Aerobatic-minded, high-performance trainers have long been a stable of professional military air services and a favorite at civilian air shows. During the latter half of the Cold War (1947-1991), the Soviet Air Force adopted a new single-seat, single-engine aerobatic basic trainer in the Yakovlev "Yak-50". Production of the type spanned from 1975 to 1986 and ended with 314 units completed. The series went on to serve the air services of Lithuania and Ukraine as well as the reborn Russian Air Force following the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991.
The Yak-50 series was developed from the existing Yak-18 (NATO codename of "Max") which appeared in the immediate post-World War 2 world during 1946 (and is detailed elsewhere on this site). This two-seat, single-engine platform was widely exported to Soviet allies for its time in the air with local license production also had in neighboring nations such as China (where it became the "Nanchang CJ-5").
Externally, the aircraft carried a long, slim, aerodynamically-refined fuselage with the engine neatly cowled in the nose section and used to drive a two-bladed propeller unit at the extreme front. The cockpit was placed directly at midships and was given all of the basic instrumentation expected of a trainer in a neat arrangement with prominent dials, gauges and appropriate labeling. Vision was good considering the cockpit's placement at the middle of the design as light framing was used. The canopy was set on rails to roll backwards along the frame for entry/exit. The mainplanes were of a straight monoplane form with clipped tips and they were seated ahead of midships for proper balance of the aircraft. The tail unit incorporated a traditional single-finned arrangement with low-set horizontal planes. All control surfaces were skinned in fabric as a weight-saving measure. The undercarriage, made retractable, utilized a basic "tail-dragger" support structure.
Dimensionally, the aircraft exhibited a running length of 25.6 feet with a wingspan of 31.1 feet and a height of 10.5 feet. Empty weight reached 1,655lb against a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) nearing 2,005lb.
The typical engine fit became the Vedeneyev M-14P 9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine outputting 360 horsepower though this could be substituted with the M-14PF or M-14R series models which offered an increased horsepower output of 400hp and 450hp, respectively. The added power output increased performance in turn. Performance specs included a top speed of 250 miles per hour (with a never-exceed-speed of 280mph). Range was out to 310 miles and the aircraft's service ceiling reached 13,125 feet. Rate-of-climb was rated at 3,145 feet-per-minute under full take-off power.
In practice, the Yak-50 trainers gave a good account of themselves for their robust airframes could be pushed to extreme limits and handling characteristics was judged to be excellent for the lightweight aircraft. Its design success was such that the series twice claimed the World Aerobatic Champion title. Soviet military models were quite excessively pushed to their limits to the point that mainplane spar failures became an issue - resulting in several directives aimed at strengthening these members for the remainder of the aircraft's service lives in the Soviet Air Force.
While out-of-service militarily worldwide today (2018), the aircraft can still be found in the hands of private flyers mainly in the West. The Yak-50 was eventually superseded by other, more modern, basic trainer forms in time such as the Yakovlev Yak-55 series of the 1980s.
The Yak-52 was a single-engine two-seat offshoot of the Yak-50 line. This version appeared in 1976 but was not formally introduced until 1979, becoming the standard Soviet Air Force primary trainer for several decades (its use continues today, 2018).
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