Jet Fighter – 310 Built
The Yak-23 emerged as the final step of the Yak-15 and Yak-17 development series. It made its first flight in mid-1947, powered, ironically, by a British Rolls-Royce Derwent jet-engine. By the time it entered production, the engine was changed with a Soviet-built copy. Over 300 were built, but as more advanced planes were ready for service the Yak-23s were sold to several Eastern Bloc countries. There they remained in service until replaced with the MiG-15 in the mid-1950s.
History of the Yak-23 predecessor
The Soviets began developing jet powered aircraft in the 1930s, but the process was slow with no major progress. However, by the end of World War 2, the Soviets managed to come into possession of large quantities of German war technology, engines as well as experimental and operational jet aircraft.
In April 1945, by orders of the National Defense Committee of the Soviet Union, work on a new generation of jet-powered aircraft began. In the case of jet fighters, the minimum requirement was that it had to achieve a maximum top speed of 500 mph (800 km/h). As there were a number of captured German Junkers Jumo 004B1 and BMW 003 jet engines, it was proposed to try to use them in Soviet designs. These received the new Soviet designation RD-10 Reaktinyi Dvitagatel, which is Russian for “jet engine.” The design and work on the first power plant was given to the OKB-117 Experimental Design Bureau, under the designer Vladimir Y. Klimov in late April 1945. A few months later, a second order was given to develop a new RD-20 jet engine based on the German BMW 003 jet engine. As the Soviet scientists were not familiar with this technology, the entire development ran quite slowly. The first series of these engines was ready in 1946, but the performance turned out to be limited and almost useless.
The work on the new jet fighter program was also slow and largely fruitless. Projects like the MiG-13, La-7R and Yak-3RD were built in limited numbers and proved to be unsuccessful. One of the main reasons for so many failed projects was the fact that the Soviet designers used captured and complicated German jet technology as an inspiration. There had to be a change in the way the Soviet designers and engineers approached these technologies and developments. Since time was crucial, the designers were forced to adopt simpler solutions.
Several new projects resulted from these decisions, one of which was the A.S.Yakovlev Yak-Jumo project. It was based on Yakovlev’s own analysis of German technology, especially the light weight, stepped fuselage and the forward position engine design. His first idea was to try to take advantage of the already existing piston engine-powered fighters and, if possible, install one or more jet engines on them. He reused one Yak-3 fighter and modified it to mount one rocket engine instead of the piston engine. Most parts of the Yak-3 were reused, wings, including the whole fuselage, tail surfaces, undercarriage and most in-built systems and equipment. The new engine was fitted in the forward part of the fuselage, but tilted at a 430’ angle with respect to the plane’s axis. Besides this, it was necessary to redesign the whole fuel system. A new redesigned cockpit was installed and the armament would consist of two 23 mm NS-23K autocannons each with 60 rounds of ammunition located above the engine. The German Jumo 004 engine was used and thus the project name was Yak-Jumo or Yak-3 Jumo (depending on the source).
The first prototype was completed and ready by late 1945. During its first several ground tests, many problems were reported. One of them was the excessive heating of the rear lower fuselage caused by the engine exhaust gases. A second complete and improved prototype was built in December 1945. It was equipped with the Soviet-built RD-10 which was a direct copy of the Jumo 004. Tests on the second prototype plane began during the second half of 1946. During these tests, several complaints were noted and the aircraft was returned to the factory in order to resolve these issues. By that time, this plane received a new military designation, the Yak-15.
On 12th September, 1946, an order for a limited production run was given by the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The Yak-15 and MiG-9s were first presented to the public during a military parade held in Moscow’s Red Square of that year.
Due to the rapid development of Western jet aircraft, Soviet military authorities demanded improved and more advanced jet planes. The new fighters had to be able to reach a maximum speed of 620 mph (1,000 km/h), but mostly due to lack of adequate jet engines this was only successfully implemented in later, much more improved models like the MiG-17. This was the reason why some jet fighters were put into production despite much lower top speeds.
Due to obsolescence and new problems discovered during the Yak-15’s service, most were modified to be used as advanced trainers, but some were operated as standard fighters. Yakovlev was again tasked with the development of an improved jet fighter. It was required to have a significantly better aerodynamic layout and was to be powered by an RD-10 engine. Estimated maximum speed was to be around 527 mph (850 km/h) at an altitude of 16.400 ft (5,000 m). Besides this, a novelty was the installation of an ejection seat and armored glass plate for the windscreen. By September 1946, the first Yak-17 was ready for testing. These tests were considered successful, especially by the pilots who considered it to have good flying performance. Serial production was to start in the autumn of 1947. The Yak-17 would be built in relatively small numbers as more advanced designs would replace it in the following years, designs like the Yak-23.
History of the Yak-23
Later development of new Yakovlev aircraft was characterized by several different methods of approaching development. One of the many Yakovlev design teams, lead by Leonid L. Selyakov, worked on a completely new design that would later lead to the Yak-25. The main goal of this project was to build a completely new aircraft. In addition to this team, a second team advocated for the improvement of the already existing Yak-15 and Yak-17 designs.
The second team’s design was a lightweight and with highly maneuverable jet fighter. This new fighter was to be powered by an RD-500 jet engine, which itself was based on a British Rolls-Royce Derwent 5 turbojet engine. The whole aerodynamic concept was taken from the older Yak-17, but improved with an all-metal construction. The new plane was a lightweight mid-wing monoplane, but with unswept wings and rear tail. The cockpit was placed at the middle of the fuselage and equipped with an ejection seat. To save weight, some modifications were done such as the omission of air brakes, the armor plate being removed, fuel tank capacity lowered, no pressurization fitted to the cockpit and decrease of the wing thickness. The calculated weight with these modifications was about 4,725 lbs (1,902 kg). By the time it entered production, there was a slight increase of weight. The main armament was also relatively light, as it consisted of only two 0.9 in (23 mm) cannons, with some 90 rounds for each cannon.
The work on this project began in the early 1947. Plant No.115 was tasked with the construction of the first operational prototype. On 17th June, 1947 the prototype, designated Yak-23-1 was completed. The first factory test flight was made on 8th July, 1947 by the test pilot M.I. Ivanov. The results of these first flights showed that the Yak-23-1 had a high rate of climb and excellent maneuverability. The maximum speed achieved was 578 mph (932 km/h) at low level. Some issues that were noted during these first flights were solved in time.
In September the same year, on the insistence of the Minister of Aircraft Production, Mikhail V. Khruniche, the Yak-23 was accepted for additional test trials. For this purpose, a second prototype was built, named Yak-23-2. For the series of new test flights, besides G.A.Sedov, the main test pilot, many more pilots were also chosen to test the Yak-23, such as A.G. Proshakov, Valentin, I. Khomvakov among others. By March 1948, these test flights were successfully completed. The Yak-23 displayed great maneuverability during flights. In contrast to other models, like Su-9 and MiG-9, the Yak-23 proved to have much better climb rate. But it was not without its problems: during acceleration, the forward fuselage tended to suddenly rise and the lack of air brakes made potential dog-fighting very difficult. At higher speeds it took a lot of time to slow down and the lack of a pressurized cockpit made the Yak-23 incapable of operating at high altitudes. The second prototype was lost on 14th July, 1948, during one of the many flight exercises for the planned military parade to be held at Tushino. During these exercises, an unknown object struck the wing of Yak-23-2 flown by M.I. Ivanov, which caused the wing to break and fall off. The pilot lost control and crashed to the ground. Ivanov died immediately and the aircraft was totally destroyed. A subsequent investigation found that the main culprit was a balance tab that was torn from the tail of one of the Tu-14 bombers that was flying above the Yak-23.
Despite these problems, the Yak-23 was considered a successful aircraft worthy of production. Plant No.31 was chosen for manufacturing. By mid-1949, the production began, however, at first, the process was slow due the lack of RD-500 engines. The first batch was not ready until October 1949. In the period of January to March 1950, some 20 aircraft were used to conduct more tests. These trials revealed that the Yak-23 had a few more problems to be worked out, such as smoke in the cockpit, among other small issues.. As these problems were considered minor and did not endanger the production of the Yak-23 at the time.
The Yak-23 was designed as a lightweight, all-metal, mid-wing monoplane with unswept wings and tail surfaces. The long front fuselage was designed and constructed so that it could be easily changed or removed for ease of maintenance.
The external fuselage was made of 0.039 in (1 mm) thick duralumin sheets (D16AWTL) and the inner part was made of 0.031 in (0.8 mm) sheets. To protect the main landing wheels, a special cover was installed close to the exhaust nozzle. The lower part of the Yak-23 fuselage was covered with a specially designed heat resistant plate in order to protect the plane’s inner structure from any potential thermal damage. The two unswept wings were made of 17 ribs that were covered in 0.05-0.07 in (1.3-1.8 mm) duralumin panels. At the wing’s trailing edges, ailerons and flaps were fitted. The wings were made mostly of duralumin sheet metal. The wing ends were flat and it was possible to mount two external fuel tanks that were ejectable. The rear tail had a tapered design and was made of metal covered with duralumin sheets. There were no air brakes installed and this caused the Yak-23 to have some problems with maneuvering. This would be a major problem in any potential dogfight with other fighters.
The main engine was the RD-500 turbojet engine with 3,500 lbs (1590 kg) of thrust that was fitted with a single centrifugal compressor and nine cylindrical shaped combustion chambers. The engine had a diameter of 3.58 ft (1.09 m) and 6.76 ft (2.06 m) long. It was angled downwards by 4°30’ with respect to the plane’s centerline. This was not a perfect design choice as when the pilot accelerated the plane, it tended to suddenly pitch up. The main jet fuel was kerosene, stored in five large tanks mounted in the fuselage with a capacity of 240 gallons (910 liters) and two smaller 50 gallon (190 liters) tanks located in the wings. With this fuel capacity, the maximum operational range was around 640 mi (1,030 km). The Yak-23’s flight endurance was very low, with only one hour of operational flight. With this engine, the maximum speed achieved was 606 mph (975 km/h) with a climb rate of 6,693 ft (2,041 m) per minute. The air intake was located at the front, which split into two symmetrical ducts that passed under the cockpit. There was a headlight located in the air intake to help during landings.
The landing gear was a tricycle design typical of jet planes of the era. The front nose wheel retracted forward, while the larger rear wheels retracted into the fuselage sides. A built in shock absorber mechanism with double rebound system was used for the landing gear.
The cockpit was located at the center of the upper fuselage. The cockpit was designed with a fixed windscreen with an armored glass panel and a rear sliding hood with non-armored glass. For the pilot to enter his seat, he had to climb on top of the wings. The Yak-23 was equipped with an ejection seat that could be used by the pilot in case of emergency. The ejection seat with parachute was activated with a command handle located next to the armrest of the seat’s right side. A small explosive charge was used to catapult the seat from the plane. The main command instruments were in the standard configuration. All instruments were placed ahead of the pilot and the rudder pedals were mounted at the floor. The pilot’s instrument panel was divided into three sections. In the central section were the main and most important flying instruments: M-46 Mach meter, PDK-45 compass, AGK-47A artificial horizon, and engine control indicators. Secondary controls were located at sides of the main control panel. An oxygen supply system with a capacity of 2.11 gal (8 l) with a KM-16 model mask was fitted in the cockpit. Electric power was provided by 1.5 kW GSK-1500 generator and 12A-10 type battery. For communication, a RSI-6K radio set and a RPKO-10M radio-direction finder/semicompass were used. Also, the SCh-ZM IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) system was used.
The offensive weapon load consisted of only two 0.9 in (23 mm) NR-23 cannons placed in the lower forward part of the fuselage. Available ammunition for these two cannons was limited with only 90 rounds per gun. The main weapons were aimed by the semi-automatic gyro gun sight placed above the pilot’s instrument panels. Additional offensive armament could consist of two 123 lb (60 kg) bombs attached in the place of the external fuel tanks.
Beside the Yak-23 fighter aircraft, a trainer version, the Yak-23 UTI, was developed. One Yak-23 (serial number 115001) was converted for this purpose. A second instructor cockpit was installed at the rear of the pilot’s seat. The prototype was tested from March to September of 1949, but this modification was ultimately deemed unsuccessful. A new attempt was made with the redesigned Yak-23 UTI-II. The fuselage was stretched by some 7.8 inches (200 mm) to the front, and this time the instructor was moved to the front. A special periscope was installed to allow the instructor to see what the pilot was doing in the rear seat. The armament was reduced to only one 0.5 in (12.7 mm) machine gun. Many more changes were made, which resulted in the third version, Yak-23 UTI-III. By this time, the more impressive MiG-15 UTI was entering production and so the Yak-23 UTI project was canceled.
Despite its good flying characteristics the Yak-23, also known by its NATO designation “Flora,” was built in small numbers, 310 planes in total. Its operational service life in the Soviet Union was very limited, as it was operated by only a few fighter regiments located in the Caucasus and Volga military districts. As more modern planes were becoming available, the Yak-23 would be sold off to Eastern bloc countries such as Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland.
In Czechoslovak Service
Czechoslovakia had extensively negotiated with Soviet military officials in the 1950s about the purchase of new jet-powered fighters. These negotiations had been preceded by earlier ones, from which Czechoslovakia received one older Yak-17 under designation S-100. This sole aircraft was to be used as a basis for future local production. However, since this plan went nowhere, the Yak-17 was sent to a military museum and it was never used operationally. An agreement was made in November 1950 for a possible license production of the Yak-23 under a new name, S-101, and also for the engine under the M-02 name. The first group of 12 Yak-23s arrived in Czechoslovakia in late 1950. Their first public appearance of nine planes were used in a military parade on 6th May, 1951, the anniversary of the liberation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Red Army in WW2. A second group of 9 Yak-23s was allegedly received, possibly in 1951 or 1952, but precise information is lacking.
The Yak’s were first used by the 3rd Fighter Division, but as the more advanced MiG-15 arrived, the Yak-23s were given to the 11th Fighter Regiment, part of the 5th Fighter Division, from June to August 1951. By early 1952, this unit had 11 operational Yak-23s in total. One Yak-23 was lost in an accident on 16 October, 1952. In 1953, all available Yaks were given to the 51st Air Regiment, which was renamed as the 7th Air Regiment in October. By early 1954, there were 12 Yak-23s reported in service, of which 11 were operational.
Due to the purchase of newer types of aircraft, the Czechoslovakian military authorities thought that the Yak-23 plane was inadequate and outdated and so the original plans for a license production were dropped. By 1956, a decision was made to withdraw all Yak-23s from operational service. Only a small number of Yak-23s where ever used by the Czech Air Force, thought to be around 21, but the exact number is unknown. Most of these were sold, 10 to Poland in 1953, possibly 7 to Bulgaria, with one given to a military museum and at least one was lost in an accident.
In Bulgarian Service
Bulgarian military officials purchased several Yak-17 UTI training variants and 12 Yak-23s from the Soviet Union in early 1951. These were used to form the 19th Fighter Regiment in March 1951. The first pilot to fly on one of the Yak-23s was Major Vasil Velichkov. On his first take-off, the engine suddenly stopped working and he was forced to land in a field near the airfield. Because it was necessary to train new pilots to fly the Yaks, some planes were supplied to the 2nd Training Combat Air Regiment, located at the Georgi Benkovski Flying School. In order to increase the number of units equipped with the Yak-23s, some 72 new planes were purchased from the Soviet Union in 1952. Around 7 Yak-23s were sold to Bulgaria by Czechoslovakia in early 1956. As in Czechoslovakia, the Yak-23 would not stay long in service, and by 1959 all were retired.
In Romanian Service
After the Second World War, the Romanian Military leadership had great plans for the revival of their shattered air force and acquiring modern jet planes. Some 60 Yak-23s were bought from the Soviet Union during the fifties, with the first 12 planes reaching Romania in early 1951. The total number of planes used is not known. As the more modern MiG-15 was received during 1953, the Yak-23 was considered obsolete and only small numbers were ever used. One Yak-23 was modified by the Romanian air engineers of the AEMV-2 (Atelierele de Reparații / Material Volant) to be used as a dual-command trainer aircraft. A new instructor cockpit was installed. This new modified plane was designated as Yak-23 DC (Dublă Comandă / double command), but only a single prototype was built.
On the 24th June, 1953, Romanian pilot Mihail Diaconu escaped to Yugoslavia in Yak-23, where he sought asylum. Not long afterwards, another pilot flying a MiG-15 flew over and later landed onto Yugoslav territory, most likely due to a navigation error. Both planes were thoroughly researched and tested. Pilots Todorović and Prebeg both flew the Yak-23 with more than 4 flight hours. Beside the flying performance, the weapon systems were also tested during 1954. According to the agreement between US and Yugoslav military officials (code name ‘Zeta’), the Yak-23 was disassembled and sent to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in order to test the progress of Soviet aviation technology. Test flights were conducted on 4th November and, by 25 November, it was ready to be sent back to Yugoslavia. The Yak-23 was disassembled, and loaded onto a C-124 and later flown to Pančevo airfield. The whole operation was a complete success as it remained a secret for nearly 40 years. After several months, this Yak-23 was returned to Romania, without the Soviets ever realizing where it was the whole time.
In Polish Service
After the Second World War, Poland was economically and militarily devastated. It took several years before the beginning of the renewal of Polish military power. The new Polish military leadership wanted to built up the shattered air force and, despite their plans to acquire a new jet fighter by 1948, this was not possible. The process of acquiring new jet fighters began only in the spring of 1950. The first negotiations with the Soviet Union focused on the acquisition of Yak-15s, but this was later changed to the Yak-17. Due to outbreak of the Korean war, Soviet authorities decided to supply their allies with larger numbers of newer jet fighters. On 6th January, 1951, Poland received its first Yak-23 planes. The planned production of the older Yak-17s was suspended in favor of the Yak-23 under the Polish designation G-3.
Besides the 1st Fighter Aviation Regiment (PLM for short in Polish) which had some 16 Yak-23, a second unit, the 2nd PLM was also supplied with this plane. To train the new pilots, Yak-17 UTI training planes were used. In mid-1952, all operational Yaks were used by five Fighter Regiments: 2nd PLM with 26, the 39th PLM with 19, the 40th PLM with 19, the 26th PLM with around 11 and the 29th PLM with 14 Yak-23. From 1953 onwards, according to the new Polish military strategy, the first line fighter units would be equipped with the new MiG-15, while second-line units received all available Yak-23s.
In the early fifties, the Western Allies were eager to examine and spy on the military power of the East. A simple way to do this was by using various types of balloons. They were used for propaganda, meteorological, and reconnaissance duties. The Polish Air Force was heavily engaged with shooting down these balloons.
The final fate of Polish Yak-23s was sealed by the start of licenced production of the MiG-15 (under the name Lim-1). The remaining Yak-23s were gradually phased out of service. All operational Yak planes were allocated to training units at Radom, where they were used for training new officers and pilots. Some Yak-23s were temporarily used as reconnaissance aircraft in the 21st PLZ (21st Scout Aviation Regiment). By late August 1954, all Yak-23s were moved to Radom. The ones that were not operational were cannibalized for spare parts. On 1st September, 1959, the remaining 39 Yak-23s were removed from the Polish Air Force and a few would be used as memorials. During its operational service in the Polish Air Force, several planes were lost in crashes but, in most cases, the pilots escaped without any injuries.
Albanian Air Force allegedly operated a unknown number of Yak-23. Possibly bought from Poland sometime after 1951, according to author Yefim G.
Hungary and the Yak-23
Hungary allegedly also used the Yak-17 and 23, but there is no documentation or any information to confirm this (Source Marian M.). But according to author Yefim G. an unknown number of Yak 23 were operated by the Hungarian Air Force during the 1955 to 1956. But this author does not specify the number of planes used nor describes in more detail operational service life.
Production and modifications
A relatively small number of planes of this type were ever produced. As more advanced planes were becoming rapidly available, there was no need to continue the production of the old Yak-23. Most of the Yak-23s produced would be later sold to Eastern bloc countries.
In total, 310 aircraft plus three prototypes were built by Plant No.31. The plant produced these in twelve series, with 25 to 26 aircraft in each batch. Production was stopped by the end of 1950.
- Yak-23 – Main production aircraft
- Yak-23 UTI – One Yak-23 was modified to be used as a fighter trainer. It did not enter production.
- Yak-23 DC (Dublă Comandă) – Romanian experimental dual control trainer, only one tested.
- Bulgaria – Used over 70 Yak-23s
- Soviet Union – Operated only two fighter regiments equipped with the Yak-23
- Romania – Some 60 Yak-23 were bought from the Soviet Union during the fifties
- Poland – Used around 101 planes, under the designation G-3
- Czechoslovakia – Operated around 21 aircraft (possibly more) under the designation S-101
- Yugoslavia – Used one Romanian interned plane for experimenting with flying performance and weaponry
- USA – Briefly tested one aircraft that was supplied by Yugoslavia
- Hungary – Allegedly used this type of aircraft, but proof is lacking
- Albania – Possibly operated a small numbers of Yak-23
The Yak-23, despite proving that it had good flying performance and good handling, had a rudimentary design and was produced too late to have any great impact or role in the Soviet fighter force. Due to the rapid development of jet technology, more advanced planes were soon ready for service like the La-15 or MiG-15. The Yak-23 finished its career in service with many Eastern Block air forces.
Although its operational service life was short and its significance was negligible, the Yak-23 was an example of how, with only a short time and using limited resources, a solid jet fighter could be designed and built by the Soviets.
Yakovlev Yak-23 Specifications
|Wingspan||28 ft 7 in / 8.73 m|
|Length||26 ft 7.8 in / 8.12 m|
|Height||10 ft 10.3 in / 3,31 m|
|Wing Area||145.32 ft² / 13.5 m²|
|Engine||One Klimov 3,505 lbs/1,590 kg thrust RD-500 turbojet engine|
|Empty Weight||4,409 lbs / 2,000 kg|
|Maximum Takeoff Weight||6,693 lbs / 3,306 kg|
|Fuel Capacity||1,290 l|
|Climb Rate||154 ft / 47 m per second|
|Range||640 mi / 1,030 km|
|Maximum Service Ceiling||32,800 ft / 10,000 m|
Illustrations by Haryo Panji https://www.deviantart.com/haryopanji
- Crosby, F. (2006). The complete guide to fighters & bombers of the world : features 1200 wartime and modern identification photographs. London: Hermes House.
- Mikolajczuk, M. (2007). Yakovlev Yak-23 : the first Yakovlev fighters. Redbourn: Mushroom Model.
- Gordon, Y. (2002). Early Soviet jet fighters : the 1940s and early 1950s. Hinckley: Midland.
- Magazin Avijacija No.8,
- Osiński, A., Gądek, M. & Szlagor, T. (2006). Yak-23. Lublin: Kagero.
- Dusan. (2017). Yak-23 http://www.vazduhoplovnetradicijesrbije.rs/index.php/istorija/579-jak-23
- Illustrations by Haryo Panji https://www.deviantart.com/haryopanji