The Confusion About Yak-1

 by Martin Waligorski

The problem with Yak fighters

Some modellers asked me before through the net about the Soviet Yakovlev Yak-1 fighter, its variants, camouflage and general info. This little article describes what I could find out about the subject.

Surprisingly little is known about the Yak fighters in western literature. The classic William Green’s Famous Fighters of the World War II has little to say about any details, and this trend seems to prevail in most English-language publications up to this day.

I’m myself fortunate to be able to read Polish literature. There has been some very interesting books available from this country in recent years. One of them on my shelf is Yak-1 by Z. Luranc in the Skrzydla series.

The author of the material, Z. Luranc is a renown name in Poland. His specialty is to make scale drawings of WW2 aircraft. I also have his books on Henschel Hs 126 and Focke-Wulf Fw 189 and both are excellent. I consider his Yak research and drawings to be trustworthy.

Having said that, the book states that a lot of facts about Soviet AF are still obscured and there is a severe lack of sources for camouflage & markings info etc.


There were a lot of versions of Yak-1, and they were introduced on the production line without changing any type designation. In Polish literature, it is used to designate the prototype and early examples as I-26, piggyback versions as Yak-1, and later all-round-view-canopy versions as Yak-1 M ( Modifirovannyi = Modified ). I myself made a model of Yak-1M and had a difficulty to identify features on the photographs, not to mention distinguishing some Yak-1 versions from some Yak-7 or Yak-9 versions! This, according to Luranc, has caused much confusion in the previous research and resulted in generally inaccurate scale drawings before.

Now, Luranc traveled himself to Saratov, Russia, where there is a preserved Yak-1M in the local museum. His drawings are the result of his measurements of the actual aircraft.

He also tried to put together the list of all, or most of the production variants of Yak-1. Please note that this is not fully chronological list, some variants could be produced at the same time.

I-26 I (1st version)

Fully-covering 3-part u/c doors. Retractable tailwheel. Oil cooler intake under the fuselage.

I-26 II

Enlarged, different shape vertical tail and rudder. Shortened water cooler duct. Non-retractable tailwheel 250x95mm. Main wheel door of different shape.

I-26 III

Different shape of oil cooler. Adjustable oil cooler flap at the outlet. Non-retractable tailwheel. Air intake at the base of port wing.

Yak-1 I

Port wing air intake enlarged. 3-part engine top cowlings. Different shape of oil cooler. Different shape of u/c doors. Non-retractable tailwheel. 2 new metal-covered panels on both sides of the fuselage behind the cockpit

Yak-1 II

Radio receiver. 3 RS-82 rocket rails under each wing. Landing light. Non-retractable tailwheel.

Yak-1 III (1942)

Different shape of spinner. Spinner with external starter chuck. No inner u/c doors. Some a/c equipped with radio transmitter/receiver.

Yak-1 1942 after changes of INB WSP (here starts Yak-1M variety)

Lowered rear fuselage. New oil cooler duct (they always changed this between versions, apparently the oil cooler design caused a lot of trouble) with enlarged cross-section, copied form Yak-7. Port wing intake to supercharger round in shape. 2 Schkas machine guns on top of the engine replaced with one larger calibre UBS machine gun on the port side. 2-part engine top cowlings instead of the previous 3-part. New windscreen at more aerodynamic angle. Blown movable and rear parts of the canopy. Armored glass at the back of the seat and armored steel head shield at the top. Retractable tailwheel with small door at the front.

Yak-1 of 1943 production

Modified top cowlings. New exhaust shrouds. Return to the old shape of oil cooler. No landing light. New shape of the windscreen, reminding of the old shape, but not exactly the same. No armored glass in the windscreen. ”Flat” movable part of the canopy. No head shield. Non-retractable tailwheel. Rudder trim tab replaced with the small permanent one, adjusted on the ground.

Yak-1 of 1944 production

Armored glass windscreen. Lengthened oil cooler with the modified lip shape.

Yak-1 with M-106 engine no. 2

No visible oil cooler under the engine, it has been moved under the cockpit as in Yak-3. Wind with metal spars. Metal tail. Retractable tailwheel.

Other observations

The quality of workmanship on these a/c was poor by western standards. Canopies used to get milky-white after some time, so that most of the pilots flew these a/c with canopies opened. The fit of the metal panels generally poor. Glue & material problems often caused wings and tail to warp, and in extreme cases to fail completely.

Camouflage and markings

Now that is a dark area. Luranc admits that the best he could do is some guesswork. Nothing is known for sure about the camouflage before 1943, although it is generally believed that green and black on blue camo was widely used, because there was a surplus of black and green paints from tractor production in peacetime.

In the middle of 1943 the instruction no. 389 0133 was issued, describing standard camo schemes for wooden and metal a/c separately. This stated colors AMT-11 blue-grey and AMT-12 dark grey for the top surfaces, and AMT-17 light blue for the bottom. No actual shades of these colors could be established.

Luranc interviewed some surviving pilots of Polish unit 1 PLM Warszawa (Warsaw-polk) and could state with relative security that these planes were most often spray-painted with the above two-tone grey camo.

The usual practice was to paint spinners in one or two colors designating the flight, for example

  • Unpainted (AMT-11) – stab a/c
  • Yellow – 1st flight
  • White – 2nd flight
  • Dark blue – 3rd flight

I hope this little helps. I hope you will get it right, as I certainly didn’t with my model a couple of years ago. Have fun!


This article was originally published in IPMS Stockholm Magazine in February 1997.