I got together with my friend Kent Carlomagno and we had a chance to talk about the amazing and rare Yak Airplanes. Kent is the President of the Yak Fighter Pilots Association and he has a beautiful Yak 11 he takes to a lot of air shows. Here is our interview.
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This is Kent in his Yak 11
Kent, can you tell me about Yak airplanes?
The Yak is a wonderful airplane Evan. They were made around the late 1930s. There were two different varieties that are currently flying, the Yak trainers and the lighter under 400 hp aerobatic airplanes, and then there were a number that were taken out of the Egyptian Air Force that were like Black Moose that were redone with American engines. They were picked up by John Baptiste Salis from France who exported them after getting them from behind the Iron Curtain during the 1970s. They were imported around the world and to England and the United States and they were redone. It was very difficult to get the Russian engines so they put the American engines in them. There've been a few new build Yaks built from Romania and about eight or nine from Orenburg Russia that have the in-line Allison engine. The other Yaks which were the 11's were built as a Yak 3 with a Pratt & Whitney engine in it. So we had two versions of the fighters, some with the Allison V-12 and some with the Pratt & Whitney. And then you have the Yak trainer and aerobatic lighter type airplanes like the Yak 50, 52, and 53. The Yak 18 was a version that had the M-14 engine which is about 360 hp and that could carry four passengers with an enlarged cockpit.
Can you tell me how Yaks compare to the well-known American Planes?
The Yak is an undiscovered jewel, it's undervalued and sometimes I hate to say it unappreciated in the American aviation community because people don't really know about them. They are a high-performance airplane, they have a very high rate of climb below 10,000 feet, and they can out turn most of the American airplanes. Basically, in Russia, they were built at a lower economic price and as a result because there are less of them they haven't really gone up in value in the United States like American airplanes have. Everyone's familiar with our treasures in this country like the Mustang, the P-38, the P-47 and people have a tendency to want to treasure and enshrine what we have in our country.
That's kind of sad because Yaks are really amazing planes but no one knows about them.
Undiscovered treasures - thank you Evan.
So which do you think would win in a dogfight at let's say 15,000 feet, a P-51 or a Yak.
It's debatable at that altitude. I know that Yaks, particularly the ones that are currently rebuilt with a 1710 Allison engine, would definitely have more vertical penetration and have a higher rate of climb and can out turn at or below 10,000 feet. At 15,000 feet, when you start getting up in the middle of the higher altitudes, the Mustang for example has a great flap system that can retract and lower to various settings so it will allow it to turn. The deal with the Yak is, the Yak is lighter. Most of them are anywhere from 2000 to 2500 pounds lighter than a P-51 and as a result of that, with the same energy and same performance, the Yak can out climb and out turn. As far as in level flight the performance is pretty much matched. At higher altitudes I think the P-51 and some of the other aircraft would do better for like bomber escort, long-range, and in downhill performance.
So tell me why you think Yaks are not well known in the US.
I just think that there are unfortunately a couple of reasons for that. One is that there is so few of them and the American public and the pilot associations aren't really educated about them. A lot of people have not flown them and I think that there's also a stigmata a little bit about the airplanes. The fact that since it's a Russian airplane and since the Russians were kind of our allies by need during World War II and now apparently our foes, that there may be a little animosity towards the Russian people which has kind of transcended into the aircraft. As a result of that, people kind of scoff it off and say, "oh, well that's inferior" because they want to feel that it's like they take a lot of their political feelings and unfortunately translate it into the material design of the airplane.
So in America very little is known about Russian fighter pilots and what they did in World War II. I bet you know about that. Could you please tell me about them?
I can tell you about one in particular Evan, he had 62 confirmed victories. His name was Kojedub. He flew an airplane which was similar than mine which is lighter than mine, it was a wood construction airplane initially and also the wings, called a Lavochkin. I won't go into a lengthy details about that but when I was back in Russia in August of 2005 I went to the Monino Air Museum and they had one actually in there and it was a re-rendition of Kojedub's airplane. This guy had 62 confirmed victories. The Russians were very aggressive pilots with their airplanes. What they tried to do was they wanted to out gun the Germans and so they actually put cannons in their airplanes, bigger than even the armament that we had, so all they had to do was get a couple hits on a ME109 or a FW190 and it would go down in flames.
Yeah I heard that the Yak 9K version had a 75 mm gun in the nose.
And what would happen Evan is when they fired that unfortunately they had recoil springs in it and it would break the firewalls loose, and when they bring it back the Russian crew chiefs would have to go through and reinforce the engines and the airframe because it would actually slow the airplane down about 20 miles an hour from the recoil.
So what are the differences between the Yaks and let's say a Mustang?
The Mustang is definitely the Cadillac of the skies and overall as far as a sexy looking, functional airplane, and fast airplane, it's the king of the skies. Basically, overall in the aerodynamics, the Yak has a different kind of wing. It has a smaller elliptical wing. It took a lot of the technology from the Howard Hughes era, from the Howard Hughes H1 racer, and they kind of incorporated it. The Russians took some of the technology from the English, the Americans, the French, and they also took German engine technology and incorporated it. The Americans took a lot of their technology from the English and they also incorporated it into their own design. The Russians also copied from Pratt & Whitney because they found the radial engine design to be very durable.
So basically the Mustang has a beautiful, clean airframe, the Yak is pretty much too. With the Yaks they tried to make everything a little bit smaller so when they put the cooling system in they had smaller ports for the cooling than in the Mustang. They were by American standards probably a little bit more crude in terms of their design but I personally think they have a beauty all of their own.
Kent is a really neat guy who is a great story teller. Be sure to say hi to him the next time you see him at an air show.
Me and my friend Kent