The Yak-38 fiasco, or how the Russians were lulled by the apparent success of their first VTOL aircraft

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Photo author: Vladimir Rodionov / Wikimedia commons / CC-BY|Description: Yak-38 aircraft

Not long after the start of the Cold War, the battle for technological progress flared up between the two opposing camps. One of the significant chapters of the rivalry was the race to see which of the camps would create more efficient vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft.

The Americans and their international allies built a number of prototypes and tested several machines, with the British aircraft appearing to be the most successful Harrier of Hawker Siddeley. Pthe officials of the Soviet Union logically did not want to fall too far behind. Therefore, in December 1967, the Jakovlev design office, which had already developed four experimental machines with VTOL technology, received an order to design fully usable combat aircraft with the possibility of vertical take-off and landing.

The project was named Yak-36M, and three engines were chosen to take the entire machine into the air and meet the requirements of exceeding the speed of Mach 1 (1,235 km/h) and the ability to attack ground and surface targets. The first of them, main jet engine R-27V-300, reached a thrust of 57.9 kN and it also had two rotating nozzles that allowed it to take off and land vertically. In addition, two additional RD-36-35 FV engines helped him in this function, which together reached a power of 56.8 kN.

For testing, a 1:1 scale wooden model of the new airplane was first made, which was approved by a special committee of the Communist Party together with the entire project in March 1970. The first flight of the prototype took place already six months later, when the airplane made a vertical takeoff to a height of 0.5 meters. However, the first problems appeared already with him in the form of shaking of his trunk. Obstacles could not be removed, so it was necessary to move on to testing a second prototype with an extended forward part of the fuselage and modified nozzles.

The modifications successfully solved almost all the original complications, and the first vertical takeoff and landing of the second prototype took place in February 1971. Half a year later, the aircraft underwent state testing, in which not only its maneuverability or controllability, but above all also stability. In the two years after that, the machine was also accompanied by weapon tests and experiments focused on the ability of the aircraft to take off and land from an aircraft carrier, for which the helicopter cruiser Moskva belonging to the fleet was used Black Sea.

The Yak-36 was completed, but did not perform well

The third prototype in the sequence crashed during one of the tests in 1971, but in March 1973 the fourth and last model VM-4 was introduced, which after the completion of testing had serve as a final product intended for serial production. Compared to the second prototype, it again had a somewhat modified front part and undercarriage of the airframe, as well as air traps located on the sides of the aircraft. Definitive tests of all prototype models were completed only in December 1974 and according to the design office Yakovlev there was no longer any obstacle to move on to the last step, namely the actual production of new Yak-36 aircraft.

The new aircraft was renamed from the original designation Yak-36M to Yak-38 and despite the fact that the resulting machine reached about 40 km/h lower speed and its range was only 530 km, it was incorporated into the armament of the Russian Air Force already in August 1976. By the end of the 1980s, up to 231 units were finally produced Yak-38 or a more modernized version of the Yak-38M with more powerful engines. This type of aircraft was assigned as part of the equipment of cruisers Kiev, Minsk and later also Baku, where they were deployed in active service until 1991.

Originally, the aircraft were supposed to be placed in reserves, but already in 1992 they were retired mainly because they had a relatively short range compared to other combat aircraft and could not fly in bad weather conditions. During In addition, more than 35 accidents occurred during the 15 years when the aircraft were deployed in active service and their pilots repeatedly complained of problems with their complex controls. In the end, the aircraft were used in combat only once as part of the Russian operation in Afghanistan in 1980, where however, due to the high temperature reaching 35 °C, they were unable to take off or land vertically and their attacks suffered from insufficient accuracy. Therefore, the improved models of the British Harriers eventually completely surpassed the Yak-38 in range, speed and ammunition-carrying capabilities during the 1980s.


The article is in Czech

Tags: Yak38 fiasco Russians lulled apparent success VTOL aircraft

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