The Yakovlev Yak-38 was the sole VTOL strike fighter aircraft in operation for Soviet Naval Aviation, and also served as its initial carrier-based fixed-wing aircraft.
Its development was tailored specifically for the Kiev-class aircraft carriers, which were classified as heavy aviation cruisers in Russia.
The Yak-38 was primarily utilized on these carriers and played a crucial role in their operations.
The initial designs of the supersonic aircraft, developed by the A.S. Yakovlev Design Bureau, bore a striking resemblance to the Hawker P.1154 being studied in the United Kingdom. However, the aircraft featured two R27-300 engines instead.
Due to the numerous challenges associated with achieving supersonic performance, it was decided to focus on developing a relatively simpler aircraft with a maximum speed limited to Mach 0.95.
Despite being derived from the land-based Yakovlev Yak-36, the Yak-38 and Yak-38M had very little in common with their predecessors.
On 14 April 1970, the prototype VM-01 was completed.
Although it shared some external similarities with the British Hawker Siddeley Harrier, it adopted a completely different configuration.
In addition to a rear vectorable thrust engine used during flight, the front portion of the fuselage housed two smaller and less powerful engines solely utilized for take-off and landing purposes.
One notable feature of the Yak-38 was its automatic ejection seat.
In the event of an engine failure during take-off or if the aircraft rolled past 60 degrees, the pilot would be automatically ejected from the aircraft.
This safety measure ensured the well-being of the pilot in critical situations.
The majority of initial deliveries of the Yak-36M were made to the 279 OKShAP, which is the Independent Shipboard Attack Air Regiment of the AV-MF.
This regiment was initially stationed at Saki, which is the training centre for the AV-MF located in Crimea.
In July 1979, the Minsk arrived in the Sea of Japan and was stationed at Strelok Bay as its home port.
The 311 OKShAP, which is subordinate to the Pacific Fleet, then provided the Yak-38 component of its air wing.
In September 1982, the Novorossiysk, the third carrier of the Kiev-class, was commissioned.
By this time, the V/STOL technique had been extensively practiced, resulting in an overall improvement in the Yak-38’s performance and capability.
This was demonstrated during the journey of Novorossiysk from Severomorsk to join the Pacific Fleet, where a pair of armed Yak-38s from the Minsk intercepted American aircraft from the U.S. carrier Enterprise over the Arabian Sea on December 16, 1982.
This event marked the first instance of Soviet VTOL aircraft intercepting American aircraft while armed with missiles.
In a maritime context, the Yak-38 was not limited to operating solely on the decks of the Kiev.
In September 1983, AV-MF pilots conducted operations from the civilian Ro-Ro vessel Agostinho Neto, while NII-VVS pilots carried out further tests from another Ro-Ro vessel, Nikolai Cherkasov.
In both cases, a heat-resistant landing platform was utilized.
Additionally, land-based trials were conducted to assess the feasibility of dispersed landing platforms, similar to the concept employed by the British Royal Air Force for Harrier operations in West Germany. Variants Yak-36M Forger The initial pre-production version, differing slightly from the Yak-38. It weighed 6,650 kg (14,660 lb) compared to the Yak-38’s 7,370 kg (16,250 lb) and the engines were slightly less powerful. Yak-38 Forger-A The Yak-38 was the first production model, it first flew on 15 January 1971, and entered service with the Soviet Naval Aviation on 11 August 1976. A total of 143 Yak-38s were produced. Yak-38M Forger-A The Yak-38M was an upgraded version of the Yak-38, the main difference being the new Tumansky R-28V-300 and Rybinsk RD-38 engines. The maximum takeoff weight in VTOL was increased from 10,300 kg (22,700 lb) to 11,300 kg (24,900 lb) and was 12,000 kg (26,000 lb) in short take-off mode. The air intakes were slightly widened, and the underwing pylons reinforced to carry a 2,000 lb (910 kg) weapons load. The Yak-38M entered service with the Soviet Naval Aviation after June 1985; 50 Yak-38M were produced. Yak-38U Forger-B Two-seat training version of the Soviet Naval Aviation. This version differed from the basic aircraft in having an enlarged fuselage to accommodate a two-seat cockpit. The Yak-38U entered service on 15 November 1978. Thirty-eight Yak-38U were produced, the final aircraft was delivered in 1981. Specifications Yakovlev Yak-38M Crew 1 Length 16.37 m (53 ft 8 in) Wingspan 7.32 m (24 ft 0 in) Height 4.25 m (13 ft 11 in) Wing area 18.5 m2 (199 sq ft) Empty weight 7,385 kg (16,281 lb) Max take-off weight 11,300 kg (24,912 lb) Powerplant 1 × Tumansky R-28 V-300 Vectored-thrust turbofan engine, 66.7 kN (15,000 lbf) thrust for lift and cruise thrust Powerplant 2 × Rybinsk (RKBM) RD-38 turbojet engines, 31.9 kN (7,200 lbf) thrust each lift-jets Performance Maximum speed 1,280 km/h (800 mph, 690 kn) Range 1,300 km (810 mi, 700 nmi) Service ceiling 11,000 m (36,000 ft) Rate of climb 75 m/s (14,800 ft/min) Armament Guns GSh-23L 23mm gun pod (GP-9)
Carried in one or two pairs of UPK-23-250 pods fixed under the external pylons of wings. Hardpoints 4 with a capacity of 2,000 kg (4,400 lb), with provisions to carry combinations of: Rockets Various types of rockets (up to 240 mm) Missiles 2 anti-ship or air-to-surface Kh-23 (AS-7 Kerry) R-60
R-60M (AA-8 Aphid) air-to-air missiles could be carried under the external pylons. Bombs Two FAB-500 or four FAB-250 general-purpose bombs under pylons, two incendiary ZB-500, or two nuclear RN-28 bombs. Other External tanks. 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. The History of Soviet Aircraft from 1918-Vaclav Nemecek. Soviet AF Fighter Colours 1941-45-Erik Pilaeskii. Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War, Vol 1, Single Engined Fighters-Yefim Gordon and Dmitri Khazanov. Early Soviet Jet Fighters, The1940s and early 50s-Yefim Gordon.