The Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum Brings a Ilyushin Il-2 Back from the Dead
Shturmovik Il-2M3 305401 rolled off the production line in 1943 in Kuybyshev, known today as Samara. On October 10, 1944, while flown by Junior Lieutenant K. P. Prohorov and his gunner, S. M. Semyonov, of the 828th Attack Aviation Regiment of the 260th Composite Air Division, it was hit by antiaircraft fire on the Karelian front (the northernmost battles between the Soviets and Nazi Germany). Semyonov bailed out at low altitude and was killed, while Prohorov crashed on a frozen lake. He survived the crash but later died from his wounds.
Aircraft 305401 sank into the lake with the spring thaw and was forgotten. Discovered in 1991, it was raised in relatively good condition due to the cold, fresh water. It still had rockets and bombs under the wings.
In 2005, the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum (FHCAM) in Everett, Washington, contracted Retro Avia Tech, Ltd., in Novosibirsk, Russia, to return an Il-2 to the skies. Boris Osentinsky used 305401 as the foundation of the rare “Shturmovik”—one of only two flyable in the world. About 60 percent of the original parts in FHCAM’s Il-2 came from 305401.
Much of the cockpit (the instruments, control stick, and cockpit floor) came from aircraft 7593, which crashed into a swamp near Pyzhov on January 12, 1944. Reported missing on February 12, 1944, aircraft 4283 was discovered in a freshwater lake and contributed its center section and main landing gear legs.
The final donor went missing on February 1,
1944. When discovered in the 1950s, the gunner’s body was recovered. The wreck was undisturbed until researchers discovered the aircraft was actually a two-seat Il-2. Later, the pilot was recovered, along with parts of the armored fuselage and engine cowl.
AIRCRAFT 305401 SANK INTO THE LAKE WITH THE SPRING THAW AND WAS FORGOTTEN. DISCOVERED IN 1991, IT WAS RAISED IN RELATIVELY GOOD CONDITION DUE TO THE COLD, FRESH WATER. IT STILL HAD ROCKETS AND BOMBS UNDER THE WINGS.
The bullet holes on FHCAM’s “Shturmovik” cowl are probably from the engagement that brought the aircraft down.
Due to the rarity of the original Mikulin AM-38 V-12 engine, FHCAM substituted a left-turning P-38 Allison V-1710-113 V-12 engine and propeller. Shturmovik 305401 made its first post-restoration flight in Russia in September 2011. After flying in a parade over the factory where it was originally manufactured, it was dismantled and shipped to FHCAM. Pilot Steve Hinton flew it for the first time in U.S. airspace on August 9, 2012.
Aircraft 305401 is now in the colors of Alexander Efimov of the 298th Air Division. Awarded two Hero of the Soviet Union medals, he was credited with seven air-to-air kills and the destruction of 126 tanks. He passed away in 2012.
Jason Muszala, FHCAM Manager of Restorations and Maintenance, describes the aircraft as “a fairly simplistic airplane, but that presents its own challenges. The brakes, landing gear, and wing flaps are pneumatic; everything else is manual. There are no hydraulics. Chasing air leaks is difficult because you can’t see where the air is leaking from. With hydraulic leaks, you can see where red hydraulic fluid is leaking.” Also, the Shturmovik was constructed using a variety of materials; the armored bathtub uses the same type of steel as tanks, the wings are aluminum, and the tail section is made of wood. The steel is so hard that FHCAM had to obtain special bits to drill it.
FHCAM pilot Ross Granley deems the Il-2 “a pretty substantial airplane. At heart, from my Canadian Air Force CF-18 days, I’m a ground attack guy, and the Il-2 really piqued my curiosity. It is an impressive-looking beast. One of our [fighter] check pilots joked, ‘If you enjoy flying this, you’re grounded!’”
In the cockpit, the first thing you see is its very tall stick. In addition, “the visibility is horrendous. When you slide the canopy closed, you can barely see over your shoulder.” However, he adds, “the weapons selector is simple, so managing your weapons would be easy. The dive indicator on the front windscreen, with a couple of tick marks, helps set your dive angle.”
In the air, the Shturmovik is “not highly maneuverable.” In pitch, the Il-2 “is dynamically unstable—if the aircraft is disturbed in pitch, it wants to continue in that direction. And it gets worse, the slower you get. You are always constantly fighting against the elevator.” Still, Granley concludes that the Shturmovik is an “honest, forgiving airplane.”
Small detail: The protrudence on the spinner that looks exactly like the crank nut on a Model A Ford is where a “Huck Starter” engages. A motor-driven shaft from an auxiliary motor hooks up and starts it. Crude but effective—the Russian Way.
The hardest part of any obscure restoration is getting the details right.
Switches on the stick selected any combination of ordnance carried.
Note the “chair” the rear gunner sat in.
Sometimes a detail in a restoration should be left as is.