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-81 fighter-bomber

 

In June 1941, when Romania entered the war, the ARR realized that it needed better strike and dive-bomber aircraft in order to support ground operations, like the Luftwaffe had done in the western campaign. The initial plan called for the IAR-38's and 39's to serve as light strike planes, whilst the real firepower would be assured by ordering some Ju-87 Stukas from Germany. Unfortunately, the Germans refused to supply any Stukas until 1943, so the ARR had to look elsewhere for a new dive-bomber. Encouraged by the success of the IAR-80 program, they asked the IAR factory to come up with a design of a ground-attack and dive-bomber plane, designated as IAR-81.
Since once again the airforce needed a new aircraft, and quick, the IAR engineers decided to adapt the IAR-80 for the dive-bomber role ( obviously a much more simple solution than designing a brand-new plane from scratch ). Few changes were made to the IAR-80 : a hinging bomb cradle was added under the centerline of the plane, giving the IAR-81 the possibility to carry a 225 kg ( 500 lb ) bomb. The cradle was necessary so that the bomb wouldn't tear the propeller apart when it was released ( many dive-bombers also used this principle ). Other modifications ( if any ) were minor. After the first 40 out of the initial 50 IAR-81's ordered had been manufactured, two racks were installed underneath each wing on later models, allowing to mount either one 50 kg (110 LB ) bomb or a 100 l drop tank in each rack.
Typical bombing run consisted of a shallow dive from 3000 m to 1000 m at a speed of 470 km/h for the main 225 kg bomb. The two smaller 50 kg bombs could be released in any way the pilot saw fit.

 

Fitting the main bomb on a IAR-81 fighter-bomber

With all the three bombs attached, cruising speed ( using some 70% of the engine's power ) was about 400 km/h. The aircraft, however, was not well received by pilots, who complained that the extra drag produced by the bomb cradle seriously affected the overall performance. When employed as a fighter ( with the central cradle removed ) it was equal to the IAR-80A, since it was practically the same aircraft.

Towards the end of the Bassarabean campaign, the first six IAR-81's took part in the siege of Odessa as part of the 8th Figher Group, and flew a couple of dive-bombing missions against harbour installations and Soviet shipping. After the city fell to the Romanian forces, the 8th Fighter Group was withdrawn from combat and assigned to home defense duty. In January 1942, the 6th Fighter Group was refitted with IAR-81's and renamed the 6th "bopi" Group ( "bopi" stands for "dive bombing" in Romanian ). The group's IAR-81's saw action in late 1942 in the Stalingrad area, where they flew 718 sorties, including 30 dive-bombing missions.

Technical data of the IAR - 81

Wingspan
10.52 m
Length
8.97 m
Height
3.525 m
Weight (empty)
2200 kg
Weight (loaded)
3125 kg
Maximum speed at 5000 m

465 km/h (bomber)/505 km/h (fighter)

Climbs to 5000 m
7 minutes and 30 seconds (bomber)/6 minutes and 30 seconds (fighter)
Maximum operational ceiling
10000 m
Range
695 km (bomber) / 730 km (fighter) / 1330 km with external fuel tanks
Engine
IAR 14K IV C32 1000A1 rated at 1025 HP
Armament
6 FN 7.92 mm machine guns
Payload
One 225 kg bomb plus 2x50 kg bombs
Numbers produced
50
Serial numbers
91-105 ; 151-175

 

The IAR-81A

The IAR-81A version appeared the same way with the IAR-80B : two FN 13.2 mm heavy machine guns replaced two of the FN 7.92 mm machine guns, giving the IAR-81 some extra punch. By this stage of the war, the fighter and fighter-bomber were virtually identical, the only real difference being the centerline bomb rack of the IAR-81. For this reason, fuselages could be easily transformed from fighter to fighter-bomber or viceversa simply by removing or adding the bomb rack ( both planes were built on the same assembly line ).
The initial order called for 20 IAR-81A's, but after the Germans promised to deliver the Ju-87's it was canceled and the planes were delivered as IAR-80B fighters instead. Later on, in May 1943, ten more 81A's were built and sent to ground-attack squadrons to replace losses.

An IAR-81A fighter-bomber is being loaded with a 250 kg bomb. East front, 1943

Technical data of the IAR - 81A

Wingspan
10.52 m
Length
8.97 m
Height
3.525 m
Weight (empty)
2190 kg
Weight (loaded)
3190 kg
Maximum speed at 5000 m

465 km/h (bomber)/505 km/h (fighter)

Climbs to 5000 m
7 minutes and 30 seconds (bomber)/6 minutes and 30 seconds (fighter)
Maximum operational ceiling
10000 m
Range
695 km (bomber) / 730 km (fighter) / 1330 km with external fuel tanks
Engine
IAR 14K IV C32 1000A1 rated at 1025 HP
Armament
2 FN 13.2 mm machine guns plus 4 7.92 mm machine guns
Payload
One 225 kg bomb plus 2x50 kg bombs
Numbers produced
10
Serial numbers
291-300

The IAR-81C

The peak of fighter development in Romania was reached with the IAR-81C. This time it was a pure fighter, since the long awaited Ju-87's and Henschel Hs-129's had finally arrived, and fighters were needed in evergreater numbers on the east and home fronts as well.

IAR-81C's on readiness ( late 1943 )

Previously, the IAR-81B had also been converted into a fighter since it had been rearmed with two 20 mm cannons and renamed IAR-80C in order to underline the fact that it was a fighter. Pilots demanded however that something be done about the ammunition supply, since 60 rounds were deemed to be not enough. To solve this problem, the guns were changed again, this time the superior Mauser MG 151/20 mm canons being chosen. Wings were slightly enlarged yet again, an the extra space was well used, allowing each gun to have a 175 rounds supply of ammunition, giving the IAR-81C equal or even superior firepower to any opponent.
The IAR works manufactured 100 planes by the end of 1942, and they were welcomed by pilots on the front. By February 1943, 35 more were completed and dispatched to squadrons in order to replace losses. Fifteen additional IAR-81C's were built in January 1944, in order to replace losses and keep the factory busy while production was switched to the Messerschmitt Bf-109G6. Until then, the IAR-81C's were used to replace losses of earlier models and the newly-raised 1st Fighter Group, as well as the 4th group which became another "bopi" unit. The 4th served in Crimeea from mid 1943 until May 1944, when the peninsula fell to the Soviets and the Romanian airmen and ground crews had to be evacuated, leaving their planes behind.
But the IAR-81C's toughest test would come in the summer of 1944, when the 6th and 2nd Fighter Groups faced the might of the 15th USAAF. On paper, the Romanian fighter seemed so outclassed by the American Lightnings and Mustangs that it shouldn't have had even the smallest chance of success. Still, from the 4th of April to the 28th of June 1944, the two groups claimed over 80 enemy B-17's and B-24's shot down as well a few P-38's. But these successes came at a very heavy price, as they lost over 20 precious pilots and 30 aircraft, most of them shot down by Mustangs and Lightnings. After Romania signed the cease-fire agreement with the allies on the 23rd of August, the 2nd group was brought back to strength by merging with the 4th and saw action in the west until the end of the war. The IAR-81C's were used for a short period as fighters but were switched to ground-attack duties soon, "specializing" in strafing enemy columns and trains.

Technical data of the IAR - 81C

Wingspan
11 m
Length
8.97 m
Height
3.535 m
Weight (empty)
2200 kg
Weight (loaded)
2900 kg
Maximum speed at 5000 m

505 km/h (fighter)

Climbs to 5000 m
7 minutes
Maximum operational ceiling
10000 m
Range
730 km / 1330 km (with external fuel tanks)
Engine
IAR 14K IV C32 1000A1 rated at 1025 HP
Armament
2 Mauser MG 151/20 mm cannons plus 4x7.92 mm FN machine guns
Numbers produced
150
Serial numbers
301-450

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