Polikarpov I-16 Type 24 (Rata)


Place in history: The 1-16 Rata (nickname meaning "rat") was the world's first single-winged fighter plane with retractable landing gear. It was not a particularly fast or nimble craft, but after its debut, the bi-winged linen-skinned fighter became a thing of the past. In 1927, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin demanded a technically superior fighter for the Red Air Force. Designers Nikolai Polikarpov and Dmitri Grigorovich were ordered to create one "under state supervision," while in prison. The resulting I-16 was small, light, and could withstand tremendous amounts of damage while still remaining airworthy. After pilots ran out of ammunition, many rammed their enemies in mid-air.

This aircraft: Delivered to its air force on July 10, 1940, this Rata served on the Eastern Front during World War II and it was shot down by Finnish fire. In July, 1991, its wreckage was discovered in Karelia, Russia, and was rebuilt at the same factory where it was originally manufactured. A number of the workers who restored the plane had worked on the original I-16 production line as children. This craft is one of only a few flying I-16s in existence.

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