The Aeroplanes That Never Were

Update 2020

Over the years-- and most especially during times of war-- a number of designations for various spurious aircraft have appeared, disappeared and reappeared, often in a manner defying logical understanding. How many reports were issued regarding the "He 113", one wonders, for example? Such has been the case, also, for the aircraft of the Soviet VVS as reported by their adversaries and allies, alike. In this article we will explore some of these cases, and try to understand from whence such terminologies developed, how they might have come into use, and to which authentic aircraft these were likely to have referred.

The "I-17"

Perhaps the most widely misreported Russian aircraft of all, the Polikarpov TsKB-15 and -19 designs were seemingly a source of near hysterical obsession for many outside observers. I have lost track, personally, of the number of well regarded reference books and other sources which postulate the existence of this machine, issue claims for the number in service, places for their alleged combat activities and all manner of such type history. All of which, of course, is complete nonsense: the TsKB-15 family did not enter production, and never (therefore, and obviously) entered service with the VVS.

Precisely three examples of this family were built, the first of which-- the TsKB-15-- was completed in 1934. It is true that the type designation "I-17" was indeed earmarked for this design, and GUAP did order Factory No 39 in Moscow to prepare for manufacture of two TsKB-15s under that designation on 28 February 1934. However, virtually all other technical and government documentation on the type, to include an exceedingly detailed and lengthy Teknicheskoe Opinsane (Technical Description), referred to the design as the TsKB-15, and never as the "I-17". In fact, the exact terminology used in the GUAP instructions related to the "I-17 Project", which likely explains why the subsequent TsKB-19 revision of the prototype was also an "I-17". Ultimately, a third example was completed (by 1936) with the M-100 motor as the TsKB-19bis, and this was similarly part of the I-17 Project.

The TsKB-15
The TsKB-19
The TsKB-19bis

The Soviet government-- or perhaps Nikolai Polikarpov, himself-- may have popularised the designation "I-17" to some degree. Following the TsKB-19's over flight of Red Square during the 1936 May Day parade, V. Chkalov issued his famous automotive quip involving the aircraft, "The I-17 against the I-16 may be compared as the Lincoln against the Ford." TsAGI Test Pilot Popov's evaluation of his flight in the TsKB-19 is titled thusly, but in the written portion of the report he employs the term "I-17" almost exclusively. And, in the same period, Chief Designer Tomashevich, who was a member of the Central Design Bureau (TsKB) and considerably involved with the aircraft, used the terms "I-17" and even "I-17bis" in his correspondence with the NKAP. Even if not the aircraft's official designation (whatever we may mean by that), the term "I-17" certainly was understood to refer to the TsKB-19 (at least) in aviation circles.

Subsequently, the designation "I-17" may have come into use in Western aviation literature following the 1936 Paris Air Salon, during which the TsKB-19 was on prominent display. The only photo of the aircraft's display from Le Bourget which I have seen shows "TsKB-19" painted on the tail, but it is not impossible that perhaps some further signage or labels were presented alongside this exhibit. With its daring, futuristic shape and French Hispano-Suiza engine, one might understand that the aircraft drew considerable interest in Paris.

Additional obfuscation no doubt ensued when the Government proposed a virtually bewildering number of sub-projects and developments of the I-17 Project family. In no particular order, GUAP/NKAP instructions for such permutations during the period 1935-38 included the following variants:
To have been designated "I-18"
To have been designated "I-19"
ˇTsKB-25 (Gnome-Rhone)
ˇTsKB-25 (M-34)
ˇTsKB-25 (HS-12Y and revised armament)
To have been designated "I-20"
To have been designated "I-21"
ˇTsKB-19bis (M-34FRN)
Being quite similar in appearance, externally, anyone would be forgiven for confusing these proposals with the I-17 (TsKB-19), even within the Soviet aviation community.

Lastly, there is some evidence that the government employed the I-17 in a modest propaganda role. Images exist showing the TsKB-19 and the -19bis sitting together, both painted in some type of exceedingly shiny finish, and additionally wearing VVS style national markings and tactical numbers.

Was the intention of such images to suggest that the "I-17" fighter was in regular VVS service? Are the images even genuine (this series do not appear to come from the TASS archive, which given their nature is rather suspicious, in fact)?

Whatever the truth of these various observations, the result of such was that the "I-17" came to be an accepted type in VVS service so far as the outside world was concerned. Many USA intelligence reports, such as FM30-34 (which, see) listed the type, and even gave specific totals of machines in service. Finnish victory claims from the Winter War are replete with references to successes against the "I-17" (which are rather telling, as there were no in-line engined fighters of any kind in VVS service during that campaign). Luftwaffe pilots were similarly "successful" against the "I-17", and also the "I-18", and such claims may be found in German records into 1943.

From these accounts the type "I-17" became a mainstay in Western literature on Soviet aviation of the 1930s and 40s. It featured in most such works of the latter 20th century, and only gradually disappeared from circulation following the millennium, displaced by the increasing research and authorship which has evolved since since that time. Even so, colour profiles of "service" I-17s may still be found across the internet and in various books on the topic. The long arms of confusion and ignorance on VVS matters reach far, indeed.

The "MiG-5"

One of the most confusing aspects of Soviet aviation
during the 1930s and 40s was the bewildering number of prototypes which were designated "DIS". During 1941, alone, for example, the government ordered prototypes named "DIS" (dvukhmotorniy istrebitel soporovozhdenya-- or, twin-engined escort fighter) from Kocherigin, Mikoyan-Gurevich (which was re-designated the DIS-200) and Polikarpov (which was re-designated the DIT). Of these, the MiG OKB DIS-200 enjoyed the greatest development.

The original DIS-200 was powered by the Mikulin AM-37 motor, and on 1 March 1941 the government reserved the nomenclature "MiG-5" for this aircraft, hoping to launch manufacture at Factory No 1. Replacing the un-ready AM-37s with serviceable M-105A engines did not save the design, which suffered from poor handling and flight behaviour and was rejected by the NII VVS. The MiG Bureau later attempted to resurrect the type by fitting two powerful M-82 radials, but this permutation of the DIS-200 (sometimes re-branded as the IT) failed on the same grounds, and production was never instigated.

However, the designation "MiG-5" was widely reported in German military documentation of the time, and especially so on pilot victory claim lists, where it might be seen throughout 1942. Since the DIS-200 was never the recipient of outside publicity, to which aircraft could they have been referring?

It is quite possible that the Germans came to believe that the suffix "-5" in Soviet aircraft designations referred to the use of the M-82 radial in the design. The 'La-5' was an 'LaGG-3' with an M-82 radial (indeed, this was literally true of early examples), after all, and one does see the occasional reference to the "Jak-5" (Yak-7 M-82?); did they hear of a 'MiG-5 with M-82 engines', perhaps? In any event, it seems clear that German pilots were in fact referring to the MiG-3 M-82 prototype, which-- with the greatest possible irony-- nearly went into manufacture at Kuibishev as the "MiG-9"! MiG-9 was not used by German forces, but MiG-5 was, and I am sure that the MiG-3 M-82 is what they had in mind.

Of course, the MiG-3 M-82 (I-210) did not enter production and the designation "MiG-9", as well as "MiG-5", remained unused [NB. At least until the advent of the I-300 jet fighter, after the war, which became the production MiG-9]. Whichever design the Germans did ultimately assume to be the "MiG-5", such did not exist in any case.

The "MiG-7"

The term "MiG-7" has been widely employed over the years to refer to any one of a number of quite similar Mikoyan-Gurevich aircraft of the I-200 prototype family. Similarly to the I-17, the "MiG-7" was much mooted in Western literature during the latter half of the 20th century, with development and unit / deployment histories appearing in numerous books and articles. Alas-- and also in similarity to the "I-17"-- all such ideas were spurious and no such production aircraft, or designation, ever came into use.

It is quite possible that many observers were fooled by the copious number of I-200 family machines, all of which bore more than a passing similarity, and merged these in to a single type. In that case, perhaps the sight of so many different appearances suggested a service employment of the aircraft, and indeed the designation "MiG-7" had, after all, been planned for this aircraft... or, no?

In fact, the designation "MiG-7" had originally been reserved for a version of the MiG-3 powered by the AM-37 motor during 1941. By the end of the year this proposal had become merged with a confusing proliferation of MiG-3 development schemes, among which included the I-230 (D), the I-231 (AM-39) and the I-211 (E) with an M-82 radial, to name only the main proposals. During March 1942 the GKO decided to clarify these projects, and at the same time scrapped the AM-37 engined MiG-3 version for a new design with the same motor-- the I-220 (A). Here is surely where the confusion set in: a MiG development with the AM-37 became a MiG development with the AM-37... classic stuff for ambiguity. For the new prototype, the I-220, the designation "MiG-11" was reserved.

The I-220, or "MiG-11", for years misconstrued as the "MiG-7"

The I-220, which the MiG OKB referred to merely as the Type "A", remained in development for almost two years. It was powered in turn by the AM-38F, then the AM-39, and lastly by the AM-42B. No production was undertaken. From the I-220 sprang a number of developments, the major versions being the I-221 (2A), the I-222 (3A), the I-224 (4A) and the I-225 (5A). None of these prototypes went into production nor service, as neither did the AM-37 version of the MiG-3; there was, ultimately, no "MiG-7" nor "MiG-11" nor any aircraft of a similar nomenclature.

The "LaGG-1"

The wide spread us of the designation "LaGG-1" was not so much a case of mistaken identity, but rather of incomplete developmental history. Soviet government documents refer to the original I-301 prototype in three ways, seemingly without prejudice: I-301, LaGG I-301 and LaGG-1. It is certainly true that the NKAP had intended to issue the designation "LaGG-1", but in the event modifications were required to the I-301 in preparations for series manufacture. These changes were of a sufficiently significant nature that by the time mass production began, the I-301 was re-christened the LaGG-3 (likely to differentiate from the early configuration).

No "LaGG-1" aircraft were built, and the type never existed. Despite that, references to this aircraft are commonplace, and the term may be found throughout German records of the period, not to mention in more modern books and other works. All of these references are, one must say, in error.

The "I-16 Type 6"

The I-16 "Type 6" has been an absolute mainstay in most literature on the Polikarpov fighter over the years, often enough even within Russian aviation work. However, somewhat predictably-- since the type did not exist-- the exact model to which all of these descriptions has been applied vary greatly. Blame in this case is actually attributable to, of all persons, V.B. Shavrov. In his excellent tome on Soviet aviation [The History of Aircraft Construction in the USSR] it is Shavrov, himself, who posits the designation "Type 6" as referring to a Type 5 model powered by the M-25A motor. This is a mistake-- all Type 5s were powered by the M-25A.

The designation "Type 6" has a very long history in Spanish literature on the Civil War, even as early as the 1950s. In the main this problem arose from Shavrov's work, but as well the case has been put forward of such a reference from a single manifest taken from the SS Cabo San Augustin, where the hand-written term "Type 6" can be found [NB. having seen a copy, myself, I do not think that the cipher was a '6 in any case, just a badly formed '5']. If this is indeed true it is a very strange thing, as the same manifest contains dozens of typed references to the correct nomenclature Type 5; why on earth would anyone accept an indistinct blob of handwriting in preference to those? However, I think that the sheer longevity of this misconception was not just Savrov, nor any manifest, but rather the usual Western desperation to insist upon different version and variant names for aircraft (since that is what Western manufacturers do). When, for example, such authors could not find any suffixes to explain the various Il-2 permutations to be seen in photographs, they simply made them up ("...ah, yes, this one is a two seater-- must be an '-M' model..!"); the same for Yaks, for T-34 tanks, and host of other Red Army equipment.

In other Western literature the designation "Type 6" has evolved over the years. Initially, the name was often applied to ski-equipped Type 5s, particularly those seen in the Russo-Finish Winter War. Subsequently, "Type 6" suggested a change in engine (a la Shavrov), usually from the M-25A to the M-25V (which in fact powered the Type 10). Latterly, the "Type 6" was identified as the 1938 model Type 5, which featured a windscreen replacing the sliding hood.

Finally, senior Russian historian Mikhail Maslov (in 1998) suggested that perhaps the designation "Type 6" might have applied to the 30 I-16 Ispanskii models built at Gor'ki
. In the end, this turned out not to be so. The Ispanskii models were actually four-gun Type 5 aircraft, and served as a de facto prototype of the Type 10 which went into series production directly after the former were shipped to Spain.

In every case, these designations "Type 6" are erroneous. No such model existed and the nomenclature was not used. All I-16 Type 5 permutations remained Type 5, and nothing else.

The "SB-1", "SB-2" and "SB-3"

Mistaken or misinterpreted Soviet aircraft designations were-- and are still-- certainly common enough. Witness, for example, the host of spurious designations attached to the Ilyushin Il-2 ("Il-2M", "-M3", and who-knows-what else...), for example. But, for some reason the family of Tupolev ANT-40 medium bombers have been especially confused, and indeed it is difficult to understand why.

One might presume that the widely used term "SB-2" is no more than a confusion of the correct, and full, type nomenclature of SB 2-M100. But, if this is so, then from whence the terms "SB-1" and "SB-3"? There was obviously neither a single nor three-engined SB version, so how would those numbers become included in such a similar mistake (e.g. SB 3-M100)? The latter SB was powered by the M-103, of course, but that is rather a transposition of ciphers as compared to the previous error, is it not?

However, even at the time there was ample evidence available so that any outsider or foreign intelligence service should have been able to understand the aircraft's correct designation. The Spanish Republicans, when not employing their preferred nick-name of "Katiuska", reported the machine accurately as "Tupolev SB" in many documents. Similarly, the Czechoslovaks acquired a production license and built their own version as the Avia B.71, correctly identifying this as an SB variant. Examples of the SB were captured in Spain by the Fascists, and these were described by them, and later inspected by foreign governments. How, in the light of such evidence on the topic, could these designations have come about remains a mystery.

Whatever the origin of these designations, all of them were incorrect and did not exist. That they would have persisted so doggedly to this day is yet another sign of the strides in popularising the VVS and its aircraft which still need to be made.

Prototypes Identified as Service Machines

Luftwaffe combat reports and claims lists often feature the names of legitimate Soviet aircraft in their contents which were prototypes, and not machines in service nor combat action. During 1941 and '42 the "I-180" was often mentioned, and many claims were made for "successes" against this adversary. The I-180 was indeed a Polikarpov OKB prototype, but it certainly did not enter production (and obviously not, thus, combat). It is difficult to imagine which machines the German pilots had in mind with these claims.

Another curious entry is for a host of claims against the "I-21". In this case the designation was assigned more than once, most notably in the first case for a varient of the TsKB-19 (see above), then latterly it was reserved for Pashinin's 1941 prototype (with the M-105P engine), amongst others. The "I-28" was yet another common such entry, and here one suspects that Senior Designer Yatsenko's I-28 was the mooted aircraft. Ultimately, none of these machines reached production, let alone combat service.

The I-180 no 2 prototype
Pashinin's I-21
Yatsenko's I-28