The Yakovlev Yak-3 was a Soviet fighter aircraft utilized during World War II, featuring a single-engine and single-seat configuration.
It was highly regarded by pilots and ground crew alike due to its durability and ease of maintenance.
Despite being one of the smallest and lightest combat fighters employed by any nation during the war, its exceptional power-to-weight ratio resulted in superior performance, making it a formidable opponent in dogfights.
The first of two prototypes of the Yak-3 aircraft featured a slatted wing design to enhance handling and short-field performance.
The second prototype, however, had a wooden wing without slats to simplify production and conserve aluminum.
Unfortunately, the second prototype crashed during flight tests and was deemed a write-off.
Despite plans to put the Yak-3 into production, the scarcity of aviation aluminum and the pressure of the Nazi invasion led to the abandonment of work on the first Yak-3 in late 1941.
Between 1942 and 1943, Yakovlev developed the Yak-1M prototype, which ultimately led to the Yak-3.
The Yak-1M was coupled with the VK-105PF2, the latest iteration of the VK-105 engine family, which supported a motornaya pushka autocannon that fired between the engine banks through the hollow propeller shaft.
The Yak-1M incorporated a wing of similar design but with a smaller surface area and further aerodynamic refinements, such as the new placement of the oil radiator from the chin to the wing roots.
A second Yak-1M prototype was constructed later that year, differing from the first aircraft in that it had plywood instead of fabric covering of the rear fuselage, mastless radio antenna, reflector gunsight, and improved armor and engine cooling.
After the VK-105PF2 engine received a boost from a manifold pressure of 1050 mmHg to 1100 mmHg, additional tests were needed to determine how it impacted the flight characteristics of the Yak-3.
State trials revealed that this boost reduced the time needed to reach 5,000 m, the take-off run, altitude gain in a combat loop, and speed below 2,400 m.
The chief test pilot for the project, Petr Mikhailovich Stefanovskiy, was impressed with the new aircraft and recommended that it should replace the Yak-1 and Yak-7, with only the Yak-9 retained in production for further work with the Klimov VK-107 engine.
The Yak-3 entered service in 1944, later than the Yak-9 despite the lower designation number, and by mid-1946, 4,848 had been built.
It is worth noting that the designation Yak-3 was also used for other Yakovlev projects, including a proposed but never built heavy twin-engine fighter and the Yakovlev Yak-7A.
The first 197 Yak-3 aircraft were lightly armed with a single motornaya pushka-mount 20 mm ShVAK cannon and one 12.7 mm UBS synchronized machine gun, with subsequent aircraft receiving a second UBS for a weight of fire of 2.72 kg per second using high-explosive ammunition.
All armament was installed close to the axis of the aircraft, with a cannon mounted in the engine “vee” firing through the propeller boss and synchronised machine guns in the fuselage, helping accuracy and leaving wings unloaded.
The Yak-3, powered by the same engine as the Yak-9 but lighter and smaller in size, was a highly favored aircraft among both novice and experienced pilots due to its forgiving and easy-to-handle nature.
It was a robust and low-maintenance aircraft that proved to be a successful dog-fighter, primarily used as a tactical fighter flying at low altitudes and engaging in dogfights below 4,000 m (13,000 ft).
In the summer of 1944, the Yak-3 began to reach frontline units, and service tests were conducted by the 91st IAP of the 2nd Air Army, led by Lt Colonel Kovalyov, in June and July of that year.
The regiment was tasked with gaining air superiority, and during 431 sorties, they successfully shot down 20 Luftwaffe fighters and three Junkers Ju 87s, with only two Yak-3s lost.
On June 16, 1944, a large dogfight ensued when 18 Yak-3s clashed with 24 German aircraft, resulting in 15 German aircraft being shot down by Soviet Yak-3 fighters, with only one Yak destroyed and one damaged.
The following day, Luftwaffe activity over that section of the front had virtually ceased.
On July 17, 1944, eight Yaks attacked a formation of 60 German aircraft, including escorting fighters.
In the ensuing dogfight, the Luftwaffe lost three Ju 87s and four Bf 109Gs, with no losses on the Soviet side.
The Luftwaffe subsequently issued an order to “avoid combat below five thousand metres with Yakovlev fighters lacking an oil cooler intake beneath the nose!” and attempted to use surprise tactics by attacking from above when in combat with the Yak-3.
However, the Yak-3 was not without its wartime problems, including plywood surfaces delaminating when the aircraft pulled out of a high-speed dive, short-range, and poor engine reliability.
The pneumatic system for actuating landing gear, flaps, and brakes, typical for all Yakovlev fighters of the time, was also troublesome, although it was preferred due to its weight-saving benefits.
In 1944, the Normandie-Niemen Group re-equipped with the Yak-3, scoring the last 99 of their 273 air victories against the Luftwaffe.
Total Yak-3 losses in combat were 210, with 60 occurring in 1944 and 150 in 1945.
Main Production Version
Klimov VK-107A engine with 1,230 kW (1,649 hp) and 2 × 20 mm (0.79 in) Berezin B-20 cannons with 120 rpg.
After several mixed-construction prototypes, 48 all-metal production aircraft were built in 1945–1946 during and after WW2.
Despite excellent performance (720 km/h (450 mph) at 5,750 m (18,860 ft)), it saw only limited squadron service with the 897th IAP.
Though the problems with the VK-107 overheating were eventually mitigated, it was decided to leave the engine for the better-suited Yak-9.
Yak-3 (VK-107A) modified with VK-108 engine with 1,380 kW (1,851 hp), and armed a single 23 mm (0.91 in) Nudelman-Suranov NS-23 cannon with 60 rounds of ammunition.
The aircraft reached 745 km/h (463 mph) at 6,290 m (20,636 ft) in testing but suffered from significant engine overheating.
Another Yak-3 with 2 × 20 mm (0.79 in) Berezin B-20 cannons was also fitted with the engine with similar results.
Armed with a 45 mm (1.8 in) Nudelman-Suranov NS-45 cannon, only a few built because Yak-9K was a better match for the weapon.
Production started after war armed with 3 × 20 mm (0.79 in) Berezin B-20 cannon with 120 rounds for the middle cannon and 130 rpg for the side weapons.
A total of 596 being built, none of them took part in combat.
The three-cannon armament with full ammunition load was actually 11 kg (24 lb) lighter than that of a standard Yak-3, and the one-second burst mass of 3.52 kg (7.8 lb) was greater than that of most contemporary fighters.
high-altitude interceptor with Klimov VK-105PD engine and a single 23 mm (0.91 in) Nudelman-Suranov NS-23 cannon with 60 rounds of ammunition, reached 13,300 m (43,635 ft) in testing but did not enter production due to unreliability of the engine.
experimental aircraft with an auxiliary Glushko RD-1 liquid-fuel rocket engine with 2.9 kN (650 lbf) of thrust in the modified tail, armed with a single 23 mm (0.91 in) Nudelman-Suranov NS-23 cannon with 60 rounds of ammunition.
On 11 May 1945, the aircraft reached 782 km/h (486 mph) at 7,800 m (25,600 ft).
During the 16 August test flight, the aircraft crashed for unknown reasons, killing the test pilot V.L. Rastorguev.
Like all mixed powerplant aircraft of the time, the project was abandoned in favour of turbojet engines.
tank destroyer version armed with 1 × 37 mm (1.5 in) Nudelman N-37 cannon with 25 rounds and 2 × 20 mm (0.79 in) Berezin B-20S cannons with 100 rpg.
Cockpit was moved 0.4 m (16 in) back to compensate for the heavier nose.
Engine modifications required to accept the weapons resulted in serious overheating problems which were never fixed, and the aircraft did not advance beyond the prototype stage.
single Yak-3T with a 57 mm (2.2 in) OKB-16-57 cannon.
powered by a VK-107A engine and fitted with an exhaust turbocharger.
Yak-3 fitted with Shvetsov ASh-82FN radial engine with 1,380 kW (1,851 hp) in an attempt to increase performance while avoiding the overheating problems of VK-107 and VK-108.
Wingspan increased by 20 cm (7.9 in), wings moved 22 cm (8.7 in) forward, cockpit raised by 8 cm (3.1 in).
Armament of 2 × 20 mm (0.79 in) Berezin B-20 cannons with 120 rpg.
The prototype reached 682 km/h (424 mph) at 6,000 m (20,000 ft) and while successful did not enter production because it was completed after the war.
two-seat conversion trainer based on Yak-3U powered by Shvetsov ASh-21 radial piston engine.
2 × 12.7 mm Berezin UBS machine guns with 170 rpg.
Sources Yakovlev Aircraft Since 1924 – Bill Gunston & Yefim Gordon. OKB Yakovlev, A History Of The Design Bureau And Its Aircraft-Yefim Gordon, Dmitriy Komissarov & Sergey Komissarov. Soviet Aircrafts Illustrated-A.S.Yakovlev. Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War, Vol 1, Single Engined Fighters-Yefim Gordon and Dmitri Khazanov. Soviet AF Fighter Colours 1941-45-Erik Pilaeskii. Red Stars 1939-1945, Soviet Air Force in World War Two-Carl Fredrik Geust, Kalevi Keskinen & Kari Stenman.