. That puts the IAR somewhere between the I-16 Type 24, Hurricane Mark II and the Bf109E-7 in performance and that makes sense given its contemporary nature with these aircraft.
Pilot reports on the IAR-80 and 81 were also generally positive with the only real negative notes being on how the aircraft performed when fitted with the bomb sling. When equipped as a fighter, the IAR 80/81 was considered agile with pleasant handling.
In other sims
My first exposure to the IAR-80/81 was in IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles. It took some time for it to be “discovered” thanks to an extensive aircraft list but it proved to be a fun airplane to fly. Although the modeling work, particularly in the cockpit, wasn’t even up to the standards of the time it did generate a small following and it remained semi-popular through the IL-2: 1946 run. You can, of course, still fly it in that sim today as I have just done.
The IAR-81 has also popped up in War Thunder. It was introduced with Update 1.79 “Project X” with the IAR-81c variant making an appearance as a Premium aircraft as part of the Italian tech tree with a battle rating of 2.7.
Relevance to IL-2 Great Battles
The IAR-80/81 is going to fit in very well with the Stalingrad campaign with the type serving from the summer of 1942 through to the winter of 1943. During this time the IAR squadrons deployed in the battle were highly active and were used as both fighters and fighter-bombers or as dive bombers.
Strictly speaking, the IAR is going to feel somewhat obsolete by pure performance comparisons at this point in the battle. With a lower top speed than the Yak-1 Series 69, LaGG-3 Series 29, and P-40E-1, the IAR will nonetheless be roughly comparable with the I-16 and Hurricane II fighters also present at the battle. When fitted with the various armament options, the IAR also packs good firepower (especially in the 81C fitted with twin MG151/20s) and that should make it a tougher opponent just as the Hurricane Mark II does when armed with the available 20mm cannon options.
The IAR continued to be used in the Kuban during the first part of that battle as well before being withdrawn by the summer. That gives it two Career modes that it can plug into and add some variety to both as friend and foe depending on the career that you’re flying with.
Why buy this Collector Plane?
Unlike some of the other aircraft I’ve featured in the Legends of the East series, the IAR-80/81 is being offered as a separate Collector Plane purchase. There’s some interest for the aircraft as well as some confusion over its performance, its role and on if the aircraft will appeal.
Some have likened the IAR80/81, thanks to the 81C’s firepower and the type’s radial engine, to a “baby FW190.” While the IAR doesn’t share anything beyond a superficial resemblance to the FW190, I can see how the comparison would get made.
Despite its relatively unknown status (compared to say a Spitfire or Mustang), the IAR-80/81′ history as I’ve written above has made its own history and become its own legendary aircraft. It was produced in small numbers but it was heavily used and fought in several famous air battles including two that the Great Battles series presently covers.
Judging by some of the comments, some will only buy aircraft on performance grounds and for those folks I don’t think the IAR80/81 offers you much. If you only want the “best” aircraft, the IAR-80/81 is probably not for you. The plentiful numbers of Bf109 variants out there will surely suffice. That said, the IAR-80 and 81 were viewed favourably in the IL-2 Forgotten Battles era as the IAR-80/81 was agile and packed heavy firepower in the later versions and it wasn’t all that surprising for the aircraft to become fairly popular in the scenarios that offered it.
When flown smartly, this fighter was able to pack a punch and surprise better performing competitors. This is similar to the way that the Hurricane Mark II and I-16 sometimes surprise Bf109F-2 and F-4 pilots who undoubtedly have the better aircraft but are convinced into a turn fight and are hit by heavy firepower. I think the IAR-80/81 has the opportunity to fit in that kind of role too.
Finally, if you’re like me, you’ll appreciate having as much variety of experience as possible. The Bf109 and FW190 are the primary fighters and fighter-bombers of the Axis air forces, however, if you’ve been flying the sim for a while you may decide that you want to change things up and to fly something different. The IAR-80/81 offers that variety of experience that you just won’t get with the other two. If that appeals to you, then you may want to make this purchase.
Making the unknown fighter known
Outside of obscure warbird enthusiast ranks or perhaps outside of Romania, the IAR-80/81 is not a well known aircraft. But for those of us who learned quite a bit about the Eastern Front thanks, in part, to the original IL-2 Sturmovik, getting the IAR-80/81 into the Great Battles Series is an exciting moment and yet another return to form for the series.
Although the aircraft’s history isn’t well known, its appearance will surely help to spur on some added interest and hopefully convince a few to jump from the usual Bf109 and FW190 sorties and give another aircraft a try. Not every sortie has to be flown with the absolute best aircraft available and a lot can be learned by flying the interesting and scrappy underdog.
This is an aircraft that is being worked on by a third party to 1CGS. That third party clearly has the skills, the enthusiasm and the deep knowledge of the IAR-80/81 to be able to make this happen. And I’m excited for both that person who will get to see their creation in the IL-2 Great Battles series as well as the dedicated IAR fans (and I can think of at least one prominent one on the IL-2 forums) who will be overjoyed to see it. You can count me among those interested to see this legend of the east return to the IL-2 Sturmovik series.
The IAR for IL-2 Sturmovik: Great Battles is currently a work in progress and is expected to be released sometime in 2022. It is currently available for pre-order on the IL-2 store for $15.99 USD.