Yakovlev Yak-28 (Brewer / Firebar) Twin-Seat Multirole Aircraft
The Yakovlev Yak-28 proved a useful multirole performer for the Soviet Union during the Cold War years, seeing service as a bomber, interceptor and specialist platform.
Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
Post-World War 2 swept-wing research - coupled with advanced in turbojet technology - allowed the Soviet Union to field many capable aircraft types during the Cold War decades. One, often overlooked, multi-role performer became the Yakovlev Yak-28 which began operational service as a high-speed, medium tactical bomber. The line eventually evolved to cover a wide variety of Soviet military aviation requirements including trainer, interceptor, fast reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare Aircraft (EWA) / Electronic CounterMeasures (ECM) platforms. Due to the multiple guises presented, NATO provided three distinct codenames for each of the major variants - "Brewer" (A, B, and C marks for the tactical bomber forms), "Maestro" (for the two-seat trainer) and "Firebar" (interceptor form). The reconnaissance variants fell under the Brewer-D marker and EWA/ECM versions retained the original Brewer name as Brewer-E.
The Yakovlev concern began formal operations in 1934, just prior to World War 2, and produced several well-known military aircraft in its time including the wartime Yak-1, Yak-3, Yak-3 and Yak-9 piston-engined fighters. It also developed the Yak-38 "Forger" Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing (V/STOL) fighter for the Soviet Navy.
First flight of a Yak-28 prototype - known under the model designation of "Yak-129") - occurred on Match 5th, 1958 and, upon passing the requisite trials, the aircraft was adopted into the inventory of the Soviet Air Force beginning in 1960. Eventual use spanned into general Soviet air defense branches and service in the post-Cold War/post-Soviet Empire service with a new emerging Russia, independent Ukraine and independent Turkmenistan. Production yielded 1,180 examples and initial delivered examples were the tactical bomber types, though in limited numbers and lacking any radar facilities.
As was the case throughout the Cold War years, the Yak-28 was not known to Western observers until its public display at the 1961 Tushino Air Show. The West incorrectly identified the aircraft as a further evolution of the Yak-25 "Flashlight" interceptor/reconnaissance line and granted the same codename. Despite some physical similarities, the aircraft was later revealed to be an all-new design and granted the "Brewer" codename.
The Yak-28's design continued the highly traditional, no-frills approach consistent with other Soviet turbojet-powered aircraft of the period. It was conventional in its layout, utilizing external engine nacelles slung under the swept-wing appendages. This assisted with general maintenance and replacement but added drag when compared to airframes who buried their powerplants within the fuselage. The wings were high-mounted monoplanes with good clearance for underwing stores across two hardpoints outboard of the engine nacelles. The fuselage was tubular in its general shape with a pointed nosecone assembly, framed canopy set ahead of midships and a swept tail unit with high-mounted horizontal planes. The planes were also swept in their appearance to promote maximum aerodynamic efficiency at the expected higher operating speeds. If there was one facet of the Yak-28 that was unconventional it was in its undercarriage which utilized a twin-wheeled nose leg and a twin-wheeled rear fuselage leg. Support for each wing during ground running was facilitated by single-wheeled stems near the wingtips. Overall, the undercarriage gave the aircraft a pronounced "nose-up" appearance with the fuselage sitting quit close to the ground.
Yak-28 Bomber Variants
The Yak-28 was born as a medium-class tactical bomber and initially delivered in the basic, limited production Yak-28-designated form. This was followed by the Yak-28B ("Brewer-A") bomber variant which added weapon-assisted radar functionality and support for Jet-Assisted Take-Off (JATO) pods, the latter for quick-reaction take-offs. Another tactical bomber form was the Yak-28L ("Brewer-B") which installed a ground-based targeting system, production of this model peaking at 111 examples. The Yak-28I ("Brewer-C") integrated an onboard ground mapping radar with targeting system for improved tactical value. Production of this mark totaled 223 units.
The Yak-28P Interceptor
The Yak-28P became the dedicated long-range, missile-armed interceptor which could be called upon, in relatively short order, to take on marauding Western bombers or spy planes. The type was born in 1960 and entered service as soon as 1964. These versions lacked the internal bomb bay of their tactical bomber brethren which allowed for more onboard fuel stores to be exercised. An interception radar was standard and fitted in the nose cone assembly while integrated with the aircraft's missile-only payload. Production resulted in 435 aircraft.
Yak-28P Interceptor Performance
The Yak-28P was powered by 2 x Tumansky R-11 series afterburning turbojet engines delivering 10,140lbs on dry thrust and 13,670lbs with afterburning engaged. Maximum speed was 1,140 miles per hour with a range out to 1,550 miles and a service ceiling of 55,000 feet. Armament was generally 2 x R-98M (AA-3 "Anab") medium-ranged, air-to-air missiles and 2 x K-13A (AA-2 "Atoll") short-ranged air-to-air missiles. The aircraft carried a mix of R-98M missiles, typically an infrared homing and a semi-active radar homing version. No internal cannon was fitted.
Yak-28U "Maestro" Two-Seat Trainer
The Yak-28U ("Maestro") was the standard Yak-28 trainer which incorporated a second cockpit for a student pilot in the nose cone assembly. This retained a commanding, elevated view for the instructor seated in the original (now rear) cockpit. The initial prototype went airborne in 1962 and production reached 183 units.
The Yak-28R "Brewer-D" Tactical Reconnaissance Mounts
Tactical reconnaissance sorties were managed by the Yak-28R ("Brewer-D") variant which featured a special, heavily glazed nose cone and additional reconnaissance equipment for the role. This model was based on the preceding Yak-28I tactical bomber airframe. A prototype appeared in 1963 and production eventually reached 183 examples. The Yak-28SR was another reconnaissance form of limited production outfitted with either the SPS-141 or SPS0143 series active radio/radar jamming suite. The Yak-28TARK was yet another reconnaissance platform which allowed for real-time image gathering and integration for a ground control receiver for subsequent interpretation. The Yak-28RR utilized specialized equipment pods to sample environments for fallout data as related to Soviet nuclear weapons testing and Yak-28RL aircraft were of similar scope and function.
The Yak-28PP in EWA Form
The Yak-28PP was an airframe conversion for the Electronic CounterMeasure (ECM) role, equipped with an Electronic Warfare (EW) suite in the internal bomb bay and special streamlined pods fitted outboard of the engine nacelles. These airframes were typically unarmed for the role, intended to solely jam enemy signals. In the EWA role, the Yak-28 was formally replaced by similarly-equipped Sukhoi Su-24 "Fencer" aircraft. The Su-24 also took over the high-speed reconnaissance role from retiring Yak-28s.
Yak-28 Experimental Projects
The Yak-28UVP became a testbed intended to experiment with Short Take-Off and landing (STOL) operations. The Yak-28SR was a one-off airframe testing chemical spraying - none entered formal service. The Yak-28VV was a prototype outfitted for Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) that was never ordered for service. The Yak-28LSh was another abandoned project intended to field a light attack platform engineered to a new Soviet Air Force requirement - it was not selected. The Yak-28PM was intended as a modernized interceptor form bringing about use of the R11AF3-300 series turbojet engine. Testing began in 1963 but was slowed by engine issues and, when engine development ended, so too did the Yak-28PM project. The Yak-28URP tested rocket-boost equipment for fast interception of high-altitude enemy aircraft. The Yak-28-64 was a one-off modified Yak-28P outfitted with Tumansky R-11F2-300 series turbojet engines, now buried in the rear fuselage in a side-by-side configuration (similar to the Mikoyan MiG-19). The engines were aspirated by side-mounted intakes along the outer cockpit walls. The type was being developed as a contender against the Sukhoi Su-15 project which eventually netted Sukhoi the contract as the Yakovlev product was shown to be outmatched by the competition.
Final Yak-28 Usage
The final Yak-28s were retired from the Russian Air Force in the early 1990s (final Russian examples known until 1992). The Russian Air Force naturally inherited its stock of Yak-28s from the collapsed aviation arm of the Soviet Union (1991). Similarly, the Ukraine took over possession of some 35 Yak-28s after the end of the Soviet Empire. Turkmenistan became the only notable operator of the aircraft line.