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Lavochkin La 5F 21IAP White 20 Kalinin front 1944 01

 Lavochkin La-5F 21IAP White 20 Kalinin front 1944 01

Lavochkin La-5 (Лавочкин Ла-5)

National origin:- Soviet Union
Role:- Fighter
Manufacturer:- Lavochkin
Designer:- Semyon Lavochkin
First flight:- March 1942
Introduction:- July 1942
Status:- Retired
Produced:- 1936-1941
Number built:- 9,920
Primary users:- Soviet Air Force
Sceondary users:- Finnish Air Force; Luftwaffe
Developed from:- Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov LaGG-3
Variants:- Lavochkin La-7

In mid-1943, a new La-5 was captured by the Germans after making a forced landing at a German airfield. The aircraft was assessed by Luftwaffe test pilot Hans-Werner Lerche. Lerche noted that the La-5FN excelled at altitudes below 3,000 m (9,843 ft) but suffered from short range and flight time of only 40 minutes at cruise engine power. All of the engine controls (throttle, mixture, propeller pitch, cowl flaps, and supercharger gearbox) had separate levers which forced the pilot to make constant adjustments during combat or risk suboptimal performance. For example, rapid acceleration required moving no less than six levers. In contrast, contemporary German aircraft with the BMW 801 used the Kommandogerät engine computer system that automatically controlled all of these settings from a single throttle lever. Due to airflow limitations, the engine boost system (Forsazh) could not be used above 2,000 m (6,562 ft). Stability in all axes was generally good. The authority of the ailerons was deemed exceptional but the rudder was insufficiently powerful at lower speeds. At speeds in excess of 600 km/h (370 mph), the forces on control surfaces became excessive. Horizontal turn time at 1,000 m (3,281 ft) and maximum engine power was 25 seconds.

The La-5's top speed and acceleration were comparable to Luftwaffe fighters at low altitude. The La-5FN roll rate was slightly higher than the Messerschmitt Bf 109; the Bf 109 was slightly faster, and had higher climb and turn rates. The La-5FN climbed slightly faster and had a smaller turn radius than the Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-8. However, the Fw 190A-8 was faster at all altitudes and had significantly better dive performance and a superior roll-rate. Lerche advised Fw 190 pilots to draw the La-5FN to higher altitudes, escape attacks by diving followed by a high-speed shallow climb, and avoid prolonged turning engagements. Both German fighters had superior performance at all altitudes when using MW 50 fuel.

The most serious La-5 defects were the engine's thermal isolation, lack of cockpit ventilation, and a canopy that was impossible to open at speeds over 350 km/h. Furthermore, poor engine compartment insulation allowed exhaust gas to enter the cockpit; in response, pilots frequently ignored orders by flying with open canopies.

Soviet pilots were generally satisfied with the La-5. 'That was an excellent fighter with two cannons and a powerful air-cooled engine', recalled pilot Viktor M. Sinaisky. 'The first La-5s from the Tbilisi factory were slightly inferior, while the last ones from the Gorki plant, which came to us from Ivanovo, were perfect. At first we received regular La-5s, but then we got new ones containing the ASh-82FN engine with direct injection of fuel into the cylinders. It was perfected and had better maneuverability, acceleration, speed and climb rate compared to the early variants. Everyone was in love with the La-5. It was easy to maintain, too.'

Nevertheless, La-5 losses were high, the highest of all fighters in service in USSR, excepting those of the Yak-1. In 1941-45, VVS KA lost 2,591 La-5s: 73 in 1942, 1,460 in 1943, 825 the following year, and 233 in 1945.

Operational history

The La-5F arrived at the frontline in February 1943. It was able to challenge the Bf 109G-2 and the Fw 190A-4 on more or less equal terms, while at tree-top height it was even faster. One of the most successful La-5 units was 5th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment, that flew 3,802 combat sorties, claiming 128 enemy aircraft shot down while losing 52 Lavochkins.

This webpage was updated 2nd September 2021