Yakovlev Yak-38: Was The Russian Version Of The Harrier Fighter Jet A Failure?
It is not wrong to call the Yak-38 the Russian version of the Harrier fighter jet. If you keep reading you will know why. The Yakovlev Yak-38 was the first and only vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) strike fighter aircraft of the Soviet Navy. It was developed in 196os and the first flight was done in 1971. Later in 1976, it started operating from the Soviet’s Kiev-class heavy aviation cruiser.
After the release of the World’s first-ever VTOL aircraft, the Hawker Siddeley P.1127 by the British, the Soviets saw a VTOL aircraft as fitting for their purpose of deploying heavy cruisers. Vertical Take off land aircraft would make the takeoff and land in a limited area much easier.
Soviets took five years and four prototypes to develop this aircraft after releasing the experimental model in 1971. It was necessary to take such a time period to incorporate a functional thrust vectoring system which is very helpful for a reliable take-off. The Yak-38s entering production in 1976 featured one Soyuz R-28 engine and two Rybinski RD-36 lift turbofans. It could fly up to a max speed of 795 miles per hour. The range of the Yak-38 was 800 miles and an altitude of just over 36,000 feet.
Issues With The YAK-38
Even if the YAK-38 was groundbreaking technology by that time, it had drawbacks from the beginning too. Even though VTOL systems worked properly the jump jet integration made the aircraft tough to maneuver even when it was flown by the experienced pilots.
During the test runs of the aircraft, it produced huge clouds of dust, dirt, and debris when taking off from certain surfaces which is both harmful to the engines and the nearby personnel. In addition during carrier operations, the fighter’s lift jets would not start under hot and humid weather conditions.
Not Enough Weapons
The Yak-38 had only 4 underwing hardpoints and possessed the capacity of 4,400 pounds of mounted guns. Its typical weapons load out was Kh-23 air-to-surface missiles and R-60 air-to-air missiles. The loadout was weak and the top of that aircraft’s ideal range was 320 km. Because of these factors, its usefulness as a fighter aircraft was questionable.
After years of imperfect service, it was retired in 1991, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union. 231 Yak-38s were built and the variants were the Yak-38U and the Yak-38M. Even if the Yak-38 was able to prove its ability as a VTOL aircraft, it was unable to deliver what was needed as a strike fighter.