When it was built, the stubby, sturdy I-16 was an avant-garde design—ahead of its time. The I-16 “Rata” (meaning “rat”) was the world’s first cantilever monoplane fighter with retractable landing gear. It was not a particularly fast or nimble craft, but after its debut, the fabric-skinned biplane fighter became a thing of the past.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s demands for a technologically superior aircraft led designer Nikolai Polikarpov to create the Rata. He was well motivated; he had recently been imprisoned for not meeting the State’s expectations.
Hundreds of I-16s were flown by Republican Forces during the Spanish Civil War. By World War II, it was evident that the Rata had become technologically obsolete, but it continued to serve on the Eastern Front, fighting the Germans until 1943.
History of the Artifact
This airplane was built in 1940 and served on the Eastern Front during World War II before it was most likely shot down by German or Finnish fire. The wreckage of this plane was discovered in 1991 and rebuilt at the same factory where it was originally manufactured. Restorers noted that a number of the workers who rebuilt the plane had worked on the original I-16 production line as children.
This airplane was previously part of the Alpine Fighter Collection of New Zealand, and was acquired by the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum in 1998. This craft is one of only a handful of I-16s in existence.
Did you know?
Some I-16 pilots who ran out of ammunition rammed their enemies in mid-air with their stout fighter.