1 Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik – 36,183
For an airplane that didn’t fly until late 1939 and didn’t enter service until 1941, it’s pretty amazing that any nation could have built so many airplanes that quickly. The only airplane of any kind that has been built in bigger numbers is the Cessna 172 (44,000+), but that is spread over a 61-year period, which doesn’t count. Ilyushin had to produce an average of 750 airplanes a month, or one airplane per hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the entire four years. Not a lot of lunch breaks or vacations in that equation.
As mentioned earlier, these production levels are made all the more amazing because they were accomplished under the crudest of working conditions. However, the design of the airplane lent itself to a tractor-like assembly scheme. For instance, from the engine to behind the cockpits, everything was mounted in an armor steel tub that was part of the load-bearing airframe structure. It purposely carried flight loads, which offset some of the weight it represented. Everything about the airplane—from its oversized landing gear, meant to function on less-than-wonderful runway surfaces, to the canvas sling seat for the gunner in the two-seat version—was Rube Goldberg–simple. The average vocational-high-school agriculture shop could build the airplane. In Eastern Front warfare, quantity was much more important than quality, and the concept worked. Between Russia’s stalwart T-34 tank and the Shturmovik, they swarmed the advancing Germans and saved their nation—but at a terrible cost.
And the winner, with an astounding total of 36,183: the Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik. A superb ground attack machine, the Il-2 set a standard for relentless attacks and stubborn reliability. It takes a tank to kill a tank. (Photo courtesy of George Millenger)