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
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.
Alexseyevich Lavochkin, Vladmir Petrovich Gorbunov and Mikhail
1,240 hp (925 kw) Klimov M-105PF Vee 12-cylinder piston engine.
Maximum speed 348 mph (560 km/h) at 16,405 ft (5000 m); service
ceiling 31,495 ft (9600 m).
miles (650 km) on internal fuel.
5,776 lbs (2620 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 7,231 lbs (3280
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).
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.
LaGG-3 (developed from the short lived LaGG-1). Later versions had a
retractable tailwheel and support for drop tanks.