I-16 Rata The fighter that saved the USSR

The author of this monograph would like to inform his reader right away that he does not claim to cover the following topic as fully as it could possibly be.

At the present time, there are many historical documents, schematic drawing that once were placed in secret archives, memories of historical persons and participants of long past events. So, if the author tried to describe and publish all the materials about the only plane that took an active involvement in the Second World War – it would be a multi-volume publication with an Appendix consisting of a thick folder with numerous drafts…
The purpose of this monograph is the author’s desire to introduce the reader to a remarkable fighter aircraft, that had a great influence on both the pre-war development of Soviet aircraft, and the military developments occurred in the first few months of the war between Germany and the USSR. And at the same time about its creator - Nikolai Nikolaevich Polikarpov, who had the unspoken title of “King of fighters” during his lifetime.
Those readers, who are interested in the technical matter of the topic, could refer to some earlier publications about the I-16 aircraft. Unfortunately, only one publication was published in English. But you may find Russian-language publications, detailed declassified drawings, and a technical description of the aircraft in the global network.

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Building Socialism

In the world history there are numerous examples, when the name of the true Hero, whose act of bravery influenced the outcome of the future events, was faded into obscurity and remained known only to experts. For instance, in aviation sphere, the real Hero of the “Battle of England” has always remained in the background - the Royal Air Force fighter “Hurricane”, which withstood the whole brunt of the German air attack. No one will argue that in comparison to its partner - “Spitfire”, a great aircraft in all respects, - the outdated vehicle mentioned above could adequately prove itself only at the first stage of the aerial battle. However, statistics say definitively – out of every three German planes shot down in the British sky, two were “Hurricane”. And although no one disputes the merits of the “veteran” who won the first air battle with fascism - remembering the appearance of those battles’ hero, we most often recall an elegant, British-toned handsome “Spitfire”, but not his distinguished old partner…
Considering these facts, we can’t help mentioning another glorified air unit – the Soviet fighter, created under the leadership of the outstanding Russian aircraft designer Nikolai Nikolaevich Polikarpov - I-16. In order to present the reader the significance of this machine for the USSR, just a couple of figures could be given.     
During its relatively short biography, I-16 managed to become a central figure in several conflicts: in the Spanish Civil War; in several conflicts with the Japanese Air Force in the Far East; in the Finnish campaign (the Winter War); in the first phase of the war with Germany in the “Battle of Moscow”. Besides the Soviet Union, it was used by both allied countries (China, Republican Spain, Mongolia) and opponents, who received these aircraft as trophies (Finland, francoist Spain, and some others).

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At the beginning of hostilities with the Nazis (22.06.1941), there were 2 I-16 airplanes out of every 5 Soviet Air Force fighter, which took part in the battles. Despite the disaster of the first day of the war (the USSR officially recognized the loss of 1,200 aircraft on that day – 800 of them were destroyed on the ground), over the next month more than 1,000 downed German airplanes were destroyed or damaged thanks to this long-outdated fighter.
The history of I-16 cannot be described without telling about its creator. In a recent monograph on the Lavochkin - La family of aircraft, my colleague D. Padukh has already described the impact of Nikolai Polikarpov’s work on other Soviet aircraft designers. He also marked the significance of his constructing projects in further development of new models of Soviet aircraft. This is despite the fact that even decades after the end of the Second World War, the “King of fighters”, as Polikarpov was called by his colleagues, the general public remembers only one of his aircraft – a small flight instruction biplane Po-2 (U-2). It is the only vehicle named after the aircraft designer himself. Considering Polikarpov, many Russian and Soviet historians most often write about the “creative crisis” and his illness, that killed the designer at his 52, not allowing the full breadth of talent to open up. Moreover, many of those who directly accuse the aircraft designer of not being able to concentrate on the “main direction” of the work and see the prospects, being detached from reality, are rising their voices.

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