Yakovlev Yak 1, 3, 7, & 9 are an often overlooked or forgotten breed in comparisons of the best-of-its-kind in piston engined World War II fighter aircraft, with the comparative list continually containing contemporaries such as the North American P-51 Mustang, Supermarine Spitfire, Focke-Wulf Fw 190, and Messerschmidt Bf 109, whereas factually the middle to latter day model designates gave the German Luftwaffe a real eye-opener in the skies over the USSR with its dynamic and armament capabilities. The Yak and all its different variants easily made up the highest number of fighter aircraft produced during the Second World War and totalling to some 37,000 leaving its assembly lines. The first Yakovlev Ya-26 design prototype was named after its creator, Alexander Sergeyevich Yakovlev a Soviet aeronautical engineer. The Ya-26 Krasavec took off on its first test flight in March 1939 and proved to be talented enough to be accepted by the Soviet air force whereupon it received the model designation I-26. Only after production had started was the name redesignated to become the commonly known Yak-1 which would seed a number of further prototype design evolutions that were to become extremely capable and successful warranting their inclusion.
The Yak 1 finally comparatively placed Russian Soviet Air Force fighter hardware on a rough par with equivalent British, American, and German air fighters of the day. Yak 1 Krasavyets or Little Beauty provided a utilitarian but slender fabric over wood fuselage sporting a central cockpit, backed by a razor backed fuselage spine that blocked views to the pilot’s critical six. Further improvements corrected the problem in the Yak-1b receiving an unobstructed bubble canopy, including improved armour, a retractable assembly for the tailwheel, together with upgrades to the weapons and engines. Both designs were easy and quick to produce and generally offered easier, cheaper maintenance to airframe materials that could withstand considerable damage from enemy fire and come out of the side still shooting.
The airframe received its motive force from a single Klimov liquid cooled in-line piston engine developing upwards of 1100 hp dependent on the design model. The Little Beauty became much loved by her pilots that found her highly capable performance and sweet handling nature endearing. The German invasion on 22 June 1941 was the largest German military campaign during the Second World War and it kicked the Russian aircraft engine development programme into high gear, this Klimov engine would eventually become the most celebrated design of the German – Russian war. A Yak-5 interceptor got to the design stage but never it entered production, the Soviet air force preferred to continue development and improvement to the forthcoming Yak 7 & 9 design models.
A Yak-3 entered production with its first test flight conducted in the last quarter of 1943, the Yak-3 was a lightened version in an attempt to further increase performance of the Yak 1. The Yak-7 followed soon after and was utilised as a pilot trainer displaying excellent performance characteristics that warranted the production of a further 5000 Yak-7 aircraft. The design series culminated in the quick to excel Yak-9 Frank, it being an extensive redevelopment of an experimental Yak-7.
The Soviet Air Force later established 586 IAP an actively serving unit fielding all-female pilots and aircrew equipped with the Yak-1 produced the world’s only two female a aces. Katya Budonova and Lydia Litvak went on to record 11 and 12 collected respective air victories.