Interview with Russian YAK-9 pilot - part 1

Ad: This forum contains affiliate links to products on Amazon and eBay. More information in Terms and rules


Nov 9, 2005
Good story...

"While trying to set a date and place for the interview with "our" pilot, we got the impression of him being strict man that prefers to keep his privacy and stay away from the public eye. Another thing that concerned us was that he said he flew 15 types of planes which puzzled us a bit.
So we had some concerns but hoped for the good. Meeting this guy we found him to be nice 83 old year man with good hand shake, very good memory (we brought some cockpit pics from the game and he loved to elaborate on them and thought that they are rather good) and above all an honest man that has no phony thing about him.
The pilot asked us to remain anonymous as he dose not want to appear in any public eye so we can only say that the interview took place in Israel and we will refer to him as "A" in the interview.
Since we had interpreter we can't say we quote him in the most exact manner but we did our best to bring things in the right spirit and facts.
We had only one hour to complete the interview and so here is his story in very brief way:
"A" was born in Gomel in Belarus in 1923, In 1939 at the age of 16 he joined flight club in the city of Odessa and learn to fly Polikarpov-2 for 1 year, He joined the army at the age of 17 though the age of enlisting was 18, he was granted permission to do that after he had sent a letter to the defense minister. In September 1940 he joined the air force flight school in Odessa later towards the coming war the school was moved (orders) to Stalingrad were they became 1000 man combat flight school, When the war broke there was a thought to turn 600 man from them to regular soldiers but it was abandoned and all continued flying studies. They started training on PO-2 (Polikarpov biplane) than moved to Polikarpov UTI-4 (monoplane) and than to I-16.

PO-2 (Polikarpov biplane)

UTI-4 (monoplane)

In 1941 when the war started, the school was moved to a spot near the Don river and when the Germans got close to 100 km' the school was moved to Kazakhstan where they got to train on YAK-1.At that time all the flight instructors were sent to fight the Germans and new flight instructors were appointed from the students," A" was among the newly elected guides. "A" served as fight instructor till October 1944.Then it was decided to send the school instructors to combat duty so they will get actual fight experience and return to be better guides and pass their knowledge to the students. "A" was sent to the"1st Belarus front" were he flew the YAK-9T as close escort for IL-2, The whole plane unit was under the command of the artillery commander of the front and their act was to defend IL-2 who had an artillery officer on board instead of rear gunner and was sent to locate German units and inform the artillery they're whereabouts. They flew in 7 to 9 planes a flight – 1 IL-2, four to six YAK-9T as close escort (no close than 500 m') and 2 more YAK-9T as high altitude escort.
Q: Did you have radio control on board?
A: Only flight leader and his #2 had tow way radio, all the others had receiver radio only.
Q: What were the German planes you were up against?
A: Mostly BF-109 variants, FW-190 and Ju-87 also.
Q: Did you encounter German fighters?
A: No, at that time of war they were week and would not go up against larger fighter group, only to pick on one or two planes.
Q: Did you try to seek for German fighters?
A: No, our job was to protect our most important IL-2, allowing it to be shot down was not an option.
Q: Did you encounter AA fire and hits?
A: We knew the places of AA guns so we went around, I got hit only once and my trim was damaged.
Q: What was your place in the flight?
A: I was #2 of the of the escort leader.
Q: Did you fly a lot and get combat fatigue?
A: No, we had easy times – sometimes we didn't fly for a week and we had nothing to do.
Q: How many combat sorties did you fly in the Belarus front?
A: 25.
Q: Did you have problems hitting targets with the 37 mm' gun of the YAK?
A: No, it had strong recoil but I had my sight and had no problems hitting targets.
Q: Was the YAK physically demanding to fly?
A: Not at all, we flew 400 to 450 kmph and there were not such loads at that speed.
Q: At what height did you start to use supercharger?
A: We activated supercharger and used oxygen masks above 5000 m' but since I didn't usually fly that high I didn't use it.
Q: How did you manage the prop pitch?
A: We use to change prop pitch only on long distance flight in order to conserve fuel otherwise it was at 100%.
Q: How did you find the YAK-9?
A: I liked it very much, it was very good, relievable and simple, could be flown by any average pilot, easy to take off and land. It had no compressed cockpit and no heating system so it was very cold in the winter-we use to ware arctic suits. We use to have our fuel tank filled up and that would degrade the plane behavior, the "hunters" of us who went to pick up German planes, got their tanks partially filled for better dogfight ability. The YAK-3 was better plane and had better organized cockpit without all the radiators sticking up as in the YAK-9, the French Normandy Niemen got it.
Q: What did you do after Belarus?
A: I was stationed in Belarus till the war in Europe was over, Than we moved to Mongolia to fight the Japanees in the same roll as in Belarus, Got to fly two combat sorties and the war was over.
Q: What about after the war?
A: I became squadron leader and flew the La-9, La-11, Mig-15, Mig-17, got to train on Mig-19 but in 1958 the air force was forced to make cuts and the program was stopped.
Q: What plane did you like best?
A: Mig-15/17, they are almost the same.
Q: What about prop driven, La and sort?
A: I liked the YAK better - it was much easier to take off and land.
Q: Did you have to use a lot of pedals during take off?
A: It wasn't such problem, after the tail wheel was up I needed to use more pedals in order to compensate for increased tendency to fly sidewise because of the torque.
Q: What next after the cuts?
A: I was offered to be 2nd in command for wing leader position but my wife said "enough" and I left the air force with full pension benefits.
Q: Did you take the flight as a job or really like it?
A: Oh I loved flying very much and wish I was flying till this day."
He might have, it says he had no problems hitting targets with the 37mm cannon, though that could mean ground targets as well I suppose.
"Q: Did you encounter German fighters?
A: No, at that time of war they were week and would not go up against larger fighter group, only to pick on one or two planes."

I assume he didn't shoot anything down.

This is the second session we had with a yak-9 ww2 pilot. This time he agreed to publish his name - Boris alterman.
At the beginning of the session we showed Boris the sim (FB 4.06). Without too much explanation, we asked him to give it a try. The set we used was X52 joystick and throttle (no pedals).
The next 5 minutes were extremely moving and exciting, something that all who were present will never forget - Boris alterman, an 83 years old man, using a cane, transformed in seconds into a sharp professional pilot, looking and moving as a much younger man.
He started flying the Yak-9, immediately doing a few perfect rolls. While performing it, his legs moved instinctively trying to push the (nonexistent) pedals, and his body moved in anticipation of G forces.
Performing loops was much more difficult, because he tried to evaluate his situation according to his body position (and being unfamiliar with the view system). When in stall situation, he again tried to push pedals.
Boris flew the sim for 5 minutes. We could tell he was enjoying very much, despite the unfamiliar joystick system and sim functions. He said that in order to really play he would need to practice for a few days, since the feel of the sim is different than reality, due to the lack of gravity and G forces on the body. The joystick in the sim responds too strongly, the rudder in reality was not difficult to press.

The next phase was the interview. We kept the FB tracks playing, and so what we have is based also on comments to what he saw on the screen

About his ww2 service: He served in a unit named: "The aerial unit for reconnaissance and intelligence no. 117" (we have the name in Russian, not sure about the exact translation). As mentioned in previous interview, he flew escort missions for IL2 artillery observation plane.

Battle formation: when escorting IL2, a pair at the same level, 1 k"m to the side and behind, the other pair in front and higher. 4 other planes flew high cover. Hight differences - 500 meters.

Communications: At the beginning of the war, only a few of the airplanes had radio receivers, and even fewer had transmitters. When a pilot saw an enemy plane, he moved his wings to draw attention. By the time he flew combat missions, 1945, all planes had 2 ways radios.

Navigation: IL2 pilots used maps; combat pilots did not have time for that. Therefore, they relied upon visual objects and learning the area. There were no beacons. In case of cloudy weather, they flew under the clouds.

Airfields: improvised, as they were chasing the retreating Germans into Prussia. They used agricultural fields; sometimes metal nets were spread on them. The net was 500 meters long, 100 meters wide, size 5X0.5 meters.

Take-off 's and landings: at the center of the strip, flaps 15 degrees down. With the brakes pressed, applying full power and than idle – a few times, to warm the plugs. Letting go of the breaks, throttle ahead, applying rudder. Lifting the tail slowly to keep the propeller blades from hitting the ground and the fuselage from turning right or left (depending on the direction of the motor)

Shooting: 200 meters (not recommended) and less, the closer the better. At the beginning of the war there were no cannons – only 7.9 machine guns
Dog fighting a Messerschmitt with Yak 9: depends on the abilities of the pilot. If he were able to anticipate the opponent's moves, and act before him, he would win. It was extremely important to stay on the inside of the opponents turn radius. And again – it is up to the pilot and not the plane.

Head on – the FW could dogfight head – on, due to the star like engine that could sustain damage, protect the pilot and continue to operate. The Yak 3 could not, because it had a radiator, but the LA could.

Use of rudder in turns – always. Keep the ball in the center.

The Normandy Niemmen – he visited their sqd a few times, but communication was difficult due to language differences. They flew different missions – intercept – protecting general Zacharov's army. Once, after landing, someone brought out a football. Everybody, including mechanics that fixed the returning airplanes, and preparing others for missions, left their jobs and ran to play football.
At the end of the war Stalin gave them 33 new Yak 3 (from the factory) as a gift to France.

I-16 (in the background he saw TB3 with 2 I-16's): Boris laughed as seeing a dinosaur coming to life, and said that indeed they were in use. The I-16 's engine would not shut off immediately, if the joystick was pushed forward, or even if the plane flew inverted. There was enough fuel for 2 or 3 minutes. The Germans were happy to fight these planes, as they shot them down easily.

P39 Aircobra – they had no doors, but a sliding canopy. The engine was not strong, in the last year of the war they changed to Kingcobra. Why did the Americans consider it as not feet for dogfight? – "It is the dancer's legs, not the floor".

Hurricane – extremely inflammable, turned into a ball of fire quickly (you should have seen the disgusted look on his face when he saw the Hurricane).

About Yak's and LA's: Boris flew all models of Yak, except the 3 model (he was supposed to fly one, but the gift to France prevented it), and LA 7, 9,11. He considers the Yak a good plane for mediocre pilots, and the LA for a higher-level pilots, in part because they are more difficult to land.
Great Info but...

v2 said:
P39 Aircobra – they had no doors, but a sliding canopy. The engine was not strong, in the last year of the war they changed to Kingcobra. Why did the Americans consider it as not feet for dogfight? – "It is the dancer's legs, not the floor".

Yeah I questioned that also Joe, No door but a sliding canopy. Is he talking about a different aircraft, or did the Russians get a different variant that I'm not aware of, or did they modify them?
Wildcat said:
Yeah I questioned that also Joe, No door but a sliding canopy. Is he talking about a different aircraft, or did the Russians get a different variant that I'm not aware of, or did they modify them?
The P-63D had a sliding canopy and only one was built.
I found drawings P-39 with sliding canopy. The TP-39 UTI was a russians training version P-39, but she had a doors and sliding canopy...


  • tp.jpg
    53 KB · Views: 307
  • tp39dr.jpg
    26.6 KB · Views: 359
It is known that a single P-39F was experimentally modified as trainer with a second cockpit ahead the original one. All armament was removed, and dual controls were fitted. The destination given to this aircraft was TP-39F ...

A few P-39Qs were modified into two seaters with dual controls for use as advanced trainers under designation RP-39Q (redsignated TP-39Q after 1944). All armament removed.
The first example, converted from P-39Q-5 42-20024, was rolled out for the first time on September 16, 1943. It was desiganted TP-39Q-5. 12 two-seater fighter trainers were converted from P-39Q-20s and were designated RP-39Q-22.

(RP-39Q-22 numbers: 44-3879, 3885-87, 3889, 3895, 3897, 3905, 3906, 3908, 3917, 3918).

That's all...

Sliding canopy in russians version...


  • 1jo4.jpg
    85.4 KB · Views: 262
Well according to this guy, did they use the P-39 UTI in combat?

He did not mention . It was just a remark when he saw the P-39 on the screen. We will ask about that if we get a chance for another session.

plan_D said:
"Q: Did you encounter German fighters?
A: No, at that time of war they were week and would not go up against larger fighter group, only to pick on one or two planes."

I assume he didn't shoot anything down.

No he did not. His job was to escort the IL2 with the artillery observation officer. He was later transferred to the Japanese front, and did 2 ground attack missions - and then the war ended.

By the way - there are 3 parts to the interview, all in IDF Forum.
Dear friends

I like Interview with Russian YAK-9 pilot - part 1 very much.

Very useful for me.

If you have some time, pls visit my blog <MOD edit> If you want to advertise your site, please contact a moderator first.

Last edited by a moderator:

Users who are viewing this thread