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Polikarpov I-153 (Chaika)

Single-Seat, Single-Engine Biplane Fighter

Soviet Union | 1939

"Based in the earlier I-15 and I-15bis, the I-153 was intended as an evolutionary step towards perfection - it succeeded only partially."

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 05/11/2021 | 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 aero-concern was in operation since the 1920s and offered up various biplane and monoplane developments leading to its participation in World War 2 (1939-1945). While ultimately absorbed into the competing Lavochkin bureau, the company ultimately delivered its famous "I-16" barrel-shaped speedy monoplane fighter in 1933 and this type went on to see service in the aerial conflict against the Axis that followed. Its predecessor was the "I-15" (Chaika) biplaneof 1933 and an evolved form of this fighter, the "I-153", emerged in 1937 (its internal company designation was "I-15ter").

The I-153 was a further study into improving the strong inherent qualities of the I-15 platform - whose dual-wing nature aided in enhanced maneuverability making it a nimble fighter in close-in action. Soviet experience in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) against Italian biplane types showed the monoplane-centric I-16 design was not up to the task of a turning fight - as such, Soviet authorities still championed investment in biplane designs for the foreseeable future.

The I-15bis variant was used as a starting point and measures were taken to extract as much performance out of the platform as possible. This began with the removal of the oversized fixed, spatted undercarriage and this arrangement being replaced by a inward-retracting wheeled design (with tailwheel) which was manually actuated by the pilot from the cockpit. Unlike the main legs in the arrangement, the tailwheel was not retractable but its movement was linked to that of the rudder for ground-running actions. The upper wing assembly, featuring simple dihedral in the original) was reworked to better mimic the "gull" shaping of the original I-15 offering.

The revised airframe was mated to the twin-supercharged Shvetsov M-62 9-cylinder, air-cooled radial piston engine (first-run in 1937). Developed from the preceding M-25 model, some 40,630 of these would ultimately be built over its service life and lead to the ASh-82 development thereafter. The output rating of the M-62 was between 850 horsepower and 1,000 horsepower and this would be used to drive a variable-pitch, two-bladed propeller unit at the nose.

The aircraft's construction involved a mix of wood and metal that included aerodynamic metal skinning. beyond this, its general design and arrangement were very conventional for the period and consistent with 1930s fighter developments elsewhere.

The original armament of 4 x 7.62mm PV-1 series machine guns was replaced by an arrangement of 4 x 7.62mm ShKAS machine guns in an attempt to improve first-hit chances. The ShKAS was introduced in 1933 and offered an increased rate-of-fire from its gas-operated, rotary feed action. The units were belt-fed in the usual way and aimed through iron sights in the cockpit. Up to 2,600 rounds of 7.62x54mm ammunition could be carried in the I-153 design. In addition to this, the aircraft was drawn up with a rocket-firing capability, able to showcase 8 x 82mm RS-82 series aerial rockets for ground-attack sorties.

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Delays in receiving the intended Shvetsov engine meant that the prototype went into the air for the first time in August 1938 and this specimen carried the M-25V air-cooled radial of 750 horsepower. Despite setbacks in general design and performance, development on the fighter continued into 1939 and serial production was well-underway at the start of World War 2 which was began in September of that year and continued into 1941 by which point the limitations of the I-153's design were all but apparent to engineers, pilots, and warplanners alike. As such, quantitative production eventually ceased as better options became available but this only after 3,437 total units had left factories.

In action, the I-153 (with M-62 engine driving the two-bladed variable-pitch propeller unit) could manage a maximum speed of 275 miles-per-hour and cruise near 185 mph. Range was out to just under 300 miles while the rated service ceiling reached 35,100 feet. Rate-of-climb was a useful 3,000 feet-per-minute. Dimensions included a running length of 20.2 feet, a wingspan of 32.9 feet, and a height of 9.1 feet. Empty weight reached 3,200lb against a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 4,655lb.

Initial combat actions involving I-153 fighters were at the Battle of Khalkin Gol as Soviet forces tangled with the Empire of Japan on Mongolian soil. The I-153 held its own against even the most modern Japanese types thanks to strong inherent maneuverability - though key limitations became engine life and lack of armoring at critical components. Beyond this, the I-153 could prove itself deadly to its own pilots due to its quirky operating characteristics. Various attempts by Polikarpov engineers and further development of the base model resulted in little adopted enhancements to the line. The I-153P went on to add cannon armament while the I-153Sh/USh added a drop bomb capability; the I-153UD was proposed with an economical hybrid fabric-over-wood construction but was not taken into service; the I-153V-TKGK was a high-altitude model but only 26 were realized and so on.

Before its ultimate end, the I-153 was showcased by the air powers of China (Chinese Nationalist Air Force), Finland (21 examples obtained through capture of Soviet specimens or through allied Germany), and the German Luftwaffe itself - these captured from the Soviets in the fighting across the East Front.

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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 I-153 (M-62) Single-Seat, Single-Engine Biplane Fighter.
1 x Shvetsov M-62 9-cylinder, air-cooled radial piston engine developing 801 horsepower driving variable-pitch two-bladed propeller unit at the nose.
277 mph
445 kph | 240 kts
Max Speed
186 mph
300 kph | 162 kts
Cruise Speed
35,105 ft
10,700 m | 7 miles
Service Ceiling
292 miles
470 km | 254 nm
Operational Range
3,000 ft/min
914 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 I-153 (M-62) Single-Seat, Single-Engine Biplane Fighter.
20.2 ft
6.17 m
O/A Length
32.8 ft
(10.00 m)
O/A Width
9.2 ft
(2.80 m)
O/A Height
3,208 lb
(1,455 kg)
Empty Weight
4,652 lb
(2,110 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 I-153 (Chaika) Single-Seat, Single-Engine Biplane Fighter provided across 2 hardpoints.
STANDARD (Fixed, Forward-Firing):
4 x 7.62mm ShKAS machine guns (2,600 x 7.62mm ammunition afforded).

8 x 82mm RS-82 rockets.

External fuel tanks added to at least 50 I-153 examples for the Soviet Navy service.

2 x 20mm ShVAK automatic cannons.
2 to 4 x 5.5lb conventional drop bombs.

Hardpoints Key:

Not Used
Notable series variants as part of the Polikarpov I-153 (Chaika) family line.
I-153 ("Chaika") - Base Series Designation.
I-15ter - Internal company designation.
I-153P - Variant with 2 x 20mm cannon armament.
I-153Sh/USH - Ground-attack model with provision for drop bombs.
I-153V-TKGK - High-altitude, high-performance variant for air defense sorties; pressurized cockpit; 26 examples completed.
I-153V - Experimental model with pressurized cockpit; one-off.
I-153DM - Experimental model with gas ramjet engines for added performance; not adopted.
I-153UD - Fabric-over-wood rear fuselage; not adopted.
I-190 - Experimental model with M-88V air-cooled radial engine of 1,100 horsepower; 2 x 20mm cannon armament and 4 x 7.62mm machine guns; lost to crash.
I-190GK - Pressurized cockpit; turbocharged M-90 series engine.
I-195 - Experimental model based in the I-190; M-90 engine; reinforced; unpressurized cockpit; cancelled.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Polikarpov I-153 (Chaika). Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 3,437 Units

Contractor(s): Polikarpov OKB - Soviet Union
National flag of China National flag of Finland National flag of modern Germany National flag of Nazi Germany National flag of the Soviet Union National flag of Taiwan

[ China (Taiwan); Finland (captured, purchased from Germany); Nazi Germany (captured); Soviet Union ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 300mph
Lo: 150mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (277mph).

Graph Average of 225 MPH.
Era Crossover
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 I-153 (Chaika)
Image from the Public Domain; Soviet example captured by Finland.

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 I-153 (Chaika) Single-Seat, Single-Engine Biplane Fighter appears in the following collections:
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