Shturmovik Rebuilt Under Radar

By Stephan Wilkinson
1/19/2012 • Aviation History Briefing

There is still enough left of the Shturmovik that more than a dozen bullet holes can plainly be seen

Nearly unnoticed in the West, several Russian firms have been doing world-class warbird restorations. The most recent phoenix to launch skyward from such a workshop is the world’s only airworthy Ilyushin Il-2—the legendary Soviet World War II “flying tank,” the Shturmovik. It’s a project that was in process very quietly over the last six years by the builder Avia­restoration, under the direction of craftsman Boris Osetinsky. The fully restored Shturmovik burst upon the U.S. warbird scene last October—yes, it was done for an American buyer—like a 37mm round from one of its cannons.

Aviarestoration made its reputation with several flying MiG-3 and Polikarpov projects, some of which have found their way to both the U.S. and New Zealand. The former Soviet Union is an enormous landmass salted with thousands of untouched warbird wrecks, many of them in near-inaccessible northern forests, swamps and lakes, where bitter-cold fresh water and silty shallows do much to preserve their remains. (A Russian video of one Shturmovik recovery from such a bog clearly shows the still-intact body of the pilot being recovered.) The core of this restoration was recovered from a marsh, and though much of the airplane had to be reconstructed from fresh metal and wood by Aviarestoration, there is still enough left of the original that more than a dozen bullet holes can plainly be seen.

Shturmoviks were not “armored”—they were made of armor. The thick steel plating that rendered them impervious to rifle-caliber fire was not an add-on but was actually the fuselage—a large, load-bearing component that stretched from the prop spinner all the way back to the gunner’s compartment. The aft fuselage and empennage were all wood, which was useless by the time the airframe was recovered. The airplane’s original AM-38 V-12 engine was also junk, so the restoration is fitted with an Allison V-1710, possibly one originally intended for a contrarotating P-38, to match the Il-2’s original “backward” prop rotation.

As with so many legends, the Shturmovik’s reputation exceeds reality. Far from being an unstoppable tank-buster, the Il-2 has in fact been called one of the crudest and clumsiest of all WWII airplanes. They were shot down by the thousands. It was an example of the Soviet Union’s undeniably effective methodology of developing weapons that were “good enough”—the famous T-34 tank was another example—and then freezing the design and cranking them out nonstop to overwhelm by force of numbers. More Il-2s (over 36,000) were manufactured than any combat aircraft in history.

So who bought this Il-2? In late October word leaked out that it is going to mega-collector Paul Allen and his Flying Heritage Collection, north of Seattle.

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