Picture taken from the TOP GUN magazine

 

IAR-80 fighter
IAR-81 fighter-bomber
PZL P-11f fighter
PZL P-24E fighter
Hawker Hurricane I fighter
Messerschmitt Bf-109E
Messerschmitt Bf-109G
Heinkel He 112B fighter

The IAR-80 fighter

 

The IAR-80C

The last production version of the IAR-80 was the IAR-80C, which entered production in December 1942. Right as the B version had been designed, it was clear to everyone that the practice of "borrowing" the 13.2 mm machine guns from the SM-79 bombers to arm the IAR-80's could not go on for ever. Even worse, when 13 USAF B-24 Liberator bombers made an isolated raid over Romania in the summer of 1942, it was realised that the IAR-80 would need armament better suited for bomber-busting missions now, since more Allied bombing raids were to be expected.In order to solve this problem, the engineers turned to another source of weapons : the German Ikaria company.
It was mid 1942 when a deal was struck with Ikaria for the purchase of 20 mm MG/FF-M cannons ( a license built version of the Swedish Oerlikon MG FF cannon). Two guns were fitted to the IAR-80C, each one having a 60 rounds supply of ammunition. But for the guns to be mounted, the wings had to be redesigned and strenghtened.

         
  IAR-80C's and German Bf-109G's on alert  
The opportunity was also taken to install self-sealing fuel tanks ( after the first ten planes had been manufactured in December 1942 ) as well as better armor plating behind the pilot. By April 1943, all the 50 airplanes ordered were ready for action.The IAR-80C's were actually supposed to be delivered as IAR-81 fighter-bombers, but because of increasing demands from squadrons operating on the east front were completed as fighters instead.
 
For this reason, it is sometimes unclear how they were designated : some say that the correct name is IAR-81B, but my guess is that IAR-80C is the right name, since the IAR-81 was considered more of a fighter-bomber/ground-attack aircraft. Some existing IAR-80A's and B's were also sent back to the factory to be rearmed with 20 mm cannons, transforming them into IAR-80C's.
The new IAR-80C's would see some of the most intense action in the summer of 1944, when the 15th USAAF started to bomb targets inside Romania. Five Romanian fighter groups ( the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th ) were equiped with IAR-81C's or IAR-80's ( mostly C's, but there were still B's and A's on actived duty as well ) and they bore the brunt of the fighting in those hot and bloody summer days. The most succesful was the 6th, which claimed 36 B-24's and B-17's shot down and caused the worst defeat of the P-38 Lightning on the 10th of June. That day, the 15th USAAF's commanders decided to try a low-level attack against the Romanian oil refineries using the P-38's of the American 1st Fighter Group.

However, the 6th Fighter Group was airborne and when its commander, captain Dan Vizanti, was called in by ground control, he radioed in : "Paris to Paris 1,2,3. We attack. Follow me!". Immediately, all hell broke loose as the 23 Romanian fighters dived onto the Americans, taking them completely by surprise as they approached the 6th's airfield. Fourteen P-38's were shot down in just a few minutes for the loss of only 3 IAR-81C's ( two of them had actually colided in the melee ). This was however the IAR-80's last glory day. By the 28 of June, the IAR-80's and 81's had suffered heavy losses at the hands of far superior Lightnings and Mustangs, so they were grounded or sent to the east front.

Technical data of the IAR - 80C

Wingspan
11 meters
Length
8.97 meters
Height
3.535 meters
Weight (empty)
2200 kg
Weight (loaded)
2880 kg
Maximum speed at 5000 meters
506 km/h
Climbs to 5000 meters
7 minutes
Maximum operational ceiling
10000 meters
Range
730 km or 1330 km ( with external fuel tanks )
Engine
IAR K14 C32 1000A1 rated at 1025 HP
Armament
4 FN 7.92 mm machine guns plus 2 MG/FF-M 20 mm cannons
Numbers produced
50
Serial numbers
241-290

The IAR-80M

By 1944, the ARR's fighter squadroms were equipped with IAR-80A's, IAR-80B's,IAR-80C's as well as IAR-81's ( the A and B versions ) used as fighters. Therefore a conversion program was implemented in order to upgun all planes to the IAR-81C standard ( two MG 151/20 mm cannons plus four FN 7.92 mm machine guns ). Logistics and maintenance would also be simplified this way, with just one major version in service.
Work begun in mid-1944 and seems to have continued right up until the end of that year. The IAR-80's were renamed as IAR-80M's after the conversion and the 81's were known as IAR-81M's from then on. Overall, the performances of the plane seem to have remained the same with those of the IAR-80C. Unfortunately, the number of fighters that have benefited from the program remains unknown to this day.

Technical data of the IAR - 80M

Wingspan
11 meters
Length
8.97 meters
Height
3.535 meters
Weight (empty)
2200 kg
Weight (loaded)
2880 kg
Maximum speed at 5000 meters
506 km/h
Climbs to 5000 meters
7 minutes
Maximum operational ceiling
10000 meters
Range
730 km or 1330 km ( with external fuel tanks )
Engine
IAR K14 C32 1000A1 rated at 1025 HP
Armament
4 FN 7.92 mm machine guns plus 2 MG 151/20 mm cannons
Numbers produced
unknown
Serial numbers
unknown

Further developments

The IAR engineers realised even by mid 1941 that the main weakness of the IAR-80 was its K14 engine, since it couldn't turn out anything over 1025 HP. Indeed, the french Mistral Major power plant had reached the limit of its development potential even before the war.
The first choice for a new powerplant would have been the Junkers Jumo 211Da inline engine, that was supposed to equip the IAR-80 in the first place. In 1942, although it was in very high demand in Germany as well, three Jumo 211's rated at 1220 HP were finally sent to IAR. Immediately, an IAR-80 fuselage was fitted with the new engine and a test flight was carried out to see how this combination worked. Unfortunately, after just a few minuts, the vibrations became so bad that it looked like they would shake the engine off its mount, so the pilot had to land immediately.
 
No further trials took place after this experiment and the whole idea was abandoned. The next solution seemed to be BMW 801 engine, that was used for the Focke Wulf FW190 fighter. Its output of 1600+ HP ensured a increase of over 50% in engine power, and its dimensions were roughly the same with those of the IAR K14, although it was significantly heavier. The Romanian engineers felt confident that they could adapt the BMW 801 for the IAR-80 and hoped to match or even best the speed of the Messerschmitt Bf-109G.
 
Here's a nice artist impression of how an IAR-80 with a Junkers Jumo 211Da engine might have looked like
 
This would have made the Romanian fighter one of the fastest in the world, comparable with the Spitfire Mark V, and only slightly inferior to the FW 190 or P-51 Mustang. Had the IAR company received the 801 radial engines, its IAR-80's might have been capable to take-on late-war designs on nearly equal terms. However, the Germans could not persuaded to sell even one engine, as every single one that came off the assembly line was desperatly needed by the FW 190 program. Buying the license also proved to be impossible, since Germany could not spare one lousy engine, much less the complex machineries required for the production process, so this project had to be abandoned as well, and eventually attempts to further improve the IAR-80 were cancelled and production was to be switched entirely to building Bf-109G6's under license. The IAR-80 officially ceased to be produced on September the 30th, 1944.
Firepower had been a problem early in the war, but once the IAR-80 had been armed with two 20 mm cannons it had become more than adequate to deal with most enemy planes. However, the American B-17's and B-24's proved to be difficult to shoot down, so, on April 1944, an IAR-80C has been armed with Wurfgerate 210 mm anti-aircraft rockets that had been succesfully employed by the Luftwaffe against the large American bomber formations. But this time, results were disappointing : the extra weight caused the airspeed to drop ( and it was already low for a fighter ) so the idea had to be abandoned.
After the war, the IAR-80 remained in service as frontline fighter until 1949, when it was replaced by Soviet Lavocikin La-7's and Yakovlev Yak-9's. A number of planes with less flying hours were converted into trainers by removing one of the front fuel tanks and installing a second seat. This version was designated as IAR-80DC, and it remained in service until late 1952, when the last survivors were replaced by other Soviet-built planes whilst the IAR-80DC's were taken out of service and scrapped.

Conclusions

On the 8th of May 1945, the IAR-80 flew its last combat sortie. From 1939 until late 1943, some 240 IAR-80's and 210 IAR-81's were built, and they fought on all fronts: from Bassarabia to Stalingrad and Crimea, from Romania to Austria and Slovakia, as well as on the home front. Alltogether, it scored ( on all its variants ) some 539 confirmed kills, 90 possible and destroyed 168 enemy planes on the ground, whilst about 220 IAR-80's and 81's were shot down by enemy fighters or flak, or lost in accidents : the final kill ratio ( taking into account only confirmed victories against losses of all reasons ) is 3.21 : 1 in favour of the Romanian fighter. During its history, the IAR-80 fought against all of the major airforces ( excepting the Japanese one ) : it faced the Soviet Airforce in the eastern campaign, the USAF and the RAF on the home front, and the Luftwaffe ( after August 1944 ).

The IAR-80 : an unknown hero

The IAR-80 was a remarcable aircraft when it appeared and one must admit that it performed very well in combat long after it had been outclassed by its oponents. Its only misfortune was that it had an obsolete engine even at the start of the war, and it had to stick to it until the end. Nevertheless, the IAR-80 ( one of the "forgotten heroes" of World War Two) served with distinction right until the last day of the war, and it deserves its place in the aviation history.

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