Yakovlev Yak 9, most mass-produced Soviet fighter of all time
By Willie Bodenstein
The Yakovlev Yak-9 had its first flight during the summer of 1942 and entered service in October of the same year was fundamentally a lighter development of the Yak-7. It remained in production from 1942 to 1948 and with 16,769 built (14,579 during the war), the Yak-9 was the most mass-produced Soviet fighter of all time.
Combat experience with its predecessor and the greater availability of duralumin allowed for a lighter construction, which in turn permitted a number of modifications to the basic design of the Yak-9. The first Yak-9 entered service in October 1942 and first saw combat in late 1942 during the Battle of Stalingrad. The versatile Yak-9 operated with a wide variety of armament for use in anti-tank, light bomber and long-range escort roles. At low, altitude in which it operated predominantly, the Yak-9 was faster and more manoeuvrable than its main foe, the Bf 109, but was far less well armed. A series of improvements in performance and armament did not hamper the superb handling characteristics that allowed its pilots to excel at dog-fighting.
In December 1943, it became possible to install the more powerful M-107 engine on a new Yak-9U airframe. The State trials took place from January to April 1944. They revealed a clear superiority in top speed over all other fighters in service on the Eastern front, up to 6,000 m (19,685 ft). The aircraft was simple to fly and stable.
The Yak-9U (VK-105) equipped with the new Klimov VK-107A engine with 1,230 kW (1,650 hp) and the 20 mm ShVAK with 120 rounds, was the definitive version. Early test flights in 1943 indicated that the only comparable Soviet fighter was Polikarpov I-185 prototype which was more difficult to fly and less agile due to its higher weight. The prototype's top speed of 700 km/h (435 mph) at 5,600 m (18,370 ft) was faster than any other production fighter aircraft in the world at the time, other than the P-51B that could reach up to 441 mph on military power.
The first unit to use the Yak-9U, between 25 October and 25 December 1944, was 163.IAP. Pilots were ordered not to use the engine at combat speed since this reduced its life to two or three flights only. Nevertheless, in the course of 398 sorties, the unit claimed 27 Focke-Wulf Fw 190As and one Bf 109G-2, for the loss of two Yaks in dogfights, one to flak and four in accidents. The Yak-9U contributed greatly to Soviet air superiority and the Germans avoided the Yaks "without antenna mast".
Fighter units with this aircraft suffered lower losses than average. Of 2,550 Yak-9s manufactured up the end of 1943, only 383 were lost in combat. Towards the end of the war, the Yak-9 was the first Soviet aircraft to shoot down a Messerschmitt Me 262 jet.
During 1949, the Soviet Union provided surplus Yak-9P (VK-107) aircraft to some satellite states in the Soviet bloc in order to help them rebuild their air forces in the wake of the West Berlin blockade. Following World War II, it was used by the North Korean Air Force during the Korean War.
By the time production ceased in 1948, almost 16,800 Yak-9s had been produced. In the early 1990s, Yakovlev started limited production for the warbird market of Yak-9 and Yak-3 replica aircraft using original World War II equipment and Allison V-1710 engines. These modern-built replicas using the Allison engines have counter clockwise-rotation props, unlike the originals, which strictly used clockwise-rotation Soviet V12 power plants.