FLUF, the Fighter?
The world's first low-wing monoplane fighter with a retractable
landing gear: the Polikarpov I-16. It came from Russia in
1933. Now, 70 years later, visitors to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh
2003 will get to see one of only six remaining flying examples
of this aircraft during the show (July 29-August 4). The aircraft,
owned by the Commemorative Air Force, will be transported to
Oshkosh where test pilot Dave Morss plans to fly it during the
showcase, or perhaps the in the warbirds' performances.
"This airplane will undoubtedly be a popular draw
for EAA AirVenture participants," EAA President Tom Poberezny said.
"Even devoted warbird enthusiasts have likely never seen this
airplane up close. Its appearance at AirVenture further indicates
that Oshkosh is the place where the world of aviation annually
The Polikarpov measures just under 20 feet long and is powered
by a 1,000 horsepower M-62 radial engine. It was considered well
ahead of its time and performed admirably against the German
fighters during the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) and against
the Japanese Air Force in Manchuria in 1937. Polikarpovs were also
the world's first rocket-equipped fighters.
From the moment Germany invaded Russia in
1941, it was obsolete. More than 7,000 of the I-16s were produced,
and they served as Russia's front-line fighter well into 1943.
Partly because of their appearance and durability, Russians had
several unique nicknames for the aircraft: Rata (rat), Mosca (fly),
Yastrebok (eagle) and Ishak (little donkey).
Its all-wood, monocoque fuselage and 29-foot, 1.5-inch metal
wings proved durable in battle, but the airplanes required
highly-skilled pilots to perform well, particularly against
better-qualified opponents. They also were very thirsty, holding
just 60-gallons of fuel, and burning 70gph at top speed (304
mph). The manually-operated main gears work through a series of
drums, pulleys and cables and, according to Morss, require
45 turns to raise or lower [reducing gear-up time
on any mission to maybe -- what -- ten minutes?].
The world's entire collection -- six flying
I-16s -- were all wrecks, and were restored to flying
condition in New Zealand by the end of 1998;
they're all Type 24s, all built in 1939.
Specifications (I-16 Type 24):
Engine: One 1,000-hp M-62 radial piston engine
Weight: Empty 3,252 lbs., MTOW: 4,542 lbs.
Wing Span: 29ft. 1.5in.
Length: 19ft. 9.75in.
Height: 7ft. 10.75in.
Four 7.62-mm (0.3-inch) Sh KAS machine guns (Two in forward
fuselage; two in wings)
Up to 441 pounds of bombs or six RS-82 rockets on underwing
Number Built: 7,000+
Airworthy Today: 6
Maximum Speed at 10,000 ft: 304 mph
Ceiling: 31,070 ft.
Range: 373 miles
[We don't know if anyone else has picked up on the nickname we
give it here, but somebody said it, and it stuck: FLUF -- Fat
Little Ugly Fella --ed.]