Flown in prototype form in 1971, the Yak-38 was developed under the design leadership of S Mordovin for the primary tasks of fleet air defence against shadowing maritime surveillance aircraft, reconnaissance and anti-ship strike. Power plant combined a Yu Gusev-developed Tumansky R-27V thrust-vectoring turbojet with two Rybinsk (Koliesov) RD-36-35 vertical-lift turbojets designed by a team led by A Dynkin. Hydraulic drives synchronised by a transverse shaft rotated the thrust-vectoring nozzles aft of the wing, their output in vertical take-off and landing operations being balanced during hover and transition by the paired lift engines mounted in tandem immediately aft of the cockpit and inclined forward 13 degrees from the vertical.
Shipboard trials with the Yak-38 began aboard the Moskva half-deck anti-submarine cruiser in 1972, and, in the following year, the decision was taken to build a pre-series of Yak-38 fighters for service evaluation, the first two of these landing aboard the carrier-cruiser Kiev in 1975. An evaluation squadron comprising 12 single-seat Yak-38s and two two-seat Yak-36Us embarked aboard the Kiev in the summer of 1976, the aircraft being confined to vertical take-off with conversion following at 5-6m above the deck. During 1976, production was initiated of a much improved version of the basic design as the Yak-38.
Externally similar to the Yak-36M, apart from substantial strakes either side of the intake for the lift engines, the Yak-38 possessed a full weapons system and an automatic control system permitting a short roll leading into vertical take-off as distinct from an orthodox short take-off benefiting from wing-induced lift. Although intended only for vertical take-offs and landings, the 'Forger' had double-slotted flaps and a braking parachute.
The Yak-38 entered service with the Soviet Navy in 1978, and, during 1980, was evaluated under operational conditions in Afghanistan. Progressive development resulted in the Yak-38M, which, with 1000kg more engine thrust, a steerable nosewheel and provision for paired 600-litre underwing auxiliary tanks, entered production in succession to the Yak-38. The Yak-38M had a 6940kg R-27V-300 thrust-vectoring turbojet and two vertical-lift RD-38 turbojets each rated at 3250kg. Two wing stations immediately inboard of vertically-folding panels provided for two gun pods each containing a twin-barrel 23mm GSh-23 cannon, rocket packs or bombs weighing up to 500kg each, two R-60 IR-homing AAMs or short-range ASMs. The tuitional version, the Yak-38UM, had vertically-staggered tandem seats, a plug being inserted in the aft fuselage to compensate for a lengthened nose. Each of the four Soviet Navy Kiev-class carrier cruisers received a 14-aircraft squadron of Yak-38s or -38Ms (each including two two-seaters), and production was completed by 1987 with a total of 231 Yak-38s (all versions) built.
The 'Forger' had a system to automaticaliy eject the pilot if the engine stopped while the thrust was angled below the horizontal. On one occasion this occurred in full view of a British carrier, who rescued the pilot.
Production of the Yak-38 Forger subsonic V/Stol shipborne fighter continued in 1987, to equip four Kiev-Class aircraft carriers. Each vessel carries 12 Forger As and two two-seat Forger Bs, which lack the ranging radar of the single-seat aircraft. Some 70 Yak-38s had been built by mid-1986.
Photographs of Forger As executing rolling take-offs from the deck of a carrier appeared in 1984, ending all speculation that the aircraft was only capable of Vtol operations. Short take-off techniques will improve the Forger’s payload/range performance. The Yak-38 has no internal armament, but carries gun and rocket pods on four underwing hardpoints to a maximum load of approximately 3,600kg.
Yak-38 Forger A
Engine: 1 x Lyuika AL-21 lift/cruise turbojet
Installed thrust (dry): 80 kN
Span: 7 m
Length: 15 m
Wing area: 18.5 sq.m
Empty wt: 7500 kg
MTOW: 11,700 kg
Warload: 1350 kg
Max speed: Mach 0.95
Initial ROC: 4500 m / min
Ceiling: 12,000 m
T/O run: VTOL
Ldg run: VTOL
Combat radius: 370 km
Fuel internal: 2900 lt
Air refuel: No
Hard points: 4
Max take-off weight: 11700 kg / 25794 lb
Wingspan: 7.32 m / 24 ft 0 in
Length: 15.5 m / 51 ft 10 in
Height: 4.37 m / 14 ft 4 in
Wing area: 18.50 sq.m / 199.13 sq ft
Max. speed: 1010 km/h / 628 mph