Red Star Volume#3:Polikarpov's I-16 Fighter

It's Forerunners and Progeny by Yefim Gordon and Keith Dexter

reviewed by Paul Mahoney


This book will certainly rank as one of, if not THE, most comprehensive research book available for the I-16 (at least one that is commonly available in the West, in English).

The I-16 was briefly an aircraft ahead of its time -- the first monoplane fighter in the world to enter service with a retractable landing gear and enclosed cockpit. Unfortunately, it was very quickly outpaced by the Hawker Hurricane and Messerschmitt 109. The aircraft went from cutting edge to obsolete in just a few years. In 1934 the I-16 might have been considered the world's highest-technology fighter. By 1935 it had been surpassed by the previously mentioned aircraft, and yet it was kept into production by a somewhat desperate Soviet Union until 1941.

The authors have gone to great lengths to describe the developmental and operational history of the I-16, as well as it's immediate predecessors and offshoots. This book is packed with loads of pictures and color profiles to boot. Literally every one of the 127 pages has at least one good-sized photo, line drawing, or profile.

The book begins with a decent discussion of the background of the I-16's designer, Nikolai Nikolayevich Polikarpov, and explains his rise within the Soviet aircraft design bureau system. The Soviet politics of the era were such that at one point Polikarpov was sentenced to 10 years in prison, falsely accused of industrial sabotage. He was still 'permitted' to design aircraft, and the Stalin was sufficiently impressed with his I-5 design to release him from imprisonment. As an aside, according to the text, while he was indeed released from prison, the actual guilty verdict was not reversed until 1956, well after Polikarpov's 1944 death. The text here can be a bit hard to read, as at times the authors go into great, minute detail, while at other times they quickly just brush on a subject. Nothing horrible, but having some parts of the story highly detailed, while others are not, can be a bit frustrating to read.

This book couples Polikarpov's career history with his early fighter designs, starting with the IL-400 (powered by a Liberty 400 hp engine). Photos of these early aircraft are included.

The authors discuss the early designs of the I-16 (originally the TsKB-12 - 12th type originating from the Central Design Bureau). Several clear photos of the TsKB-12 are provided, both with wheeled- and ski-equipped landing gear.

What follows is in-depth coverage, through text and photos, of each of the I-16's variants ('tips'). Detailed photos illustrate armament variations, ordnance and drop tank types, as well as the various modifications and improvements made to the basic design. Good photos of the ski-equipped landing gear on various models are shown. One curious omission is a lack of cockpit photos (maybe no contemporary ones exist?)

Virtually every 'tip' is discussed, and it is relatively easy to follow the progression of the aircraft's ongoing development.

One interesting short chapter is titled 'Ishachok Anatomy,' Ishachok (little donkey) being one of the nicknames attached to the I-16. This chapter covers the coloring (inside AND out), as well as the physical composition of the little fighter. This section, combined with the many detailed photos, should be invaluable to the modeler.

After this, the book progresses to the operational combat history of the I-16. Combat actions in the Spanish Civil War, the Manchukuo war with Japan, the Winter War with Finland, and ultimately the Great Patriotic War, are discussed. In addition to a strategic overview of the various campaigns, several interesting anecdotes are also mentioned. Again some superb photos accompany the text. The I-16 clearly surprised the German/Italian 'observers' during the war in Spain, and apparently caused the Messerschmitt 109 to be rushed into that conflict much earlier than had been planned. Many other operational facts were brought to light, making this part of the book a very good read. At the end of this chapter, there is a brief discussion of surviving I-16 airframes (there are 3 of them), and of the Alpine Fighter Collection's (in New Zealand) flying restorations/replicas.

Finally, the developmental offshoots of the I-16 are covered, the I-180, I-185, and projected I-187. Again, some interesting and rare (at least to me) photos of these developmental aircraft are provided.

The last section of the book has line drawings of each of the I-16 'tips', followed by 17 pages of color profiles.

Bottom line: WELL worth the price. THE I-16 resource to have in one book. Pro's: Lots of clear, large photos. Discussion of every 'tip', description of various armament, construction materials, and paint schemes. Nice color plates. Con's: nothing major here, other than some inconsistency in amounts of detail in the text (at times highly in-depth, other times not so) and a lack of cockpit photos (although there are cockpit photos of the I-180 and I-185). HIGHLY RECOMMEND!!

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I'm sorry, but since the review has been published that product appears to have gone out of production.