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fought in Finland in 1939, and served as frontline fighters in the early stages of the Second World War ( not being withdrawn until 1943).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.
Last Update:- 6 March, 2002
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