Specifications (I-16 Type 24):
- Length: 6.13 m (20 ft 1 in)
- Wingspan: 9 m (29 ft 6 in)
- Height: 3.25 m (10 ft 8 in)
- Wing area: 14.5 m2 (156 sq ft)
- Airfoil: TsAGI R-II (16% at root)
- Empty weight: 1,490 kg (3,285 lb)
- Gross weight: 1,941 kg (4,279 lb)
- Powerplant: 1 × Shvetsov M-63 9-cylinder supercharged air-cooled radial engine, 820 kW (1,100 hp)
- Propellers: 2-bladed variable-pitch propeller
- Maximum speed: 525 km/h (326 mph, 283 kn) at 3,000 m (9,800 ft)
- Range: 700 km (430 mi, 380 nmi)
- Service ceiling: 9,700 m (31,800 ft)
- Rate of climb: 14.7 m/s (2,890 ft/min)
- Time to altitude: 5,000 m (16,000 ft) in 5 minutes 48 seconds
- Wing loading: 134 kg/m2 (27 lb/sq ft)
- Power/mass: 0.35 kW/kg (0.21 hp/lb)
- 2 × fixed forward-firing 7.62 mm (0.300 in) ShKAS machine guns in upper cowling
- 2 × fixed forward-firing 20 mm (0.787 in) ShVAK cannon in the wings
- 6 × unguided RS-82 rockets or up to 500 kg (1,100 lb) of bombs
When the prototype of the Polikarpov 1-16, then called the TsKB-12 (as it was the 12th design to emanate from the Central Design Bureau) made its maiden flight in December 1933, it was regarded as the most modern aircraft in its category, being the world’s first single-seat fighter with low-mounted monoplane wings, an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. The Polikarpov 1-16 was designed for speeds of up to 270 mph, and this combined with a tight turning circle made it superior to contemporaries such as the Heinkel He 51 and Fiat CR. 32 biplanes, both of which Polikarpov 1-16s came up against during the Spanish Civil War. Some 278 examples were supplied to the Spanish Republican forces, and they fought gallantly.
The design and construction of this stubby-looking machine were mainly driven by the need to achieve agility equivalent to or exceeding that of existing biplane fighters, and to enable mass production. Power was provided by a licence-built 700 hp Curtiss-Wright R-1820 Cyclone radial, which was designated the Shvetsov M-25 after the chief designer responsible for adapting the American engine for manufacturing in the USSR. The combination of the streamlined fuselage and powerful M-25 engine made the Polikarpov 1-16 the world’s fastest production fighter when examples started to reach Red
Army Air Force units in late 1934. Subsequent variants were fitted with the 1000 hp Shvetsov ASh-621R, which helped the aircraft reach speeds of up to 300 mph.
The fuselage nacelle was of monocoque construction and built mainly from wood — a raw material available in huge quantities in the regions where the USSR’s aircraft construction plants were located. Metal was used only where necessary for additional strengthening, as well as for the wings. The Polikarpov 1-16 looks both simple and rugged, and it was designed this way by Nikolay Polikarpov for a reason — it was well suited to mass production by less-skilled workers.