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I-152 evolution and painting
Updated on 23 October 2011
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Disclaimer: this work collects a lot of photos and drawings from many sources, not always identified and mentioned.
If someone has rights on the images reproduced here, please don't feel hurted, email to me and I shall provide to remove or to credit them.

TsKB-3bis (I-15bis prototype)

After the TsKB-3 that was only an I-15 modified with a traditional biplane wing instead of the gullwing, the real prototype of the I-15bis was the TsKB-3bis. The first state tests in July 1937 were disappointing, because the plane had became 300 kg heavier than the I-15 and it wasn't faster, despite the more powerful engine.

The TsKB-3bis differed from the I-15 for:

  • the traditional biplane arrangement of the upper wing instead of the gullwing;
  • the more powerful engine M-25V and the long cylindrical cowling, with the carburettor intake on its front in upper position;
  • the metallic propeller with wide spinner;
  • the streghtened structure;
  • the improved landing gear with shock absorbers and brakes;
  • the different configuration of th windshield and back fuselage.

Compared to the production I-15bis, the prototype visually differs for:

  • the different windshield;
  • the different fuselage back with small windows at the pilot's back;
  • the antenna masts on the wings and the wire aerials, never seen on production planes
  • the reflective gunsight instead of the telescopic type.

The prototype appears to be painted with :

  • light grey AE-9 on its metallic parts,
  • with AII silver on the fabric-covered surfaces;
  • red stars with black outline and inside circle in six positions (fuselage sides, upper surface of upper wings, undersurfaces of lower wings);
  • the nose and the front of the wheel spats appear painted red (or black?);
  • the spinner and propellers are of unpainted aluminium alloy.

Since 1937, the standards of painting the Soviet military planes included these types of paints:

  • AE-x paints were oil enamels for external metal surfaces, resistant to atmospheric agents; they usually were utilized on a layer of ALG-1 yellowish primer, but could be utilized on unprimed metal too;
  • AII (or A 2nd) colors were nitrocellulosic lacquers; they could be utilized on wooden and fabric surfaces, primed by a layer of yellowish nitroputty and/or aluminuim paint, and on metal surfaces over some primier (usually ALG-1 zinc-chromate yellowish paint).

AII gloss camouflage green for uppersurfaces..

Perhaps the metal-skinned parts were painted with a similar oil color, possibly called AE-7, but no difference is visible on the most part of photos between metal and fabric-covered surfaces of I-15bis.

AE-9 gloss light grey (for metal skinned surfaces) and AII light grey (for wood/fabric of some types)
AII aluminium (for fabric-skinned surfaces)
Production I-15bis

Despite the disappointing results of the state trials, the VVS commands insisted to put hurrily the type in production because they didn't like the gull-wing configuration of the I-15 limiting the side view. The production started in Factory n.1 in mid 1937.

Units of the VVS began to receive some I-15bis in mid 1937, even before the completion of state tests, but the massive delivery of this type started in early 1938. The plane was somewhat faster than its predecessor I-15, but heavier and less manouvrable.

It took part to the Sino-Japanese war in the hands of four 'volunteers' squadrons deployed in November 1937 in the Nanchang area; it outclassed the old Ki-10 Jaanese biplanes, but had an harder time versus the more modern A5M2 Claude monoplanes.

In 1938, I-15bis were delivered both to Chinese and to Spanish Republican Air Force; the plane was known as 'Super Chato' by the Spanish flyers.

Red 5 is a typical production I-15bis:

  • uppersurfaces painted in solid gloss AII green (perhaps the metal surfaces were painted with an oil paint, but no differene is visible)
  • undersurfaces painted in light grey AE-9 on metal parts, and AII aluminium on fabric-skinned parts;
  • red stars with thin black outline and circle in six positions: fuselage sides, upper wings uppersurface, lower wings undersurface;
  • bort number painted on the rudder;
  • prop blades were left unpainted, or painted black on the rear only.

 

This image of the undersides of wrecked planes allow to identify the metal parts of the undersurfaces that were painted light grey:

  • engine cowling and central part of the fuselage
  • all the wing and tail struts
  • landing gear struts, wheel disks and eventually spats
  • a small protective panel under the right lower wing tip.

The difference between grey metallic parts and aluminium-painted fabric is evident.

The AII aluminium part was also utilized for the inside of the wings; it protected the fabric against the weakening due to UV rays.

Left: Red 14 and red 16 have small red stars on their stabilizers, probably a mark of the unit. They wear the AII green uppersurfaces characteristic of nearly all the I-15bis.

Image from Polikarpov biplane fighters, of Y.Gordon and K. Dexter.

Right: a piece of fabric from the wing of an I-15bis s/n 5275 recovered from a lake in Finland. Plane has green oversides, metal inspection hatches were painted black at least on upper wing. Underside all fabric and wooden (plywood) areas were painted with silver laquer and metal parts with light grey (cit. Kari Lumppio). The shade of green visible on the photo is more brownish than expected from AII green, and matches the khaki used before 1937, but this could be due to the ageing.

(photo: courtesy H.Valtonen)

White 14 belonged to 71 iap VVS KBF in 1941. It features a red tail tip, perhaps with a thin black outline, and a white-red spinner, perhaps with a thin black outline separing these colors.

It has bombs under its wings, apparently AO-25 on the outer racks and FAB-50 on the inner ones.

An undeclared war started on May 11, 1939, along the Kalkhin-GGol River, that was the disputed border between the filo-Soviet Mongolia and the Manchukuo, a puppet state controlled by Japaneses.

At first the Soviet sent in action the 70 IAP, equipped mainly with I-15bis, and the 22 IAP equipped with I-16; they were later reinforced by other units.

The I-15bis were clearly not competitive against the monoplanes Ki-27, and were often employed as ground attack planes with the escort of I-16s flying at higher altitude.

Here we see the image of the remains I-15bis 'red 3' of 70 IAP, characterized by a red tail tip with white outline.

 

 

 

Left: Here we see some I-15bis of the 70th IAP with an additional camouflage made overspraying grey(?) 'spaghetti' over the green/grey/silver standard livery. It's unclear if this treatment was extended to the rear of the plane and to the wings.

 

Right: two images of the plane n.2 (yellow 2?).

The detail of the tail shows the fabric stripes glued to the junction points of the metal plate at the root of the stabilizer. These stripes were 55 mm wide and made with special scissors that left the toothed contour.

Usually they were painted with the color of the plane, but sometimes they were left unpainted.

The planes of this unit seem characterized by white bort numbers, yellow (?) tail tip with white outline, red spinners and a winged star on the stabilizer, possibly in silver.

Comparing the dark appearance of the red star on the fuselage of n.5 to the tail tip and winged starlet, one can conclude that they weren't red.

Note the light stripes of fabric glued on the joints of the metal plate at the root of the stabilizer; sometimes they were left unpainted and probably were cream or light beige; on other planes they appear to have been painted in green, or just a bit lighter than the AII green of the uppersurfaces.

Plane n.6 of the same unit looks to have the white numbers and outine badly weathered off, and the winged star on the stabilizer looks much darker than on the planes n.5 and 8, possibly in red.

The spats are well visible.

Below: a drawing of the spats from the manual.

Red 10, with the slogan 'Za Stalina!' painted on at least one side, belonged to 13th Avio Escadrille of the 61st Avio Brigade of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet Air Force during the Winter War. Note the skis landing gear.

http://www.bellabs.ru/Fotab/Sov-Fin/Sov-Fin.html

'Red 85' of VVSKBF photographed during the winter war. Note the parachute belts on the wing.

Image from Red Stars 5 of Geust

Yellow 173 (serial 4616) of 152nd IAP made a forced landing on ice of Lake Oulunjarvi on December 24, 1939 and was captured by Finns. It became VH-11 in Finnish service.

Yellow bort numbers are said to have found often on Soviet planes before the German invasion, then disappeared for some years to avoid confusion with enemy planes.

This I-15bis with a beautiful livery, probably white and red with black numbers, was from a movie of 1941 on the hero Valeriy Chkalow, who had died in December 1938 while testing the prototype of I-180. A colorful I-16 appears in the movie aside this biplane.

Right: at the beginning, there was no any inscription on the fuselage side, but inscriptions were added in two steps later; it means: "jump" and the later modified version reads "I order jump!!!" .

(Thanks to Yasig)

Usually, I-15bis uppersurfaces appear painted with a uniform shade of dark gloss green. This photo is perhaps the only one putting in evidence a different shade of green between metal-skinned and fabric-skinned parts. It's unclear if this is due to a repainting, or colors has faded differently.

Perhaps metallic parts were finished some different type of paint that had a shade undistinguishable from AII green when new.

The oil-based dark green AE-7 looks the candidate for this role: it appears on some documents as utilized in the same years, but its exact use and shade are not known. It's reasonable to assume that it was the oil equivalent of AII green.

An alternative explanation is that some parts were painted black on this plane.

Red 2 seems characterized by the combination of two colors on its markings, possibly red and silver or red and yellow:

  • the number 2 appears red with lighter shadowing
  • the red tail tip has a thin lighter outline;
  • the spinner, possibly red, has a light half-moon on at least one side.

The plane lacks of spats(but their supports are visible on the wheels) and of any panels of the engine cowling. The part under the cowling appear lighter than the green, but darker than the light grey AE-9 of the landing gear legs.

 

Planes 3 and 4 after their capture by Germans during Operation Barbarossa.

The tail bort numbers, white or yellow, are overposed to a scarcely visible longitudinal band that appears slightly darker than the AII green background, and could be red or dark blue.

From this photo, one can see a characteristic ignored by many drawings: the engine cowling was cut shorter in its lower part that on its sides, probably as an outlet of hot air from the oil cooler.

 

 

The number 51 of this plane seems to be white, but it could be a joke of the photo: it could also be red with white outline.
Red 2 has a white-oulined bort number.

 

http://www.bellabs.ru/Fotab/Sov-Fin/Sov-Fin.html

 

 

A detail of the cowling and of the fixed-pitch propeller.

 

Another plane showing the M-25V engine without the cowling. Note the long tube passing between the cylinders and protruding from a hole on the front plate: ot covers the barrel of one of four PV-1 7.62 mm machine guns.

 

Here we see the OP-1 telescopic gunsight passing through an hole of the clear windshield, and the back on a PV-1 syncronized machine gun.
White 11 was captured by Finns ; the red stars seem to have already been obliterated with some dark green or black. The tail looks painted with silver paint.

Plane n.17 is not in genuine Soviet markings; it is a Finnish-captured plane, coded VH-5, remarked for a training movie in February 1942.

I-15bis of the 265th ShAP, Leningrad front, 1941. The plane looks still to have red or yellow bort number and tail tip; this looks to have a black outline.

Image from Red Stars of Geust-Keskinen-Stenman

Late production I-15bis were painted in overall light shades, as their descendants I-153: AE-9 light grey on metallic parts, and AII aluminium on fabric-covered parts, as their successors I-153. Very few photos are available with this finish.

Interesting, although poor, image of an I-15bis that looks repaired with pieces of differently painted planes. The base looks a grey/aluminium plane, while the front of the cowling looks have its top and sides painted with AII green; the dark part on the sides of the plane seems to be an open panel. Note the absence of the spinner.

A large 7, probably red, looks painted in red on its tail.

The DIT-2 was a two-seater version of I-15bis intended as a trainer. Two prototypes were built in Zavod 1 in 1939.

It was abandoned because of its worsened spinning characteristics, due to the changed centere of gravity and increased weight, despite the suppression of the armoured seat and of two side machine guns.

The first and second photo show a prototype with probably yellow or light blue engine cowling and front of the spats, with red stars in six positions over a standard light grey/ aluminium livery.

Note the prop blades, partially painted black on their back.

Images from Polikarpov biplane fighters of Y. Gordon and K. Dexter

The photo of another DIT-2 prototype, probably having red cowling and front of the spats.

Image from Polikarpov biplane fighters of Y. Gordon and K. Dexter

On 20 June 1941, the last day of peace, it was published an order of NKAP (the Ministry for Aeronautical Industry) to paint all planes with a new standard camouflage within one month.

For newly built planes, the instructions said to utilize matt light blue for undersurfaces (not specified what type of paint, but all previous light blue paintings were gloss, so they have to be A-28m for all-metal planes and AMT-7 for mixed construction planes).

Apart for some Yaks, the first known photos of planes with the new green/black painting scheme are dated to July 13, 1941.

Many maintenance manuals of the first years of war describe these paints: dope AMT-4 green, AMT-6 black and AMT-7 blue enamel or oil A-24m, A-26m and A-28m of the same colours. Oil colors were less utilized, also because AMT colors can adhere well to primed metal surfaces.

Despite their name (M= matt), AMT colors were semigloss when new, and turned to matt finish with ageing. Occasionally, they could have been overpainted with a layer of gloss varnish AB-4-d to improve aerodinamicity and gain some speed.

While AMT-4 and 6 were codified in July 1941, AMT-7 was codified in August 1941, and is not mentioned on earlier manuals; earlier AII light blue remained in use in parallel with the darker AMT-7 in the first years of war.

Oil enamels were intended to be sprayed on the exterior metal surfaces, even unprimed. Painting with a brush meant poor paint properties, and was allowed only as a second choice, ex. for repairs.

Prop blades were now fully painted black.

The order of June 1941 changed the national marks of planes too. Red stars, of plan tipe or with thin black outline, were now placed in four or six positions:

  • one on each side of fuselage (not always),
  • one on each side of rudder/stabilizer,
  • one on the undersurface of each wing (lower wing, in case of biplanes).

Note the deletion of stars over the wings, and the introduction of new ones on the tail.

The release of a clear directive on camouflaging the planes with green and black bands, with light blue undersurfaces, reached the units contemporarily with the war outbreak, when the frontline units had other things to worry about.

The directive previded that the existing planes, already painted with a layer of green on uppersurfaces (both AII green, A-19f or earlier types of protective), had to be painted with black bands, eventually preserving the original green and the original color of undersurfaces.

The red stars on the upper face of wings were usually obliterated with camo colors, and new stars were added on the sides of the tail in addition to those on the fuselage.

These colors could have been utilized to partially or completely overpaint some I-15bis after the war outbreak:

AMT-4: the standard matt green for new-built mixed construction planes. Possibly utilized to repaint some I-15bis.

AMT-6: the standard matt camouflage black, usable both aside AMT-4 and over AII green to camouflage old planes.

AMT-1 matt light brown: occasionally utilized in 1941-43 for non-standard camos, became standard on non-fighter planes after the August 1943.

AMT-7 matt light blue: standard for undersurfaces of newly-built planes after June 1941. Possibly utilized to repaint the undersurfaces of some old planes.

AII gloss light blue: standard color for new-built planes between July 1940 and June 1941, also utilized after that date as an alternative to AMT-7. Possibly utilized to repaint the undersurfaces of some old planes.

Interesting collective photo of four I-15bis on maintenance. The caption of the photo attributes it to the late '30s, but the eterogeneity of these painting makes it datable to after the war outbreak.

  • The first plane, widely dismantled, seems to show a black pitching on its upper wing;
  • plane n.16 shows a standard prewar finish and marking style;
  • the third plane has a star on the rudder instead of on the fuselage, but still looks painted with prewar AII green;
  • the fourth plane is camouflaged, probably with AMT-4 green and AMT-6 black, apparently without red stars.

Image from Polikarpov's biplane fighters by Y.Gordon and K.Dexter

 

Two images of the same plane. The camouflage looks made with a brush painting of black bands over the AII green original, strictly following the template of NKAP (Air Industry ministry) of 1941; the green on the rear fuselage looks overpainted with a lighter shade, probably AMT-4 to delete previous marks, obtaining something similar to a 3 shades camouflage.

Half of the spinner and the prop blades were painted black too.

 

Very few can be seen of White 77, but the photo shows the interesting way to carry two 25 kg bombs AO-25 under each bomb rack.

Image of plane n.2, probably with black and green camouflage over silver/grey undersurfaces. The plane was damaged and captured by Germans.

Two bombs are visible under the wing:

  • the thin bomb on the inside rack is an AO-25 of 25 kg
  • the drop-shaped bomb on the outside rack is a FAB-50SV of 50 kg, introduced in 1937.

The thin double rods are to immobilize the rotor arming the detonator (dismantled on this photo).

The supports for the spats are still visible on the wheel hubs.

Left: the image shows the dismountable landing torches supports, under the right wingtip only. To prevent heat damage of the fabric surface, it was covered by a metal plate insulated with asbestos.

The image on the left depicts a plane whose undersurfaces were repainted: the star is not on the usual position close to the tip, and no difference is visible between the metal and fabric surfaces.

http://www.bellabs.ru/Fotab/Sov-Fin/Sov-Fin.html

Right: under this light, the position of the metal plate, painted in grey, contrasts to the aluminium-painted fabric skin. On this image the torches supports don't appear to have been installed.

The installation differs from that of I-153, that had two extractable torches supports appearing from openable doors under the wing and a slightly different position of the metal plate. Note that some drawings attribute wrongly to the I-15bis the same installation of I-153.

 

Rare image of a I-15bis red 52 on the Leningrad front in winter 1941/42.

The plane has a winter finish with MK-7 washable white paint. The undersurfaces could have preserved the original aluminium/light grey finish.

The crew is heating the engine before some mission.

Image from Polikarpov I-15bis of Maslov.

 

Another I-16 bis in winter finish after the war outbreak (as deductable by the star on the tail). Some dark traces on the nose guggest that the washable white paint let see the underlying summer finish. The undersurfaces could have preserved the original aluminium/grey finish. Note the dark struts of the windshield.

http://www.bellabs.ru/Fotab/Sov-Fin/Sov-Fin.html

This 'white 56' was probably utilized for training after the war outbreak.Note the RO rails and the underlying RS-82rockets, and the container for the gun camera under the fuselage. The camouflage of the plane is unclear, but one can see the tip of a star on the tail.

Image from Polikarpov I-15bis of Maslov.

 

White 30 of sr. lt. V.F. Abramov of 11 IAP on takeoff for a ground attack mission. It is armed with 4 RS-82 rockets, probably installed on a metal insulated plate protecting the fabric skinning. The tail skid has been replaced with the wheel from an I-153.

The camouflage could be black and green, perhaps with a third color.

Image from Polikarpov fighters in action part 1, Squadron Signal

White 68 shows an interesting livery, perhaps AMT1 light brown, and AMT-4 green with thin black stripes separating whe bands, and with AMT-7 light blue undersurfaces.

The stars are of the type introduced in summer 1943.

Two rocket rails are visible under each wing.

On the photo below, the plane features the spats on the wheels, and two torches supports under the right wing.

The number 68 is contoured by a red or blue outline.

The spinner is of two colours, possibly black (as the prop blades) and red.

Image above: Zaika

Image below: Image from Polikarpov fighters in action part 1, Squadron Signal