Polikarpov R-Z Natacha
The Polikarpov R-Z or R-Zet was developed at the aircraft factory GAZ No 1 (State Aircraft Factory No 1) at Moscow as a development of, and a replacement for the Polikarpov R-5, the standard light reconnaissance bomber of the Soviet Air Force. Based on the R-5SSS, the most advanced variant of the R-5, the R-Z had a new, deeper, monocoque fuselage, with a sliding canopy for the pilot and fixed glazed fairing for the observer. Smaller than the R-5, with a more powerful engine driving a two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller. Construction however was lighter than of the R-5. The 544 kW (730 hp) M-17F engine (a licenced built copy of the BMW VI was replaced with the 611 kW (820 hp) M-34 engine. The R-Z first flew in January 1935 and was accepted for the Soviet Air Force in preference to the competing Kochyerigin LR, also an R-5 derivative. By the time production finished in spring 1937, 1,031 R-Zs had been built.
Like its predecessor the R-5, the R-Z was used in large numbers by both the Soviet Air Force and Aeroflot.
Its first use in combat was during the Spanish Civil War from 1937. 61 R-Zs were delivered to the Spanish Republican Air Force, where they were nicknamed Natacha. These were heavily used, flying in tight formations and using co-ordinated defensive fire to defend against fighter attack, while returning individually at low levels. Although many R-Zs were damaged by ground fire, complete losses were relatively low with 36 surviving to be captured by the Nationalists at the end of the war in April 1939.
R-Zs were used by the Soviet air force against Japan above Mongolia in the Battle of Khalkhin Gol in 1939, and the Winter War against Finland in the same year. By the time of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the R-Z was in the process of being replaced by the Ilyushin Il-2, although it remained in service with a number of light bomber regiments.