Yak-50 – a dangerous winner

By: shortfinals

Apr 27 2011

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Category: aircraft, airshow, Aviation, British Isles, Derbyshire, England, Great Britain, Kemble, military, RAF, Royal Air Force, Second World War, United States, warbird


Focal Length:55mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:NIKON D40

Fragility can be a thing of beauty in a flower or a skillful work of art, but it becomes a dangerous attribute in an aircraft, particularly one which is designed for aerobatics. The Yakovlev Design Bureau produced the Yak-50 (first flown in 1973) for one thing only – to win aerobatic competitions, especially on the international stage. Powered by an Ivchenko Vedeneyev M-14P radial of 360 hp, this metal monoplane could pull 9G as it climbed skyward at an astonishing 3,100 ft min. The mount of the Aerobatic Team of the Soviet Union from 1975, the Yak-50 took first place in both the Men’s competition (Viktor Lestko) and Women’s competition (Lidia Leonova) at the 1976 World Aerobatic Championships in Kiev, Ukraine. Despite having astonishing agility, and a rocket-like climb, the Yak-50 had major structural problems.

G limits on the airframe were +9/-6, but to wring the maximum performance out of the machine, individual pilots were always pushing harder. Viktor Lestko was killed when his Yak-50 lost a wing in flight (the G-meter was found jammed at +12); other aerobatic pilots also suffered failure of the main wing spar – and at least one failure of the centre section – one pilot managing to bailout just in time. Numerous Service Bulletins were issued, involving strengthening the main spar and other areas, but the stress was so high that the Soviet Team’s aircraft were typically scrapped after only 50 hours!

It became obvious that, however effective the Yak-50 was as an aerobatic mount, the ‘game was not worth the candle’. The decision was made to withdraw the Yak-50 from competitive use in 1984. Another Yak design, the Yak-55, took over and, along with the Sukhoi Su-26, continued the Russian dominance of team aerobatics. Some aircraft were stored, and some disposed of by direct sale to new owners in Europe, Australia and the USA.

Here we see G-SVET, named ‘Svetlana’, and owned by the Yak-50 Group out of Compton Abbas, Dorset. It is just landing following a display at Cotswold Airport, Kemble, Gloucestershire. G-SVET was originally on the Russian Register as ‘RA-44459’, but now is one of small number still flying (total worldwide population varies according to which source is consulted, but  is somewhere between 60 and 90). It is often displayed by Flt Lt David Morgan, DSC, an ex-RAF Harrier pilot, who, as a Flight Lieutenant, was credited with four kills during the Falklands War. He now flies Boeing 747s for Virgin Atlantic.

There is a Derbyshire connection here. David’s father, David William Morgan (1923 – 2004), was born in Heanor, Derbyshire and served during WW2 as a pilot in the RAF, before transferring to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm in 1945. He flew the Supermarine Seafire L.(F) Mk III – with No. 809 Sqn. FAA – off the ‘Attacker’ class escort carrier, HMS Stalker, D-91 (formerly the USS Hamlin, CVE-15) in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. David Morgan Snr. shot down two Japanese aircraft. It would seem that there is something in this genetics thing after all!






16 comments on “Yak-50 – a dangerous winner”

  1. Actually, my father was Ivor Morgan (1923 – 2010). He joined the RN in 1941 and flew Seafires from Tracker and Indefatigable. He did, however, achieve 2 Japanese kills and one German.



    • I am delighted that you replied to the blog entry! Your father was that rara avis, a successful FAA fighter pilot. Sadly, most RN and RNVR pilots did not have a chance to prove their combat skills during WW2. By the way, you might like to see what my friends and I are up to, now…



  2. My understanding of why the 50 was retired had nothing to do with it’s structural integrity but rather, because of it’s conventional wing design. With aerobatic figures favoring more and more outside maneuvers, a symmetrical wing became mandatory and the 50 was rendered obsolete. I also believe that since the center section was strengthened, there has never been an airframe failure since the two mention and admittedly, the were over g-ing the airplane by a minimum of 3 Gs and likely more. The accelerometer on the airplane only measured up to 12 Gs and that’s where they we pegged. Finally, I have owned two 50s and found it a terrific value, robust, honest and easy to fly. The systems are esoteric by western standards but are quickly mastered. I loved the thing.


    • Thanks very much for the information; I drew on several sources regarding the structural problems. I did say that since the AD’s were applied, and since the 50 stopped being used for competitive aerobatics there had been no problems. Certainly, David Morgan seems to enjoy his very much! I must admit that we have reached the ‘if it doesn’t hurt, its not a good snap roll’ era in competitive aerobatics! Symmetrical wings, full-span ailerons, and G limits for the aircraft which are higher than for the human….

      I quite understand why you loved yours! Cheers!!


  3. What a magnificent bird! I’ve flown Skyraiders, Swifts, and tail dragger Yaks, but not until I flew the Yak 50 in 2002 did I understand the heart pulsing excitement of flying a Yak 50. The first flight occurred in Arizona at La Cholla (La Choya) Airpark. I was advised by the ferry pilot to go easy on the power during take-off. Friends gathered to witness my first flight in the “dangerous as hell” Yak 50. I knew there was not going to be a problem since I’ve flown tail draggers, military and civilian, and I was confident the ’50 was no special noise maker. Taxiing out to the active was a bit strange… I couldn’t see where I was going, so I wiggle waggled back and forth until I arrived at the run up area. Running up at 70% was no problem, and everything checked.
    Take off roll was a bit jerky as I strained to stay in the middle of a runway I couldn’t see. With great gusto, I raised the tail in time to witness the torque and “P” factor taking over… and seeing my friends scattering in all directions. Off into the grass, back onto the runway, over on to the taxiway where I got airborne. Knowing my life was ending, I pulled the power back but forgot to let up on full left rudder and shot accross to my friends who by now had hit the ground promising God they’d be good if they survived. Adding power again (I was now descending over the hangars), I rolled hard right and jammed left rudder again (isn’t this where I started?), pulled up… whereby the airplane took pity and allowed that I could live another day… and shot skyward. From the ground it looked like I was in control.
    Now, flying in an Air Force flying suit that is wringing wet is not something my friends should see (if they’re still at the Airpark), so I flew around with the canopy open unil almost dry.
    My original thoughts on landing had disappeared, relapced by thoughts of how bad the wreckage would be. My first approach visual was interrupted by what looked like 100 feet of engine cowling blocking my view. I couldn’t see the Airpark, let alone the runway. Second approach found me cursing the Smolensk Design Bureau for not including flaps or speed brakes. Sucking up the gear, I did a missed approach. My left leg was now in atrophy with the rudder having its way my body.
    Gear down. The third landing attempt was a side slip to keep the field in sight. Touch down! No, wait. I bounced, added power, touch down! No, wait. Finally. Thakn you, God. Taxiing back was a piece of cake. My friends, faces wet with tears of laughter, were useless in helping me park. Silly bastards were rolling on the ground.
    I learned to fly the Yak 50. Went to airshows with a two minute routine. Carrying minmum fuel, I did Immelmanns on take off and did touch & go’s during the same maneuver. I flew low passses while inverted (until told to stop by a visiting FAA guy). Yeah, he’s probably right. Like I said.
    What a magnificent bird!

    Bill Tiley, Major, USAF (Ret.)


    • “P” factor is an absolute bitch, right?! When an airframe reaches a certain power/weight ratio, “P” factor can be that insidious killer no one warned you about in low speed situations….you have plenty of power in hand so just use it? As you demonstrated – wrong! Thanks for a great lesson, and a great comment. Please drop me a note at airshowconsultants at gmail !


  4. Hans Litjens

    I owned a Yak50 and flew in competition aerobatics for 10 years,(Nonstop) culminating in winning the Australian Advanced Championships in 2009 , I flew at +9g -7g consistantly particularly in advanced, every 50 hours i did a crack test on all vital parts of wing and tail attachments and never found any problems, but before doing this i had a well known eastern block engineer look at the russian log books to check if all the mods are up to date which indeed they were , this gave me peace of mind.
    Flying the Yak50 in competion and getting scores that are not embarassing takes a lot of practice (took me 10 Years) but i have to say it is an awesome aeroplane to fly, in 750 hours i have felt the highest highs / lowest lows /been terrifyed /had 3 engines / been covered in fuel / wheels up landing (lost air out of both tanks) had rudder peddles jammed during a snap roll in a competion and did another 3 snaps before i managed to loosen the peddles ( got a 0 for that manouvre) but the wings are still in one piece, the last engine i fitted is 400hp with a 3 bladed MT propellor , that combination was incredible, I have since sold the yak,but to this day i tell my friends that there is nothing like flying a yak 50.


    • Thank you, so much, Hans, for the fine comment. Most Yak 50 owners will give you a huge ‘thumbs up’ for this; and congrats on your competition record! Sterling stuff….

      If you don’t mind me asking, are you still flying in competitions? (And if so, in what?)

      Take care



  5. Have just flown the Yak-50 a couple of times …
    Definitely my favourite flying machine !
    Hope to fly Yak-50 a lot more in the future 🙂
    If you know one for sale somewhere, please let me know : janie@yak52.fr
    Kind Regards,
    Etienne Verhellen.
    Yak-52 ‘janie’ G-CBSS.



    • I most certainly will, Etienne. Merci mille fois pour les photos!


      • I may be selling my magnificent Yak 50. Depends on how bad Obamacare hits my little company. Will know in January / February time frame.


  6. Bill, please contact me :
    Thanks, Etienne.
    Yak-52 ‘janie’ G-CBSS.


  7. I concur with Sandy Robertson’s comments regarding the replacement of the Yak-50 as the workhorse of the Soviet Aerobatic team. When I was searching for a bird to buy, I kept coming back to the 50 as it was the only machine which looked (retractable main gear and a tailwheeler) and sounded like a WW2 warbird without the accompanying pricetag!

    It is a delight to fly and is a pussycat for take-offs and landings as long as one manages the throttle and tailwheel technique accordingly. Failing to do so, causes the pussycat to reveal its claws to remind one that a pussycat can also mean a tiger! The long nose does block forward view on the ground but it’s also suffciently narrow for one to “peek” a little around the sides.


    • I would certainly agree with you that the likes of the Sukhoi Su-26/31 just don’t seem to have the ‘character’ of the Yak-50. Sometimes older is better (as I keep reminding myself!)

      If you do not mind me asking, how long have you had your -50?


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