08 December 2008

The beast featured on Yakovlev's site

December 2008 Back in June this year, I sent some pictures of the beast to Yakovlev Design Bureau (YDB) to let them know at least one of their birds is still flying on the other side of the world. In turn, they kindly posted my email and pictures of the beast on their website.

When I bought 853101 from Mark Jefferies of Yak UK, he asked YDB to provide written confirmation that this bird had never served with the Soviet National Aerobatics team and had never been written off. There was a reason for needing such confirmation.

Aircraft flown by the Soviet National team were typically scrapped after about 40 to 50 flight hours. Team pilots routinely flew their Yak-50s beyond the +8G/-5G limit load factors; such was the brutal reality of modern world competition aerobatics.

So these poor birds ended up with buckled skin panels or worse, overstressed wing spars or suffered damage to other major load bearing components.

In many cases, severely damaged machines were simply scrapped. And in the Soviet era, since the state owned everything, the poor economics of the practice didn't matter. In other cases where the aircraft weren't scrapped, they were overhauled and sent out to DOSAAF (military flying club) units for less hazardous duty.

By 1984, the Soviet National team had re-equipped with Yak-55 birds. Therefore any Yak-50s built in 1985 and 1986 (last production year), never served with the team.

My particular aircraft (853101) didn't serve with the Soviet National team but was a DOSAAF bird in the Ukraine.
The "85" meant it was built in 1985 while the next two digits "31" meant it was part of the 31st batch of ten units. And the last two digits "01" meant that it was the first unit in batch 31.

In all, YDB built 312 units. So this meant 31 full batches ten units each plus two extra units were produced.

Before YDB's confirmation, I had already concluded it wasn't a team bird because of its construction (or serial) number. And indeed, 853101's original Russian log books show it flew 220 hours with the Ukrainian DOSAAF as Blue 59 until it was taken out of service some time after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

While undertaking research into various Yak-50s offered for sale to me, I came across an unexpected source of information on the history of some of them. A Dutch aviation enthusiast, Marcel de Jong, had visited a number of ex-Soviet air bases in the mid to late 1990s.

I was happened to find his website and studied his comprehensive list of aircraft in which serial numbers, fuselage numbers and general condition were noted. After wading through a large number of aircraft types, I found an entry listing a Yak-50 with the serial number 853101.

Marcel noted that this Yak-50 was a DOSAAF bird with fuselage number 59 Blue. It was in storage (probably just parked) at a former Soviet airbase in Odessa-Lyman, Ukraine in 1996.

This was the independent confirmation I needed to corroborate YDB's information along with the log books. It also meant that the rest of 853101's history from the time of its rescue from Ukraine to overhaul by Shakhty Aviation in Rostov and then onto the UK, was very likely to be true as well.

I wasn't concerned about the aircraft's history after its arrival into the UK in 1998, as it was well documented. I was more interested about its life during the Soviet era.

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