Latvia’s most prolific aero engineer was Karlis Irbitis. He began work on an indigenous fighter around 1938 by selecting and engine of low frontal area and technical simplicity for easy field servicing. This led to consideration of inverted V air-cooled engines, and the options were quickly narrowed down to the 450 hp Renault 12Roi series from Franc, or 460 hp Walter Sagitta I-SR from Czechoslovakia. A trade imbalance with France meant that the Czechoslovak engine was effectively selected by default.
A retractable undercarriage and variable pitch propeller was planned for production versions. Armament was to consist of two 7.9mm Brownings firing through the prop disc, and two more in pods under the wings firing outside the airscrew. It was also planned to mount two 20mm cannon in place of the wing guns on later production aircraft. The wing design provided for pleasant low speed handling. The signs were it would have proven a nimble fighter, although it would still have been outclassed by potential opponents like the Bf 109 and LaGG-3.
Events were to overtake the I-16’s development as the Soviets invaded Latvia in 1940, and in turn the Germans did the same in 1941, to be followed by the Soviets once again towards the end of the war. Both of these invaders tested the I-16 and it was flown in their national insignia.
A more detailed history of the type along with useful photos and plans can be found in Air Enthusiast # 48.
Czech Master Resins are well known for their high quality resin kits of both very unusual and mainstream aircraft types. They first kitted the VEF Irbitis I-16 about 20 years ago, but withdrew it from production when new and better information on the original aircraft came to light. This led them to issue a completely new and more accurate kit in 2005. It is a credit to this company to take this step once new information becomes available, rather than keep offering a less accurate interpretation that few modellers would know had some weaknesses.
A handy review of the new CMR I-16 kit in Internet Modeller can be found here. I will not try to add to this very good in-box review here, other than to say I was impressed with the kit’s presentation, simplicity and choice of markings.
The kit was very straight forward to build, with minimal cleaning up of casting blocks being required. The biggest challenge was the very fine casting of the roll-over bars incorporated with the cockpit tub which required some flash removal as an unavoidable bi-product of the casting process for these types of shapes. Some may choose to avoid the clean-up and replace with plastic rod.
The fuselage, wings, empennage and undercarriage are easily constructed, with just one or two little pin-holes needing filling. In this respect the model is really quite a fast build. Just take care to test fit the cockpit interior and instrument panel for best results. The most challenging part of the build is vac-form canopy. This is simply because of the way the real aircraft’s canopy was incorporated into the fuselage top-decking, with the whole folding to one side, plus the two curved panels at the rear have to be cut carefully to conform to the fuselage. Fortunately CMR provide tow canopies so that you can have a practice run first. Finally two small venturi-type pitots and aileron mass balances need to be added to the underside, and all is finished.
There is some suggestion that the I-16 was finished in a bronzy-aluminium colour, but I erred on the side of caution and kept this tint to very subtle levels in my paint mix. Decals went on flawlessly and now I have what I think is a pretty and very interesting light-fighter prototype in my display cabinet.
This was my fourth resin build and the easiest I have undertaken so far. I thoroughly recommended this kit to anyone who has an interest in prototypes from this period or just likes obscure aircraft types.