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Yak – history

Alexander Yakovlev was born in Moscow in 1906. He won a prize of 200 roubles with his first original design when he was only 18. This was a glider, and his next design, a two-seat biplane with a 60hp engine broke an endurance record and won him a job with an aeroplane manufacturer. He started his own company and by 1935 had designed what is now recognised as the first modern Soviet trainer, the UT-2, which came with an aerobatic variant, the UT-2. The UT-2 cruised at 160 mph on 160hp.
In the late Thirties, Yakovlev won a design contest for fighter aircraft with his I-26, later called the Yak-1. His company went on to manufacture an estimated 30,000 aircraft by the end of the war. The Yak-1 could reach 363 mph. The last of the wartime line, the Yak-9 was considered by many to be the finest fighter of the second world war. The name ‘Yak’ conjures similar emotions for Russians as ‘Spitfire’ does for the British – both nations faced the Nazis under very grim circumstances and had excellent aircraft to do it with.

The first postwar design was the Yak-18 of 1946, a two-seat tandem trainer with a 160hp radial engine, variable pitch propeller and retractable undercarriage superficially similar to the earlier UT-2, but a much more advanced aircraft. This was a huge success, adopted by flying clubs and military alike. Yuri Gagarin learned to fly in one, and the type was manufactured in China under licence as well as in the USSR.

Throughout the Sixties, this Yak-18 was gradually developed into something that in the end looked very like the Yak 50, the Yak-18PS. The process involved lightening the airframe; virtually doubling engine power; dispensing with the second seat; the adoption of a new flat-bottomed wing design; and a tailwheel undercarriage in place of a nosewheel. The aeroplane was a world-beater at the time, but was recognised to be demanding to fly, largely because its antecedents as a military trainer meant that it was overbuilt, and heavy on the controls.

The Yak 50 emerged in the mid-Seventies as a complete re-design, but with a similar configuration to the 18. It had more power; a smaller, lighter airframe; a wing section designed to enhance inverted flight; and a semi-monocoque metal-skinned construction. Alexander Yakovlev’s son, Sergei, carrying on in the footsteps of his illustrious father, was one of the two designers.

The new Yak was a brilliant success. In the 1976 world contest, Yaks took the first two places, and five of the ten top positions. Yaks took all five of the top places in the women’s contest! At this stage the Yak 50 was competing with Zlin 50s and Pitts Specials. The Zlin and the newer, lighter and smaller monoplanes were, however, more agile machines and gradually they edged the Yak 50 out of its top position.

Although the Yak 50 is now outclassed at World level competitions, it is one of the most charismatic aircraft of all time, being a delight to fly; having the looks, performance and sound of a Second World War fighter, yet with affordable operating costs.

Meanwhile, Yak had developed a new aerobatic trainer, the Yak 52. This was barely seen in the West until the collapse of Communism because it was designed for training rather than competitions at the international level. The aeroplane was produced in large quantities, and was used by both the military and by the many flying clubs sponsored by a government that, despite its failings in other areas, at least smiled on sports aerobatics. So many 52s have been exported that there are now more Yak 52 aircraft in the West than in Russia. The aeroplane’s lineage as a military trainer is evident. It is widely admired for its predictability and lack of vices in flight and its rugged serviceability. It has the charm and style of a warbird, and you can take a friend along – and it is a fraction of the price of anything remotely comparable. Its nosewheel configuration has endeared it to pilots trained in Pipers and Cessnas.

The Yak 18T, another post-war design, is a four seat retractable aeroplane designed for cross-country work. It has excellent short field performance and is stressed for aerobatics. Modified and updated for Western use, the 18T is an excellent all-round performer, comfortable and spacious inside, with good endurance, load-carrying and cruise performance.

In 1982, a new design emerged from Yak, the 55, designed expressly for unlimited level aerobatics. Various improvements were made to it over the next few years, resulting in a machine that was easy to fly and an impressive performer, although marginally outclassed by the new Sukhoi Su26. The 55 remains highly competitive at Advanced, where, alongside the Zlin 50, it looks set for a long-term future.

The very latest Yak, the SP-55M, has just become available. From early reports, it seems set to challenge the Sukhoi designs for top-level aerobatics.

RGA History

Richard Goode is one of the better known individuals on the UK aircraft scene. Although he trained as a lawyer and worked for some 25 years as a corporate “headhunter”, his real love has always been aviation. Having learned to fly in 1970 he quickly became involved in aerobatics, initially with a Chipmunk before moving on to a Stampe, which in turn gave way to a Pitts Special.

With the latter aircraft he competed in his first World Championship in 1978, at the same time beginning a totally separate career as an air-show display pilot. He competed in the British Team until 1984, his best placing being 16th in the world in 1980.

Ever since competing against the Yak-50s he spent much of his time working out how to acquire such a fantastic and exotic aircraft – which at that stage, at the height of the Cold War, was a totally unattainable dream.

However, he is not a man to be deterred lightly, and pursued the Russians directly, both through the Russian trade officials in London, but also directly with Yakovlev and other organisations in Russia. However, the break came when East Germany decided to sell six of its Yak-50s, of which Richard bought four, two were kept to operate as the ‘Vladivar’ aerobatic team and two were sold on to the USA.

This involvement in Russian aircraft led to a direct approach from Sukhoi, who in 1990 were beginning full-scale production of the new SU-26M. Richard bought the first one delivered to Europe and since then has become significantly the world’s largest dealer in Sukhoi aircraft.

Richard suffered a major accident in 1984 when, doing an air display in a modified Laser aircraft, most of one wing detached, resulting in much of that year being spent in one hospital bed! Since then the pressures of business, at that stage both consulting and aviation, bought his competition flying to an end. However, he continued to operate an extremely successful air display team, which at its peak did no less than 124 air displays in one year, operating two Extra 300 aircraft and one Sukhoi.

By 1997 it became clear that the size of the aviation business needed Richard’s full attention, and the organisation’s name was changed from Richard Goode Aerobatic Displays to purely Richard Goode Aerobatics, signifying the move into aircraft sales, maintenance etc.

They were the first organisation to import privately owned Russian aircraft into the West, with two Yak-50 aircraft some 23 years ago and then imported the first Sukhoi aerobatic aircraft into Europe 20 years ago.

The business today, although small, is undoubtedly the world market leader in Russian aircraft, having sold over 400 aircraft and over 350 engines to some 18 different countries.

However, while the numbers of aircraft that have been sold are obviously a criterion of the service given, he firmly believes that they should not be judged on this alone.

He recognises only too well that the levels of factory support for such aircraft, are, by Western standards, often poor, and for this reason a great deal depends on the ability of the dealer to provide quite exceptional standards of service. He really believes that they do this and would be delighted to allow any prospective customer to speak to existing ones of that particular type of aircraft.

In order to support these Russian aircraft he established Russian Engineering at White Waltham Airfield in 1996, but passed control of the business to the owners of the airfield in 2005, although a close relationship continues.
Under this agreement Richard Goode Aerobatics sells aircraft; propellers; engines and their major sub-assemblies, while all maintenance and smaller parts sales are done from White Waltham.