1 Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik – 36,183

Flight Journal - - THE MOST PRODUCED -

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)

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