Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov LaGG-3

The Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov LaGG-3 was a Soviet fighter aircraft of World War II. It was a refinement of the earlier LaGG-1, and was one of the most modern aircraft available to the Soviet Air Force at the time of Germany's invasion in 1941.

Overweight despite its wooden construction, at one stage 12 LaGG-3s were being completed daily and 6,528 had been built when factory 31 in Tbilisi switched to Yak-3 production in 1944.


Country Name Origin Year
Russia (USSR) 1940
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Finland View
Germany View
Japan View
Russia (USSR) 1941 View

The prototype of the LaGG-3, I-301, was designed by Semyon A. Lavochkin, Vladimir P. Gorbunov and Mikhail I. Gudkov. It was designated LaGG-3 in serial production. Its airframe was almost completely made of timber, with crucial parts processed with Bakelite lacquer. This novel wood-laminate construction was more durable than regular timber, was incombustible, and didn’t rot. The full wooden wing (with plywood surfaces) was analogous to that of the Yak-1. The only difference was that the LaGG’s wings were built in two sections. The fuselage was of similar construction to the MiG-3's.[2] The LaGG-3’s armament consisted of a 1 × 20 mm ShVAK cannon, with 150 rounds, which was installed between the "V" of the cylinders of the engine and two synchronized 2 × 12.7 mm Berezin UBS machine guns with 170 rpg. Consequently the weight of fire was 2.65 kg/s, making the LaGG-3 superior in burst mass to all contemporary Russian fighters, particulary to the MiG-3.[3] Most other Russian fighters of that era, were (and are) considered under-gunned[citation needed] in relation to western contemporary fighters. This is somewhat true even for the Yak-1, which had a 20 mm cannon and two 7.62 mm machine guns, but not the later versions of the Polikarpov I-16, which had two cannons and two machine guns.

The LaGG-3 rapidly replaced the LaGG-1, although the new fighter was too heavy for its engine. In fact, Lavochkin, Gorbunov and Gudkov had originally designed their prototype for the powerful Klimov M-106 engine. But it proved to be unreliable. So they were obliged to install the relatively weak Klimov M-105P. As a result, the LaGG was slow; its top speed was just 575 km/h, while its rate of climb, at ground level, was as slow as 8.5 meters/second. The LaGG-3 proved to be somewhat hard to control as it reacted sluggishly to stick forces. In particular, it was difficult to pull out of a dive, and if the stick was pulled too hard, it tended to fall into a spin. As a consequence, sharp turns were difficult to perform. A more powerful version of the engine was installed, but the improvement was small, so the only solution was to lighten the airframe. The LaGG team re-examined the design and pared down the structure as much as possible. Fixed slats were added to the wings to improve climb and maneuverability and further weight was saved by installing lighter armament (most versions used a 1 × 20 mm ShVAK cannon and a single synchronized 12.7 mm Berezin UBS machine gun). But the improvement was slight and, thus, without an alternative powerplant, when the LaGG-3 was first committed to combat in July 1941, it was completely outclassed by the Messerschmitt Bf 109.

Later in 1941, the LaGG-3 appeared with new armament options, an internally balanced rudder, retractable ski landing gear for the winter, retractable tailwheel and wing pipes for drop tanks. The result was still not good enough. Even with the lighter airframe and revised supercharged engine, the LaGG-3 was underpowered.

The LaGG-3 proved immensely unpopular with pilots. Some aircraft supplied to the front line were up to 40 km/h (25 mph) slower than they should have been and some were not airworthy. This happened less because of the added weight with full gas and weapon loads in combat conditions, but specifically to the poor finishing in rushed industrial production, due to the German invasion. In combat, the LaGG-3's main advantage was its strong airframe. Although the laminated wood did not burn, it shattered when hit by high explosive rounds.

The LaGG-3 was improved during production, resulting in 66 minor variants in the 6,528 that were built. Experiments with fitting a Shvetsov M-82 radial engine to the LaGG-3 airframe finally solved the power problem, and led to the Lavochkin La-5[5] The major LaGG-3 construction plant in Gorky switched over to the La-5 in 1942, after having completed 3,583 LaGG-3. All further LaGG-3 development and production was done by factory 31 in Taganrog as the sole LaGG-3 manufacturer.

Soviet pilots generally disliked this aircraft. Pilot Viktor M. Sinaisky recalled: "It was an unpleasant client! Preparing the LaGG-3 for flight demanded more time in comparison with other planes. All cylinders were supposed to be synchronized: God forbid you from shifting the gas distribution! We were strictly forbidden to touch the engine! But there were constant problems with water-cooled engines in winter: specially as there was no anti-freeze liquid. You couldn't keep the engine running all night long, so you had to pour hot water into the cooling system, in the morning. Furthermore, pilots didn't like flying the LaGG-3 - a heavy beast with a weak M-105 engine - but they got used to it. Even so, we had higher losses on LaGG-3 than on I-16s."

Contrary to popular belief, the nickname lakirovannie garantirovanny grob ("(the) varnished guaranteed coffin" - varnished guaranteed coffin) was not used during the war.

Even with its limitations, some Soviet pilots managed to reach the status of ace flying the LaGG-3. G.I. Grigor'yev, from 178.IAP, was credited of at least 11 air victories plus two shared. But pictures of his LaGG-3 "Yellow 6", in November–December 1941, show 15 "stars", so his score was probably higher.

Role Fighter
Manufacturer 21 (Gorky), 31 (Taganrog/Tbilisi), 23/153 (Leningrad/Novosibirsk)
Designer V. P. Gorbunov
First flight 30 March 1940
Introduction early 1941
Primary user Soviet Union
Produced 1941-1944
Number built 6528
Variants Lavochkin La-5
Lavochkin La-7


General characteristics

  • Crew: One
  • Length: 8.81 m (28 ft 11 in)
  • Wingspan: 9.80 m (32 ft 1.75 in)
  • Height: 2.54 m (8 ft 4 in)
  • Wing area: 17.4 m² (188 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 2,205 kg (4,851 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 2,620 kg (5,764 lb)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 3,190 kg (7,018 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Klimov M-105PF liquid-cooled V-12, 924 kW (1,260 hp)

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 575 km/h (357 mph)
  • Range: 1000 km (621 mi)
  • Service ceiling: 9,700 m (31,825 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 14.9 m/s (2,926 ft/min)
  • Wing loading: 150 kg/m² (31 lb/ft²)
  • Power/mass: 350 W/kg (0.21 hp/lb)

Armament

  • 2× 12.7 mm (0.50 in) Berezin BS machine guns
  • 1× 20 mm ShVAK cannon
  • 6× RS-82 or RS-132 rockets up a total of 200 kg (441 lb)

End notes