The Fly­ing Her­itage & Com­bat Ar­mor Mu­seum Brings a Ilyushin Il-2 Back from the Dead

Flight Journal - - STALIN'S FLYING HAMMER - By Lt. Col. Robert “Cricket” Ren­ner, USAF (Re­tired); pho­tos by Heath Mof­fatt

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.


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.

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