Russian Basic Trainers, Part 1

As a category, basic training aircraft are perhaps the most widely ignored of the various machines of the 1930-50 period. This is a shame, really, as there are several exceedingly important and interestingly designs amongst this group, aircraft which absolutely deserve more attention than they have received hitherto.Indeed, with that observation in mind, this series will look to highlight a few of the more significant examples.

Many readers will be familiar with the various advanced training aircraft of the Soviet VVS during the period 1930-50. These include various UTIs for fighter instruction, -U model trainers for machines like the Il-2, developments of the Ar-2 and SB for instruction and so forth. All such aircraft, of course, were military trainers, designed for more advanced students having been assigned a more specialised role within their respective service. But what of less advanced student pilots? Or, indeed, of civilian flight instruction of the time? In which aircraft did budding aviators learn the complexities of aerial navigation and technique?

In this series we will look to examine and spotlight some of these basic training aircraft. Additionally, we will look at these machines in a somewhat backwards manner-- in reverse order of progression. That is to say, we will first examine the aircraft which would have been used by student pilots just before assignment to specialised flight instruction in the Army.

The Ultimate Primary Trainer:  The Yakovlev UT-1

Bureau Chief Aleksandr Yakovlev was renown for his superior light aircraft designs throughout the 1930s. During 1935, Yakovlev completed the AIR-14 project which had intended to produce a fully aerobatic training machine powered by the reliable 100 hp M-11. Most of the Soviet aviation industry regarded the project as an impossibility with such modest horsepower, but Yakovlev excelled his detractors once more by producing a superbly streamlined design of traditional construction, which moreover, sported a take-off weight of only 420 kg.

Handling and manoeuvrability in the AIR-14 were outstanding, and the aircraft introduced Yakovlev's slanted forward rudder hinge line which would become a hallmark of his later fighter designs. NII VVS Chief Test Pilot Piontkovski lead the State evaluation trials which were completed by 1937. A slightly more powerful M-11G engine of 115 hp was fitted, but save for this small modification the AIR-14 was accepted for series manufacture and service as the UT-1 (uchebno-trenirovochnii, or student-trainer). The performance of the UT-1 was quite superb bearing in mind its limited power, having a maximum speed of 245 km/h and an initial climb of 335 m/min. Moreover, the UT-1 was rugged and robustly stressed and was fully aerobatic, having no flight limitations of any kind save for
fuel starvation during extended inverted flight. Later versions of the UT-1 were powered by the M-11E motor of 150 hp, this model reaching 255 km/h and which also was fitted with a negative-g carburettor.

AIR-14 as evaluated at the NII VVS, 1936. The red rudder stripes were very common on Yakovlev design of this period, both for civil and military examples. The factory applied finish was an over-all AEh-9 application, as shown here. Some example might have been finished with AEh-8, and a few appear to be rather starkly bright, likely a gloss white finish as used so prominently at the time by Polikarpov's OKB.

UT-1s in Civilian Use

Sport flying and gliding clubs-- which operated under the very broad umbrella of the Osoaviakhim organisation-- were very popular in the 1930s USSR, boasting a reported 50 aero club schools and over a thousand pilots in 1936. Primary flight qualification, of course, was completed firstly on gliders and then light aircraft such as the U-2 biplane, but advanced trainers did serve in, and with, civilian clubs throughout the period. Many examples of such UT-1s did indeed carry civil USSR registrations, but some did not. Military examples carried Soviet national insignia (red stars of the prevailing type), but there was yet a third type of finish which sported neither national insignia nor civil registration. These examples were likely owned and operated by
Osoaviakhim, but they appear to have had a dual-use existence, essentially being used by whomever needed them at the respective airfield in question. Many photos exist of military pilots boarding such examples, and a few also of civilians operating them, too. Moreover, some UT-1s with civil registrations were also employed by military pilots as the need to train aircrew became acute.

Civil registered UT-1 SSSR-S5255 was based at the Tushino Flight School where it was flown by many would-be aviators, civil and military. This example was famously photographed in use by a number of female pilots such as Olga Popova and Raisa Belyaeva. The registration codes might have been red or black in colour; it is impossible to know from the original image.

UT-1s operating in sport clubs and in the military were ofen similarly finished, and coloufully as well. The ubiquitous rudder stripes were seen on many examples, as were very large cheat lines down the fuselage and on the landing gear spats, and not to mention trimming around the rudder and stabilisers. From 1940, following various directives regarding camouflage, VVS examples were often seen in a two-colour application of AII lacquers, Green on the upper surfaces and Light Blue on the lowers.

A typical military livery from 1940. Many of these aircraft retained their striped rudders, which would have survived from the original AEh-9 finish.

A captured UT-1 on display by German forces wearing the usual post-1940 style colouration.

"Red 2" was a delightfully finished VVS example with national insignia suitably applied (although it appears not on the wing upper surfaces).

This colourful UT-1 belonged to the VVS, and is usually ascribed to the VVS Acrobatic flight (having been suitably photographed at Tushino aerodrome). Whether this attribution is correct or not, the finish is manifestly gloss in sheen and in contradiction to the AII Red paint areas of the trim and national stars. The extensive trim and cheat lining along the fuselage spine and rudder is notable.

Another military UT-1, but in this case without a tactical number. This was another white gloss scheme, and the finish can be distinguished from the original AEh-9 colouration of the rudder, which retains its red stripes.

Trainers Go To War

With the clouds of war increasingly encroaching upon the USSR, thoughts had turned to a  light attack verion of the UT-1 as early as 1940. Various armamnet schemes were evaluated at the NII VVS and NIPAV, and testing took place attempting to incorporate some kind of pilot protection. Ultimately no such protection was practicable-- with a mere 150 hp it was simply impossible to fit any. These aircraft, to include a winterised variant on skis, were all experimental examples, albeit the pilots of the 88 IAP were allowed to fly some of these machines and evaluate them.

However, with the outbreak of war and enemy forces closing in on Moscow, development of the attack version of the UT-1 suddenly became a priority. By October of 1941 UT-1s were being modified locally on a small scale around the capitol with armamant. However, in November series manufacture of the armed varient, known as the UT-1B (Boevoi, or 'armed') was authorised and commenced immediately at Saratov. The armament for the series machies comprised two 7.62 mm ShKAS machine-guns (usually with 420 rds each) bolted to the upper wings just outside of the propeller arc, and rails for four RS-82 rockets fitted to the lower wing surfaces. Sheet metal plates were added aft of the rocket rails to protect the fabric surfaces from the rocket exhaust, and a rudimentary KP-5 gunsight was installed in the windscreen.

UT-1Bs were very active along the southern fronts and with the Black Sea Fleet, contributing heroically to the defense of Sevastopol'. Indeed, despite their somewhat improbable development, examples of these aircraft were still in service into 1943 in the same region.

A UT-1B likely seen in southern climes, possibly during 1942. Captions for the image disagree wildly, some suggesting evaluation by the VMF ChF, and others that the aircraft was captured and seen in Romanian hands. Attempts to identify the aircraft in background continue, and results in that direction might reveals clues to the nature of this image.

This UT-1B, "White 10", was seen in operational use at Kodinka field, Moscow region, during the late spring of 1942.