I-16 in Spanish Civil War

Special thanks to Mark Joblin for his help in translation.

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" We knew, that [in Alkala] there has arrived a second group of Soviet volunteer pilots. They had been expected and this group will be at war with us in the Madrid sector flying the I-16 fighters. News about the I-16 arrival has boosted moral, considering the previous air battles. We are already a substantial and solid force and now we have a chance to become owners of the Madrid sky. In fact till now we only constrained the enemy aircraft, now to us there are a chance at more challenges. "

G.N.Zaharov, the Soviet fighter pilot.

Brief history of events

Republican poster

I-16 beats German He-51

On July 17th 1936, a radio station in Morocco started broadcasting: "Above all Spain the cloudless sky". This phrase was a signal for the beginning of the fascist mutiny directed against the Spanish government. At the head of the revolt was general Francisco Franco, who had been a threat to the Spanish Republic. In the first few days it became possible to win the nationalists in larger part of the country as most of the population remained true to the government. However the fascist states, Italy and Germany, did not remain aside. They had started delivering Franco the newest arms: instruments, rifles, machine guns, fighters and bombers. Besides regular Italian infantry and aviation divisions participated in fights on the side of the rebels, the newly created "Condor Legion", a German air unit, started fighting as well. All this allowed the fascists to gain a number of victories over the army of the republicans that suffered from a shortage of arms and qualified officers. By November 1936, the nationalists were close to Madrid.

Government aircraft were almost helpless against faster and more modern Heinkels, Fiats, Junkers and Savoias. Madrid was left open to a barbarous bombardment. The situation was desperate.

England, France and the USA, being afraid that a victory by the republicans could induce Spain into becoming communist, conducted a policy of non-interference: they did not help the lawful government and influenced other states to do the same. Indignant of this connivance to the rebels, volunteers of many countries (the USA, France, England, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany and others) made their way to Spain to help in the fight. However, without modern weapons, their struggle against counterrevolution could not hope to stop the rebels.

The Soviet Union decided to support the Spanish government in its struggle against fascism. To Spain there had gone the Soviet volunteers: pilots, tankmen, cavalrymen. From the end of October, 1936 the Soviet arms began to arrive. On November 4th, I-15 biplane fighters appeared. However because of the quantitative superiority of their opponents, they could not achieve any form of parity. The Soviet government then decided to send their newest fighters, the I-16, to Spain.

Among the cargo on the ship, "Kursk", which has arrived on October, 25, there were 16 I-16 type 5 fighters, with another 15 arriving the next day on the "Blagoev" ship. Together with the planes there were pilots from the 1st (Bryansk) air brigade, aviation gasoline, oil, ammunition, as well as some refuelers and autostarters. The pilots assembled in 3 squadrons under Captain Tarhov. In just 4 days after arriving the planes were assembled, tested and prepared for battle.

I-16 in fights

Savoia SM.81 bombers escorted by Fiats

On November 9th 1936 the Soviet fighters intercepted 27 Junkers Ju52 bombers on their way to Madrid. The I-16s, wearing republican insignia, dived out of the sun and managed to shoot down 9 Ju52's, the rest dropping their bombs and scattering.

The original design concept of the I-16 was showing through in Spain. Polikarpov's little fighter surpassed the enemy machines in speed, by 60 to 80kph (40 to 50mph), in rate of climb by about 200 meters per minute (600fpm) and had a comparable ceiling. Besides, the I-16 was the first fighter capable of fighting in the vertical plane, something Franko's biplanes couldn't equal. Fascist pilots were recommended not to enter combat with the I-16s, unless with a numerical advantage. But even in the latter case, victory was not always for the rebels.

New tactics were later developed by the I-16 pilots. "Falcon Impact" was initiated by one of the pilots, S.I. Gritsevets (later twice decorated as Hero of Soviet Union). It was simple enough, diving on the foe, shooting, then climbing again to retain the advantage (sometimes called 'boom and zoom' in western sources). Gritsevets new tactic was put to the test on August 14th 1938. A group of I-16s, under Gritsevets command, executed "falcon impact" in an attack so unexpected for the enemy, that the enemy group lost management and lost a number of machines. There were no I-16s lost.

One more tactical method used by I-16s’ pilots was of sneaking up to the enemy from below and using the "Ishachoks" (I-16) climbing ability to attack from below, ussually with complete surprise! At about this time the I-16 received the enemy nickname, "Rata" (from Spanish "Rat") as it seemed Soviet fighters were jumping out from the ground.

I-16 of one of the republican units

The I-16 was good but there was a growing list of 'defects' in its design. First was the armament. The first I-16 type 5's to arrive in Spain were armed with 2 x ShKAS machineguns of rifle caliber. So too did the Heinkel He 51. Although the Soviet guns had a higher rate of fire, "Ishachok" lagged behind from one of it's main opponents, the Fiat CR.32, equipped with two large-caliber (half inch) machine guns. The old theories based on the Great War's aircraft armament were quickly being laid to rest in this new fast paced air war. There were other problems. The self sealing fuel tank wasn't effective enough, the pilot armour couldn't withstand the heavy machine gun bullets, the visor was often smeared with oil and it's hood flopped around so it was often left open and the M-25 radial engine quickly failed due to heat, dust and intensive operations.

On May 7th 1937, 31 more I-16 type 5's arrived in Spain and a further 17 on May 21st, including 4 tandem seat UTI-4 trainers. By this time new Soviet and Spanish fighter pilots came to Republican forces (the Spaniards had passed retraining on the I-16 at a flight school in Kirovobad earlier).

Early I-16s had structural problems with the wings, which caused a few pilot deaths. Aileron flutter being the most probable cause. On August, 10th 1937 there arrived a consignment of 62 I-16 type 5 fighters, in which this problem was cured, and during the same year, 30 I-16 type 6 with the supercharged M-25A engine and an open cockpit.


Since the winter of 1936/37 the situation in the air slightly changed. The fascist units had received the newest German fighter, the Messershmitt Bf.109. This plane had been sent to Spain almost at once after initial Luftwaffe acceptance, replacing the biplane Heinkel He.51. The first to arrive had been ex-prototypes, Bf.109V and the first serial aircraft, the Bf.109B. Surpassing the I-16 in speed (10-20 km/h, depending on height) and having equally effective armament as on I-16 type 5, the Messershmitt essentially conceded to the Soviet monoplane in rate of climb and maneuverability. Nevertheless, it was a strong enemy (due to the quantitative superiority of the enemy and skill of German pilots piloting the Bf.109).

Answering the Messershmitt threat, the USSR started delivery of the new type 10 in March 1938. The I-16 type 10 had 4 x ShKAS machine guns and the up-rated M-25V engine, earning itself the new nickname, 'Super Mosca'. This was a much better fighter but faster improvements and development of the Messershmitt negated the Polikarpov's pride.

There were 4 x Bf 109v's, 39 x Bf 109B's, 5 x Bf 109C's, 36 x Bf 109D's and 44 x Bf 109E's sent to Spain. It was this last variant, the 'E', which appeared with the Frankists in the spring of 1939, that essentially surpassed the Polikarpov's fighter. Combat with the Bf 109 became possible only with very competent use of the I-16 advantages.

Number of Bf.109s delivered
December of 1936
Bf 109V (V-3, V-4, V-5, V-6)
February of 1937
Bf 109B-1
July of 1937
no data
March of 1938
Bf 109B-2
Bf 109C-1
June of 1938
no data
no data (probably, Bf 109D)
January-Fenruary of 1939
Bf 109E-1 and Е-3

Note: there also was delivered 348 'Fiats' and 125 'Heinkels'.

One important advantage of "Ishachok" which helped in the struggle with the Messershmitts, was its radial engine. If a Bf 109 engine was hit, for example, in the cooling system then it would soon seize if the pilot couldn't land in time. The radial M-25 would keep running even with two or three cylinders out of action. It's wide area also provided protection during a frontal attack. The commander of the fourth I-16 squadron, Antonio Arias, wrote in his memoirs:

Wrecked Bf.109B-1 in the field near Santander

"The Teruel front had large numbers of enemy aircraft. Armadas of Ju 52 bombers with heavy Italian and German fighter escort were hitting the seaports often....

Before the start of our next sortie, I had requested from Sarausa, the use of two flights from the 1st squadron. He agreed without hesitation. Our 4th squadron and the six aircraft under Armando Velilla and Pedro Reuda, have risen into the sky in our "mosca's"
(the I-16 was mosca, "fly" in Spanish, to the Republican pilots).

Enemy fighters had appeared on course, earlier than we expected them. This time they made a frontal attack, something they didn't do often, we believe, because of their exposed engines and cooling systems. The 109's started turning to make deflection shots at us, exposing themselves in the process and allowing some of our pilots easy targets. The two formations broke into little 'dogfights', myself getting onto the tail of two 109's, after they had turned to the right in the initial attack, by using full left rudder, I lined up on the leader and hit him, causing a brief tail wagging before it dived out of control and crashed near Cubla".

The biggest problem with the I-16 in comparison with the Bf 109 was not so much the lower top speed but the slower rate of climb and lower ceiling. Because of this, German fighters at the higher altitudes have been practically inaccessible. To increase the altitude performance of the I-16, the Spaniards made a few modifications to the type 10.

Modified I-16 of Antonio Arias

The Spanish government had received 24 "illicit" engines, "Wright - Cyclone" SGR 1820 F-54, equipped with superchargers, more powerful at altitude than the M-25 (the M-25 is a license copy of Wright's SGR 1820 F-3). In August of 1938, twelve engines have been fitted on "donkeys" of the 4th squadron, with a noticeable increase in rate of climb and ceiling. On these machines, oxygen devices were fitted, the mouth piece being a simple rubber tube (since then, 4th squadron were known as "a squadron of suckers", as they sucked the rubber tubes). After carrying out flight tests at heights of up to 8000 meters, it was discovered that the guns wouldn't work, caused by the gun grease freezing. Ground crew (engineer Lopez Smith) solved the problem by ducting hot air from the supercharger to the guns.

On September 18th, 1938, the 4th squadron, with twelve modified planes, attacked sixteen Bf 109's from altitude, shooting down four of them. The encounter included I-15s and other I-16s and the Germans lost eleven Bf 109's of the original sixteen in that dogfight. This caused a bit of a shock amongst the Germans, their height advantage now was lost. The modified I-16s were few in number but the Bf 109 pilots weren't to know this and 'Condor Legion' morale suffered as a result.

"Messerschmitt" is attacking the I-16 (photo was made from the francist bomber)

Besides the Bf 109's, the 'frankists' had recieved other modern monoplanes, the Heinkel He 112, the plane that lost in the Luftwaffe fighter contest but were now being sent to Spain. In November 1936, the pre-production aircraft, He 112 V-6 was sent and started flying operationally during ground attack sorties up until July 19th 1937 when it was written-off during a landing accident. It had been seen on the Northern and Central fronts and was good at its appointed task, with it's heavier armament, although wasn't involved in aerial combat. Another prototype had been used as well, He 112 V-9, between April and August of 1937 and again, only on ground attack.

Between November 1938 and January 1939, the nationalists had been assembling a new fighter group, 5-G-5, receiving 19 Heinkel He 112 B-1's and B-2's. Pilot training was complete by January 17th 1939. As the Republican airforce was by now only a shadow of it's former self, the He 112's were engaged in ground attack although at least one He 112 was brought down by I-16's during January 1939 with Luciano Tabernero Jerrero. One I-16 was shot by He.112 (the winner was Garcia Pardo).

The Franco fighter that must be also noticed in the article is Fiat G 50. This was a little bit late and a "novelty" plane that appeared in Spain in the beginning of 1939 with an Italian experimental group. Created actually as an opponent to the I-16, "Fiat" didn't have time to meet it in the Spanish sky as the Air Forces of the Spanish republic had lived their last days.



Against bombers

Assembling line of I-16 in Spain

Efficiency of the I-16 against bombers was at first rather high. The slow Ju.52, initially designed as transport, were an easy target for the Soviet monoplanes. I-16s, patroling at low-level would easily see the "Junkers" on a background of the sky, attacking them from below and behind from the dead zone, not leaving the frankist any chances. Therefore the "Junkers" had gradually been transferred to night bombing.
A more worthy opponent, the Dornier Do.17, appeared in the spring of 1937 (20 x Do.17E-1 and 15 x Do.17F-1 were received). The Dorniers could fly at 350 kph meaning only the I-16 could counter this threat, attacks ussually from the rear as the Dornier was poorly defended in this area.

In 1937 the Condor Legion started using the Heinkel He111 (intially 30 B1's, increasing with 95 B2's and 35 other marks) The Heinkels had good speed, an effective defensive arc with their guns and better protection for the fuel tanks and engines. Besides, while the He 111's were flying, the Spanish republic air force was beginning to loose air superiority so attacking the Heinkels on the level plane was abandoned. One method that had some success was an attack, "in the forehead" after a dive from height. With only one forward gun, this was the weakest point in the He 111's armour and a good chance to hit the crew in the nose. However, it did require a good eye and nerves of steel as the high approach speed only allowed for about 3 seconds of fire from the I-16 type 10's 4 machine guns. In that 3 seconds, those 4 ShKAS guns could only fire about 140 shots so the aim had to be spot on. The exit after attack was also hazardous as the rear gunners would often have a clear shot, even if for just a second and with a lot of deflection.

On August 13th 1938, a He 111 was forced to land with the help of a few 'Ishaks', was captured and subsequently delivered to the USSR and thoroughly studied.

Table. German and italian speedy bombers shot by republican fighters



Plane, fighter, unit

6.07.1937 2 Do.17* Group of I-15s
12.07.1937 Не.111* Group of I-15s
August of 1937 2 Do.17* Group of I-15s
23.08.1937 2 Не.111 3-th и 4-th squadrons (I-16s)
26.08.1937 Не.111* M. Sarausa, A. Arias (I-16s)
9.03.1938 Не.111 Clabero, 4-th squadron (I-16)
25.04.1938 3 Не.111 3-th squadron (I-16s)
5.09.1938 Не.111Е 5-th squadron (I-16s)
November of 1938 Не.111 4-th squadron (I-16s)
4.01.1939 Не.111 4-th squadron (I-16s)

* according to Soviet pilots' memoirs


There were 422 I-16 aircrafts sent from USSR (129 x type 5, 157 x type 6, 136 x type 10 and 4 x UTI-4 trainers). These aircraft were shipped out but in 1938, frankist warships made this hazardous so French ports were accepting the Soviet cargos which then went via road or rail to the Spanish border. The French government periodically closed its borders to arms shipments and planes were lost in transit. Spanish ports received 276 I-16s, more coming through France but many stayed in that country, caught up on border issues. One estimation of the numbers of I-16's that actually arrived in Spain is at about 350 but it's broadly accepted that only about 293 made it. (I-16s in Spain were serialled randomly).

The Spanish government tried to organize the manufacture of I-16s, at a factory, SAF-15, in Alicante. Up to the end of 1938, only 4 planes had been made. These were type 10 copies but with only 2 machine guns. 10 more were made up until the end of the war but none of these machines saw combat.

Painting of planes

CM-177 (I-16 type 10 4-th FS), 1938

The painting of planes basically remained 'factory' though the camouflage was sometimes 'adapted'. On the fuselage behind the cockpit, a red strip was added and the tail, as a rule, was painted in red, orange and violet.

Some of the first planes carried digital indexes on their tails, some didn't. Subsequently, all I-16's received an index of CM (Caza Mosca, fighter "Mosca"). The first I-16 the Spanish constructed received indexes CH-001 - CH-004 (CH is deciphered as Caza Hispano, "the Spanish fighter").

'Tail-art' of different sorts was used as well. For example, fighters of the 4th squadron wore the Popelle seaman on the fin and the 3rd squadron wore dominoes with double six's.

Table. I-16 paint schemes in Spanish War Theatre

Typical paint schemes

И-16 тип 5 Сергея Тархова

I-16 type 5 of Sergei Tarkhov (1937)

И-16 тип 6  Фрэнка Тинкера

I-16 type 6 of Frank Tinker

I-16 type 5 which took part in the Madrid defense at the end of 1936

I-16 type 5 without markings

I-16s of 4-th squadron

И-16 тип 5 (судя по эмблеме, он летал в составе 4 АЭ)

I-16 type 5 in 'italian' camouflage

I-16 type 5

I-16 type 5

И-16 тип 10 (4 АЭ, 1938 г)

I-16 type 10, 1938

И-16 тип 10 (4 АЭ, 1938 г)

I-16 type 10, 1938

I-16 type 10, pilot Sabino Cortiso Bertolo

I-16 type 10 with Wright-Cyclone F-54, 1938

И-16 тип 10 с двигателем РЦФ-54 Антонио Ариаса, командира 4 АЭ

I-16 type 10 with Wright-Cyclone F-54, pilot Antonio Arias, the commander of 4-th squadron

I-16s of 3-th squadron

И-16 тип 10 (3 АЭ)

I-16 type 10

I-16 type 10 with Wright-Cyclone F-54

Republican-built I-16s

I-16 built in Spain, 1938

I-16 built by SAF factory in Alicante, 1938-1939.

I-16 of the nationalists

И-16 тип 5, захваченный франкистами

I-16 type 5, captured by frankists

I-16 type 10 of Group 26, 1944-1945. Notice the optical sight.

I-16 type 10 number C.8-41. Aviation school in Morona, 1949.

This I-16 type 5 was used for demonstration flights.

I-16 type 10 of Joaquin Garcia Morato, the leading ace of nationalists.

И-16 тип 10 ВВС Испании (1953 г)

I-16 type 10 of Spanish air forces, 1953.

Table. Franco fighters.

Heinkel He.51

Heinkel He.51

Fiar CR-32

Fiat CR.32

Messershmitt Bf.109B

Messershmitt Bf.109B

Messershmitt Bf.109D-1 of Werner Molders, June, 1937

Messershmitt Bf.109E, the beginning of 1939

Heinkel He.112 V-9, 1937

Fiat G.50 of major Bonzano, the commander of italian experimental fighter group. Spain, March, 1939.


Table. Technical characteristics of the fighters took part in Civil War

I-16 type 5

I-16 type 10

Heinkel He.51
Fiat CR.32





Year of the beginning of mass production





Year of arrival in Spain

Wing span, m





Length, m

Height, m





Wing area, m2




Fiat A.30 RA


Daimler-Benz DB 601A

Power, hp






Plane weight, kg




- empty





- flight
Speed, km/h          

- at sea level





- on height

Climb rate, m/min






Ceiling, m






Flight range, km






Turn rate, sec







2 x 7.62-mm ShKAS machine-guns

4 x 7.62-mm ShKAS machine-guns

2 x 7.9-мм MG-17 machine-guns
2 x 12.7-mm Breda-SAFAT** machine-guns

3 x 7.9-mm MG-17 machine-guns

2 x 20-mm MG FF autocannons, 2 x 7.92-mm MG-17 machine-guns
2 x 20-mm MG FF autocannons, 2 x 7.92-mm MG-17 machine-guns

* upper/lower

** some variants had additional 2 x 7.7-mm machine-guns, that usually were dismounted to lighten the weight of a plane

I-16 Pilots

As it was said before, originally the I-16 was flown by Soviet pilots but they were gradually replaced by Spanish pilots who were trained at Kirovobad flight school. Some republican pilots were retrained on the I-16 directly in Spain (for example, American mercenaries Frank Tinker and Albert Baumler, originally flying the I-15).

Despite the high spirit, many republican pilots were not as skilled (basically because of a lack of experience) as the Germans pilots in the Condor Legion.

Here it's described, a "meeting" with 4th squadron during the fight for Ebro (the end of October 1938) by German ace Werner Molders:

"Today we have met new enemy planes, rather fast and possessing an excellent rate of climb. They have dived on us from a height of about eight thousand meters, using the same tactic's, as we, but didn't behave as aggressively as we would ourselves. Some of our pilots, attacked by such opponents, were able to return to base, having received some hits."

Nevertheless, republican pilots, being 'typed' by fighting inexperience, were not bad and have achieved plenty of victories.

Antonio Arias

After the end of the war, some republican pilots were taken to prisons (where the majority were shot) and others made their way to France. From internment camps some managed to get to the Soviet Union. These refugees received habitation and work in the Soviet Union and subsequently many of them battled fascism in the ranks of the Soviet Air Forces (RKKA) and increased their combat scores

Antonio Arias was one. He was born on April 29th 1915, in Madrid. Before the war he worked as a printer. In the beginning of 1936 he went to the USSR where he was trained at Kirovobad flight school. After returning to Spain he was attached to the 4th air squadron. In 1939 he returned to the USSR. During the Great Patriotic war (WWII) he served as a fighter pilot in Air Forces RKKA in the 283rd, 964th and 439th IAP. He gained a total of 24 aerial victories. After the war he moved to Baranovichi, the native land of his fighting comrade, Sergey Gritsevets. Later, he worked at a polygraphic factory in Minsk. After the decay of the Soviet Union he returned to Spain.


Table. Republican pilots who flew the I-16.



Victories on I-16 (individual+in group*)


Shestakov L. L.



Gritsevets S. I.

Lakeev I. A.



Manuel Zarauza Claver
Commander of 4-th FS** (12.1937 - 06.1938), commander of 21-th FS (from 06.1938).
Bobrov V. I.

Skliarov V. I.



Died 02.1938

Evseviev I. I.
Commander of 5-th FS (from 07.1938)
Antonio Arias
Commander of 4-th FS (from 06.1938)
Akulenko P. S.

Korobkov P. T.



Fedoseev M. A.

Juan Lario



Denisov S. P.



Sokolov I. V.



Tarkhov S.
Francisco Tarazona
Kopets I. I.
Frank Tinker
5 (8)
Suicide (USA, 1939).
Gusev A. I.

Albert Baumler


3 (5)

Zherdev N. D.
3 + н. д.
Panov A. B.
Chernikh S. A.
Rafael Magrina
1 (5)
KIA in August, 18 1937

* total number of pilot victories is given in brackets

** FS = fighter squadron


Despite the bravery and selflessness of the Spanish pilots, by the end of war, domination of the air had been won by the fascists. Here are some of the reasons.

1) The difficulty in delivering soviet military production (planes, spare parts, gasoline, ammunition, etc) to Spain because of the sea blockade by fascists forces and subsequently, the countries in the Committee of non-interference.

2) The active help to fascists (both technicians and technical equipment) by Italy and Germany while the Committe of non-interference, ignored this help.

3) The tactical superiority of German pilots from the "Condor Legion".

4) Insufficient experience of republican pilots.

5) An inconsistent policy (politics) of the republican government of the Popular front.

The government of the Spanish republic was considered by " great democracies " as communistic (though actually, any communist in its structure, was not), and at the time, the governments of Great Britain and France, felt communism was more terrible than fascist dictatorship. It also had predetermined the future events.

Nevertheless, even the newly won republic would have few chances to remain free. In 1938-1939 German high command quite seriously considered a plan of occupation of republican Spain (in the case of a Franko defeat).

The Soviet Union (and the Third Reich) had learnt many lessons in Spain. Skilled pilots - veterans had appeared and began to make improvement in fighter tactics of the Air Forces and at last, work on "anti messershmitt" aircraft would result in such planes as the MiG-3, LaGG-3 and Yak-1, had begun.

I-16 In the fascist Air Forces

I-16 number 1W-1

The first I-16 to be seized by the frankists, was a type 5, in March 1938. It received the enemy lettering code, 1W-1 and was flown by a frankist pilot over Seville-Tablada. Then on July 15th of the same year, pilot Hose Luis Aresti who had just arrived back in Spain after passage of a curriculum in Kirovobad aviation school, had taken a "donkey" to the frankists. One more I-16 got to the nationionalists on September 13th 1938, when sergeant Andres Fierro Mena from the 3rd squadron lost his way and by mistake landed his plane on an enemy air station (the plane probably carried the code CM-141).

After the Franco's victory in 1939, 22 captured "donkeys" were assigned to Grupo 28 at an air station in Mayorca and later had their number increased to 52. The I-16's had designations from 1W-1 up to 1W-52. The first 22 captured I-16's, that arrived acted as group 1W, then the designation of group changed to Grupo 28 de Caza. The group was based at air station, San-Juan on the island of Majorca. All the I-16's had, by the autumn of 1940, been transferred to Sevilla where they joined Grupo 26 (22-nd mixed fighter group, 22 Regimiento Mixto de Caza, also flying "Fiats").

I-16 type 6 in Marocco, 1939

In 1945 the Spanish Air Force started on new system of designation. "Rata" then received an index C.8. The colour scheme was changed, a light blue bottom with lateral surfaces of sand color with green camouflage spots of irregular shape. Recognition symbols of red and yellow cocardes were added to the sides of the fuselage plus both the top and bottom surfaces of the wing. The identification code of "C. 8" with the original '1W' plane number beside it. The code was painted on the tail. At about this time, Grupo 26 was renamed to Grupo 22.

In 1947, the last of the I-16's were sent for refitting. (there were 15 still flying and others in various states of repair.) Work was carried out by captain Tordesillas from the aircraft-repair workshops in Seville. Here is how he described the situation:

" First we collected all the I-16's on Maestranza Aerea airbase. What were capable of flying, went by air and the rest sent on the river. I flew fighter "8-43", this machine, from the technical point of view was considered as one of the best. The fuselage of the plane has been painted in blue color, the cowl - bare metal. On takeoff, the engine was running hot and it was running very rich, evident by the black smoke left behind after doing a loop. So, first of all, it is required to improve the cooling of the engine.

On one occassion, while attempting a take-off from a wet and grassy airfield at Tablada, the plane started to drop the left wing. I struggled with the controls, changing power setting. The plane did it three times. I found, I could only take-off with full power and full right rudder and was lucky the right wing didn't bury itself. Controllability of the plane on the ground is another area to be addressed.

I-16 number 1W-6

After a series of flights, I organized a meeting with the participating comandante Garcia Perez, commands of 22nd group and the pilots having experience with the I-16. Together we have developed directions for modernization:

The bad view forward: the view forward can be improved by replacing the original bent visor with another, as used by the CR.32. A telescopic sight will replace the ring and bead sight.

Overheating of the engine: to establish on the fighter an oil radiator from the Alfa-Romeo 126 engine, off the SM.79 bomber.

The undercarriage: the basic mechanism of the undercarriage is wound manually, for raising the undercarriage it is required to execute 30-40 full revolutions of the control wheel, mounted on the right side of the cockpit. Cases of difficult winding of the mechanism while raising the undercarriage and the rack 'hanging' in the intermediate position after release has been identified as worn/stretched cables and pulleys. These need to be replaced and checked prior to each flight.

Brakes: Brakes as a whole are efficient, it is necessary to keep an identical tension on the two cables as they travel through the undercarriage mechanism. Different tension of the cables provokes nosing over with brake application.

I-16 fighters of Group 22, Tablada airfield

Stability: the plane has no trim tabs, therefore if the fighter is inclined to spontaneous movement concerning one of the axis, the pilot needs to counter this with control inputs. It is necessary to establish plates - equalisers on rudders and ailerons, allowing ground adjustment for flight stability. In flight, at high speed, there is a lot of physical effort required to maintain the control handle and pedals.

Taxiing: To taxi the plane can be extremely difficult because of the rigid shock-absorbers and narrow tyres at high pressure. Difficulties are caused also while lifting the tail. Before this it is usual for the right hand to be on the control stick and the left hand on the throttle. After rotation, the throttle is fixed with a 'latch' and the left hand takes over the control stick while the right starts turning the undercarriage wheel, 30 or 40 times. But after lifting the wheels, "Rata" flies like an angel.

Last I-16 in Spanish air forces -  number C.8-25

Last I-16 in Spanish air forces - number C.8-25

Risk of overturning on the nose: Desire of the plane to rise on it's nose on landing or on taxiing - probably the biggest problem which this plane is capable of. The probability of the pilot being badly injured or killed during a 'nose-over' remains high. Installation of 'anti-nose-over' frames made from three steel pipes welded into a triangle, except for the inclusion of a high armouring seat of the armchair type included in the construction, is desirable. The top part of the frame should be 12 cm (5 inches) above the head of the pilot.

All modifications have been carried out on the plane with serial number 8-4, I have test flown it in the middle of August. During flight at low altitude I was surprised to find the fine view forward, oil temperature within the normal limits, the engine runs well and the dark sooty trail doesn’t last behind the plane. The plane has easily executed all aerobatic figures. Landing has passed normally.

I have transferred the plane to flight comandante Paez and his pilots from the 22nd group. All have being pleased. The group has received 13 "Ratas" and one two-seater and again has found their fighting capacity. Pilots began taking time to carry out aerobatics and formation flying, pending visits by honoured guests. The group of "Rata " planes took part in the parades in honour of the Day of victory over civil war and the anniversary of the Navies. In the history of the I-16 fighter in the Spanish Air Forces, I had no more dealings. "

In the early 1950's, I-16's were used at a flight school in Morona. The last serviceable I-16, with the code C.8-25, was flown by the most skilled instructors of the school. In August 1953, Spain signed a military assistance contract with the USA, which included delivery of modern fighters. On August 15th 1953, Miguel Entrena, for the last time, lifted into the sky in an I-16. So the career and fighting service of the "Rata" in Spain had finished.



I-16 type 5 of Sergei Tarkhov, 1936.


I-16 type 5. Barajas, November of 1936.


I-16 type 5. 1-st PS*, December of 1936. Captured by Francists in 1937.


I-16 type 10 of Dereck Dickenson.


I-16 type 6 of Sergei Kuznetsov. Captured by Francists in 1937 and took out to Germany.


I-16 type 5 (probably flew in 4-th PS). Abandoned at Torrijos airfield in 1937 during the retreat.


I-16 type 5, 4-th PS.


I-16 type 5, 3-th PS.


Flew in Soviet squadron based in San-Javier and provided Cartajena AA defense.


I-16 type 5, piloted by Rayo. Wrecked during forced landing.


I-16 type 5. El-Carmoli flight school, 1939.


I-16 type 5 used for high pilotage demonstrations by instructor Isidoro Jimenez. El-Carmoli flight school, 1938.

I-16 type 6 of Frank Tinker. Group of V. Uhov, June - July, 1937.


I-16 type 5 (probably from 6-th PS). Piloted by Bosh.


I-16 type 6. Возможно, именно на этом самолете перелетел к франкистам Хосе-Луис Арести.


I-16 type 5. Октябрь 1938 года, 7-th PS. Пилот Пиг.

И-16 (тип 5?) Альберта Баумлера. Группа И. Лакеева, май - июнь 1937 г.
И-16 (тип 5 или 6) Фрэнка Тинкера. Группа И. Лакеева, май - июнь 1937 г.
И-16 Антонио Ариаса


Один из И-16, захваченных франкистами в 1938 г.


I-16 type 6, возможно 6-th PS. На нем летали летчики Чулви и Педро Руэда.

И-16 Франциско Чумиласа. Был сбит 7.02.1938 в бою с Bf.109, пилот погиб.


И-16 (тип 5 или 6), 4-th PS. Истребитель Саладригаса.

И-16 Антонио Ариаса


И-16 (тип 5 или 6), 4-th PS. На нем летали Моралес и Мануэль Сарауса.

И-16, летчик Утрилья (3-rd PS, 1938 г.)
И-16, летчик Фиерро (3-rd PS, 1938 г.)


Этот номер носили два истребителя: I-16 type 6 7-th PS (октябрь 1938 г.) и I-16 type 10 1-st PS (апрель 1938 г.)

И-16 Франциско Таразоны.


I-16 type 10 1-st PS. Лирия, апрель 1938 г.


I-16 type 10, 6-th PS.

И-16, уничтоженный на аэродроме Лерида 13 марта 1938 г.
I-16 type 10. 21 декабря 1938 г. серьезно поврежден в бою, летчик Альфредо Фернандес-Вильялон ранен.


I-16 type 10 Педро Руэды, 4-th PS.


I-16 type 10, 4-th PS (1938 г.)

I-16 type 10 Хосе Луиса Лопеса де Санта-Марии. 4-th PS, сентябрь 1938 г. Потерян 20 сентября из-за отказа двигателя.


I-16 type 10, 4-th PS (1938 г.), Лос Монхос. Уничтожен на аэродроме 5 ноября.


I-16 type 10, 3-rd PS. Вилахуига, февраль 1939 г. Самолет летчика Хосе Марии Браво, на котором иногда летал Франциско Тарасона. 6 февраля 1939 года был брошен на аэродроме во время отступления из Каталонии.


I-16 type 10, 3-rd PS. Сабадель, 1938. Самолет Артигаса.


I-16 type 10, 1939 г. Захвачен франкистами.


I-16 type 6, 7-th PS (сентябрь 1938 г.)

I-16 type 10 Сабино Кортизо Бертоло. 4-th PS, 1939 г. Сбит над морем недалеко от Барселоны 5.01.1939, летчик погиб.


I-16 type 10, 7-th PS (аэродром Пахс, осень 1938 г.)

I-16 type 10 Хосе Гарсии Саеса. 9 сентября 1938 г. сбит в бою с "мессершмиттами", летчик погиб.


I-16 type 10. Бургос, февраль 1939 г. После оккупации Каталонии самолет перелетел во Францию.


I-16 type 10 с РЦФ-54. Барселона, ноябрь 1938 г. Самолет летчика Хосе Марии Браво, на котором иногда летал Франциско Тарасона.


I-16 type 10 с РЦФ-54 Антонио Ариаса, командира 4-th PS.

I-16 type 10 лейтенанта Паредеса


I-16 type 10, 6-th PS


I-16 type 10, 6-th PS


I-16 type 10, 4-th PS

* Pursuit Squadron ("Esquadrilla")


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In this page the photos of "AVIONES GUERRA CIVIL ESPANOLA" resource are used. Special thanks to Carlos Javier Sanches Martin for his help in collecting the materials.

© Vasilii Leonenko, 2006


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