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A Yak-38 on the deck of a Soviet aircraft carrier
Role VTOL fighter
National origin Soviet Union
Manufacturer Yakovlev
First flight 1971
Introduction 1976
Status Retired, 1991
Primary user Soviet Navy
Number built 231
Unit cost
US$18.5 million in 1996[1]
Developed from Yakovlev Yak-36

The Yakovlev Yak-38 (Russian: Яковлева 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.[citation needed]

A diagram showing the lift forces on a Yak-38 in VTOL mode

An 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.

Operational history

Yak-38 (cn 0201) at Museum of Technics, Moscow Region

Yak-38 (cn 0201)

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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]

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.[citation needed]

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.[2]


A Soviet Yak-38 Forger with its landing gear down

Yak-36M "Forger"

The initial pre-production version, differing slightly from the Yak-38. It weighed only 6,650 kg (14,660 lb) compared to the Yak-38's 7,370 kg (16,250 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 (22,700 lb) to 11,300 kg (24,900 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.[citation needed]


Project for version with R-49V lift/cruise engine and two lift engines; one fuselage completed for tests under Tu-16LL.[citation needed]


Yak-38M fitted with a weapons system derived from that of the Mikoyan MiG-29 and including N019 radar and advanced nav/attack suite.[citation needed]


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.[2]


 Soviet Union

Specifications (Yakovlev Yak-38M)

Orthographic projection of the Yakovlev Yak-38.

Data from Combat Aircraft since 1945[3]

General characteristics

  • 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[4] (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



    1. The Harrier has only one engine, the thrust being vectored through nozzles fore and aft.


    1. "Military aircraft prices." Retrieved: 26 July 2011.
    2. 2.0 2.1 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.
    3. Wilson 2000, p. 145.
    4. "Vertical take-off/landing aircraft: Yak-38." Yakovlev Design Bureau, 16 July 2008.


    External links

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