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Lavochkin La-15 (Fantail) - Soviet Union, 1949

Detailing the development and operational history of the Lavochkin La-15 (Fantail) Jet-Powered Tactical Fighter / Interceptor.

 Entry last updated on 7/15/2014; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  Lavochkin La-15 (Fantail)  
Picture of Lavochkin La-15 (Fantail)

Aircraft like the Lavochkin La-15 Fantail formed the early-going for the growing Soviet jet program.

A series of Lavochkin jet-powered fighter prototypes preceded the La-15 (NATO reporting name of "Fantail") tactical fighter / interceptor. Work stemmed from a 1945 Soviet requirement that saw a line of aircraft evolve from the captured German Junkers Jumo 004 turbojet and straight main wings to a Rolls-Royce-based engine (copied under the Klimov brand label) and swept-back wings. A 1946 requirement then streamlined a proposal for an all-modern jet-powered fighter for the Soviet Air Force which incorporated a "T-style" tail configuration - a feature also pioneered by the Germans. The end result became the La-15 which was a further evolution of the one-off La-168 prototype first flying on April 22nd, 1948. The La-15 followed suit and took to the air on January 8th, 1948 to which its serial production form eventually served alongside the competing, and decidedly more famous, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter of which over 18,000 were eventually built. Comparatively, the La-15 proved a limited success, seeing just 235 produced as its power and performance proved rather underwhelming for the interceptor role. As such, the La-15 series was given up for good by 1953.

The external appearance of the La-15 was not unlike the form of the competing MiG-15. The nose was cut-off to provide the intake for the air-fed turbojet engine at fuselage center. The cockpit was situated over the duct work with a large clear canopy fitted overhead. This provided the pilot with exceptional views all about his aircraft and the canopy was further raised above the rear fuselage spine, adding additional viewing angled over the more vulnerable rear angle. The mainplanes were high-mounted on the fuselage sides and noted for their extensive sweepback. They each featured a pair of strakes to improve flight characteristics, this proving a physical quality added to many of the early Soviet jets including the MiG-15. A large vertical tail unit mounted the horizontal tailplanes high in a near "Tee" arrangement. The undercarriage was of a modern tricycle arrangement and wholly retractable to retain the aircraft's aerodynamic efficiency at speed.

The engine of choice became a Klimov RD-500 centrifugal compressor turbojet powerplant providing 3,500lbs of thrust. Maximum speed reached 626 miles per hour with a range out to 710 miles. The aircraft's service ceiling reached 44,300 feet and rate-of-climb was 6,240 feet per minute.

Armament centered around 3 x 23mm Nudelman-Suranov NS-23 cannons fitted under the nose. 100 rounds of ammunition was loaded per gun. There was no fighter-bomber capability in the La-15 series.

In practice, pilots liked their La-15s but the aircraft did not meet the performance required and production per unit proved complex. It was lighter than the competing MiG-15 but the MiG-15 bettered the Lavochkin aircraft on most all of the performance fronts. Additionally, it graduated to serve in a limited fighter-bomber role over the course of its career, leaving the La-15 to the pages of history. Variants of the La-15 proved few during its service life and production run. "Aircraft 174" was the first prototype and fitted with the Rolls-Royce Derwent turbojet engine. This example crashed during testing. "Aircraft 174D" served as the second prototype and benefitted from the failures of the first. It was accordingly revised into an improved form. "Aircraft 180" became the prototype basis for the two-seat trainer, eventually adopted as the "La-15UTI".

The La-15 fighter line was not exported outside of the Soviet Union.

Lavochkin La-15 (Fantail) Specifications

Service Year: 1949
Type: Jet-Powered Tactical Fighter / Interceptor
National Origin: Soviet Union
Manufacturer(s): Lavochkin - Soviet Union
Total Production: 235

Structural (Crew, Dimensions, Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 1
Overall Length: 29.53 feet (9 meters)
Overall Width: 27.49 feet (8.38 meters)
Overall Height: 12.80 feet (3.90 meters)

Weight (Empty): 12,522 lb (5,680 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 18,739 lb (8,500 kg)

Power / Performance (Engine Type, Top Speed)

Engine: 1 x Klimov RD-500 turbojet engine developing 3,500lbs of thrust.

Maximum Speed: 544 knots (626 mph; 1,007 kph)
Maximum Range: 618 nautical miles (711 miles; 1,145 km)
Service Ceiling: 44,291 feet (13,500 meters; 8.39 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 6,240 feet-per-minute (1,902 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload

3 x 23mm Nudelman-Suranov NS-23 cannons under the nose.

Global Operators (Customers, Users)

Soviet Union

Model Variants

La-15 ("Fantail") - Base Series Designation
Izdeliye 52 - Product Code
Type 21 - USAF Reporting Name
Aircraft 174 - Initial prototype with Rolls-Royce Derwent turbojet engine installed; lost in crash.
Aircraft 174D - Second prototype; improvements based on Aircraft 174 model.
Aircraft 180 - Proposed two-seat trainer; not adopted.

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