With over 30000 examples built (over 40000 if we count the Il-10 follow-on), the Soviet flying tank remains the most produced combat aircraft in history.
Let’s take a look at an early example
The idea for a heavily armored close support aircraft first came to Soviet interest in the early 1930s. But technology of the time, both engine power and airframe strength, kept the ideas from fruition. But the Spanish Civil War highlighted how hazardous such missions were and led to another attempt several years later.
In 1939 the first Il-2 flew. The Stormovik name is just the western form of the Russian term for a ground attack aircraft, apparently “Shturmovik” is phonetically closer (funny how its name origin mirrors the Stuka!). The engine and cockpit were in an armored shell that weighed 1500 pounds. This was the structural, load bearing part of the forward fuselage; no appliques were involved. The first prototype included a second crewman, a gunner behind the pilot. But the prototype was badly overweight, so the gunner’s position was removed and the plane entered service as a single seater. Those first production aircraft were armed with two light machine guns and two 20 or 23 mm cannon in the wings. It could carry two bombs of up to 600 kg or up to 48 small bomblets in a special canister. This earliest form was just entering service when the Germans launched Barbarosa, June 1941. The crews were grossly inexperienced and were destroyed en masse by the Luftwaffe.
The Soviets took note that some 60% of airborne losses were from fighter attack, and possibly as many as 1000 Stormoviks were modified in the field with a tail gunner. Another early change was small rockets, as many as 8. With a 2 pound warhead these were much less capable than those used by British and American aircraft late in the War; but the Il-2 could effectively blanket a location with gunfire and explosives that would shred soft targets and confuse and briefly immobilize armored targets. In conjunction with ground troops this made for an effective team.
Meanwhile development continued on the aircraft itself. In September of 1942 a factory built two seat version entered service, with a single heavy machine gun in the defensive position. This model is often identified as an Il-2m, but no “official” change was actually made to the designation. Although losses to fighter aircraft did decrease somewhat, the gunner was located behind the plane’s armored shell and gunner casualties were 6 to 7 times those for pilots (the gunner did have armor, but much lighter than the pilot and engine).
This led to another factory change. An uprated version of the AM-38 engine was available that could generate 1700 hp at sea level. This allowed for the armor to be increased around the gunner’s position. That also shifted the center of gravity aft so the wing was redesigned, with a 15 degree sweep back in the outer segment. This final major variant of the type is often identified as a “Il-2m3”, although again that is a post-War convention among aviation writers not an “official” designation.
There were also Il-2 variants with heavier anti-tank guns, ability to carry torpedoes, and trainers.
This particular aircraft represents one that flew on the Leningrad front, that first winter of the War on the Eastern Front. It has been factory modified with retractable skis, the gear housing has also been reshaped to make a fairly clean shape when its all closed up in flight. It turned out to be no more effective on snow than the base aircraft’s big, low-pressure tires. Obviously with its utility limited to snowy conditions, this modification was not done after the first winter.
This is the Accurate Miniatures kit. It is not a hard build, but it is sort of the pinnacle of old school kit design; well engineered but complicated. The paint scheme was also complicated! The winter white was pretty carefully applied over the original upper colors but definitely not the lower blue! National and tactical markings were either carefully masked around or reapplied. But it was a water based paint that could be removed, or just naturally be worn off by the time the seasons changed. So after painting the upper colors I covered them first with an acrylic clear. Then an enamel white that I could attack with a thinner doused tissue and Q-Tip to reveal large areas of the original color. Fun project!
The pilot is from Aires. Very nicely detailed, and designed specifically for this kit.