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Polikarpov I-16

Single-Seat, Single-Engine Monoplane Fighter

The I-16, though outclassed by its contemporaries, played many an important role throughout World War Two.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Edited: 8/6/2019
National Flag Graphic


Year: 1935
Manufacturer(s): Polikarpov OKB - Soviet Union
Production: 7,005
Capabilities: Fighter;
Crew: 1
Length: 19.82 ft (6.04 m)
Width: 29.13 ft (8.88 m)
Height: 7.91 ft (2.41 m)
Weight (Empty): 3,252 lb (1,475 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 4,542 lb (2,060 kg)
Power: 1 x Shvetsov M-62 air-cooled radial engine developing 1,000 horsepower.
Speed: 304 mph (490 kph; 265 kts)
Ceiling: 31,070 feet (9,470 m; 5.88 miles)
Range: 373 miles (600 km; 324 nm)
Rate-of-Climb: 2,790 ft/min (850 m/min)
Operators: China; Spain; Soviet Union
The Polikarpov I-16 fighter proved to be quite the little aggressor before and throughout the Second World War. Initially seeing combat in the Spanish Civil War, the system would go on to see more during the Soviet invasion of Finland and the German invasion of the Soviet Union. In the end, though outclassed by better performing and more advanced aircraft, the system continued to provide support as late as 1943.

The I-16 looked very much the part of a racing airplane with an open-air cockpit, large radial piston engine housing and short stubby fuselage design. Couple that speed inherent in a small aircraft with a large engine with an array of 4 x 7.62mm machine guns, cannons or rockets and you have yourself a decent defender and / or aggressor airplane.

The I-16 saw extensive service for the Soviet Union throughout the war, be it in the war of aggression with Finland or the defense of the homeland versus the Third Reich. China used the type extensively in its campaign against Japanese aggression in the Far East and the system would bode very well for itself in the end, with production totaling just over 7,000 units.

By 1943, the system was deemed too impractical to continue to be fielded, considering the aircraft was being outclassed by any new fighter being developed around it, that the system was withdrawn from frontline Soviet service. Other variants existed including a torpedo dive bomber and dual-control trainer, along with improved models along the way.

In the end, the I-16 proved to be an exceptional fighter for a time - in the early years of the war at least - and featured great handling, nimbleness associated with small size and decent firepower at the point of attack.


4 x 7.62mm machine guns in fixed, forward-firing mountings.

6 x Air-to-surface rockets

Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun
Graphical image of aircraft aerial rockets

Variants / Models

• TsKB-12 - Prototype Model Designation fitted with M-22 radial piston engine generating 480hp.
• TsKB-12bis - Second Prototype Model Designation with improved performance and uprated Wright SR-1820-F3 Cyclone powerplant.
• I-16 Type 1 - Base Pre-Production Model Designation fitted with M-22; 10 produced.
• I-16 Type 4 - Fitted with imported-Cyclone powerplant.
• I-16 Type 5 - M-25 700hp license-built Cyclone powerplant; improved armor.
• I-16 Type 6 - Initial Major Production Variant fitted with M-25A 730hp powerplant.
• I-16 Type 10 - Fitted with M-25V 750hp powerplant; 4 x 7.62mm machine guns.
• I-16 Type 17 - Provision for six 82mm rockets; 2 x 20mm cannons in place of standard machine guns; reinforced structure throughout.
• I-16 Type 18 - M-62 radial piston engine generating 920hp; 4 x 7.62mm machine guns.
• I-16 Type 24 - M-62 OR M-63 radial piston engines delivering 1,000hp and 1,,100hp respectively; reinforced wing elements; 4 x 7.62mm machine guns.
• I-16 Type 28 - Fitted with M-63 radial piston engine.
• I-16 Type 30 - Fitted with M-63 radial piston engine.
• I-16 SPB - Dive Bomber Variant
• I-16UTI - Dual-Control Trainer Model
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