Lavochkin LaGG 3

A captured LaGG-3 being inspected by German ground crews

The generation of combat aircraft built in the Soviet Union during the war witnessed the debut of designers who were to become world famous over the next few years. Following Mikoyan and Gurevich, another extremely talented technician was Semyon Alexseyevich Lavochkin, whose initials characterized a family of fighters that survived until the 1950s, ranging from the LaGG-1 of 1940, to the La-11 of 1947, the last aircraft powered by a piston engine to serve in the Soviet air force.

Lavochkin executed his first project together with another two talented technicians, Viadimir Petrovich Gorbunov and Mikhail lvanovich Gudkov, with whom he had worked since 1938. This was a single-seater fighter, initially designated I-22 and then LaGG-1; the prototype made its maiden flight on March 30,1940. The aircraft was a low-wing monoplane, carefully studied from an aerodynamic point of view and fitted with completely retractable landing gear. A predominant feature that made it unique among its kind, was its being built entirely in wood, with the exception of the moving parts, which were metal, and the fabric covering: the fuselage, empennage, and wings had a supporting structure in wood onto which a covering of diagonal strips of plywood was stuck using special resins. Its engine was a large Klimov M-105 liquid-cooled V-12 that generated 1,050 hp at takeoff.

However, flight tests proved to be unsatisfactory. Consequently, before production got under way, numerous modifications were carried out. These included the adoption of a more powerful and supercharged version of the Klimov M-105 engine (the 1,240 hp (925 kw) M-105PF) and of a three-bladed variable-pitch metal propeller, increased fuel tank capacity, and the installation of slats on the leading edge of the wings. The prototype was redesignated I-301 and, once tests had been completed, the fighter went into production with the official designation LaGG-3. However, its initial operative service (from 1941) brought to light some negative flight characteristics, for example, a tendency to go into a spin following particularly tight turns, making further research and testing necessary.

Once in service with the units, the LaGG-3 was widely used in the early phases of the war against the Germans, especially on the Finnish front, and its performance proved to be satisfactory. However, the aircraft never possessed the characteristics of an interceptor that had been planned in the original project. Nevertheless, it was used with success in bomber escort duty, ground attack, and target attack against the least dangerous of the formidable German fighters, such as reconnaissance planes and bombers. Moreover, the LaGG-3 proved to be extremely versatile and reliable. Its typical armament included a 20 mm cannon that fired through the propeller hub and two 12.7 mm machine guns, while under the wings supports were planned for light bombs or rockets. Up to August 1942, a total of 6,528 LaGG-3s came off the assembly lines, a remarkable number considering the unexceptional performance of the aircraft.

In the course of production numerous other experimental prototypes were completed, built with the aim of improving the aircraft's characteristics. Lavochkin, in particular, dedicated himself to the task of perfecting it. Following a series of failed attempts, success was achieved when a radically new engine became available. This was the Shvetsov M.82 radial engine and, once it had been fitted on the LaGG-3, it transformed it into a first-class aircraft, the LaGG-5 of 1942, one of the best Soviet fighters of the entire war.

Specifications (Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov LaGG-3)

Type: Single Seat Fighter

Design: Semyon Alexseyevich Lavochkin, Vladmir Petrovich Gorbunov and Mikhail Ivanovich Gudkov

Manufacturer: State Industries

Powerplant: One 1,240 hp (925 kw) Klimov M-105PF Vee 12-cylinder piston engine.

Performance: Maximum speed 348 mph (560 km/h) at 16,405 ft (5000 m); service ceiling 31,495 ft (9600 m).

Range: 404 miles (650 km) on internal fuel.

Weight: Empty 5,776 lbs (2620 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 7,231 lbs (3280 kg).

Dimensions: Span 32 ft 1 3/4 in (9.80 m); length 29 ft 2 1/2 in (8.90 m); height 8 ft 10 in (2.69 m); wing area 188.37 sq ft (17.50 sq m).

Armament: One 20 mm ShVak cannon firing through the propeller nose and two 2.7 mm (0.50 in) BS Machine guns plus underwing racks capable of either two 220 lbs (100 kg) bombs or six RS-82 rockets.

Variants: LaGG-3 (developed from the short lived LaGG-1). Later versions had a retractable tailwheel and support for drop tanks.

Operators: Soviet Union.