The La-9 was the penultimate development of the line that began with Semyon Lavochkin, Vladimir Gorbunov and Mikhael Gudkov's LaGG-1 in 1938. The three had set up an OKB (experimental design bureau) in Moscow with the intention of creating a general purpose tactical fighter. What would be the LaGG-1 was a fairly orthodox wooden fighter design built around the Klimov M-105P . After being submitted to the Directorate of Aviation Industry (GUAP) it was initially designated the I-22, and went into testing in March 1940. The aircraft was said to lack acceleration and could be outclimbed by the I-16. Redesign saw the weight reduced, a change to the armanet and alterations to the wing incorporating automatic slats and allowing more fuel to be carried. The new model was designated the LaGG-3 and went into production in early 1941. The aircraft was described as overweight, underpowered and unforgiving. But it proved its strength of construction in combat and was used for close support and ground attack, with 6,528 being delivered. As WW-II progressed the OKB was relocated to Gor'ky and then Tbilisi but work continued. Experiments were made with the 1540hp Shvetsov M-82 radial. This caused some problems with extra weight and a different thrust line, but flight testing began in March 1942, and production followed in May 1942 as the LaGG-5. After initial teething problems this aircraft went on to be regarded as an impressive low to medium altitude fighter, although it suffered from a light armament, a lack of range, and a tendency to 'bounce' on landing. When the rear deck was cut down the new model became known as the La-5, as Gudkov had left the OKB in mid-1941 and Gorbunov followed in 1942. Further development saw further weight reductions and changes to the fuel setup. A change to the M-82F was designated the La-5F, and in March 1943 to the M-82FN was the La-5FN. Production was in the order of 9,920 aircraft. A parallel development in late 1942 was the La-5UTI which featured a second cockpit aft of the radio bay with seperated from the forward cockpit by a greenhouse fairing. It was also distinguished by a larger tail, having the radio mast offset, and a dreduction in the armament carried. As metal availability increased in 1943, a mixed construction development incorporating metal spars, further refinements to the fueslage aerodynamics, and maintenance improvements such as better cowling access was introduced. The new version was test flown in November 1943 and went into production the following May as the La-7. A UTI version of the La-7 was also produced, along with the rocket boosted La-7R and a turbocharged high altitude version called the La-7TK. Production amounted to 5,753 by 1946, with the type being removed from frontline service in 1946. It was completly withdrawn by the end of the decade. Like the La-5FN before it, the La-7 was operated by Czech as well as Russian units.
At the end of 1944 development of the composite La-7 was abandoned in favour of an all metal design which would be the La-9. Although the new model showed a distinct family resemblance to the earlier aircraft, it was a completely new aircraft which only shared the powerplant with its predecessor. With an all metal monocoque fuselage and square cut laminar wings, it differed externally with a deeper rear fuselage and larger tail. The redesign was again lighter and gains had been made in fuel capacity . Armament was increased from 2-3 NS-23 23mm cannon to 4 mounted in the nose. One feature carried over was the ducting of exhaust gas through a fuselage filter then pumping it into the wings to force out fuel vapour. The La-9 went into production in 1946 with testing beginning in June and finishing in October. From 1946 the La-9 was quickly seen in the USSR and East Germany and acquired the NATO reporting name 'Fritz'. Production amounted to 1,630 units. A UTI version rapidly followed. Examples were also operated by Chinese and North Korean units. Although the age of the piston fighter was in decline at the outbreak of the Korean War, the La-9 served in combat had had some notable successes. Like opposing piston aircraft, many were turned to ground attack and on June 17, 1953 La-9s participating in a 'Bed Check Charlie' raid on Inchon harbour succeeded in destroying fuel tanks containing some five million gallons of fuel. The La-9 was generally withdrawn from the various coomunist airforces by 1960. By early 1947 a longer range successor for the La-9, to be known as the La-11 was underway. This sacrificed one of the cannon armament and increased range with an increase from the La-9s 825 litres to 1,100 litres of fuel. It is distinguished by the moving of the underside intake to the cowling lip. The type also served in Korea, and some examples continued in use well into the 1960's.
The La-9 illustrated below (c/n 828) is the only airworthy example from amongst a very small group of survivors (estimates I have seen range from 3-5). The aircraft was retired from the Chinese Air Force circa 1960 to the Beijing University of Aeronautics where it was displayed along with an La-11. In 1986 what proved to be prolonged negotiations began to bring the aircraft to the West, and the aircraft did not arrive at Duxford for the Old Flying Machine Company until May 8, 1996. It was registered as G-BWUD to Classic Aviation Ltd (Basle Switzerland) on June 14, 1996. The aircraft's travels were not over however, as it was decided to ship the aircraft to New Zealand for restoration. The airframewas received at Pioneer Aero Restorations Ardmore facility in November 2000. The engine was sent to W Motor Services in the Czech Republic for overhaul. The airframe was substantially complete by early 2002 (as seen in photos below taken in March of that year), and on March 5 the aircraft was registered ZK-LIX to Hanna-Hogan Ltd - a new 50:50 partnership set up by Ray Hanna of the OFMC and Garth Hogan of Pioneer Aero Restorations to operate the aircraft. However, restoration of the engine was more protracted, and this did not reach New Zealand until January 2003.. The aircraft finally returned to the air on March 1, 2003 in the hands of John Lamont. After some teething problems, the aircraft made its airshow debut at the Ardmore Airshow on March 8. With firther fine tuning and testing, the aircraft completed twelve hours flying before being packed up for shipment to the UK, where it arrived on June 8. Initially restored in an authentic Peoples Liberation Army paint scheme reflecting its service history (as illustrated below), the aircraft's plumage has been altered to represent a Russian aircraft to meet regulations regarding the use of national insignia, and it had acquired Breitling Fighters logos on the nose. The aircraft was a static display at the Paris airshow between June 16 and June 23 when it returned to the UK. Its northern hemisphere airshow debut was at Duxford at the Flying Legends show on July 12 in the hands of Keith Skilling.
Last Text Update:- 28 August, 2003
Last Picture Update:- 28 August, 2003
The following pictures were taken on two occasions - the first being March 2, 2002 while the aircraft was still under restoration. The second was on March 7 while the aircraft was still being flight tested prior to its first airshow display. My most greatful thanks to Garth Hogan, Ray Hanna, and the team at Pioneer Aero Restorations for allowing me access while work was going on.
More pictures can be found at Pioneer Aero Restorations website, and pictures from the first display can be found on Alex Mitchell's Warbirds over New Zealand website.
I normally offer to let you make a request for an image of a particular part of the aircraft. But with this aircraft now UK resident, that may be rather difficult!
The following block of pictures were made on March 2, 2002 while the aircraft was substantially complete but still under restoration. Post restoration pics are at the bottom of this page.
The following block of pictures were made on March 7, 2003 soon after the aircraft restoration was completed, and during the flight testing phase.
© 2003 Phillip Treweek, all rights reserved