||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (May 2011)|
|A Yak-38 on the deck of a Soviet aircraft carrier|
|National origin||Soviet Union|
|Primary user||Soviet Navy|
|Unit cost||US$18.5 million in 1996|
|Developed from||Yakovlev Yak-36|
The Yakovlev Yak-38 (Russian: Як-38, NATO reporting name: Forger) was Soviet Naval Aviation's first and only operational VTOL strike fighter aircraft, in addition to being its first operational carrier-based fixed-wing aircraft. It was developed specifically for and served almost exclusively on the Kiev-class aircraft carriers.
Design and development 
The first drawings showed a supersonic aircraft strongly resembling the Hawker P.1154 in study in the United Kingdom, but with two R27-300 engines. Supersonic performances would have implied many difficulties of development, and it was decided to initially develop a relatively simple aircraft limited to Mach 0.95. Although the Yak-38 and Yak-38M were developed from the land-based Yakovlev Yak-36, the aircraft had almost nothing in common.
The prototype VM-01 was finished on 14 April 1970. Though outwardly similar to the British Hawker Siddeley Harrier, it followed a completely different configuration. Together with a vectorable thrust engine in the rear used during flight, two smaller, and less powerful, engines were housed in the front portion of the fuselage and used purely for take-off and landing.[note 1] The aircraft used a similar layout to the German experimental VTOL strike fighter, the VFW VAK 191B, which began development in 1961, and the contemporary Dassault Mirage IIIV.
The Yak 36 was sent for tests in May and June 1970. Mikhail Deksbakh carried out the first flight of the VM-02 in conventional flight mode on 15 January 1971. The VM-03 made its first flight in short take-off mode on 25 May 1971. Sea trials aboard the aircraft carrier ("aviation cruiser") Kiev were observed in 1975. A total of 231 Yak-38 aircraft were produced, including 38 two-seat trainers (Yak-38U). These were based on the four Kievs.
The Yak-38 used a hands-free landing system. The aircraft could negotiate a telemetry/telecommand link with a computer system in the aircraft carrier which would allow it to be guided onto the deck with no interaction from the pilot. The Yak-38 flies to a point several kilometers astern of the ship at a height of about 3,280 ft. Here the guidance ILS beam is captured and the ship electronics are coupled to the aircraft central computer. This commands a descending approach at a speed which rapidly falls from about 217 knots (400k/h; 250 mph) to a speed barely faster than the ship, the nozzles rotating and lift jets coming into action automatically. Guidance to the assigned deck spot is then supplied, finishing with a vertical descent and immediate shutdown of all engines.
Another advanced feature that Yak-38 possessed was an automatic ejection seat. When one of the take-off engines failed, once the aircraft rolled past 60 degrees the pilot was automatically ejected from the aircraft. The take-off engines did suffer some reliability problems while in service and this system saved the lives of a few Russian naval aviators.
Like all VTOL jets the Yak-38 has a small wing in relation to the size of the fuselage. This wing is said to be a simple metal structure, with 45 degree sweep (or taper) on the leading edge; the outer half of each wing folds upwards. The leading edge is fixed, while the trailing edge has typical Soviet track mounted slotted flaps in-board and conventional ailerons out-board of the wing-fold point.
The initial colour scheme worn by the AV-MF Yak-38 consisted of dark green anti-corrosion paint on the undersides of the aircraft, with dark blue upper surfaces. This was later replaced by a light grey over dark grey scheme, frequently associated with the Yak-38M. An unusual green-over-silver "tiger" camouflage scheme, reportedly seen on an aircraft onboard Leningrad in 1986, was probably applied for one cruise only. Special camouflage schemes may also have been applied to aircraft involved in the Romb-1 trials in Afghanistan in 1980.
Operational history 
||This section needs additional citations for verification. (September 2011)|
The majority of Yak-36M initial production deliveries were to the 279 OKShAP (Otdelny Korabelny Shturmovoy Aviatsionny Polk, Independent Shipboard Attack Air Regiment), initially based at Saki, the AV-MF’s training centre in Crimea. Pilots for this unit were drawn from the Yakovlev OKB and the LII at Zhukovsky, as well as from the AV-MF. Established as early as December 1973, the 279 OKShAP of the Black Sea Fleet made use of a dummy Kiev-class flight deck, and also operated a pair of MiG-21UMs (and, briefly, Kamov Ka-25s) for training. The first AV-MF squadron embarked on Kiev in July 1976. On the conclusion of acceptance trials for the initial Yak-36Ms in August 1976 (Kiev was underway in the Atlantic at this point), the aircraft was formally accepted by the AV-MF in October, under the new designation Yak-38.
On its arrival in Murmansk, the 279 OKShAP was transferred to the Northern Fleet, with subsequent flying operations mainly being conducted from Severomorsk-3. The 299 IIAP (Issledovatlesko-Instruktorskiy Aviatsionnyi Polk, Research and Instructor Air Regiment) had been formed as a training unit at Saki in September 1976 to replace the previous unit within the Black Sea Fleet.
The February 1978 entry into service of Minsk, the second Kiev-class ship, was accompanied by a further series of Yak-38 shipboard trials, beginning in April 1978, and with the emphasis now placed on developing procedure for STOL operations. The passage of Minsk out of the Black Sea in February 1979 was duly followed by a major exercise involving two Kievs in the Mediterranean. On this occasion, five aircraft from each vessel conducted formation exercises in proximity to NATO observers.
The Yak-38's limited useful payload was always its Achilles' heel, but the high ambient temperatures that had been encountered in the Black Sea during the summer 1976 trials frequently prevented the aircraft from carrying any external stores at all, despite a reduced fuel load. Similar problems were then encountered when Minsk sailed off the coast of West Africa and then in the Indian Ocean; in these instances the lift jets proved unwilling to start under hot and humid conditions. An oxygen-boosting intake system[clarification needed] helped alleviate the problem, and was installed from September 1979 during routine overhauls. In July 1979, Minsk arrived in the Sea of Japan, where the vessel was home-ported at Strelok Bay, the Yak-38 component of its air wing thereafter being provided by the 311 OKShAP subordinate to the Pacific Fleet.[clarification needed] The 311 OKShAP, established in March 1976, was the second AV-MF Yak-38 unit.
During its first few years of ship-borne operations, the Yak-38 was not cleared to make rolling take-offs and run-on landings, leading some Western observers[who?] to believe the fundamentals of its propulsion design restricted the type to VTOL operations. In fact, shipboard short take-off trials had begun by December 1979, while experiments with run-on landings followed aboard Minsk between September 1980 and February 1981. V/STOL operations were made easier by the addition of a refined automatic flight control system, linked to a thumb switch on the pilot’s stick. Rolling take-offs were conducted with the lift engines deflected aft, the main engine nozzles being rotated automatically from 60° to 25° during the take-off run, before being slowly returned to the horizontal as the lift engines were shut down.
The Kievs normally embarked 12 single-seat Yak-38s, supplemented by two or three two-seat Yak-38Us, as part of an independent aviation regiment that also included two squadrons of (mainly anti-submarine warfare) helicopters. Of the seven landing pads available on the deck of each Kiev, all but one could accommodate the Yak-38.
During April and May 1980, four Yak-38s and four AV-MF pilots were deployed to Afghanistan as part of a 50-day trial codenamed Romb-1, although the ‘hot and high’ conditions prevented any meaningful combat missions from being undertaken – in total, 12 combat sorties were made, but only two 100 kg (220 lb) bombs could be carried. In the event, any involvement would have been further limited by the ‘near-operational’ nature of the Romb-1 deployment (which also involved the first and third prototype Su-25s). The aircraft involved were not intended to be subject to combat, but rather tested under conditions that simulated the battlefield to a high degree. Despite their official non-operational nature, aircraft involved in the Romb trials could be requested to undertake combat sorties by local divisional commanders, on an ad hoc basis. The Yak-38s and prototype Su-25s operated out of a specially prepared air base near Shindand. Even with a much-reduced fuel and weapons load, the Yak-38 proved incapable of operating during the hot daylight hours (after around 0500 hrs). One aircraft was lost in Afghanistan due to non-combat causes.
In September 1982, Novorossiysk - the third Kiev-class carrier - was commissioned. By now the V/STOL technique had been well practised, and the resulting increase in the Yak-38’s overall performance and capability was exploited during the passage of Novorossiysk from Severomorsk to join the Pacific Fleet. In a maritime context, the Yak-38 was not limited to the decks of Kievs. In September 1983, AV-MF pilots operated from the civilian Ro-Ro vessel Agostinio Neto, and NII-VVS pilots conducted further tests from another ‘Ro-Ro’, Nikolai Cherkasov. In both cases, use was made of a heat-resistant landing platform; further land-based trials tested the practicality of dispersed landing platforms, in a similar concept to the RAF’s Harrier operations in West Germany.
However, towards the middle of the 1980s, the Yak-38 was removed from front line service and transferred to land-based operations. The aircraft proved to have problems in conditions of high heat/high humidity, was underpowered and lacked an adequate combat radius. In fact, due to these limitations, one of the nicknames that the aircraft earned in the Soviet naval jargon was "peace dove". Another equally unflattering nickname earned due to inadequate combat radius was "foremast defense aircraft". In 1991, the type was retired from the Soviet Navy, and transferred to storage. A large number remain preserved as memorials.
|Yak-38||0201||Museum of Technology, Arkhangelsk, Russia|
|Yak-38У||01||Lugansk Aircraft Repair Plant, Ukraine|
|Yak-38||71||Technical Museum, Tolyatti, Russia|
|Yak-38М||46||Ukraine State Aviation Museum, Kiev, Ukraine|
|Yak-38У||03||Naval Museum, Sevastopol, Ukraine|
|Yak-38М||67||Naval Museum, Sevastopol, Ukraine|
|Yak-38М||83||Air Force HQ, Vinnitsa, Ukraine|
|Yak-38||87 (former s/n 90)||Artyom, Primorsky Krai, Russia|
|Yak-38||60||Khodynka Field, Moscow, Russia|
|Yak-38У||05||Saki, Crimea, Ukraine|
|Yak-38||23||Taganrog Museum of Aircraft, Taganrog, Russia|
|Yak-38||38||Kubinka (air base), Moscow, Russia|
|Yak-38У||24||Aerodrome Zhukovsky, Moscow, Russia|
|Yak-38||37||Central Air Force Museum, Monino, Russia|
|Yak-38||38||Central Air Force Museum, Monino, Russia|
|Yak-38||04||Moscow Aviation Institute, Russia|
|Yak-38||71||Victory Park, Saratov, Russia|
|Yak-38||29||No.121 Aircraft Repair Plant, Kubinka, Russia|
||This section needs additional citations for verification. (September 2011)|
- Yak-36M "Forger"
The initial pre-production version, differing slightly from the Yak-38. It weighed only 6,650 kg (14,700 lb) compared to the Yak-38's 7,370 kg (16,200 lb) and the engines were slightly less powerful.
- Yak-38 "Forger-A"
The Yak-38 was the first production model, it first flew on 15 January 1971, and entered service with the Soviet Naval Aviation on 11 August 1976. A total of 143 Yak-38s were produced.
- Yak-38M "Forger-A"
The Yak-38M was an upgraded version of the Yak-38, the main difference being the new Tumansky R-28V-300 and Rybinsk RD-38 engines. The maximum take off weight in VTOL was increased from 10,300 kg (23,000 lb) to 11,300 kg (25,000 lb) (12,000 kg (26,000 lb) in short take-off mode). The air intakes were slightly widened and the pylons under wings were reinforced to carry a 2,000 lb (910 kg) weapons load. The Yak-38M entered service with the Soviet Naval Aviation after June 1985, a total of 50 Yak-38M were produced.
- Yak-38U "Forger-B"
Two-seat training version for the Soviet Naval Aviation, this version differed from the basic aircraft in having an enlarged fuselage to accommodate a two-seater cockpit. The Yak-38U entered service on 15 November 1978, a total of 38 Yak-38U have been produced with the 38th aircraft being delivered in 1981.
Unbuilt projects 
- Yak-36P (or Yak-36MF)
Intended supersonic follow-on to the attack-optimised Yak-36M, adding AI radar, medium-range air-to-air missiles and advanced navigation equipment. A third RD-36-35 lift jet was also added to cope with increased take-off weight.
1970 project for supersonic light fighter with a pair of afterburning (hence "F" suffix) lift/cruise engines, the forward lift engines deleted, variable intakes, bicycle undercarriage.
Refined version of Yak-36M with 15,000 kgf (33,100 lbf) thrust Type 55 (or subsequently R-61V) engine in redesigned fuselage.
- Yak-38L (Yak-38I?)
AL-21F lift/cruise engine replacing R-27V-300.
Yak-38M fitted with a weapons system derived from that of the Mikoyan MiG-29 and including N019 radar and advanced nav/attack suite.
Multi-role fighter/attack aircraft project dating from 1983, employing one R-28V-300 and two RD-48 engines, PRNK-39 avionics kompleks; S-41D multi-mode radar, larger wing, increased fuel capacity and expanded weapons options based around Shkval or Kaira PGM designation systems.
Specifications (Yakovlev Yak-38M) 
Data from Combat Aircraft since 1945
- Crew: One
- Length: 16.37 m (50 ft 1 in)
- Wingspan: 7.32 m (24 ft 0 in)
- Height: 4.25 m (14 ft 5 in)
- Wing area: 18.5 m² (199 ft²)
- Empty weight: 7,385 kg (16,281 lb)
- Loaded weight: kg (lb)
- Max. takeoff weight: 11,300 kg (28,700 lb)
- Powerplant: 1 x Tumansky R-28 V-300 turbojet, 66.7 kN (15,000 lbf)
- Powerplant: 2 × Rybinsk RD-38 turbojets, 31.9 kN (7,870 lbf) each
- Maximum speed: 1 280 km/h (795 mph)
- Range: 1,300 km (807 miles)
- Service ceiling: 11,000 m (36,089 ft)
- Rate of climb: 4,500 m/min (14,760 ft/min)
- Wing loading: kg/m² (lb/ft²)
- Thrust/weight: 1+
- Guns: GSh-23L 23mm gun pod (GP-9). Carried in one or two UPK-23-250 pods fixed under the external pylons of wings.
- Hardpoints: 4 with a capacity of 4,400 lb and provisions to carry combinations of:
- Rockets: various types of rockets (up to 240 mm).
- Missiles: 2 anti-ship or air-to-surface Kh-23 (AS-7 Kerry). The Kh-23 required a guidance pod on one of the pylons. R-60 or R-60M (AA-8 Aphid) air-to-air missiles could be carried under the external pylons.
- Bombs: two FAB-500 or four FAB-250 general purpose bombs under pylons, two incendiary ZB-500, or two nuclear RN-28 bombs.
- Other: external tanks.
See also 
- Related development
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Dassault Balzac V
- Harrier Jump Jet series
- VFW VAK 191B
- Yakovlev Yak-141
- Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
- The Harrier has only one engine, the thrust being vectored through nozzles fore and aft.
- "Military aircraft prices." aeronautics.ru. Retrieved: 26 July 2011.
- Newdick, Thomas. "The Soviet Navy ‘Forger’: Yak-36M, Yak-38, Yak-38U and Yak-38M." Air Combat Information Group, 27 November 2004. Retrieved: 16 July 2008.
- Wilson 2000, p. 145.
- "Vertical take-off/landing aircraft: Yak-38." Yakovlev Design Bureau, 16 July 2008.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Yakovlev Yak-38|
- Yak-38 photo gallery
- Yak-38 Informationn
- Yak-36, Yak-38 and Yak-41 information
- Walkaround on 2 Yak-38 in Monino Aviation Museum, Russia