The Polikarpov I-15 Chaika

U.S.S.R.
U.S.S.R.

side viewfront viewunder view

In it's time the Chaika (Seagull, named such because of the form of the upper wing) was a legendary aircraft. Designed by Nikolay Polikarpov while imprisoned, and later released and moved to the TsKB (Tsentral'nyi Konstruktorskoye Byuro, or Central Design Bureau).
The I-15 was actually an improvement on the I-5, another bi-plane fighter, which was still being developed and not yet produced. The idea was to use an improved engine, and the use of the 'Gull" shaped wings that gave the Chaika it's nickname later.
The design was finalized as the TsKB-3, which was basically similar to the I-5 with the exception of the inner section of the two upper wing halves that were based on a welded steel tube rather than wooden structure and inclined downward at 60° to meet the upper part of the forward fuselage in what was almost a Vee arrangement, I-type rather than N-type interplane struts, a strut-braced rather than cantilever horizontal tail surface, and revised landing gear that was still of the fixed tailskid type but included cantilever main units carrying wheels with disc brakes.
L0The TsKB-3 prototype first flew in October 1933 with a powerplant of one SGR-1820-F3 Cyclone radial engine rated at 710 hp (529 kW) at optimum altitude and driving a two-blade metal propeller with blades whose pitch could be adjusted on the ground. The trials revealed that the TsKB-3 had excellent performance and first-class agility, and the factory and official trials were completed in about two months. The TsKB-3 was ordered into production as the I-15, but as the negotiations for licensed production of the R-1820 Cyclone were proceeding only slowly, the first 404 production aircraft were completed with the radial-engined powerplant of the I-5, namely the M-22 (Bristol Jupiter VI sub-licensed from Gnome-Rhône) engine rated at 480 hp (358 kW) at optimum altitude, driving a two-blade metal propeller with ground-adjustable blades, and installed inside a narrow-chord Townend ring cowling.
Later aircraft with the intended powerplant were tested by the State Commision, which concluded that the I-15 had a better performance than all other Soviet fighters, and had a maneuverability and climb rate that matched those of the best foreign fighters.

Version list:

Further pictures:

Polikarpov I-153 used as a testbed for DM-4 ramjets
Polikarpov I-153 used as a testbed for DM-4 ramjets

Polikarpov I-15bis in full flight
Polikarpov I-15bis in full flight

Polikarpov I-15bis parked in front of a hangar
Polikarpov I-15bis parked in front of a hangar

 

Technical data on the Polikarpov I-15 Chaika
Powerplant 1 × M-22 (Wright R-1820 Cyclone) radial, rated at 480 hp (357.84 kW) Role during war
  • Fighter
  • (Ground) Attack Fighter
  • Close Support Attack Fighter
  • Fighter-bomber
Length 20 ft 0 inch Height unknown
Empty weight 2438 lb Operational weight 3119 lb max
Wing Span 31 ft 11.9 inch Wing Aspect ratio Bi-plane
Wing Area 235.74 sq ft Service ceiling 24670 ft
Maximum speed 199 mph at optimum altitude Cruising speed unknown
Initial climb rate Climb to 3,280 ft in 1 minute 6 sec Range 297 miles typical
Fuel capacity internal (68 Imp gal (82 US gal) Fuel capacity external -
Machine guns
  • 2 × 0.3 inch PV-1 fixed forward-firing in the upper nose, 1.000 rounds each
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 88 lb of disposable stores carried on two underwing hardpoints rated at 44 lb each. General disposables load consisted of:
  • 2 × 44 lb bombs, or
  • 4 × 22 lb bombs
Torpedoes/rockets -
Crew 1Naval or ground based Ground
First flight (prototype) November 1933 Operational Service 1935 - 1944
Manufacturer Polikarpov Design Bureau Number produced 7.175+ total, 1.020+ this version
Metric system
Length 6.1 m Height unknown
Empty weight 1106 kg Operational weight 1415 kg max
Wing Span 9.75 m Wing Aspect ratio 1
Wing Area 21.9 m² Service ceiling 7519 m
Maximum speed 320 km/h at optimum altitude Cruising speed unknown
Initial climb rate Climb to 1.000 m in 1 minute 6 sec Range 478 km typical
Fuel capacity internal 310 liters Fuel capacity external -
Machine guns
  • 2 × 7,62 mm PV-1 fixed forward-firing in the upper nose, 1.000 rounds each
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 40 kg of disposable stores carried on two underwing hardpoints rated at 20 kg each. General disposables load consisted of:
  • 2 × 20 kg bombs, or
  • 4 × 10 kg bombs
Torpedoes/rockets -

Technical data on the Polikarpov I-15bis
Powerplant 1 × M-25V (Wright R-1820 Cyclone) radial, rated at 750 hp (559.12 kW) Role during war
  • Fighter
  • (Ground) Attack Fighter
  • Close Support Attack Fighter
  • Fighter-bomber
Length 20 ft 9.25 inch Height 7 ft 2.25 inch
Empty weight 2888 lb Operational weight 4 lb typical,
4189 lb max
Wing Span 33 ft 5.5 inch Wing Aspect ratio Bi-plane
Wing Area 242.2 sq ft Service ceiling 29530 ft
Maximum speed 230 mph at 9845 ft Cruising speed unknown
Initial climb rate Climb to 3,280 ft in 1 minute 6 sec Range 286 miles typical
Fuel capacity internal unknown Fuel capacity external -
Machine guns
  • 2 or 4 × 0.3 inch PV-1 fixed forward-firing in the upper nose, 1.000 rounds each (2 guns)
  • later 4 × 0.3 inch ShKAS fixed forward-firing in the upper nose, 650 rounds each
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 331 lb of disposable stores carried on four underwing hardpoints, inboard pair rated at 110 lb each, outboard pair rated at 55 lb each. General disposables load consisted of:
  • 2 × 110 lb FAB-50 bombs
  • 2 × 55 lb FAB-25 bombs
Torpedoes/rockets -
Crew 1Naval or ground based Ground
First flight (prototype) November 1933 Operational Service 1935 - 1944
Manufacturer Polikarpov Design Bureau Number produced 7.175+ total, 2.696+ this version
Metric system
Length 6.33 m Height 2.19 m
Empty weight 1310 kg Operational weight 2 kg typical,
1900 kg max
Wing Span 10.2 m Wing Aspect ratio 1
Wing Area 22.5 m² Service ceiling 9001 m
Maximum speed 370 km/h at 3001 m Cruising speed unknown
Initial climb rate Climb to 1.000 m in 1 minute 6 sec Range 460 km typical
Fuel capacity internal unknown Fuel capacity external -
Machine guns
  • 2 or 4 × 7,62 mm PV-1 fixed forward-firing in the upper nose, 1.000 rounds each (2 guns)
  • later 4 × 7,62 mm ShKAS fixed forward-firing in the upper nose, 650 rounds each
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 150 kg of disposable stores carried on four underwing hardpoints, inboard pair rated at 50 kg each, outboard pair rated at 25 kg each. General disposables load consisted of:
  • 2 × 50 kg FAB-50 bombs
  • 2 × 25 kg FAB-25 bombs
Torpedoes/rockets -

Technical data on the Polikarpov I-153 Chaika
Powerplant 1 × Shvetsov M-62 radial, rated at 850 hp (633.67 kW) Role during war
  • Fighter
  • (Ground) Attack Fighter
  • Close Support Attack Fighter
  • Fighter-bomber
Length 20 ft 2.9 inch Height 7 ft 2.25 inch
Empty weight 2972 lb Operational weight 4098 lb typical,
4652 lb max
Wing Span 32 ft 9.5 inch Wing Aspect ratio Bi-plane
Wing Area 238.32 sq ft Service ceiling 35105 ft
Maximum speed 276 mph at 15090 ft Cruising speed unknown
Initial climb rate Climb to 9,845 ft in 3 min 0 sec Range 298 miles typical,
547 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 331 lb (note: no capacity in gallons given) Fuel capacity external Up to 44 Imp gal (53 US gal) in two 22 Imp gal (26 US gal) drop tanks
Machine guns
  • 4 × 0.50 inch Beresin BS fixed forward-firing in the nose
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 441 lb of disposable stores carried on four underwing hardpoints rated at 110 lb each. General disposables load consisted of:
  • 4 × 110 lb FAB-50 bombs, or
  • 8 × 55 lb anti-personnel bombs
Torpedoes/rockets
  • 6 × 3.2 inch RS-82 air-to-air or air-to-ground unguided rockets alternatively to bombs
Crew 1Naval or ground based Ground
First flight (prototype) November 1933 Operational Service 1935 - 1944
Manufacturer Polikarpov Design Bureau Number produced 7.175+ total, 3.459+ this version
Metric system
Length 6.17 m Height 2.19 m
Empty weight 1348 kg Operational weight 1859 kg typical,
2110 kg max
Wing Span 9.99 m Wing Aspect ratio 1
Wing Area 22.14 m² Service ceiling 10700 m
Maximum speed 444 km/h at 4599 m Cruising speed unknown
Initial climb rate Climb to 3.000 m in 3 min 0 sec Range 480 km typical,
880 km max
Fuel capacity internal 150 kg (note: no capacity in liters given) Fuel capacity external Up to 200 liters in two 100 liters drop tanks
Machine guns
  • 4 × 12,7 mm Beresin BS fixed forward-firing in the nose
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 200 kg of disposable stores carried on four underwing hardpoints rated at 50 kg each. General disposables load consisted of:
  • 4 × 50 kg FAB-50 bombs, or
  • 8 × 25 kg anti-personnel bombs
Torpedoes/rockets
  • 6 × 88 mm RS-82 air-to-air or air-to-ground unguided rockets alternatively to bombs

Here is a quick overview of all different versions, without the full technical specifications:

Different versions of the Polikarpov I-15  Chaika
Polikarpov TsKB-3 The initial prototypes of the I-15 Chaika were designated TsKB-3, the third design created in the TsKB.
Number built: unknown.
Polikarpov I-15 Chaika The production aircraft were redesignated from TsKB-3. This version actually, like so many other Soviet aircraft, consisted of meny different versions, the changes of which were gently and slowly introduced into the production lines.
Although it was planned to power the I-15 with a license built version of the Wright SGR-1820-F3 Cyclone radial, rated at 715 hp (533 kW), the initial production batch received another powerplant. Due to slow negotiations about the license of the Wright engine, and the slow import rate, it was decided to power them with 1 × M-22 (Bristol Jupiter VI sub-licensed from Gnome-Rhône) engine rated at 480 hp (358 kW). 404 examples were thus built.
Later aircraft built like the early I-15bis were produced. Performance of the aircraft improved, but the military brass were still not happy with it.
Number built: 404+
Polikarpov I-15bis During the end of 1935 en the whole of 1936 (almost) no aircraft were produced. The time was used to create prototype manufacturing facilities at the Gorki plant, No. 21.
Design had progressed nevertheless, and the new aircraft was fitted with a standard type wing cellule, doing away with the gull shape (note the designation to the left: no Chaika). In stead the wing had a new Clark 'YH' aerofoil section, increased span, and a new powerplant. The I-15bis was powered by 1 × Shvetsov M-25V radial, with the Townend ring replaced by a NACA-type cowling. Some other parts were redesigned and strengthened, and a power supply system with an electric generator and and RSI radio were installed as well.
Somehow the maximum level speed had not changed (mainly due to extra weight), even though the powerplant had more horses under it's hood. Maneuverability and climb rate deteriorated significantly. A new propeller was tried, and more fuel capacity was created increasing it with 57 to 68 Imp gal (68 to 82 US gal, 260 to 310 liters) internal, and two droptanks with a capacity of 17.5 Imp gal (21 US gal, 80 liters) each could be fitted under the wings.
Production of this fighter with the standard type upper wing went on while more prototypes were created. Finally the prototype I-152 also received the VISh-6A propeller, and the engine was fitted with exhaust stubs in stead of a collector ring. It had a protected fuel tank, a Townend ring in stead of a NACA-type cowling, and a revised canopy windscreen with a flat front panel.
Number built: 2.676+
Polikarpov I-152 This designation is mostly used to identify the prototypes of the I-15bis range
Number built: unknown out of 2.676+
Polikarpov I-15ter Chaika Because the I-15bis wasn't a big hit amongst military and designers alike, and the need for an uprated fighter, the I-15 was redesigned once more.
The resulting fighter was different from it's predecessor the I-15bis with respect to: an upper wing whose inboard ends were gulled into the line of the upper fuselage (like the I-15, tailwheel landing gear including manually operated rearward-retracting main units with still wider tires, and improved equipment including an engine-driven generator, battery, navigation lights and, in a number of the production aircraft, radio.
Initially the I-15ter was powered by 1 × M-25V radial, rated at 750 hp (559 kW), but later versions received yet more powerful engines.
Number built: 3.459+
Polikarpov I-153 Alternative designation for the I-15ter prototypes.
Number built: unknown out of 3.459+
Polikarpov I-153BS After the summer of 1939 it was admitted that the I-15ter was definitely getting obsolete. The failure yet to create a monowing successor forced the Soviets to upgrade the I-15 design once more.
Main differences were the improved armament, 4 × 0.50 inch (12,7 mm) guns, moer optional disposables stores (as opposed to free-fall bombs only), ability to carry unguided rockets, and a powerplant change to 1 × Shvetsov M-62, a further development of the M-25 with a two-speed supercharger. Additionally it could carry two drop tanks.
Number built: unknown out of 3.459+
Polikarpov I-153P 'P' stands for Pushyechnyi (cannon), which identifies these aircraft as being armed with 2 × 20 mm ShVAK cannon.
Number built: unknown out of 3.459+
Polikarpov I-153 M-62 This version was first tested in june 1939. Initially it had a fixed pitch propeller, which was later replaced by the AV-1 variable pitch propeller. Of course it was powered by 1 × M-62 radial. This increased the speed and climb rate of the fighter. Speed was already reasonable compared to contemporary monowing fighters. It did suffer some endurance deterioration however when the AV-1 propeller was used.
Number built: unknown out of 3.459+
Polikarpov I-153 M-63 The availability of the M-63, an uprated version of the M-62, enabled the I-153 to receive even more horse powers under the hood. The resulting fighter was also called '1940' standard. This version more or less proved, inadvertently, that the I15 was finally reaching the limits of it's design, since an increase in engine output failed to realise an increase in performance. This was of course due to the bi-plane concept that offered too much drag to fully take advantage of the new engine.
Number built: unknown out of 3.459+
Polikarpov I-153DM To increase the speed of the I-153, two ramjets were tested on it. Designed bu I Merkulov, the DM-4 ramjets increased the max level speed with 32 mph (51 km/h) to 273 mph (440 km/h). Nevertheless it was deemed that the mixed powerplant was unviable for bi-planes, and the project was halted.
Number built: unknown out of 3.459+
Polikarpov I-190 This version of the I-15 was powered by 1 × Tumanskii M-88. Flight tests were aborted since the engine didn't run smooth. Later the engine was replaced by 1 × Tumanskii M-88R Geared engine, and later yet the Tumanskii M-88A. All was in vain, for the engine either was unable to run smooth, or overheated.
Number built: unknown.
Polikarpov I-195 This version was the last one based on the I-15. It was powered by 1 × M-90 engine, and was an unbraced sesquiplane with an enclosed cockpit. Max level speed attained was 362 mph (583 km/h). It is unknown why the project was stopped, probably because other projects had more developmental possibilities.
Number built: unknown.
Polikarpov DIT-2 This aircraft was based on the I-15bis, and was a two-seat trainer version. It had a second cockpit and dual controls, and the armored backrest and two machineguns were removed as well. Performance of the DIT-2 was similar to that of the I-15bis. Stability and controllability were similar as well, but spinning characteristics were bad, especially for a trainer.
Number built: unknown.

Operational remarks:

The Chaika started it's operational career long before the Second World War. The prototype quickly proved that it was the best fighter in the Soviet arsenal, posessing excellent performance, climb rate and maneuverability.
Im November 1935 a prototype I-15, powered with 1 × Shvetson M-25 radial (licensed Wright R-1820 Cyclone) rated at 700 hp (522 kW) reached the height of 47,824 ft (14.577 m), the World Record of Height at the time.
The various variants of the I-15 saw extensive action in a variety of wars: The Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939), the second was the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 - 1945), the Russo-Japanese skirmishes at Khalkin Gol and Nomonhan (1938 - 1939) and the Russo-Finnish 'Winter War' (1939 - 1940).
During the early conflicts the I-15 proved superior to all enemy fighters, and thus became reasonably succesful. During the Spanish Civil War only 53 of the 283 aircraft delivered were used (only to\hose were assambled before defeat), and the I-15 after initial airsuperiority suffered defeats at the hands of the new Messerschmitt Bf 109B's. nevertheless it could still hold reasonably well against the German fighter that played such a significant role later in the War.
During the Second Sino-japanese War some I-15's were delivered to China in an attempt to aid them.By this time the I-15bis was the main operational type. The main opponent by that time was the Japanese Nakajima Ki-27 monoplane, which outperformed the I-15bis. Later in that specific war the entry of the I-153 was an unpleasant surprise for the japanese pilots, since performance was more or less equal, and armament was for the better. I-153's also learned to use a trick to trap Japanese pilots in deadly dogfights. Soviet pilots would generally fly with their landing gear down, looking very much like the I-15bis. Then, while turning away from the Japanese the Soviet pilots would crank up their gears, increase speed, and meet the enemy with even odds. When the Japanese were able to spot the I-153's they would generally turn their tail to safer airspace, sometimes even when I-52bis's were misidentified.
The main war in which the I-15 played an important role was the Second World War (1939 - 1940), or, to be more precise, the Great Patriotic War (1941 - 1945). The first open hostilities between germany and the Soviet Union were in June 1941. At that time the I-15 showed it's age. In initial German attacks a lot of Chaika's were destroyed on the ground. In the air the odds were a little better, but nevertheless the I-15's were hopelessly outclassed. Soon the aircraft were relegated to training duties, as soon as there were other aircraft available.
A number of I-15's have been used by other nations as well. China and Spain took delivery of various I-15 models, and the Finns managed to capture some aircraft during the 'Winter War'. these captured aircraft, together with 14 aircraft captured by germany were fitted with Browning machine guns, and were used against the Soviets. At least 8 of these survived until the end of the Soviet-Finnish hostilities in 1944.

Strengths:

Weaknesses:

 

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© by Frans Bonné, 2000
Last revision: 9/23/01