During the period that immediately preceded World War 2 (1939-1945), the Soviet concern of Polikarpov managed to sell the Soviet Air Force on its new biplane fighter design - the "I-5". The aircraft had its first-flight on April 29th, 1930 and was introduced into the VVS (Soviet Air Forces) during 1931. The series managed an operational existence until 1942 by which time some 803 examples had been built. The Soviet Navy was the only other key operator of the type.
As finalized, the I-5 featured a biplane wing arrangement in which the upper wing element was considerably wider in span than the lower. The engine was fitted to the nose section in the usual way and the tail incorporated a single fin with low-set horizontal planes. The undercarriage, wheeled at the main legs, was fixed during flight and set under the forward mass of the aircraft. The pilot's position was aft and under the upper wing element with a head rest structure leading from the fuselage's spine. Dimensions included a length of 22.2 feet and a wingspan of 33.6 feet. Empty weight was 2,060lb against an MTOW of 3,000lb.
Power was served through a Shvetsov M-22 series 9-cylinder, single row, air-cooled radial piston engine developing 480 horsepower. This was used to drive a 2-bladed propeller unit at the nose which measured nearly nine feet in diameter. Performance from this arrangement included a maximum speed of 173 miles per hour, a range out to 410 miles, and a service ceiling up to 24,600 feet. The aircraft could reach 3,300 feet of altitude in 1.5 minutes.
Armament was 2 x 7.62mm PV-1 machine guns synchronized to fire through the spinning propeller blades. There was a limited option for bomb-carrying, totaling just 2 x 22lb conventional drop bombs.
The I-5 was in the hands of VVS pilots before the end of 1931 when some sixty-six had been delivered. More deliveries followed into 1934 and the stock was able to succeed several aging fighter lines including Polikarpov's own I-3 series. However, the I-5 itself was already under target for formal replacement by the much-improved Polikarpov I-15 fighter by the middle of the 1930s.
Nevertheless, the I-5 soldiered on into the early years of World War 2 and was still on hand heading into 1941 during Operation Barbarossa (the German invasion of the Soviet Union). The I-5, as a dedicated fighter, saw its best days behind it but such was the shortage of fighter mounts that the VVS was forced to include the I-5 in its plans. Even some relegated to training duty were upgraded to fighter status and many went on to be used as light bombers in the early-going. Once Soviet air power caught up with the demands of the war, the I-5 was finally allowed to retire in ealry-1942 as more modern types were accepted into service.
The I-5UTI was the two-seat trainer variant of the I-15 fighter and converted from the base single-seat design. Fewer than two dozen of these aircraft are thought to have been completed. The major design difference was the two-cockpit tandem arrangement.
Like the United States in the post-war period, the I-5 series was also subject to testing in the "parasite fighter" role. This concept involved a "mothership" - in this case the Tupolev TB-3 bomber - and as many as three I-5 fighters attached to the main aircraft. The entire system went airborne as one and the fighters were released over contested airspaces. Like the American programs, this parasite fighter project went nowhere.
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