The I-200 prototype was the materialization of the K-project (or X-project) begun in 1939 by the Polikarpov bureau.
The king of fighters
In late '30s Nikolai Nikolaevich Polikarpov, the so-called "king of fighters", was the most important fighter designer in URSS. He designed many fighter, some of which were extremely advanced for their time, such as the well-known I-16 and its possible successor with liquid-cooled engine, the I-17.
While developing the I-17 fighter, projected its derivative, the I-19.
However, this project was stopped soon, since in early 1936 N.N.Polikarpov
was appointed simultaneously as chief designer of the plant of n.2 in Gorki
and of the plant n.8 in Khimki, where there was not yet any experimental
|In 1938 the first I-180 sketches were made. The I-180 differed from
the I-16 in that it was slightly larger, with a two-row M-88R engine and
extensive use of modern structures using light alloys .
The first I-180 was built at Zavod n.156 in the summer of 1938, but the Defence Industry Ministry rushed the maiden flight, and the prototype wasn't completely ready. On December 15, 1938 the first flight ended with an engine failure that resulted in the loss of the aircraft and and the death of the famous test pilot V.P. Chkalov.
The death of this Hero was followed by the arrest of Polikarpov's deputy, Dmitry Tomashevich, and other persons, wrongly accused of sabotage; Polikarpov was not arrested because he casually had not given his personal consent to the flight.
An engine for a new arrow
|A new project was born on the basis of the availability of Mikulin
AM-37 engine, projected for an high altitude bomber and never utilized
for it; the engine, despite its heavy weight, was very promising, so the
project manager Alexander Mikulin contacted Polikarpov to solicit the construction
of an airframe suitable for it.
Polikarpov was interested to use his experience from the abandoned I-17 project; he decided to draw a high-altitude interceptor with the Mikulin engine, that was at first designed as project X, or project K.
|The project bore some resemblance in philosophy with the He-100. This
was an aircraft that was well-known to the Soviet designers, an example
having been purchased for tests before the war.
It was by far the fastest semi-operative aircraft in the world in 1938/39. German propaganda has falsely described it as operative until at least 1940.
This probably gave inspiration for the project X. Again, it was drawn the smallest aircraft possible around a powerful vee engine.
|Another aircraft that could have influenced the project X was the U.S.
XP-37, that bears a considerable similarity both in look and in general
conception to the original idea of Polikarpov.
It was a fighter derived from P-36 with a new 1,000 hp Allison V-1710 engine with turbosupercharger; it reached a top speed of 550 km/h at 6000 m altitude.
One prototype and 13 pre-series examples were built before the project cancellation, due to the poor visibility and poor performance of turbo supercharger.
It was armed wito one 7,62 mm and one 12,7 mm guns, and featured cockpit set back on the fuselage and side radiators.
Project X starts
The official work program for 1939 considered the production of three
prototypes of the aircraft X by July 1, 1940, but Polikarpov didn't begin
the work immediately because of the troubles of the I-180 program.
Only on August 1939, Polikarpov instituted a team to prepare a preliminary design of the new aircraft; this was composed by Y.Seletskiy, Nikolay Matyuk, Mikhail Gurevic, Alexey Karev and Vladimir Romodin.
At first, Mikoyan was involved marginally, and ony in unofficial way.
The design of the new fighter was ready on October 1939.
Its flight performances were expected to be extremely promising: with
the AM-37 engine with a power of 1400 hp, maximum speed reached 670 km/h
at 7000 and 531 km/h at the ground level, reaching an altitude of 5000
m in 4.6 min.
Besides AM-37, the installation of the similar AM-35A engine was considered, but Polikarpov considered the AM-37 more promising. First, because it was proposed to supply it with synchronizers for the installation of two guns, and in the second place, the appearance of its 1900 hp derivative AM-39 was expected for late 1941.
They considered the installation of two turbocompressors TK on the AM-37; they could increase maximum speed to 717 km/h at an altitude of 11600 m.
Although similar in shape to the I -200 as it was built later, the original
project X was different: it was intended for the production capabilities
of the Zavod n.21, where
Polikarpov intended to mass produce it.
“The construction of the plane clearly distinguished the independent constructive and production modules. Removable wing panels, dismountable fuselage
(wooden rear part and metallic aft part) and the undercarriage with conventionally simple kinematics give wide opportunities of mass production with efficient usage of the production area. A limited number of quite simple connections allows easy and quick change of spare parts in any maintenance conditions” , wrote N.N.Polikarpov in his report to the draft design of Project X.
Although the characteristics of the aircraft were promising, Polikarpov did not hurry to send the project X for the approval of Soviet government.
His analysis of the basic trends of development of aviation suggested to decrease the wing area to improve the aereodynamic properties.
Project X changes hands
However, he hadn't the possibility to do this. During October 1939 Polikarpov
went in Germany with an aereonautic delegation to study the experiences
of the German
aircraft industry. These experiences confirmed him in the correctness of his chosen direction.
In November 1939, during the absence of Polikarpov, a special meeting was hold at the Zavod n. 1 in Moscow-Vnukovo, where at that time his KB was located, to decide what type of plane should be produced there instead of the obsolete I-153.
A limited production of the BB-22 bomber was continuing, but there were many doubts on the fact that the I-180 was modern enough to compete with Me-109s; the delays and accidents to prototypes were creating doubts.
On that occasion Yakovlev reported concerning the development his I-26 fighter, and the commission, after examining the documents, recommended the aircraft for the series production.
Chief designer A.T.Karev was present at the session, in spite of Polikarpov's prohibition to report his KB developments without his approval; he described that project X was extimated to be 70 km/h faster than the I-26. This report was not fully trusted: the characteristics of the X seemed by far too high.
The works manager A.Voronin gave further informations on the project to the commission that indicated that the X was more promising than the I-26, and
reported this to the Soviet government and to the VVS command.
The order about the immediate building of the aircraft arrived within
The production director of Zavod 1 A.Voronin ordered, with the agreement of the Soviet government, the organization of an experimental design division (OKO-1), for developing and building the X prototype, on December 8, 1939.
|A.I.Mikoyan was assigned as chief designer of OKO-1, alongside
M.I.Gurevich and V.A.Romodin.
Mikoyan was appointed formally as assistant of the chief designer on the plant n.1 on December 14, 1939, but the OKO-1 was subordinated directly to Voronin, not to Polikarpov, and had the right to be turned directly to the government for resolution of operational problems.
The OKO-1 received about 40% of the technicians of the Polikarpov bureau, and part of the production team and facilities.
Mikoyan was offered to form his own design team in September too, but he initially refused because of his lack of projecting experience and his strong position on the Polikarpov's team. In fact, he worked as production inspector at Zavod 1 in I-153 series production, and he worked on a commission studying the causes of air accidents; so he had frequent reasons to contact bot designers and production technicians, obtaining great experience and gaining credits thanks to his skills.
He was friend of M.I.Gurevic, then heading the Polikarpov's bureau preliminary design group.
The fall of the king of fighters
The formation of the OKO-1 passed without the agreement of the management
of Polikarpov bureau, and this created stressed relations.
Gossips had it that Polikarpov could be shot when returned from Germany. Many raised questions about the strange method of the formation of the OKO-1
during Party meetings on December 1939.
Nikolai Nikolaevich Polikarpov, after returning from Germany, perceived the reallocation of many technicians from the composition of his bureau with understandable
bewilderment, and, althought being not dismissed yet from the duty of main designer of the Zavod n.1 , he wrote to the chief of central committee, but this yielded no results.
A bad situation began to rise envelope Polikarpov, they recalled his foregoing arrest to him, and they accused him of trying " to recreate the spirit of industrial party in the aircraft industry ". All this led to severe moral injury for Polikarpov, and for a while he seemingly lost interest in the work.
During the conference about the division of projects, chaired by chief engineer P.V.Dyemyentyev, Polikarpov was asked about his complaints directed to the government; he bitterly anwered that he complained to the People Commissar of Aircraft Industry M.Kaganovic, but that he was removed from his duty and committed suicide some days later, so there was none to which to address a complain, save while in Germany one could complain to Goering. All faces faded, so he realized to have said too much and changed his tone, giving his consent to the development of I-200 by Mikoyan that was already doing this, and claimed to have other projects.
The transfering of Polikarpov KB into experimental plant n.51 was decided in the beginning of 1940.
During March the Mikoyan I Gurevic OKB-155 (experimental design bureau)
was officially instituted in Zavod 1.
Mikoyan, for respect for his friend and colleague , insisted that the bureau should bring his surname Gurevic aside his own one. In fact, having headed the Polikarpov's bureau preliminary design group of project X, Gurevic could be regarded as the true designer of this aircraft.
The task of the bureau was to develop two variants from the project X: the Izdelye 61 with AM-35A engine, and the Izdelye 63 with AM-37.
On January 21, 1940, these names were replaced by the name I-200.
The war appeared close, and so the government offices gave to Mikoyan the date of July 1st 1940 as a deadline for state acceptance trial; it was a result difficult to achieve, because they had started slowly, and because the Lavockin I-301 and Yakovlev I-26 projects had already months of advantage in development time.
But Mikoyan was an excellent organizer. To gain time, they started immediately to prepare production facilities while simultaneously building the prototypes. They received massive help by production technicians of Zavod n.1. Polikarpov aided the OKB, too; he noted that the production of aft fuselage section, thought for the technology of the Zavod n.21, would meet difficulties at the Zavod n.1.
The development of drawings of I-200 was sufficiently fast. Small corrections into the initial project were made, as: