Yuri’s flying machines – Polikarpov Po-2

The Po-2 looks like a typical ‘stick and string’ biplane of WW1, and yet it was a significant part of the Soviet’s WW2 airforce. A light and very forgiving slow flyer, it filled many roles, not least as a trainer. In Yuri’s story we first see one being used in a typical general purpose role as a ‘taxi’ to recover a ‘downed’ fighter pilot.

In spite of its antique looks it also had a serious combat role against the Germans as a night bomber. All-women squadrons would work in groups of three, flying low over German lines, sometimes cutting their engines to glide in silently over the target. The lead aircraft would deliberately attract the attention of the German searchlights and anti-aircraft guns, while the other two took advantage of the distraction to bomb the troops on the ground. The German soldiers nicknamed these units the ‘Nachthexen’ or ‘Night-witches’ and they did a great deal of damage to German morale as the invasion of Russia began to go from initial success, to a terrible war of survival against the Russian winter.

After the war, Yuri meets the Po-2 again, as the plane from which he learns to parachute, by climbing out of the cockpit and jumping off the wing!

Although more Po-2s were built than almost any other aircraft type, only a few are still flying today. The Polish-built version, the CSS-13, also has a few survivors, some of which still act as parachute jump-ships at air displays and flying clubs.

Polikarpov P0-2 biplane, Yuri Gagarin flight training plane, Nachthexen' or 'Night-witches'

Polikarpov Po-2 biplane

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