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Polikarpov I-153 Chaika (Seagull)

Polikarpov I-153 Chaika (Seagull)

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Polikarpov I-153 Chaika (Seagull)

The Polikarpov I-153 was the last of Nikolai Polikarpov's biplane fighter aircraft to enter service, and despite being the most advanced entry in the series was already obsolete when it first entered service in 1939.

The I-153 was developed as a result of a misreading of the results of the aerial combat during the Spanish Civil War. In July 1937 a meeting chaired by Stalin concluded that the Fiat CR.32 biplane was superior to the Polikarpov I-16 monoplane. The nimble Fiat fighter had achieved impressive results against the Soviet fighter, but partly because the I-16 pilots had attempted to dogfight rather than use their superior speed to break off combat. The successful introduction of the Bf 109 was ignored, and instead of focusing on producing a superior monoplane the Soviet authorities decided to work on an improved biplane.

The new aircraft needed to maintain the manoeuvrability of the I-15 and I-152 while also increasing in speed. This presented Polikarpov with a problem, for he had already argued that any increase in speed came at the cost of an increase in weight (from the heavier more powerful engine and stronger fuselage needed to support it). The heavier aircraft would then be less manoeuvrable.

Work on the I-153 (or I-15ter) was officially approved on 11 October 1937. Polikarpov's main aim was to reduce drag and weight in an attempt to compensate for the weight of a heavier engine. He did this in two main ways - first by introducing a retractable undercarriage, and second by returning to the 'gull wing' configuration of the I-15, in which the upper wing was linked to the fuselage by diagonal sections, eliminating its central section. This had worked on the I-15, but had been unpopular with some pilots and higher authorities, and had been removed from the I-152. As a result that aircraft had been less manoeuvrable than its precursor. The 'gull wing' on the I-152 was an improved version of that on the I-15, with a bigger gap between the wing roots, which improved the pilot's forward view when landing and taking off.

The fuselage and wings of the I-153 were similar to those of the I-15 and I-152, with a steel tube framework, covered by metal at the front of the fuselage and fabric elsewhere. The manually operated retractable undercarriage rotated through 90 degrees before folding backwards into the fuselage.

The first prototype was powered by a 750hp M-25V engine. Its maiden flight is variously reported as having taken place in May or August 1938, with A.I. Zhukov at the controls. Tests that began on 27 September are variously described as state acceptance or factory trials. These tests weren't entirely satisfactory and production was delayed while some of the problems were solved.

In June-August 1939 state acceptance trials were conducted using an I-153 powered by the new Shvetsov M-62 engine, a version of the M-25V with a two-stage supercharger. These trials were not officially concluded until January 1941, long after the type had been superseded. Next in line was a version powered by the 900hp M-63, and this version passed its trials on 30 September 1939.

Only a handful of aircraft were produced with the M-25 engine. The 800hp M-62 was used in the largest number of aircraft, around 3,018 in total. The 1,100hp (at take-off) M-63 was used in 409 aircraft. A total of 3,437 I-153s were produced, beginning in 1938. 1,011 aircraft had been completed by the end of 1939, and a massive 2,362 were built in 1940, at a time when the Soviet Union desperately needed more modern monoplanes. Production came to an end early in 1941 and only 64 aircraft were completed that year.

The standard I-153 was armed with four ShKAS machine guns. These replaced the PV-1 guns used on the I-15 and I-152, and had a much higher rate of fire (1,800 compared to 750 rounds per minute) as well as being much lighter. The four under wing bomb racks could carry up to 441lb of bombs.

Combat Record

The I-153 entered Red Air Force service in October 1938, and was soon thrust into combat in the Far East, where the Soviet Union was engaged in an unofficial war against Japan in Mongolia. The I-153 had a successful combat debut. Thirteen aircraft had been allocated to the 22nd IAP, and on 7 July 1939 nine were sent into combat with their wheels down. As had been hoped this convinced the pilots of a flight of Japanese Nakajima Ki-27 monoplanes that they were facing the I-152. Just before they entered combat the Soviet pilots raised their undercarriages and turned into combat. Four Japanese aircraft were claimed, although only two losses were acknowledged by the Japanese.

After this early success the Japanese worked out how to deal with the I-153, which despite its increased speed was still slower than the Japanese fighters. As a result the I-153 could only be used when supported by the Polikarpov I-16 monoplane. A total of 70 I-153s were sent to this front, and 23 were lost.

Ninety three I-153s were provided to China (a tiny proportion of the overall Soviet contribution to the war effort against Japan in 1937-1941).

The I-153 saw combat during the Winter War against Finland (1939-1940), probably suffering heavy losses against the small Finnish air force.

On 22 June 1941 the I-153 made up one third of the Soviet fighter forces in the western parts of the Soviet Union, accounting for around 1,500 of the 4,226 fighters available at the start of the German invasion. A vast number of aircraft were destroyed in the first few days of the fighting, but enough I-153s survived for them to play a major part in the early part of the fighting, and they were responsible for most of the 800 German aircraft claimed between 22 June and 5 July. The I-153 remained in use as a front line fighter until early in 1942, but by then very few aircraft were still intact, having been lost in the air, on the ground and while acting as ground attack aircraft. The surviving aircraft remained in use in secondary roles into 1943, although they were also used as ground attack aircraft. By the middle of 1943 the Red Air Force only had 36 I-153s on its strength. A few remained in service in the Far East as late as 1945.


I-153 DM-2

The I-153 DM-2 was a standard I-153 that was given to DM-2 ramjets, as previously used on the I-152DM. The I-153 DM-2 made around 20 test flights starting in October 1940, but as with the I-152DM the increase in speed when the ramjets were in use was smaller than the decrease when they were not.


The I-153UD was a prototype for a version of the aircraft with a wooden rear fuselage, developed during 1940 in an attempt to reduce the use of rare metals. The type didn’t enter production.


The I-153P was a version of the aircraft armed with two ShVAK 20mm cannon. Three aircraft were produced early in 1940 for tests, followed by five later.


The I-153BC was a version of the I-153 armed with the 12.7mm UBS machine gun. This gun had been tested on the aircraft in August 1939, when the gun had been known as the TKB-150. These tests had seen the aircraft given two 12.7mm guns in place of all four 7.62mm guns, but a shortage of the more powerful machine guns meant that most of the 150 I-153 M-62s to receive the more powerful gun got one 12.7mm and two 7.62mm machine guns. These aircraft were produced at zavod 1 during 1940.


The I-153GK or I-153V was a high altitude version of the aircraft equipped with a pressurised cabin. The aircraft was tested in June-July 1940 and was a technical success, but the extra weight of the cabin reduced performance to unacceptable levels.

Statistics (M-62 powered)
Engine: Shvetsov M-62
Power: 800hp
Crew: 1
Wing span: 32.8ft
Length: 20.2ft
Height: 9ft 8in
Empty Weight: 3,031lb
Loaded Weight: 3,891lb
Max Speed: 264mph at 16,400ft
Service Ceiling: 36,100ft
Range: 348 miles
Armament: Four ShKAS 7.62mm machine guns
Bomb-load: 441lb on four under wing bomb rack or eight air-to-ground rockets

Polikarpov I-153 Chaika (Seagull) - History

ICM 1/48 Polikarpov I-153 Chaika (48096)

This I-153 Chaika "Winter version" is same kit which ICM has announced earlier (ICM 48095) but it is included with a new sprue with a ski-landing gear and new decals. In the box there are also all parts from the previous release so it's possible to build a wheeled versions straight from the box if you want so. Parts are moulded in middle grey and quite soft plastic. There are six sprues of which contains 102 parts. On sprue contains clear parts, that is the windscreen. Sprues and casting ducts are quite thick so there is a lot of work to do after cutting the parts from the sprues. The kit has finely engraved panel lines and moulding quality is good and sharp, near the top manufacturers. Also the fabric surfaces are very good. The kit contains coloured instruction booklet and decals for three planes of which two for Finnish planes.

ICM has cleverly designed the most difficult point when building bi-plane models, which is assembling wings and struts properly to their right places. Kits lower wings are integral with the lower fuselage. Also upper wings are integral with the upper fuselage. When you glue bottom and top fuselage parts together with the rest of the fuselage you have glued wings to their right places and also dihedral has gone right too. But don't forget to put the wing struts when glueing the wings! Unfortunately ICM didn't marked the places of the rigging holes to the instruction sheet so you have to find them out from your own sources.

When comparing kit's main parts to the scale drawings I found that they matched almost perfectly. Small casting imperfections can be found from here and there and there is need of some puttying and sanding. Unfortunately ICM has put many raised panels to wrong places on the fuselage and they have to be removed. Take a look at "work in progres" photos below. Kits exhaust pipes are a way too small and round (diameter in 1/48 scale is 0,8 mm). Exhaust outlet should be oval shaped and in 1/48 scale its dimensions are 1,2 x 2,0 mm). Elevators hinge line is wrong and needs to be corrected. For some reason ICM has put lower wings to fuselage joints in the middle of the wing fairings where they are difficult to remome. Below is a list of the faults and shortcomings that I corrected on my model, "work in progres" photos can be found farther down.

- Many faulty raised panels on the fuselage were removed
- Engine's front plate was corrected, it is not right for the middle production M-62 engined plane
- Raised rocket rail panels have to be removed under the lower wings
- Exhaust pipes are to small, replaced them with Moskit pipes
- Carburator's air intake is wrongly shaped for the VH-12
- Handgrip holes (2) are missing on the front of the cockpit
- Aileron's trim tabs (2) are missing
- Elevators hinge line is wrong
- Windshield's side glasses are wrongly shaped. Windshield was replaced
- Ring sight is missing from front of the windscreen, I added a North Star Model's sight
- Streamlined fairing is missing from the right side of the fuselage
- Kit's wheel wells are wrong shaped, they should be oval, not visible on the ski landing gear
- Missing small windows from the bottom of the wheel wells were added
- Propeller's hub is wrong shaped on its backside
- Landing gear legs are too long
- Triangular shaped reinforcements are missing from the base of the pitot tube
- Navigation lights are missing from tips of the wings and from the rudder
- Fixation of the ski landing gear's billy is faulty

I started the building by cutting out parts from the sprues and cleaning them for painting. At this stage I noticed a few imperfections on fabric covered areas of the lower wing and the fuselage. They were too big just to leave and they had to be corrected. There are many faulty raised panels on the fuselage at many different places which I removed. Look at the photos below. From the right side of the rudder I removed a raised detail (panel?) which is incorrect (no photo of this).

Kits wheel wells are round altough they ought to be oval shaped. On the planes which had ski landing gear the wheel wells were covered with hatches with slots for the skis. These hatches effectively hide the wrong shaped wheel wells. This error is easy to fix though (photo below). At the bottom of the wheel wells there are small elongated windows from where the pilot could see if the landing gear was fully retracted. These windows are missing from the kit so you have to make them by yourself. Front fuselage tubular structure which can be seen through the landing gear openings is missing from the kit and the fuel tank is a little wrong shaped. On the ICM kit the cockpit floor to where the landing gear struts are to be attached to is extended until to the front fuselage. On my model I glued styrene bars at the bottom of the cockpit floor to depict the missing tubular structure.

I painted inside of the front fuselage matt black and drybrushed my homemade styrene bars "tubular structure" with light bluegray. Actually you can't much see inside the front fuselage when the model is on its wheels. Fuel tank color was black. NeOmega and Vector have made resin correction sets for wheel wells, landing gear and front fuselage interiors.
Warning: Instruction booklet has a front view of the plane for rigging. In this picture wheels are depicted wrong. Upper sides of the wheels have to lean towards the fuselage.

Kits engine cowling and its front plate is wrong for the Finnish M-62 engined planes. One ventilation opening at the front plate has to be covered and two openings have to be drilled out. After these modifications kits front plate is right for the M-62 engined plane when all cooling vents are in open position. Look at the photos below. Neomega and Vector have made correction sets for the cowling and front plates (two different types) but they are not right for Finnish planes. Kits windscreens side profile is wrong, sidewindows were curved at the top. I scratch builded a new windscreen from 0,2 mm polystyrene film.

There were also difference's between carburator air intake duct's between the planes. According to photograph's it looks that the deep style intake was replaced to all Finnish planes with a smaller openings. There were four different types in use on Finnish planes.

Streamlined fairings were installed to all Finnish planes to the right side of the fuselage. Reason for the fairings was that the Finnish planes were rearmed with four 7.70 mm Browning M.39 machine guns instead of the original ShKAS 7.62 mm and BCC.AAK-1 gunsights replaced the original Soviet PAK-1. (I used on my model North Star Models "Soviet Gunsight PAK-1" gunsight which looks near the same than the BCC.AAK-1 gunsight). Order to change the armament was announced in April of 1941. There were many different types of fairings and the first can be seen in the beginning of 1942. The kit does not include the fairing so you have to make it by yourself.

VH-12 had smaller carburator air intake duct so kit's intake have to be corrected. Also a streamlined fairing have be added to the right side of the fuselage. I could'nt verify this from the one and only bad quality photo I had which was taken from the right side of the plane but same units VH-17 had the modification allready done at the time. So it's likely that the gun change and it's fairing was done on the VH-12.

Fixation of the ski landing gear is faulty. Apparently for a stronger fix ICM has added a thick vertical plug which is to be glued to a slot on the ski. There was no such plug on the real ski. I removed the plugs and glued parts D3 and D4 to their places between the billys. The slots most behind on the ski has to be streched to an equal level with the foremost slots that axels on the billys became to the same level. Look the photos below.

I used on my model Aires resin seat (Aires 4683), Eduard photo etched parts (Eduard 49760), North Star Models Soviet Gunsight PAK-1 (represents BCC.AAK-1) and I replaced kits exhaust pipes with Moskits metal ones (Moskit 48024).

Painting and decaling

My model depicts Finnish AF plane VH-12 with a ski landing gear in late of March 1942 at the front of Kotka on an ice base from where it took part to operation in which the Finnish armed forces invaded Suursaari (Gogland). There was also another ice base at front of Hamina from where the units planes operated. Unit's main task was reconnaissance in eastern parts of the Gulf of Finland but also intruder missions with mg:s and bombs. VH-12 wasn't anybodys mount but during Suursaari missions it was flown eg. by lieutnant Riemu Paltila and warrant officer Kaarlo Salminen.

VH-12 was painted in field green (olive green) and black on upper surfaces while under surfaces were light grey (silver grey). The light grey extended somewhat on part of the sides of the fuselage and even on the uppersurface of the wings like on the VH-13 and VH-14. In June of 1941 yellow Eastern markings were painted under the wing tips and a 50 cm wide band was painted around the rear fuselage with a warm yellow color (Dicco 6).

In September of 1941 a 50 cm wide yellow band was also added to the front of the cowling. It was painted with lighter and brighter yellow shade (Unica 12) than the earlier markings. When made on the field, the yellow band on the fuselage covered partially the codes. Number 2 on the rudder was light grey. Tips of the lower wings on the VH-12 had yellow painted further towards to the fuselage than on other planes. Also the yellow band on the rear fuselage was further back than on other planes.

I used Techmod Decals, MNFD decals and kit's own decals on my model. Techmod Decal's national insignias blue color was best and I used them on my model. I also used Techmod Decal's register markings on the other side of the plane's fuselage. To the other side of the fuselage the register markings were found on the kit's own decal sheet where they were printed with the same font. Techmod's decals were a little stiff and they didn't react well with Micro Sol. Number "2" on the rudder is from MNFD's decal sheet.

Below short history of the VH-12:

Markings in chronological order were VH-12 -> IT-12. It was captured in Winter war. 9.9.40 hit a telephone pole when landing to Tampere and damaged. Second lieutenant E. Halme survived without injuries. 13.1.41 handed off to Er.LLv. 21.6.1941 belonged to 3/LLv 6, pilot warrant officer K. Lahtonen. 11.6.42 markings was changed to IT-12. 9.7.42 engine caught fire and after an emergency landing to the sea near Somero island the plane sank. Sergeant S. Jänkävaara injured. 31.8.42 was written off with 162h 50' of flying time.

The kit includes painting guides and decals for three planes:

1. Soviet air force plane "Red 20" in 1940. Colors were silver/ AE-9 light grey.
2. Finnish air force plane VH-101 in 1940. Colors olive green/ light grey.
3. Finnish air force plane IT-15 in 1942. Colors olive green/ black/ light blue DN color (RLM 65).

Kits painting guide is partly erroneous. In the painting guide the "Red 20" is depicted in all silver color. Painting orders of the VVS until 1940 ordered the I-153's fabric covered parts to be painted with silver and metal covered parts (eg. engine cowling, various panels etc.) with light grey AE-9. On the box front cover there is clearly visible the difference between the light grey metal panels compared to the silver colored fabric areas. Although there have been fully silver colored planes too fg. Finnish war booty "Black 12" ("Red 12" on some sources).

Painting guide shows DN color (light blue) for the underside color of the VH-101 but this is not correct at that time. The correct underside color is light grey. There is also a mistake on IT-15 paintings. It got the DN color to its undersurfaces not until July of 1942. Before that the undersurfaces were light grey.

During the major overhauls the cockpits of the Finnish planes were normally painted with Finnish light grey and also so I painted my models cockpit too. It's also possible that not every plane got its cockpit painted in Finland with the Finnish light grey and retained its original Russian AE-9 light grey color (seat, floor, middle of the instrument panel, fuselage tubular structure). Inner sides of the metal panels and metal structures were painted with Russian bluish grey A-14. Inner sides of the fabric covered areas of the fuselage were painted with AII Aluminium. Fuel tank wich is visible inside of the rear fuselage from the wheel wells is painted with matt black.

The first figure which indicates sheen level of a color on FS number is dropped off. Ak=Akan, X=XtraColor, LC=LifeColor, HU=Humbrol, R=Revell, WEM=White Ensign Models, Mr Hobby=Mr Hobby Aqueous, Tam=Tamiya. (Between brackets alternative paints).

Kenttävihreä (olive green) FS - 4096 Mr Hobby H320 Upper side camouflage
Musta (black) FS - Tamiya XF-69 NATO Black Upper side camouflage
Hopeanharmaa (light grey) FS - 6440 Mr Hobby H325 Under side camouflage
Vaaleanharmaa (light gray) FS - 6270 Mr Hobby H306 Cockpit interior
A-14 Light Bluegrey FS - 6187 WEM ACS05 + white, (Ak A14) Interior metal parts
Hopea (silver) FS - HU 27001 Interior fabric covered areas
Keltainen (yellow) FS - Mr Hobby H413 Eastern front markings
Keltainen (yellow) FS - 3538 LF UA 140 Eastern front markings (lighter shade of yellow on the nose)

In the box the kit parts looks quite promising but in a strict examination there can be found lot of faults from here and there. It is possible to build a qood Chaika model out of the kit but it require a lot of work. Luckily the kit main parts are accurate in shape and scale when compared to the scale drawings. Parts fitting is reasonable good but also putty is needed. Fabric covering looks good and panel lines are finely engraved. On the fuselage there are many raised panels in wrong places and many small parts are erroneous. Detailing level of the main components is insufficient and in many cases erroneous. Detailing is missing eg. from the fuselage, wings and rudder. Exhaust pipes are too small, wheel wells are wrong shaped, propeller hub needs to be corrected, windscreen is wrong shaped etc. Luckily none of these faults are not too hard to fix and with a little extra work and with aftermarket goodies it's possible to built a good looking model from the kit. And it's important to remember that the main parts of the kit are accurate in shape and scale. It's also good to remember that this is the best I-153 Chaika kit in 1/48 scale for now despite it's shortcomings.

Photos from different stages of the work

Hold mouse cursor over a thumbnail for a while before clicking !

The Polikarpov I-153 Chaika (Russian Чайка, "Seagull") was a late 1930s Soviet biplane fighter. Developed as an advanced version of the I-15 with a retractable undercarriage, the I-153 fought in the Soviet-Japanese combats in Mongolia and was one of the Soviets' major fighter types in the early years of the Second World War. Three I-153s are still flying.

In 1937, the Polikarpov design bureau carried out studies to improve on the performance of its I-15 and I-15bis biplane fighters without sacrificing manoeuvrability, as Soviet tactical doctrine was based on a mix of high performance monoplane fighters (met by the Polikarpov I-16) and agile biplanes. Early combat experience from the Spanish Civil War had shown that the I-16 had problems dealing with the Fiat CR.32 biplanes used by the Italian forces supporting the Nationalists, which suggested a need to continue the use of biplane fighters, and as a result, Polikarpov's proposals were accepted, and his design bureau was instructed to design a new biplane fighter. Polikarpov assigned the task to the design team led by Aleksei Ya Shcherbakov, who was assisted by Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich (who would later set up the MiG design bureau).

The new fighter (designated I-15ter by the design bureau and I-153 by the Soviet Air Forces (VVS) was based closely on the design of the I-15bis, with a stronger structure, but was fitted with a manually retractable undercarriage to reduce drag. It reverted to the "gulled" upper wing of the original I-15 but used the Clark YH aerofoil of the I-15bis. The four 7.62 mm PV-1 machine guns of the I-15bis were replaced by four ShKAS machine guns. While still rifle-calibre weapons, these fired much faster than the PV-1s, (1,800 rounds per minute rather than 750 rounds per minute) giving a much greater weight of fire. The new fighter was to be powered by a Shvetsov M-62 an improved derivative of the Shvetsov M-25 that powered the I-15 and I-15bis with twin superchargers.

The aircraft was of mixed metal and wood construction, with the fuselage structure being based on chromium-molybdenum steel with duralumin skinning on the forward fuselage, and fabric covering on the fuselage aft of the front of the cockpit. The aircraft's wings were made of fabric covered wood, while the tail surfaces were of fabric covered duralumin.[9] The aircraft was fitted with a tailwheel undercarriage, with the mainwheels retracting rearwards, rotating through 90 degrees to lie flat in the wing roots, being actuated by cables operated by a pilot-driven handwheel. The solid rubber tailwheel did not retract, but moved in conjunction with the rudder.

The M-62 was not ready by the time the first prototype was complete, so it was fitted with a 750 hp (560 kW) M-25V engine when it made its maiden flight in August 1938. The first prototype failed factory testing due to numerous defects, but this did not stop production, with the aircraft entering production concurrently with ongoing testing and development. Early production I-153s powered by the M25 engine passed state testing during 1939, despite the loss of one aircraft which disintegrated in a 500 km/h (311 mph) dive. In test flights, the I-153 (M-25) achieved the top speed of 424 km/h (264 mph), service ceiling of 8,700 m (28,500 ft), and required 6 minutes 24 seconds to reach 5,000 m (16,404 ft). This performance was well in excess of that demonstrated by the I-15bis.

During 1939, production switched to a version powered by the originally planned M-62 engine, with an M-62 powered prototype undergoing state testing from 16 June 1939. While speed at sea level was virtually unchanged, the new engine improved performance at altitude. A speed of 443 km/h (275 mph) at 4,600 m (15,100 ft) was recorded, with a service ceiling of 9,800 m (32,100 ft). This performance was disappointing, and caused the aircraft to fail the state acceptance trials, although this did not disrupt production. While it was recognised that the I-153's performance was inadequate, the over-riding requirement was to not disrupt production until more advanced fighters could enter production.

While numerous improvements were proposed, many were too radical to be implemented since the aircraft was already in production. Desperate to improve performance, Polikarpov tested two I-153 with the Shvetsov M-63 engine with 820 kW (1,100 hp). However, the results were disappointing and it was becoming painfully obvious that the biplane airframe was incapable of higher speeds.

One of the rarely mentioned characteristics of the I-153 was its poor performance in a spin. While the Polikarpov I-16 had gained notoriety for entering spins, pilots found it easy to recover from a spin. In contrast, while the I-153 was difficult to spin, once it lost control, recovery was difficult to the point where intentional spinning was forbidden for some time. A spin recovery procedure was eventually developed but, while effective, it required flawless timing and execution.

By the end of production in 1941, a total of 3,437 I-153s were built.

The I-153 first saw combat in 1939 during the Soviet-Japanese Battle of Khalkin Gol in Mongolia. The Japanese Army Air Forces' Type 97 Fighter (Nakajima Ki-27) Nate proved a formidable opponent for the I-15bis and I-16, but was more evenly matched with the I-153, which retained agility inherent to biplanes while featuring improved performance.[12] While the overall I-153 performance was satisfactory, some significant problems were revealed. Most troublesome was the absence of a firewall between the fuel tank mounted in front of the cockpit and the pilot. Combined with strong draft coming in through the wheel wells, fuel tank fires invariably resulted in rapid engulfment of the cockpit and severe burns to the pilot. In addition, the M-62 engine suffered from a service life of only 60–80 hours due to failures of the two-speed supercharger.

The Polikarpov I-153 Chaika never flew with any Spanish Air Force units during or after the Spanish Civil War. Two earlier variants of this aircraft, the I-15 and the I-15bis, did fly with the Republican Air Force during the conflict and, later, captured examples of both types were used by the Fuerzas Aéreas till the early 1950s.

While attempts to improve performance proved largely fruitless, Polikarpov had some success in upgrading the armament. The I-153 series underwent trials with two synchronized 12.7 mm (0.5 in) TKB-150 (later designated Berezin BS) machine guns, and about 150 aircraft were built with a single TKB-150 in the fuselage and two ShKAS in the wings (a single TKB-150 was used because of the shortage of this weapon which was shared with I-16 Type 29). Late in production, about 400 aircraft were modified with metal plates under the wings to accommodate RS-82 unguided rockets.

I-153DM (Dopolnityelnyi Motor – supplementary engine
On an experimental basis, the I-153DM was flown with gasoline-burning ramjet engines under the wings. DM-2 engines increased the top speed by 30 km/h (19 mph) while more powerful DM-4 engines added as much as 50 km/h (31 mph). A total of 74 flights were undertaken.

I-153P (Pushechnyy – cannon armed)
Two synchronized 20 mm (0.79 in) ShVAK cannons, added firepower was offset by the increase in weight and tendency of gunpowder to foul the windscreen.

I-153Sh ja USh
Ground attack versions with underwing containers with ShKAS machine guns and 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) bombs

I-153V (Vysotnoi - height)
A single aircraft fitted with the definitive Schyerbakov "minimum leak" pressure cabin.

A high-altitude version with a turbocharged engine and a pressurized cockpit, top speed of 482 km/h (300 mph) at 10,300 m (33,793 ft), 26 built for air defence.

Rear fuselage completed as a wooden monocoque rather than fabric-covered steel and wooden frame to save metal, did not enter production.

50 I-153 were equipped with larger oil tanks and plumbed to accept external fuel tanks under the wings which doubled the combat range. These were primarily used by the Soviet Navy.

An experimental version powered by an 820 kW (1,100 hp) M-88V radial piston engine with two ShVAK cannon and four ShKAS machine guns. First flight 30 December 1939 but crashed 13 February 1941 and variant discontinued.

The second I-190 prototype completed with a pressure cabin and turbo-charged M-90 engine fitted with a ducted spinner.

Strengthened I-190 with enclosed unpressurised cockpit, powered by an M-90 with a ducted spinner and identical armament to the I-190. The prototype was not completed.

Though it is perhaps not the most well-known Soviet aircraft, the Polikarpov I-153 Chaika (seagull) was one of the pillars of the VVS’ arsenal in the late 1930s/early 1940s. Seeing extensive action against the Japanese at the Battle of Khalkhin-Gol in 1939, the Chaika proved to be obsolete by June of 1941 at the time of the German invasion. Nevertheless, until the Soviet aviation industry could be evacuated to locations far from the frontline and more advanced fighters and bombers could be produced, outdated aircraft such as the I-153 Chaika, the I-16, and the I-15 were tasked with both providing close air support for the Red Army and engaging the Luftwaffe, which had at its disposal some of the best aircraft in the world at the time, including the notorious Messerschmitt Bf-109. Though the Chaika biplanes were no match for the sleek German fighter, the I-153, serving in a multitude of roles, was able to contribute to the slowing of the massive German advance, buying enough time for the VVS to both receive more advanced aircraft from the UK and US via the lend-lease program and to receive the latest La-5s, Yak-9s, and Il-2s from Soviet factories.

Source: Suomen ilmavoimien historia 7: Venäläiset hävittäjät. Keskinen, Stenman
Summary by Jari Juvonen

Finnish air force had total of 21 planes of which 11 were captured during the Winter war and the Contunation war and ten planes were bought from the German war booty depots. The planes were mainly used for reconnaissance and ground supporting duties with machine guns and bombs on the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland. Planes from the 3/LLv 6 took part to an operation in March of 1942 when Finnish forces invaded Suursaari (Gogland) island. The planes attacked with their machine guns and bombs against the soviet troops. Finnish I-153 pilots got six air victories and destroyed four torpedo- and / or patrol boats.

Chinese Nationalist Air Force had 75 I-153 planes on the battle against Japan.

Luftwaffe had in use several captured planes. 10 planes were sold to Finland.

There are four complete survivors of this plane, three of which can fly. In the early 1990s, New Zealand pilot and entrepreneur Tim Wallis' Alpine Fighter Collection organised the restoration of three I-153s and six I-16s to an airworthy condition, this project being completed in 1999 as the third and final I-153 arrived in New Zealand. These aircraft were equipped with AZsh-62IR geared radials instead of the M-62, which were non-geared. The reason is that AZsh-62IR is just a version of M-62, with absolute equality in all instead of a frontal gearbox and weapon synchronizer absence. Also, none of original engines from recovered wrecks could have been brought to life.

The Soviet Polikarpov I-153 Chaika biplane

Though it is perhaps not the most well-known Soviet aircraft, the Polikarpov I-153 Chaika (seagull) was one of the pillars of the VVS’ arsenal in the late 1930s/early 1940s. Seeing extensive action against the Japanese at the Battle of Khalkhin-Gol in 1939, the Chaika proved to be obsolete by June of 1941 at the time of the German invasion. Nevertheless, until the Soviet aviation industry could be evacuated to locations far from the frontline and more advanced fighters and bombers could be produced, outdated aircraft such as the I-153 Chaika, the I-16, and the I-15 were tasked with both providing close air support for the Red Army and engaging the Luftwaffe, which had at its disposal some of the best aircraft in the world at the time, including the notorious Messerschmitt Bf-109. Though the Chaika biplanes were no match for the sleek German fighter, the I-153, serving in a multitude of roles, was able to contribute to the slowing of the massive German advance, buying enough time for the VVS to both receive more advanced aircraft from the UK and US via the lend-lease program and to receive the latest La-5s, Yak-9s, and Il-2s from Soviet factories.

The Polikarpov I-153 was an improved design of the I-15 biplane, which had first flown in 1933. Soviet pilots typically gave critical reviews of the I-15, with some complaining that the gulled top wing obscured the field of vision and did not provide sufficient stability. Though Polikarpov himself was a proponent of the gull-wing design, he was told to remove the feature and install an improved M-25 engine. The new aircraft was designated the I-15bis, and went into serial production in 1937. Polikarpov, however, was displeased with the lack of maneuverability in the I-15bis, and set about designing yet another derivative of the I-15. Reverting back to the gull-wings of which he was a proponent, the aircraft designer listened closely to the suggestions provided by Soviet pilots who were flying his aircraft on the frontline in Spain. Hearing complaints of the low rate of fire of the PV-1 machine guns on the I-15bis, Polikarpov’s team affixed new ShKAS onto the prototype, increasing the rate of fire from 750 rounds per minute to 1,800. The team also sought to improve the speed and performance of the aircraft by installing a retractable landing gear.

Making its inaugural flight in August 1938, the new aircraft, with the designation I-153, performed much better than its predecessor, the I-15bis, and was put into production the following year, in time to get its first taste of combat at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol on the Mongolian-Manchurian border. According to reconnaissance pilot Iosef Birenberg, “These aircraft featured great maneuverability due to landing gear, and had four ShKAS machine guns, which provided a huge density of fire, more than eight thousand rounds per minute. This aircraft could also carry four bombs, up to 200 kilograms.”

In the first two months of the border war, known as Khalkhin Gol in Russia and the Nomonhan Incident in Japan, the Soviet Air Force sent their I-15bis and I-16 to go up against the Japanese Nakajima Ki-27s, with the Soviet side realizing that their two fighters were inferior to their Japanese counterpart. In early July, the first Chaikas arrived at the Tamsag-Bulak airfield, fresh from the factory. Over the next two months, the I-153’s performance, maneuverability, and four ShKAS machine guns helped the VVS turn the tide against the Japanese Ki-27s.

Japanese Ki-27s. Public Domain.

Japanese pilots quickly adopted different tactics to use while attacking the Chaikas, attempting to take advantage of the Soviet pilots’ poor forward visibility resulting from the gulled-wings. Soviet pilots, in turn, developed tactics to lure the Ki-27s in to attack, after which the pilots would use the I-153’s superior maneuverability to overtake the Japanese aircrafts. By flying with their landing gear down, the I-153 pilots would make it appear as though their aircraft were actually the inferior I-15 or I-15bis, inviting the Japanese to attack. Once the Ki-27s would get within range of the Chaikas, the latter would raise their landing gears, apply full throttle, and engage the oncoming Japanese aircraft.

Though the Red Army was victorious at Khalkhin Gol, the Soviet Union’s next combat operation, the Winter War with Finland, which began on November 30, 1939, was not nearly as successful. Despite being significantly outmanned and outgunned, the Finnish military was repeatedly able to repel the Red Army until the Soviets eventually broke through in March of 1940. The VVS, which deployed 2,500 aircraft (mostly ANT-40 bombers) at the outset of the war, enjoyed air superiority for most of the conflict. Nevertheless, the Finnish Air Force, which had only 114 combat aircraft fit for duty at the end of 1939, inflicted severe damage against the VVS, shooting down 200 Soviet aircraft during the war and losing only 62 of their own. However, the losses suffered by the VVS were indicative of a larger problem within the Soviet military in general (decimation of military leadership during the purges), and were not reflective of the aircraft flown by Soviet pilots. Indeed, the primary Finnish fighter, the Fokker D.XXI, was roughly equivalent to the Japanese Ki-27.

In June of 1941, however, the I-153 would go up against some of the finest aircraft ever built in the finest air force ever assembled up to that point: the Luftwaffe. At the time of the German invasion, the Soviet Union’s fighter squadrons were comprised primarily of I-16s, LaGG-3s, Yak-1s, and I-153s, aircraft that were considered either obsolete or underpowered compared to the German aircraft that were causing mass destruction along the 1,200 mile front. Nevertheless, since the Soviet aviation industry would not be able to begin producing new designs until 1942 due to the evacuation of aircraft factories to the Soviet East, the VVS’ aircraft of the 1930s were tasked with halting the seemingly unstoppable German onslaught from the air.

Needless to say, this was a tall order to fill, but Chaika pilots, though flying against a far superior adversary, bravely went toe to toe with the seasoned Luftwaffe pilots. A fighter pilot with the 929 IAP, Evgeniy Pryanichnikov, recalled that in the early months of the war, “our regiment flew the 153 Chaikas, a renowned machine, which distinguished itself at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, but by now was hopelessly outdated, much inferior in tactics and technical data to German aircraft.” Fighter pilot and Hero of the Soviet Union, Fedor Arkhipenko, noted that until 1943, Soviet fighters were simply not powerful enough to intercept German bombers. “At the beginning I-16s and I-153s could not catch up with the bombers even in a straight line,” Arkhipenko stated.

In these early months of the war, lacking an aircraft that could provide close air support, VVS leadership decided to use Chaikas as ground attack aircraft, despite the fact that the I-153s had little to no armor and were vulnerable to small arms fire from the ground (unlike the legendary Soviet ground attack aircraft that was introduced the following year, the Ilyushin Il-2). Anti-aircraft gunner Dmitry Poltavets described receiving close air support from I-15bis and I-153s during the defense of Odessa in the summer of 1941. During the battle, I-153s, “were assigned to help the infantry repel enemy attacks… One fighter would swoop down, and the second would immediately begin to dive at the enemy… in order to protect the first plane coming out of the dive from rifle fire and machine guns, because I-15bis and I-153 were poorly protected even by rifle fire.”

A restored Chaika. Public Domain

Despite being outmatched by the Luftwaffe both in terms of quality and numbers, I-153s did find some success as ground attack aircraft (while also suffering terrible losses), though their achievements would be overshadowed later in the war by more advanced aircraft, such as the Ilyushin Il-2. Documents submitted by the commander of the 267th IAP, Major Orlov, for example, outlined the achievements of one I-153 pilot, Junior Lieutenant Nikolai Loginov, while flying ground attack missions in the Caucasus in the late summer of 1942. Submitting a recommendation to award Loginov the Order of Lenin, Orlov wrote that from August 2nd to September 11th, the Junior Lieutenant, “flew 42 combat sorties against enemy troops for a total of 48 hours 37 minutes. In his group of ground attack aircraft he managed to destroy: automobiles = 54, carts and wagons = 6, field guns on a trailer = 1, anti-aircraft guns = 3, autobuses = 2, soldiers and officers up to 200 people.” Loginov was shot down and killed by German ace Walter Krupinski (who finished the war with 197 aerial victories) shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, his success shows that even against superior machines, the I-153, despite its shortcomings, was capable of getting the job done.

Beginning in late 1942, however, the Chaikas were gradually replaced by lend-lease aircraft such as the P-39 Airacobra and Soviet-built aircraft such as the La-5, Yak-9, and Il-2. With its ever expanding arsenal of aircraft that were equal to if not superior to the German airplanes over the Eastern Front, the VVS eventually managed to obtain and maintain air superiority, which enabled the Red Army to advance West all the way to Berlin. Though aircraft such as the I-153 did not make major contributions to the victory on the Eastern Front, they played the crucial role of helping the Soviet Union avoid a complete collapse from the German invasion in 1941. Chaika pilots certainly did not tally up kills against their German adversaries, but they did hold the Luftwaffe at bay well enough to buy time for the aerial icons of the Eastern Front, such as the Lavochkins and Yakovlevs, to roll off the assembly line and defeat the Luftwaffe.

Polikarpov I-153 (Chaika)

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 05/11/2021 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

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.

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.

Survivors [ edit | edit source ]

Only one fully original I-153 is known - it is stored in Museum of Air and Space Paris, Le Bourget (France)

In the early 1990s, New Zealand pilot and entrepreneur Tim (later Sir Tim) Wallis' Alpine Fighter Collection organised the restoration of three I-153s and six I-16s to an airworthy condition, this project being completed in 1999 as the third and final I-153 arrived in New Zealand. These aircraft were equipped with AZsh-62IR geared radials instead of the M-62, which were non-geared. The reason is that AZsh-62IR is just a version of M-62, with absolute equality in all instead of a frontal gearbox and weapon synchronizer absence. Also, none of original engines from recovered wrecks could have been brought to life. After a spectacular international debut at Warbirds over Wanaka 1998 (for the I-16s) and 2000 (for the I-153s), some of the aircraft were sold off around the world, to the Commemorative Air Force in the U.S., to Jerry Yagen of Virginia, and an I-16 to Spain. All of the I-16s have been sold to overseas owners, and although some I-153s remain at Wanaka, it is believed all will eventually depart for elsewhere.

Polikarpov I-153 Chaika (Seagull) - History

At the start of World War II the Soviet Union had a vast combat air force that was not quite modern.

Let’s take a look at one of the most prevalent types.

Josef Stalin had solidified his hold on power by 1928 and promptly set about modernizing his military. A modern biplane fighter, developed jointly by Andrei Tupolev and Nikolai Polikarpov was a part of this plan. This type was known as the I-5 and was supposed to be ready in 1929. Because of the impossibility of this deadline Polikarpov and much of his staff were arrested by the NKVD and forced to continue their work from prison.
Two prototypes and limited pre-production aircraft did fly in 1930, which apparently earned a release from prison. Series production did not start until 1932. That same year Polikarpov was made head of a newly established “Fighter Brigade”, a design bureau tasked with fighter aircraft design.
In 1933 a number of Wright Cyclone engines were imported, and reverse engineered to form the basis of a new engine and improved fighter design to use it. Apart from the engine the biggest part of the new design was a gull shape for the upper wing this offered aerodynamic advantages and greatly improved the pilot’s forward visibility. Designated I-15 the new design entered production in 1934. In 1936 this would be the first type to be sent to Spain to aid Republican (Communist) forces in the Civil War there. The type was very successful at first, until the Italian CR.32 proved superior. This includes superiority over German types like the Heinkel He 51 and shooting down at least one early production Bf 109. When Germany attacked in 1941 many I-15s were still in service as trainers and a small number with combat units in the Black Sea Fleet.

Armament is four light machine guns, all in the cowling (two at top, two just below center spread wide) Through the 1930s the Soviet Air Force relied two types of Polikarpov fighters in most fighter squadrons.

By 1937 a new development of the I-15 design was entering service. The I-152 offered more power and a strengthened structure. One change, Polikarpov himself did not want, but in response to pilot complaints about the gull wing a conventional straight upper wing was added. Overall, the new type was faster, especially in a dive but less maneuverable. This type was still in broad service in June 1941.
The VVS (Soviet Air Force) was operating under some interesting doctrine at this time. Spanish Civil War experience seemed to validate the idea of a fighter force composed of both biplanes and monoplanes [keep in mind, most Soviet officers who actually served in Spain were executed on their return home, because they’d been corrupted by mere exposure to Western ideas]. Obviously the monoplanes (the Polikarpov design bureau’s I-16) were much faster. But the biplanes excelled at every kind of turn and maneuver. So of course a modern fighter force should have both types, right? Even individual squadrons and pilots would be expected to fly either type.
The Nomonhan War against Japan, Summer 1939, and Winter War against Finland that Winter provided clear proof this was a flawed idea and provided the push to finally get a new generation of designs into service.

In Spain the I-15 and I-152 first met the Bf 109, in its earliest form. Even this early the Bf 109 was about 100 mph faster, if only some senior advisors had been allowed to tell the tale…

Meanwhile, Polikarpov’s Fighter Brigade had one last improvement to the basic design that first flew in 1938. The idea was combine the maneuverability of the I-15 with the speed of the I-152. That meant a return of the gull wing, but with the engine and structural improvements of the later design. A new twist was added with retractable landing gear. This actually made it about 25 mph faster than the I-152 in fact, it was only about 10 mph slower than the I-16! But Polikarpov was proud to return to that wing and named the new plane Chaika, Russian for “Seagull”.
Although the type had some success as a fighter, mainly against bombers, the I-153 was best used as a fighter bomber/close support aircraft through 1943.

Three I-153s fly as Warbirds. [World War II wiki]

This particular aircraft was attached to the Northern Fleet Air Force Summer of 1941. It was flown by Snr Lt Aleksander Adonkin at least on occasion. He was credited with five kills in Polikarpov fighters, both I-153 and I-16. The next year he switched to the Hurricane and scored 12 more. In 1944 he was killed in a P-39.

The He 111 has a stated max airspeed about four mph faster than the I-153. Fortunately for the Soviets, bombers don’t normally cruise at maximum speed. But making a second pass was often not an option, and firepower was half of what a Hurricane or Spitfire had.

This is the ICM kit with Aeromaster Decals. It was an easy and fun build. Only issue being conflicting information on if this particular plane had a white or yellow tail! (I wouldn’t take any bets from the Soviet era black and white photos I’ve seen). Literally 50/50, I chose yellow because I thought it would be more fun.


Offensive armament

Zhukovsky's I-153-M62 is armed with:

  • 4 x 7.62 mm ShKAS machine gun, nose mounted (750 + 520 + 500 + 700 (clockwise from top-right) = 2,470 total)

Suspended armament

Zhukovsky's I-153-M62 can be outfitted with the following ordnance:

  • Without load
  • 4 x 50 kg FAB-50sv bombs (200 kg total)
  • 8 x RS-82 rockets
  • 8 x RBS-82 rockets

Polikarpov I-153

The Polikarpov I-153 was designed to improve on the performance of the I-15 whilst retaining the manoeuvrability inherent to biplane designs. Soviet doctrine of the time required a mixed for of fast monoplanes like the I-16 combined with slower but more agile biplanes. The I-153 to be one of the best biplane fighters ever produced, albeit at a time when monoplanes were proving to be superior in most respects.

The I-153 took the basic design of the I-15bis, but returned to using a gull configuration for the upper wing. The most obvious change was the introduction of retractable landing gear, which could be winched into the raised position using a hand crank in the cockpit. Armament was also improved, the PV machines gun of the I-15 replaced by much faster firing 7.62 ShKAS machine guns, with four in total fitted.

The I-153 was introduced into combat during the Nomonhan Incident, where it often surprised Japanese Ki-27 pilots who mistook it for the older I-15. I-153s were therefore able to give a good account of themselves, proving to be an even match for the monoplane Nakajimas and helping to win the conflict for the Soviets. I-153s were also supplied to China, where they were used to defend Chinese cities from Japanese bombers. Soon however they would meet the advanced A6M ‘Zero’ which proved superior to all available fighters in the Chinese Air Force, including the I-153.

New buildings

Towards the end of the 1990s, the Moscow Society for the Restoration of Historic Airplanes, in collaboration with the former manufacturing plant in Novosibirsk , resumed limited production of I-153 and I-16 using original parts from wrecks found in northwestern Russia. Parts of two recovered I-15s were also used in the construction. The still existing original drawings and the technical equipment could also be used. The performance data of the aircraft created in this way largely correspond to the historical models, especially since the original M-62 engine is used as the drive. The first newbuildings (three I-153 and six I-16) were sold to New Zealand for $ 200,000 each. The aircraft are fully suitable for aerobatics and are also presented and flown at air shows.

Polikarpov I-153

The I-153 was a development of the I-15 (TsKB-3) first developed by Nikolai Polikarpov in 1933. The I-15 has been described as a classic biplane design - incorporating fabric covered wooden wings and a steel tube fuselage, powered by a 700hp Wright Cyclone SGR-1820. Entering production in 1934, the I-15 was combat tested in Spain in 1936 where it was rated on a par with the He-51, but less manouverable than the Cr-42. The aircraft were also delivered to the Chinese Air Force and fought against the Japanese.

The improved I-15bis or I-152 of 1936 was followed in 1937 by the I-153 (I-15ter). The new model had the integral fuselage/upper wing of the I-152, but the new gull wing arrangement resulted in the name 'Chaika' or Seagull. The I-153 featured a 900hp M-62R engine, better armament, and most importantly, retractable undercarriage (turning 90 degrees to lay flat under the fuselage). The new undercarriage allowed for new tactics - against the Japanese in 1939, Soviet pilots would approach enemy formations with the undercarriage down to mislead the opposition into thinking they were I-15's - before raising the undercarriage and increasing throttle to attack. Chaikas also fought in Finland in 1939, and served as frontline fighters in the early stages of the Second World War ( not being withdrawn until 1943).

The I-153 appeared in several variants with differing powerplant, armament and other fittings - one variant included a pressurised cabin and supercharging for high altitude work. The aircraft were also used in experimental work, including being fitted with ramjet engines in the late 1930's. Development of the I-15 family continued with the I-190 (using a 950hp M-88) and finally the I-195. Production eventually amounted to 3,437 I-153, from 6,578 aircraft in the I-15 family.

Despite the large numbers produced, very few have survived - none of which until recently has been airworthy. Along with the I-16, New Zealand has played a part in an I-153 revival through the work of Sir Tim Wallis and his Alpine Fighter Collection team. Sir Tim visited the Soviet Union in the early 1990's in relation to his business interests and initiated a wreck recovery programme. In October 1992 a contract was signed on a project to rebuild three I-153 and six I-16 wrecks to airworthiness in Novisibirsk.

The first I-153 aircraft (ZK-JJB '10' c/n 6326) arrived in New Zealand in March 1998. The aircraft was reassembled with the expectation it would be ready to participate in the Warbirds over Wanaka 98 airshow in April, and was registered in readiness on March 12th. However, at the conclusion of the first test flight on March 25th, the port undercarriage would not extend correctly. After a number of attempts to correct the problem, test-pilot Tom Middleton eventually made a forced landing in which the aircraft suffered spar, propellor and underside damage (see pictures below).

Repairs were delayed until the arrival of the other two aircraft along with the replacement parts in early 1999. The two new aircraft were registered on August 24, 1999 (ZK-JKM '75' c/n 7027, ZK-JKN '16' c/n 6316). JKM made its first test flight on September 21, and JKN followed on September 30.

The aircraft made their show debut at Wanaka 2000. This was not incident free as during a practice on April 21 (Friday) ZK-JKM while flown by John Lanham hit a duck which resulted in damage to the front spar in the lower starboard wing. With the assistance of the Croydon Aircraft Company the aircraft was repaired and returned to service on the 23rd (Sunday). More remarkably it had changed plumage, now appearing in Nationalist Chinese colours. (Illustrated below). The aircraft was then able to participate with the other I-153s and the I-16s in a formation of eight Polikarpovs - the most seen together since the mid-1940s. More on the I-153 can be found here.