The IAR 80 was a Romanian World War II low-wing monoplane, all-metal monocoque fighter and ground-attack aircraft. When it first flew, in 1939, it was comparable to contemporary designs being deployed by the airforces of the most advanced military powers such as the Hawker Hurricane and Bf 109E. Production problems and lack of available armament delayed entry of the IAR 80 into service until 1941. It remained in frontline use until May 1945.
|IAR 80 / IAR 81|
|Pair of Romanian IAR 80s|
|Manufacturer||Industria Aeronautică Română (IAR)|
|First flight||12 April 1939|
|Primary user||Royal Romanian Air Force|
|Developed from||PZL P.24|
In order to ensure that the Royal Romanian Air Force (ARR) could continue to be supplied with aircraft in time of war, the government subsidized the creation of three major aircraft manufacturers in the 1920s and 1930s. The first was Societatea pentru Exploatări Tehnice (SET) which was formed in Bucharest in 1923. Next came Industria Aeronautică Română (IAR) which set up shop in Braşov in 1925. Finally there was Intreprinderea de Construcţii Aeronautice Romaneşti (ICAR), which was founded in Bucharest in 1932.
In 1930 the Romanian government issued specifications for a new fighter. Although the government was not anticipating bids from its own aircraft industry, IAR produced several prototypes in response to the tender.
The contract was eventually won by the Polish PZL P.11. The FARR purchased 50 of a modified version called the P.11b, all of which were delivered in 1934. A second contest was also fought between the newer IAR 14 and PZL P.24 designs, and once again the PZL design won a contract for another 50 aircraft.
Although IAR's own designs had not entered production, they nevertheless won the contracts to build PZLs and Gnome-Rhone 14K engines under license. As a result of these and other licence contracts the company had enough money to fund a design studio even if its designs never went into production.
Despite losing to PZL, an IAR design team led by Ion Grosu continued work on fighter designs. He was convinced that the low-wing design of the IAR 24 represented a better design than the PZL gull-wing design, which was often referred to as the "Polish wing". Once again the team studied the new PZL fighter looking to incorporate its best features into a new aircraft, and the result was the IAR 80.
- Description: Low-wing monoplane fighter with conventional control surface layout.
- Fuselage: The fuselage was circular in cross-section, turning to egg-shaped behind the cockpit where it incorporated a ridge-back. The general fuselage layout was based on the Polish PZL P.24.
- Wings: The wings were tapered with rounded tips, the trailing edge angled very slightly forwards. Small flaps ran from the fuselage to a point about 1/3 along the span, where the ailerons started and extended out to the rounded wingtips.
- Other details: A bubble canopy was fitted, sliding to the rear to open, providing excellent visibility except over the nose due to its rearward position. A conventional tailwheel landing gear was used, with the main gear wide-set and retracting inward, with a non-retractable tail skid.
The semi-monocoque tail was copied directly from the P.24. The fuselage from the engine back to the cockpit was new, consisting of a welded steel tube frame covered with duralumin sheeting. The wings were mounted low and were of the same design as those used on the early IAR 24, which had competed with the P.24.
According to one source, the wing profile was taken directly from the Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 bomber, in service with the FARR at the time, as the design team lacked the time for wing section studies. As a result, the profile was less favorable for higher speeds, but gave the aircraft more maneuverability. This is highly unlikely as the contract for the SM.79B licence was signed on October 1, 1938, roughly one year after the I.A.R. 80 prototype was completed.
The cockpit's interior, instruments, and gunsight were imported from foreign suppliers. This effort to aggregate a fighter from various sources was a result of the last-minute demands for a frontline fighter.
A Luftwaffe major who tested it in March 1941 had this to say about the IAR 80:
"Takeoff and landing are very good. It's 20–30 km/h slower than the Bf 109E. The climb to 5,000 meters is equivalent. In a dogfight, the turns are also equivalent, although the long nose reduces the visibility. In a dive it's outclassed by the Bf 109E, because it lacks an automated propeller pitch regulator. It's a fighter adequate to modern needs."
Work began on the IAR 80 prototype in late 1937, originally with an open cockpit and the 870 hp (650 kW) IAR K14-III C32 engine which was a licensed Gnome-Rhône 14K II Mistral Major. The prototype was completed slowly, and first took to the air in April 1939. Test flights of the prototype were impressive; the aircraft could reach 510 km/h at 4,000 m (317 mph at 13,000 ft), service ceiling of 11,000 m (36,000 ft) with the ability to climb to 5,000 m (16,000 ft) in 6 minutes which was respectable at the time, though not up to the contemporary Supermarine Spitfire or Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters. In comparison the P.24E was almost 450 kg lighter, yet over 80 km/h slower with the same engine. The IAR 80 also proved to be enjoyable to fly and was maneuverable.
A number of minor problems turned up during the prototype phase, and were dealt with over the next year. To improve power the design was updated to mount the newer 930 hp (690 kW) C36 version of the K14-III. However this engine was slightly heavier than the C32, which required the rear fuselage to be stretched to move the center of gravity back into the proper position. The extra space in the fuselage allowed the fuel tanks to be increased in volume by 455 l (100 imp gallons). The wing was also enlarged and the tail was revised to eliminate the bracing struts.
A side effect of this extreme rearward position was that the pilot had even worse forward visibility while taxiing than most other taildraggers. To address this somewhat, the pilot's seat was raised slightly and a bubble-style canopy was added.
The updated prototype was tested competitively against the Heinkel He 112, which had arrived in Romania as the start of a potentially large order. Although the He 112 was more modern and much more heavily armed with two machine guns and two 20 mm cannon, the ARR ordered 100 IAR 80s in December 1939 while only 30 He 112s were accepted. The government in Bucharest ordered another 100 IAR 80s in August 1940. Further orders for batches of 50 IAR 80s followed on 5 September 1941 and 11 April 1942, then another 100 on 28 May 1942, to be followed by 35 of the IAR 81C development in February 1943, with a further 15 in January 1944.
Production of the IAR 80 started immediately, although the armament proved to be a serious problem. The prototype had mounted only two Belgian-made Fabrique Nationale 7.92 mm machine guns, a licensed modification of the Browning .30 cal. This armament was not heavy enough against modern aircraft, and the production model was expected to mount six. The German invasion of Belgium in 1940 suspended the supply from FN, and there was no suitable replacement. Lacking armament, production was halted. The Germans only allowed the delivery of the guns to resume after Romania joined the Axis in November 1940. As a result the first production IAR 80 didn't roll off the line until January 1941, although the first batch of 20 were delivered by the middle of February. The armament supply remained inadequate so production models only carried four guns.
The initial batch of fighters was well received by the Romanian pilots, but they found the aircraft underpowered and lacking firepower. In order to address this, the aircraft mounted the 960 hp (720 kW) K14-IV C32 engine in the 21st through 50th examples, but the firepower concern could not be resolved at the time.
By April 1941 the Romanians were firmly in the German sphere, and as a result the Germans released more FN guns for their use. These were quickly installed, and the resulting 80A model finally mounted the original complement of six guns. Armored glass in the windscreen, seat-back armor, and a new gun sight were also added at the same time, along with the newer 1,025 hp (764 kW) K14-1000A engine. The extra engine power proved to be more than the fuselage structure was designed to handle, and it had to be reinforced with a duralumin "belt" just behind the cockpit in the first 95 A series aircraft built before the fuselage could be modified.
Although the IAR 80A had a more powerful engine, the added weight of the guns, ammunition and armor plating reduced the top speed slightly to 316 mph (509 km/h). Nevertheless the new model was clearly an advancement, and the A model replaced the earlier one on the assembly line starting with the 51st airframe. Eight of these had been completed in time for the invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.
FN guns remained in short supply, so throughout late 1941 and early 1942, guns were stripped from PZLs and observation aircraft for use in the IARs.
Combat over the Soviet Union proved that even six of the FN guns still lacked punch, and once again firepower was increased, with 13.2 mm FN machine guns taken from Romanian SM.79s were installed in the IAR 80 in a new lengthened wing. The result was the IAR 80B, which also introduced new radios, an area where the aircraft had previously been weak.
A total of 50 of the new design were completed, including 20 airframes which were originally intended to be IAR 81As. These last 20 were thus able to carry a 50 kg (110 lb) bomb or a 100L (22 imp (26.4US) gallon) drop tank under each wing. The entire series were delivered between June and September 1942.
The ARR had intended to replace its light strike and dive bomber aircraft for some time when the war opened in 1941. The first role was to be filled by the IAR 37 (and later 38 and 39 models) but the plan was to fill the second role with the Junkers Ju 87. Once again the Germans deferred and the ARR was left searching for a design. The modification of the existing IAR 80 as a dive bomber was seen as a reasonable option, easier than designing an entirely new aircraft; as well as having obvious production benefits.
The result was the IAR 81, a minor change to the IAR 80A models that were then in production, adding a hinged bomb cradle under the centerline to throw a 225 kg (496 lb) bomb clear of the propeller (many dive bombers used a similar system). Delivery consisted of a shallow dive from about 3,000 to 1,000 m (9,800 to 3,300 ft) with the speed around 470 km/h (290 mph). Pilots disliked the aircraft, as the drag from the bomb cradle significantly hampered performance.
Fifty were ordered in mid-1941 but after 40 had been delivered, 50 kg (110 lb) bomb racks were added under each wing. The wing racks could also mount 100L drop tanks, allowing the 81 to be used as long-range fighters.
As the fighter model was converting from the A to B series with the addition of the 13.2 mm guns, likewise the 81 model was upgraded in the same fashion, creating the IAR 81A. The only distinguishing feature between the 80B and the 81A was the 81's centerline bomb rack, and both were built on the same assembly line. The first order for 81As was cancelled and the airframes were instead delivered to fighter units as 80Bs. Efforts to obtain the Ju 87 dragged on, so a second batch of IAR 81As was ordered in May 1943 to replace losses. Once again fate intervened, and the Germans released the Ju 87 for delivery before the batch could be completed. Like the first batch, these 10 airframes were delivered as fighters.
The supply of the 13.2 mm guns was clearly limited, and in a further attempt to increase the firepower of the design the Romanians signed a deal with Ikaria in Germany for a supply of 20 mm MG FF/M cannon. These were a licensed version of the Swiss Oerlikon FF, which had been in use in various German aircraft. The new gun also required a redesign of the wing. The 60 IAR 81Bs were intended to be dive bombers, but were delivered as IAR 80Cs fighters (a designation that appears painted on the tail of this model) without the centerline bomb rack. After the first 10 were completed, self-sealing tanks were added along with improved seat-back armor. The first 10 were delivered in December 1942 and the entire order was completed by April 1943.
The final stage in the IAR 80's wartime history was the 81C. This version changed the guns once again, this time to the Mauser MG 151/20 which was replacing the MG FF/M in German service and had just been released for Romanian use. The order for the 81C was placed in May 1942, predating the second order of the 81As.
The first order for 100 airframes was delivered, like all of the prior updates to the 81 series, with the centreline bomb rack removed to be used as fighters. An additional order for 35 was placed in February 1943, and then another 15 in January 1944. These aircraft were primarily to replace losses in earlier models, while production of the Bf 109G ramped up.
By 1944 the ARR fighter units included examples of 80A, B and C models, as well as 81A, B and Cs. In order to up-gun the earlier fighters as well as simplify logistics and maintenance, an upgrade program was started in mid-1944 to bring all existing airframes to the 81C armament suite of two MG 151/20s and four FN 7.92s. The resulting A and B models of the 80 and 81s would become the 80M and 81M respectively, although at this point there were no dive bombers in use. It is unclear how many conversions were completed.
IAR 80s remained in service until 1949, when they were replaced by La-9s and Il-10s. Those airframes with the lowest hours were modified by removing a fuel tank in front of the cockpit and adding a second seat, resulting in a trainer designated the IAR 80DC. These were used for only a short time before being replaced by Yak-11s and Yak-18s in late 1952.
IAR realized that the Mistral Major was at the limits of its development potential even by the middle of 1941, when the 1000A model reached the same ultimate output as the original Gnome-Rhône versions. An ongoing program to fit the IAR 80 with a more powerful engine had been in the works for most of the design's lifetime, but this proved to be a fruitless endeavor.
The most obvious choice for a new engine would have been the BMW 801 used in the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. This engine produced a full 600 hp (450 kW) more power, and although it was heavier, it was of roughly the same size as the K14. IAR engineers estimated that a BMW powered IAR 80 would have a maximum speed of at least 600 km/h (370 mph). But, as always, the Germans were unable to supply the engine as every example coming off the line was needed for installation in a German airframe. Licensed production was likewise out of the question, the engine production was in the midst of being ramped and the demand was so great that not even one set of jigs could be spared.
A Junkers Jumo 211 was trialled, and although this engine was also in high demand in Germany in this case the SM.79JRs in FARR service already used the engine, so some were available for testing. One 1,220 hp (910 kW) 211Da was obtained, complete with cowling and ring radiator from an SM.79 and fitted to an IAR 80 in 1942. Development was abandoned after the first test flight when in-flight vibrations proved to be excessive, and was never flown again.
When Operation Barbarossa started, the IAR 80 equipped Esc. 41, 59 and 60 of Grupul 8 Vânătoare, part of the Grupul Aerian de Lupta (GAL), that were tasked to support the Romanian 3rd and 4th Armies deployed at the southern flank of the Eastern Front.
Grupul 8 was the only unit assigned a pure fighter role, while Grupul 5 and Grupul 7, equipped with German aircraft (Heinkel He 112s and Messerschmitt Bf 109s) were employed primarily as fighter-bombers and bomber escorts.
On 22 June 1941, during the first day of the offensive, the IAR 80 patrols had their baptism of fire, achieving a single aerial victory (claimed by Sublocotenent aviator Ioan Miháilescu of Esc 60 van, a future ace) during four separate air combats. However, at least four IARs force landed with battle damage, while another two suffered engine trouble. By the end of 1941, 20 IAR 80/81s had been lost in combat or accidents. During 1942 the Romanian aviation industry reached its highest output so that the Royal Romanian Air Force could be re-equipped as follows: Esc. 47, 48 and 52 (Grupul Vânătoare), Esc. 43, 44 and 50 (Grupul 3 Vânătoare) and Esc. 41, 42 and 60 (Grupul 8 Vânătoare) received the new IAR 80A. Esc. 53 also replaced its Hurricanes with the IAR 80A, while Grupul 6 Bopi re-equipped with the IAR 81.
In June 1942, the operational IAR fighter forces on the eastern front, combined into the Flotilla 2 Vânătoare consisted of Grupul 8 Vânătoare, commanded by Cdr. Lt Col E. Pirvulescu, and included Escadrila 41, Escadrila 42 and Escadrila 60 with 12 IAR 80As each. During the Battle of Stalingrad, on 12 September, Grupul 8 Vânătoare IAR 80Bs (along with Grupul 7 Vânătoare’s Bf 109s) claimed to have shot down seven Yaks but they lost two IARs. Grupul 8 moved at the end of September, to Karpovka, joining Grupul 7, equipped with Bf 109s. On 12 and 13 December, Grupul 6 used its IAR 81s to support the German counterattack by the Panzergruppe Hoth of the Heeresgruppe Don, from Kotelnikovo towards Stalingrad. In the summer of 1943 the FARR's IAR-80s were transferred to Romania for air defense duties, where they were used in combat against the USAAF. USAAF attacks were directed at the oil refineries installation around Ploieşti, in particular. On 1 August 1943 the IAR 80 faced the Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber for the first time. There were 178 B-24s from 9th USAAF, part of the Operation Tidal Wave. The IAR 80Bs of Escadrila 61 and 62 of Grupul 6 Vânătoare, as well as IAR 80Cs from the newly formed Escadrila 45 of Grupul 4 Vânătoare, together with the Bf 109Gs from Esc. 53 and Bf 110s from the Romanian night fighter squadron, dived on the low-flying, four-engined bombers, belonging to five USAAF bomber groups (the 44th, 93rd, 98th, 376th and 389th). The Americans lost – in combat or on the way back – 51 bombers. Only 89 reached their bases, of which only 31 were serviceable for a mission the next day. The Romanian pilots claimed 25 certain and probable victories for just two losses, one IAR 80 B and one Bf 110C. According to Romanian statistics, IARs and Messerschmitts were confirmed as having shot down ten B-24s, with two probables.
On 10 June 1944, IAR 80s took part in a major air battle when the USAAF attacked Ploieşti with 36 P-38 Lightnings of the 82nd Fighter Group carrying one bomb each, escorted by 39 Lightnings of the 1st and 82 FGs. The IAR 81Cs from Grupul 6, as well as the German fighters from I./JG 53 and 2./JG 77, intercepted the large American formation. Romanian pilot Dan Vizanty, commander of Grupul 6, recalled later:
"Our Lightning attack came as a complete surprise to the Americans. Our attack was so quick that not one of the 100 (sic) American aircraft managed to fire a single shot at our aircraft parked on the ground. Everything happened between ground level and about 2,000 meters (6,600 feet), and was total confusion. I was excited and proud of my "mills", the IAR 80s, which, thanks to their extraordinary agility, remained victorious in the air. I saw their crazy dives, quick rolls, reverse turns and inverted flying, always with just brief burst of fire to save ammunition. It was an incredible sight, but also a drama for the Lightning pilots, who, at this low altitude, were inferior to the ever-present, nimble IAR 80s".
The American account of this battle conflicts significantly with the Romanian one. Fighter pilot Herbert "Stub" Hatch, who took part in the dogfight, wrote that his flight of 16 P-38s, the 71st Fighter Squadron, was challenged by a large formation of Romanian IAR 81C fighters that he misidentified as Focke-Wulf Fw 190s. According to Hatch, the fight took place at and below 300 feet (100 m) in a narrow valley. Hatch saw two IAR 81Cs hit the ground after taking fire from his guns, and his fellow pilots confirmed three more kills from his guns, making Hatch an ace in a day. However, the outnumbered 71st Fighter Squadron lost nine aircraft. The Americans never again repeated the P-38 dive-bombing mission profile over Romania. But during 1944 USAAF aircraft appeared over Romania in more significant numbers. Many air combats occurred and by the time of their last encounter with the USAAF on 3 July 1944, pilots of Grupul 6 vanatoare had submitted 87 confirmed and ten unconfirmed claims. Casualties among the Romanian fighter pilots quickly mounted too. The three IAR 80/81 groups (the 1st, 2nd and 6th) in a period of less than four months – known as the "American Campaign" – had at least 32 IAR pilots killed in action, including 11 aces. These losses exceeded the number of casualties suffered in the previous two and a half years of fighting against the Soviets. Because of heavy losses, all IAR 80/81 units were withdrawn from combat against Americans in July 1944 and IAR pilots started to convert to the more modern Bf 109G-6s.
- Royal Romanian Air Force
- 1st Fighter Group FARR received IAR-80Cs aircraft in October 1943.
- 2nd Fighter Group FARR operated IAR-80Cs aircraft.
- 3rd Fighter Group FARR received IAR-80As aircraft in August 1942.
- 4th Fighter Group FARR received IAR-80As aircraft in July 1942. In early 1943 was reequipped with IAR-80Cs.
- 5th Fighter Group FARR operated IAR-81Cs aircraft.
- 51st Dive Bomber Squadron FARR
- 6th Fighter Group FARR started training on IAR-80s aircraft since 27 September 1941 and in January 1942 conversion to IAR-81 begun.
- 61st Dive Bomber Squadron FARR operated IAR-81s aircraft.
- 62nd Dive Bomber Squadron FARR operated IAR-81s aircraft.
- 7th Fighter Group FARR received IAR-81Cs aircraft in October 1943.
- 8th Fighter Group FARR received first IAR-80s aircraft in February 1941. In April 1943 was transformed into 8th Assault Group FARR and reequipped with Henschel Hs 129Bs.
- 42/52nd Fighter Squadron FARR received first IAR-80s aircraft in July 1941.
- 59th Fighter Squadron FARR received first six IAR-80s aircraft in September 1941.
- 60th Fighter Squadron FARR operated IAR-80s aircraft.
- 9th Fighter Group FARR was formed in April 1942 and received IAR-80As aircraft. In April 1943 unit was reequipped with Bf 109Gs.
- Romanian Air Force – Postwar.
After the Soviet occupation of Romania, all remaining IAR 80s were replaced with Soviet designs and scrapped. No complete original examples are known to survive. An IAR 80 rebuilt post war after the fall of Communism and painted in its 1941–1944 original colors was shown at the Mihail Kogălniceanu airshow, near Constanţa. An IAR 80 can be found at the National Military Museum in Bucharest, which was rebuilt from IAR 80DC two-seat trainer parts.
- Crew: 1
- Length: 8.97 m (29 ft 5 in)
- Wingspan: 11 m (36 ft 1 in)
- Height: 3.535 m (11 ft 7 in)
- Wing area: 17 m2 (180 sq ft)
- Empty weight: 2,200 kg (4,850 lb)
- Max takeoff weight: 2,980 kg (6,570 lb)
- Powerplant: 1 × IAR K14-IV C32 1000A 14-cylinder two-row air-cooled radial piston engine, 764 kW (1,025 hp)
- Propellers: 3-bladed constant-speed propeller
- Maximum speed: 550 km/h (340 mph, 300 kn) at 5,000 metres (16,000 ft)
- Range: 730 km (450 mi, 390 nmi) on internal fuel only
- Ferry range: 1,330 km (830 mi, 720 nmi) with extra fuel tanks
- Service ceiling: 10,000 m (33,000 ft)
- Wing loading: 132.35 kg/m2 (27.11 lb/sq ft)
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Avia B-135
- Bloch MB.152
- CAC Boomerang
- Curtiss P-36 Hawk
- Fiat G.50
- Hawker Hurricane
- Heinkel He 112
- Macchi MC.200
- Messerschmitt Bf 109
- Mitsubishi A6M Zero
- Nakajima Ki-43
- Reggiane Re.2000
- Rogožarski IK-3
- One source states that IAR 81Bs delivered as fighters were referred to as IAR 80C in service, reflecting their use as fighters instead of bombers.
- Mark Axworthy, London: Arms and Armour, 1995, Third Axis, Fourth Ally: Romanian Armed Forces in the European War, 1941–1945, p. 265
- Murphy, Justin D.; McNiece, Matthew A. (2008). Military Aircraft, 1919–1945: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. Weapons and Warfare (First ed.). Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781851094981. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to IAR 80.|
- IAR 80 at historynet.com
- IAR 80 at worldwar2.ro
- The I.A.R.80 Story
- Doru Sicoe, "Camouflage & Markings: IAR 80/81 – Romania's Best Fighter" (with artwork by Bogdan Patrascu), January–February 2005, IPMSStockholm.org Magazine.
- Dan Antoniu and George Cicos, "Modeller's Guide to IAR 80/81 Variants", March–April 2005, IPMSStockholm.org Magazine.
- The Hodgepodge from Romania: The Story of the IAR 80 and 81, Jason Long, World War II (magazine)