I-16 fighter by N.N.Polikarpov

I-16 at Victory Park (43k) by Paul Nann;

When the I-5 production was launched in late 1932, N.N.Polikarpov design team was 'unfolded' into Brigade 5. Now designer could start working on his long-thought (since 1924) fighter project.

At the Monino AF Museum near Moscow; Photo (46k) by John Sloan appears at Alexej Gretchihine R.A.P.;
(b/w 35k) Type 6 from Ever Changing Page of Roy Cochrun.

The I-16 was revolutionary when it appeared in 1933 (see TsKB-12 prototypes); the first operational cantilever monoplane fighter with retractable landing gear. Details of aircraft construction are located at the TsKB-12 prototype page. The original M-22 engine was a copy of the Wright R-1820. Some I-16s TsKB-12bis prototype actually had US-built engines.

I-16 Type 4 and Type 5 were used in the Zveno tests, when the TB-3-4M-17F heavy bomber was used as a carrier. Escort fighters (2...4) were carried under the bomber wings (or on the top) and released if necessary. Parasite I-16's could also serve as a dive-bombers. This configuration was known as Zveno-6 SPB, and performed more than thirty missions during 1941. Most of them with significant success.

I-16 Type 5 / 6 / 10 was used in the Spanish civil war by Republican army and by Chinese airforce against Japan.

After pilots complains about insufficient rear view from the I-16 Type 4/ 5 enclosed cockpit, the next production version, Type 6, had a single-piece windscreen.

In the end of 1937 the I-16 Type 10 with increased firepower replaced 5/6 series on the production line, after the Spanish and Chinese combat experience revealed insufficient armament of the I-16. The Type 10 also had new improved M-25V engine and additional 8mm armor plate behind the headrest. This armor was sufficient to stop 12.7mm shells. For winter operation retractable ski gear was fitted (all earlier I-16's had to use fixed ski gear).

The first mass production cannon armed version (Type 17) was forced into production following the Spanish civil war, where the 7.62mm machine guns proved insufficient for most ground-attack purposes, as well as air combat needs. It performed well in 1941 against advancing German troops and armored vehicles until the Il-2 came in sufficient quantity.

'Type 20' photos (16k and 12k) from Air Force Herald magazine article;

As more powerful M-62 engine became available, the Type 18 emerged in 1939 with improved high altitude performance, redesigned engine cowling and the tailwheel instead of tailskid. Shortly it was replaced in production by even more powerful Type 24 with M-63 engine.

First attempt to make I-16 suitable for escort duty (primarily to accompany SB bombers) was made in 1939, when unarmed 'Type 10' was equipped with dropable fuel tanks. Each of two underwing tanks carried 67.5kg of gasoline, increasing range by 75%. Aircraft (designated 'Type 20') did not enter mass production, but same tanks were used later on 'Type 24' and 'Type 29', built in large amounts in 1940- 1941.

It was very successful in the Spanish civil war; but it was obsolete at the outbreak of WWII. Large numbers were still in service in 1941, and it stayed in front-line service until late 1943. The only advantages against the contemporary Messerschmitt Bf-109F-1 was maneuverability in close turn combats... and less vulnerable air-cooling engine.

7005 single-seaters and 1639 two-seaters built.

Production I-16 data table;

Other modifications:
  • I-16 Type 5 had limited production modification with six vertically movable (20°) ShKAS machine guns. Ground-attack version, 1936.
  • UTI-4 - trainer version ('Uchebno-Trenirovochnyj Istrebitel');
  • TsKB-12P - cannon armed I-16 Type 10;
  • TsKB-18 - armored I-16 Type 4 with increased armament.
  • TsKB-29 - high speed dive bomber based on the I-16 Type 5,
  • 1936;
  • I-16P - "Pushechnyj", cannon armed;
  • I-16TK - "Turbo-Kompressor", turbo-charged version for high altitude operations;
  • I-180 - N.N.Polikarpov's unsuccessful modification;

  • Competing designs:
    See more WEB publications at I-16 Links Page;
    Modified March 17, 1998 Back to
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