Zvezda 1/48 Lavochkin La-5 Soviet Fighter REVIEW

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Kit: Zvezda No4803 1/48 Lavochkin La-5

Price: £17.99 available from Hannants UK.

Decals: 3 Options.

Reviewer: Richard Reynolds.

Notes: Eduard EDXE330 1/48 Lavochkin La-5 canopy mask (designed to be used with Zvezda kits) used.

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History

The Lavochkin La-5 (Лавочкин Ла-5) was a Sovietfighter aircraft of World War II. It was a development and refinement of the LaGG-3 and was one of the Soviet Air Force‘s most capable types of warplane.

The La-5’s heritage began even before the outbreak of war, with the LaGG-1, a promising yet underpowered aircraft – turning a full circle, for example, took 20 seconds. The LaGG-3 was a modification of that design that attempted to correct this by both lightening the airframe and fitting a more powerful engine. Nevertheless, this was not enough, and the lack of power remained a significant problem.

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In early 1942, two of the LaGG-1 and -3’s designers, Semyon Lavochkin and Vladimir Gorbunov, attempted to correct this deficiency by experimentally fitting a LaGG-3 with the more powerful Shvetsov ASh-82radial engine. Since the LaGG-3 was powered by an inline engine, they accomplished this by grafting on the nose section of a Sukhoi Su-2 (which used this engine). By now, the shortcomings of the LaGG-3 had caused Lavochkin to fall out of Joseph Stalin‘s favour, and factories previously assigned to LaGG-3 construction had been turned over to building the rival Yakovlev Yak-1 and Yak-7. The design work required to adapt the LaGG-3 to the new engine and still maintain the aircraft’s balance was undertaken by Lavochkin in a small hut beside an airfield over the winter of 1941-1942, all completely unofficially.

When the prototype took flight in March, the result was extremely pleasing – the fighter finally had a powerplant that allowed it to perform as well in the air as it had been supposed to on paper. After flying, the LaGG-5, Air Force test pilots declared it superior to the Yak-7, and intensive flight tests began in April. After only a few weeks, the design was modified further, cutting down the rear fuselage to give the pilot better visibility.

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By July, Stalin ordered maximum-rate production of the aircraft, now simply known as the La-5 and the conversion of any incomplete LaGG-3 airframes to the new configuration. The prototype was put in mass production almost immediately in factories located in Moscow and in the Yaroslav region. While still inferior to the best German fighters at high altitudes, the La-5 proved to be every bit their match closer to the ground. With most of the air combat over the Eastern Front taking place at altitudes of under 5,000 m (16,404 ft), the La-5 was very much in its element. Its rate of roll was excellent.

Further refinement of the aircraft involved a fuel-injected engine, further lightening of the aircraft, and fixed slats to improve all-round performance. This was designated the La-5FN and would become the definitive version of the aircraft. A full circle turn took 18–19 seconds. Altogether, 9,920 La-5s of all variants were built, including a number of dedicated trainer versions, designated La-5UTI. Several La-5s had three Berezin B-20 cannon installed in the nose capable of a salvo of 3.4 kg/s rounds. Further refinements of the aircraft would lead to the Lavochkin La-7.

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A number of La-5s continued in the service of Eastern Bloc nations after the end of the war, including Czechoslovakia.

In the summer of 1943, a brand-new La-5 made a forced landing on a German airfield providing the Luftwaffe with an opportunity to test-fly the newest Soviet fighter. Test pilot Hans-Werner Lerche wrote a detailed report of his experience. He particularly noted that the La-5FN excelled at altitudes below 3,000 m (9,843 ft) but suffered from short range and flight time of only 40 minutes at cruise engine power. All of the engine controls (throttle, mixture, propeller pitch, radiator and cowl flaps, and supercharger gearbox) had separate levers which served to distract the pilot during combat to make constant adjustments or risk suboptimal performance. For example, rapid acceleration required moving no less than six levers. In contrast, contemporary German aircraft, especially the BMW 801 radial-engined variants of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 front line fighter, had largely automatic engine controls with the pilot operating a single lever and electromechanical devices, like the Kommandogerät pioneering engine computer on the radial-engined Fw 190s, making the appropriate adjustments. Due to airflow limitations, the engine boost system (Forsazh) could not be used above 2,000 m (6,562 ft). Stability in all axes was generally good. The authority of the ailerons was deemed exceptional but the rudder was insufficiently powerful at lower speeds. At speeds in excess of 600 km/h (370 mph), the forces on control surfaces became excessive. Horizontal turn time at 1,000 m (3,281 ft) and maximum engine power was 25 seconds.

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In comparison with Luftwaffe fighters, the La-5FN was found to have a comparable top speed and acceleration at low altitude. In comparison with the Bf 109 the La-5FN possessed a slightly higher roll rate; however the Bf-109 was slightly faster and had the advantages of a smaller turn radius and higher rate of climb. In comparison with the Fw 190A-8 the La-5FN had a slightly better climb rate and smaller turn radius, however the Fw-190A-8 was faster at all altitudes and had significantly better dive performance. As a result Lerche’s recommendations for Fw190 pilots were to attempt to draw the La-5FN to higher altitudes, to escape attacks in a dive followed by a high-speed shallow climb, and to avoid prolonged turning engagements. Utilizing MW 50 both German fighters had superior performance at all altitudes.

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The La-5 had its defects. Perhaps the most serious being the thermal isolation of the engine, lack of ventilation in the cockpit, and a canopy that was impossible to open at speeds over 350 km/h. To make things worse, exhaust gas often entered in the cockpit due to poor insulation of the engine compartment. Consequently, pilots ignored orders and frequently flew with their canopies open.

In general, Soviet pilots appreciated the La-5 as an effective fighter. “That was an excellent fighter with two cannons and a powerful air-cooled engine”, recalled pilot Viktor M. Sinaisky. “The first La-5s from the Tbilisi factory were slightly inferior, while the last ones from the Gorki plant, which came to us from Ivanovo, were perfect. At first we received regular La-5s, but then we got new ones containing the ASh-82FN engine with direct injection of fuel into the cylinders. It was perfect. Everyone was in love with the La-5. It was easy to maintain too.” Nevertheless La-5 losses were high, the highest of all fighters in service in USSR, not considering those of the Yak-1. In 1941-45, VVS KA lost 2,591 La-5s, 73 in 1942, 1,460 in 1943, 825 the following year and 233 in 1945.

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Perhaps the most famous pilot to fly the La-5 was Marshal of Aviation Ivan Nykytovych Kozhedub known as the Allied ‘Ace of Aces’. He was born on June 8th 1920 and died August 8th 1991 and was a Soviet military aviator and a World War II fighter ace. Kozhedub took part in the Korean War as a commander of the 324th Fighter Air Division. He is credited with 64 +2 (P-51) individual air victories, most of them flying the Lavochkin La-5. He is one of the few pilots to have shot down a Messerschmitt Me 262 jet. He was made a Hero of the Soviet Union on three occasions (4 February 1944; 19 August 1944; 18 August 1945).

Fighter Ace Ivan Kozhedub

Fighter Ace Ivan Kozhedub

After his first military flight on 26 March 1943, he operated on the Voronezh Front and, in July over the Kursk battlefields. His first kill was a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka shot down over Pokrova on 6 July 1943. By 16 August he had claimed eight air victories. He was promoted to Mladshii Leitenant (Junior Lieutenant). Then his unit moved towards Kharkiv. At this time he usually flew escort for Petlyakov Pe-2 twin-engine bombers. During World War II, he then served as a fighter pilot in several areas (Steppe Front, 2nd Ukrainian Front, and 1st Belorussian Front) and at different ranks, starting from senior airman up to the deputy commander of the air regiment. He claimed his 61st and 62nd victories, his final claims, over Berlin on 16 April 1945.

Kozhedub holds the record for the highest number of confirmed air combat victories of any Soviet or Allied pilot (effectively the Allied “Ace of Aces”) during World War II. He is regarded as the best Soviet flying ace of the war, and is associated with flying the La-5. He was also reputed to have a natural gift for ‘deflection shooting’, i.e. the rare ability to hit targets from very oblique angles.

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Kozhedub’s World War II record consists of:

  • 330 combat missions
  • 120 aerial engagements
  • 62 enemy aircraft shot down, including one Me 262 jet fighter (possibly Uffz Kurt Lange of 1./KG(J)54.).

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The Kit

Zvezda’s 1/48 La-5 kit comes in a 30 x 20 cm (12 x 8 inch) box, The box art is actually a false lid – it lifts off to reveal a corrugated cardboard box with a hinged lid that closes tightly to create a strong little container.  It looks a bit industrial, but this is a box that’s unlikely to get crushed in the post or mail.

The kit contents consist of 4 sprue frames, 3 in injection moulded grey plastic and one frame contains the clear parts. All of the grey plastic parts are finely moulded, with precise but restrained panel line and where appropriate rivet detail.  The control surfaces are nicely done, with sharp trailing edges and separate ailerons. There is no flash, no blemishes and no sink marks.

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A single decal sheet providing options to model 3 examples of the La-5 and a 6 page fold-out instruction sheet are provided in ‘exploded-view’ format with black and white three-view painting instructions on the reverse.

As with the LA-5 and LA-5FN kits, the cockpit is assembled as a unit on top of the single-piece upper wing.  The upper wing half is an impressive piece of engineering, and includes some major cockpit structures as well as fully detailed wheel wells.

Also in common with Zvezda’s previous 1/48 kits is the inclusion of a complete and highly detailed engine.  With careful assembly, painting and weathering, and perhaps the addition of a little extra plumbing, you’ll end up with a lovely 14-cylinder two-row radial Shvetsov M-82 engine.

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The real advantage of the Zvezda range over its competitors is that you do not have to construct the engine in order to complete the kit. In my opinion, too many manufacturers over-engineer their kits by making the engine integral to the build process, which can cause problems. For example, if you misalign one component in the engine build, often the engine will not fit and the kit is ruined (I speak from experience here). This is not the case with Zvezda. However, they do provide the modeller with the opportunity to build a complex engine with the cowlings removed that would grace any diorama.

Lastly, the canopy components, provided in their own sealed bag are excellent. They are beautifully moulded, clear and are a perfect fit.

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Construction

The construction phase began with my usual wash of all of the parts in a warm soapy solution to remove the mould release. The grey plastic components were then primed with grey auto-primer from a rattle-can.

The build looked a little daunting at first, as the cockpit interior consists of a 6 piece frame and the fuselage is furnished with a full set of bulkheads. The engine consists of 27 parts (these include 18 exhausts). As mentioned earlier, it is not necessary to build the engine if you don’t want to. Even though I chose to model the La-5 with the cowlings closed/fitted, I decided to build the complete engine to find out if the unit would fit inside the fuselage halves once they were closed. It was a little time consuming but the fit was excellent and I think an important exercise for the purposes of this article.

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With the engine completed, I set it to one side and began the wing assembly. The lower wing is a one piece component; the upper sections are supplied in four parts. The wing was glued, taped and set to one side to dry.

The cockpit internal frame came next. Despite my initial trepidation, this stage went together surprisingly easily. The interior was airbrushed with Humbrol matt 147 Gull-Grey and weathered lightly with heavily thinned Windsor & Newton Ivory Black, to pick out the interior details such as the ribs and bulkheads.

At this stage, it is recommended that the rear-quarterlight windows are fitted before closing the fuselage halves, the cockpit accessories were also added at this stage, such as the trim wheels, throttle assembly, cockpit floor, control column and rudder pedals, pilot’s seat and headrest.

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The rear tail-wheel assembly and bulkhead was then constructed before the fuselage halves were glued, joined, taped and left overnight to dry.

Stage 8 involves the fitting of the control panel. Two are supplied in this kit. One has had the instruments drilled out, allowing the modeller to dress the unit themselves, the other is smooth and is designed so that a decal can be affixed.

Stage 9 sees the wing slats and flaps glued into place and the fitting of the engine to the cockpit frame. This again was a straightforward process, thanks to Zvezda’s excellent engineering.

The final ‘main construction phase’ is stage 10; this involves the fitting of the cowlings, canopies (which I had pre-masked with Eduard’s La-5 mask), the horizontal tail surfaces and elevators and finally, the rudder.

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Camouflage & Markings

The Zvezda La-5 has marking options for three aircraft:

Three subjects are presented and these can be found on a single decal sheet. The printing was good, however, some of the Red Stars had a partial white outline. The surrounding carrier film was commendably thin and the depth of colour was excellent.

  1.  La-5 “White 60”, 3rd IAK, May 1943
  2.  La-5 “White 23” flown by Lt. Patoka, 240th IAP, August 1942
  3. La-5 “White 04”, flown by V.M. Dmitriev, 4th IAP, summer 1943. 

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I chose to model: Lavochkin La-5 “White 04” flown by V.M. Dmitriev, 4th GvIAP, Baltic Sea Fleet, summer 1943. I chose this machine as it is likely that it would have seen action against Finnish and German Fighters in the Baltic and Gulf of Finland which is the general theme of this website.

The La-5 lower-surfaces were airbrushed with White Ensign Models WEMCC ACS01 WW2 Soviet VVS All Blue. Once dry, the undersides were masked off in preparation for the upper-surfaces being airbrushed with White Ensign Models WEMCC ACS03 WW2 Soviet VVS All Green. Blu-tac was used to mask the camouflage demarcation-line and filled in with masking tape. The airframe was then given a coat of Humbrol 33 Black.

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The decals were applied using micro-sol and micro-set decal setting solutions and set to one side to dry overnight. The following morning, the La-5 was given a coat of Johnson’s Klear.

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Final Construction

Stages 11 and 12 complete the build with the oil cooler intake, undercarriage, Pitot tube, tail-wheel doors, cowling fan, propeller and propeller hub. The aerial wires were added using ‘Little-Cars’ 0.2mm wire and finally the aircraft was given a coat Xtracrylix Matt Varnish.

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Conclusion

Another excellent, well-engineered kit from Zvezda of an extremely potent aircraft. I recommend this kit wholeheartedly and am looking forward to future Zvezda projects such as the Yak 3, Su-2 and La-5FN.

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At the outbreak of the Winter War in Finland on the 30th of November 1939 – 13th March 1940 and the beginning of the Continuation War on the 25th of June 1941, the pilots of the Suomen Ilmavoimat (Finnish Air Force) and later the Luftwaffe in the Arctic would have faced large quantities of obsolete Polikarpov I-152, I-153 and I-16 aircraft (seen here on the right of the pictures below). The best aircraft in the Soviet inventory at this time were the MiG-3 and LaGG-3, which were still not a match or just on a par with Ilmavoimat aircraft.

By the summer of 1943, the La-5, Yak 3 and Bell P-39N/Qs were beginning to appear over the Baltic, Gulf of Finland and the Artic North giving parity between the opposing Air Forces in terms of equipment. By the end of the Continuation War in September 1944, Soviet tactics and the combat skills of VVS pilots had largely caught up with their Ilmavoimat and Luftwaffe counterparts.

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References

  • Abanshin, Michael E. and Nina Gut. Fighting Lavochkin, Eagles of the East No.1. Lynnwood, WA: Aviation International, 1993. ISBN unknown.
  • Bergström, Christer. Bagration to Berlin – The final Air Battle in the East 1944-45. Hersham UK, Classic Publications, 2008. ISBN 978-1-903223-91-8.
  • Bergström, Christer. Kursk – The Air Battle: July 1943. London: Chevron/Ian Allen, 2007. ISBN 978-1-903223-88-8.
  • Bridgman, Leonard (ed.). “The La-5”. Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War II. London: Studio, 1946. ISBN 1-85170-493-0.
  • Drabkin, Artem. The Red Air Force at War: Barbarossa and the Retreat to Moscow – Recollections of Fighter Pilots on the Eastern Front. Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK: Pen & Sword Military, 2007. ISBN 1-84415-563-3.
  • Glancey, Jonathan. Spitfire: The Illustrated Biography. London: Atlantic books, 2006. ISBN 978-1-84354-528-6.
  • Gordon, Yefim. Lavochkin’s Piston-Engined Fighters (Red Star Volume 10). Earl Shilton, Leicester, UK: Midland Publishing Ltd., 2003. ISBN 1-85780-151-2.
  • Gordon, Yefim and Dmitri Khazanov. Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War, Volume One: Single-Engined Fighters. Earl Shilton, Leicester, UK: Midland Publishing Ltd., 1998. ISBN 1-85780-083-4.
  • Green, William. Warplanes of the Second World War, Volume Three: Fighters. London: Macdonald & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 1961 (seventh impression 1973). ISBN 0-356-01447-9.
  • Green, William and Gordon Swanborough. WW2 Aircraft Fact Files: Soviet Air Force Fighters, Part 1. London: Macdonald and Jane’s Publishers Ltd., 1977. ISBN 0-354-01026-3.
  • Liss, Witold. The Lavochkin La 5 & 7 (Aircraft in Profile number 149). Leatherhead, Surrey, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1967.
  • Stapfer, Hans-Heiri. La 5/7 Fighters in Action (Aircraft in Action Number 169). Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 1998. ISBN 0-89747-392-2.
  • Stapfer, Hans-Heiri. LaGG Fighters in Action (Aircraft in Action Number 163). Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 1996. ISBN 0897473647
  • Veštšík, Miloš and Jirí Vraný. Lavočkin La-5 (in Czech/English). Prague, Czech Republic: MBI Books, 2006. ISBN 80-86524-10-8.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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