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Polikarpov R-5

Reconnaissance / Light Bomber Biplane

Soviet Union | 1930

"Thousands of the Polikarpov R-5 biplanes were produced during the interwar period - leading to their use in World War 2 and beyond."

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 10/22/2020 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
The Polikarpov R-5 was a Soviet-originated biplane reconnaissance / light bomber of the interwar period. Design work spanned three years leading up to a first-flight in 1928 (with the German BMW VI engine) and series introduction followed in 1930, between 6,000 and 7,000 examples ultimately being produced. The type served as the standard reconnaissance and light-attack platform for the Soviet Air Force from 1931 into World War 2 (1939-1945). The series was officially given up for good in 1944 though it continued to fly for other operators after that.

As flown, the R-5 was primarily constructed of wood and fabric as was common for the time. It showcased a relatively streamlined fuselage containing the engine at the nose and cockpit over midships. A biplane wing arrangement of single-bay, unequal-span configuration was used, these braced by N-type struts. The twin-wheeled undercarriage was fixed and of the "tail-dragger" sort while the single-finned tail unit was highly conventional. Easy to manufacture on a grand scale, the biplane was noted as even easier to fly.

The main 1930 production form carried a crew of two and had a running length of 34.7 feet, a wingspan of 50.9 feet, and a height of 10.7 feet. Empty weight was 4,340lb against an MTOW of 7,160lb. Power was from the Mikulin M-17B V-12 liquid-cooled inline piston engine developing 680 horsepower and driving a two-bladed propeller unit at the nose. Maximum speed reached 142 miles-per-hour and range was out to 500 miles. Its service ceiling was 21,000 feet and 3,280 feet could be reached in just over two minutes. Typical armament was 1 x 7.62mm PV-1 machine gun in a fixed, forward-firing mounting and 1 x 7.62mm DA (Degtyaryov) machine gun on a trainable mounting in the rear cockpit. Up to 550lb of bombs could be carried.

Some of the R-5's earliest combat exposure occurred during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) where the Republican Air Force was the recipient of some thirty-one examples from the Soviet Union. Operations began in 1936 but these gave a poor showing as daylight bombers and were thus relegated to the night time bombing role. Beyond this, the R-5 was used in the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) by way of the Sino-Soviet Treaty (a non-aggression pact) of 1937 - enhancing Chinese offensive and defensive power against the invading Japanese.

Serving with both the Soviets and Mongolia, the aircraft was, once again, used against the Japanese at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol in 1939 (resulting in a Soviet/Mongolian victory). From there, the type was continually pressed into service during the Soviet Invasion of Poland (September 1939) and throughout the 1939-1940 "Winter War" with neighboring Finland - again with mixed results. Their numbers were such that the series was still in active operations during the Soviet war against Germany from 1941 until 1945 - however, against more modern adversaries, the R-5 had seen its best days behind it.

During the pre-war, wartime, and post-war years, the R-5 also existed in the civilian marketplace and used primarily to ferry cargo loads or passengers or a mix of the two.

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Main production models were designated simply as "R-5" and these carried M-17B engines initially before switching to the M-17F from 1933 onward. Total production resulted in 4,914 units. The "R-5Sh" was the dedicated ground-attack light bomber form and carried 4 x 7.62mm PV-1 machine guns at the wing mainplanes. The "R-5a" was a twin-float waterborne variant and 111 were produced from 1934 until 1935. The "R-5D" was a long-range variant that existed as a single example. The R-5 "Jumo" was a prototype utilizing side-by-side seating for two in an enlarged rear cockpit space. The "R-5M-34" was a testbed for the M-34 series engine. The "R-5T" were fifty single-seat torpedo bomber forms first flown in 1934 and built in 1935. A two-seat model allowed for an observer to be carried. The "R5-SSS" was an improved variant with additional performance-enhancing streamlining as well as more machine guns - production exceeding 100 units from 1935 until 1936.

Some 1,031 were built to the "R-Z" standard for the dedicated reconnaissance / light bomber role. First-flying in January 1935, this variant carried as many as seven machine guns into battle. The variant resulted in the "R-ZSh", "P-Z", "PT", and "R-ZR" sub-variants in time.

The Grigorovich design bureau modified one R-5 into a light-class ground-attack form in 1930 as the "LSh". The "TSh-1" was a heavy-class ground attacker carrying 6mm of armor plating but only three prototypes were completed. The "TSh-2" followed with a new lower wing mainplane member design that resulted in ten aircraft being built to the standard. The "ShON" was another light-attack entry but completed for the COunter-INsurgency (COIN) role with folding wings, improving transport and storage of the aircraft. Thirty were ordered and the variant was used against Basmachi Rebels in Central Asia for their time in the air.

The "P-5" became a civilian-minded Aeroflot light transport powered by the M-17B engine and 1,000 were produced into 1940. The limited-production "P.5a" featured twin floats for water landings and take-offs. The "R-5L", appearing in 1931, was another limited production form and this model included seating for two in a passenger cabin section. The "P-5L" was another passenger transport form, this appearing in 1933.

A new semi-monocoque fuselage construction approach was instituted in the "PR-5" and these carried four passengers when operated by Aeroflot. Some 210 were converted from existing airframe stocks to the new, all-modern standard. The "PR-12" was based in the PR-5 but production only totaled a single unit, this arriving in 1938.

The "ARK-5" were two Arctic exploration units that included a heated cockpit. It carried cargo in aerodynamic containers integrated into the lower sides and lower wing mainplane members to maintain lift-versus-drag efficiency.

In all, the R-5 was utilized by a handful of global operators beyond the Soviet Union - though they were largely Soviet-aligned nations of the period. These included Iran, Mongolia, Spain, and Turkey.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Polikarpov R-5 (1930) Reconnaissance / Light Bomber Biplane.
1 x Mikulin M-17B V-12 liquid-cooled inline piston engine developing 680 horsepower driving two-bladed propeller at the nose.
143 mph
230 kph | 124 kts
Max Speed
20,997 ft
6,400 m | 4 miles
Service Ceiling
497 miles
800 km | 432 nm
Operational Range
1,500 ft/min
457 m/min
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Polikarpov R-5 (1930) Reconnaissance / Light Bomber Biplane.
34.6 ft
10.55 m
O/A Length
50.9 ft
(15.50 m)
O/A Width
10.7 ft
(3.25 m)
O/A Height
4,409 lb
(2,000 kg)
Empty Weight
7,165 lb
(3,250 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Polikarpov R-5 Reconnaissance / Light Bomber Biplane .
Military Variants:
1 x 7.62mm PV-1 machine gun in fixed, forward-firing mounting.
1 x 7.62mm DA machine gun in trainable mounting at rear cockpit.

Up to 550lb of conventional drop stores carried externally.
Notable series variants as part of the Polikarpov R-5 family line.
R-5 - Base Series Designation.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Polikarpov R-5. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 6,500 Units

Contractor(s): Polikarpov OKB - Soviet Union
National flag of Iran National flag of Mongolia National flag of the Soviet Union National flag of Spain National flag of Turkey

[ Iran; Mongolia; Spain; Turkey; Soviet Union ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 150mph
Lo: 75mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (143mph).

Graph Average of 113 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
1 / 1
Image of the Polikarpov R-5
Image from the Public Domain.

Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Polikarpov R-5 Reconnaissance / Light Bomber Biplane appears in the following collections:
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