You’ll have to look hard to find anything in aviation that is as good value as a Yak-52. For around £40,000 you can get, in near perfect condition, a two-seat aircraft with a 360 hp engine, constant speed propeller and retractable undercarriage, and it’s aerobatic. Not just aerobatic… very aerobatic.
That’s a lot of aeroplane for anyone’s money.
Furthermore, it looks and feels like a warbird and it sounds wonderful, with a big, slow radial engine that’s little altered since WWII.
There are two drawbacks. If you don’t want to fly aerobatics, you pay heavily in fuel consumption for all that power and strength. The second drawback is that this is a complex piece of machinery that is a long way from the PA-28 or Cessna 152 that most of us learned to fly in. Having said that, the Yak-52 is no harder to handle than, say, a Beech Bonanza or a Pitts S2, and easier to land than either. Unlike the broadly similar Harvard, or the Pitts, it has a nosewheel, which makes like a lot easier for low-time pilots. Mark Jefferies (his Yak UK is one of the two principal UK importers, the other is Richard Goode Aerobatics) reckons on clearing pilots with fewer than 100 hours’ experience within ten hours, mark’s wife checked out in 7hrs on a new PPL and 70 hrs total experiance and more experienced pilots within five. After all it is the basic trainer to this day in Russia and Ukraine.
What’s it like to fly?
This is a big aeroplane to drag from the hangar, but if the ground is dry, one person can move it—just. Though a lot of Yak-52s don’t have to be dragged anywhere, they spend their lives parked outside. The next task is also muscle-building: turning by hand that huge paddle-bladed propeller through nine blades. This prevents a hydraulic lock and is essential for all radials.
There are various essential rituals prior to start-up (you can find them on the Yak UK website), including opening the air valve ‘master switch’ that isolates the stored compressed air from possible leaks between flights. Compressed air is what turns the engine to start it, operates flaps and undercarriage and works the brakes. A Yak with no air pressure is as helpless as a Piper with a flat battery.
Pressing a button turns over the engine, and while it’s turning, you switch on the mags. As soon as it fires, push in the primer to give it a bit more fuel by way of encouragement, then lock the primer closed. Outside there’ll be a cloud of burnt oil smoke spiralling away from the cowlings—inevitable in a radial, not a sign of ill-health. Wait for the oil to warm up, cycle the propeller a few times, and you’re ready to go.
The system for steering while taxying will feel strange. The rudder pedals are not linked to the nosewheel, which is free to turn by itself, so unless there’s a stiff breeze or you’re taxying too fast, pushing your feet one way or the other will shift the rudder, but won’t steer. Instead, you change direction with differential braking. A lever on the joystick sends hydraulic pressure to both mainwheels and your feet send it to the appropriate brake pads (drums, not disk brakes). Right foot advanced, the right wheel gets more pressure; left foot advanced, the left wheel. This WWII-vintage arrangement works better than you might think.
Because the engine is powerful and slow-revving the propeller has to have a very large diameter, which necessitates a long, stalky undercarriage. [note, Russian grass airfields are not cut grass but cattle grazed, the long legs help keep the prop out of the grass!! ] This means that you taxi sitting rather high off the ground. You solo a Yak-52 from the front, and the view over the nose and to the sides is excellent. Not sharing the front seat with a passenger on your right is an advantage: you sit on the centre line, and there’s no one in the way when you look right. The cockpit is roomy and comfortable, but, at first sight, stuffed with switches, dials and levers… and extrusions to catch your clothes and skin careless knuckles. It’s not really that bad: in fact the layout is logical and everything is easy to find.
Most Yak pilots fly with a parachute, since the seats are designed for one. You’ll have to strap that on, then the five-point aerobatic harness.
You can fly on a hot day with the canopy slid back, a real advantage. The engine purrs in front of you, quieter and a lot more pleasant than the snarl of a Lycoming.
Flaps are split and offer only drag so up for take-off. There are only two settings: landing and flying. Opening the throttle you have to be fairly quick on the rudder, since there is torque to counteract. Acceleration is brisk, and the elevator quickly comes alive. Shortly after that, the aircraft is obviously ready to fly and can be lifted off in a shallow climb. You’ll have used around 180 yards in approx 7 seconds to fly.
As soon as the climb speed of 170 kph is established, raise the undercarriage—check three greens and tell-tales in the wing. You’ll be climbing at around 1,800 fpm at a fairly steep attitude (somewhere between a Stampe and a Pitts).
Once established, power lever back to 800 mm Hg and pitch to 82% of maximum revs. The cruise setting is 700 mm and 70%, which delivers 128 kts consuming 60 lph.
You’ll find the controls powerful and effective, but the Yak is stable and feels reassuringly solid. It has quite a lot of wing area, but this is a fairly heavy aeroplane, and with a powerful elevator, you don’t want to get carried away flying low and slow: too much g and you’ll stall.
Lots of people are quite satisfied to fly straight-and-level in a Yak-52, limiting themselves to steep turns at a safe altitude, and enjoying the warbird feel. However, the Yak-52 is a great aerobatic trainer, being relatively easy to learn on, and without any vices, such as the broadly similar Harvard’s wicked tendency to flick into a spin.
When you want to fly vertically (for a stall turn or vertical roll), sitting in the front, you align the horizon roughly one-eighth back from the tip leading edge, not one-third back as I did, (one-third works in most aerobatic aircraft). This is because you are sitting so much nearer the nose.
Flying hesitation rolls, I found it easy to over-control on aileron. The roll rate is impressive. Being used to machines with less power, I also had the nose too high. In lesser aircraft, you need to keep the nose up to counteract the loss of lift with banked wings, but doing this in the Yak-52 gives you a climbing roll.
With all that power, a reverse half Cuban was a delight because there was no need to rush things.
Anticipating the Yak’s weight, and deceived by the firm, positive feel of the elevator, I pulled harder than necessary in my first loop, to 6 g, when I’d intended five. I tried flick rolling both ways and was impressed by the speed and light feel of the aeroplane, when I had expected something more ponderous. The feel is rather like a Pitts S2A.
I flew a stall turn without difficulty, but that was because I was sighting on one-third of the wing chord instead of one-eight, which meant we were yawed to the right in the vertical; finishing with full right rudder was bound to be successful. My attempt at a half vertical roll gave the game away and ended in an out-of-balance wallow. Mark Jefferies, riding shotgun in the back, was most amused. He took over and demonstrated a full vertical roll and fly-off. The aeroplane did not seem short of energy.
My first attempt at a one-turn spin came out cleanly and within five or ten degrees of the line I’d started on, which isn’t bad for an unfamiliar aircraft. The spin was conventional, with no surprises. With the above said never just jump in an aircraft and “teach yourself” aerobatics. The importers always include instruction in the purchase package.
The Yak-52’s size and performance are major advantages for Standard and Intermediate aerobatics. Advanced competitions competition is difficult due to the clark “Y” aerofoil that is not suited for inverted flight. Having such a big aircraft is a disadvantage at first, because the judges can see every small error… but once you learn to get it right, you can show them just how accurately you can fly. If you don’t win in a Yak-52, don’t blame the aircraft.
It also makes a great display aeroplane. The Aerostars and the Yakovlevs display teams successfully lead there 6 and 4 ship formations with the YAK 52, however there is a tendency for the formation to lose height if it tries anything too ambitious.
To land, you slow down to 200 km/hr, lower flaps and undercarriage (visual check three greens and that the red-and-white striped rods have emerged through the top of the wing) and go to full fine pitch. Having only one setting for flaps does simplify things at this point. If you forget and land wheels up, enough of the undercarriage sticks out below the wing to save the airframe, but you will get a prop strike and need an engine strip.
Lowering flap does give some nose-up trim, easy enough to stabilise with the trim wheel on the left fuselage wall.
Approach speed is 170 km/hr, slowing to 160 over the hedge. With flaps down, and since you solo from the front, the view over the nose is excellent, and the aeroplane has just the right mixture of stability and control authority to put it in the ‘easy to land’ category. You do need, though, to flare high, because of that tall, stalky undercarriage. The float is fairly short, despite the big wings. You can, Mark assures me, land on the mainwheels and hold off the nosewheel, but in my landing, the nosewheel touched shortly after the mains and I could feel a fair bit of shimmy vibration from the noseleg, which Mark assured me was harmless. Braking quietened it, and we stopped in about 400 yards.
The standard Yak-52 has a 360 hp Vedeneyev MP-14P engine with a two-blade variable pitch wooden V530TA-D35 propeller, and holds 27 imp gallons of fuel. There are many options to upgrade the Yak-52. The main one is to have a 400 hp engine and/or 3-blade Mulbauer MTV-9 propeller. A Yak-52W is just one that has been adapted for the West.
The principal variant is the Yak-52TD (Pilot Flight test, November 2004). This is a radical departure from the standard aircraft, but not exactly a re-design, because a ‘kit of parts’ for conversion is available.
The Yak-52TD has a tailwheel (TD stands for taildragger) and no nosewheel. The mainwheels, which retract forwards in the standard Yak-52, fold inwards in the TD, and fold away completely, with covers that seal them smoothly into the under-wing surface.
The reduction in drag and weight (45kg for the 400 hp TD compared with the stock 360 hp Yak-52) has a dramatic effect on performance. Max cruise is 310 kph, initial climb is 1,960 fpm and the landing and take-off distance is also a lot shorter.
Other Yak variants operating in the UK include two designed purely for contest aerobatics, both single-seat taildraggers. The Yak-50 is the earlier design of the two with retractable undercarriage. In its day it was capable of Unlimited aerobatics, but these days its maximum is Intermediate. The Yak-55, on the other hand, is capable of flying Unlimited sequences, though it is no longer fully competitive beyond Advanced.
The Yak-18 is a four-seat cruiser, which is cleared for aerobatics. Wingspan of the Yak-52 is 9.3 metres, length, 7.7, and height, 2.5.
Mark Jefferies says, “The spar strengthening and wing spar strap are the most expensive item in the Bulletin and Directions 59/60 and 107(airworthiness directives). One often overlooked is the rudder attachment strengthening If you see that the rivets have been replaced with screws, it’s a good indication that it’s been done.
“The undercarriage is unlikely to be deteriorated. Out of 120 52s we’ve sold since 1992, we’ve only had to replace seals in two individual legs, and those were very early ex-Russian military aircraft. Incidentally, if you’re looking at a poorly maintained older aircraft that didn’t come through Yak UK or Richard Goode, you may have to replace the hoses, which costs a bruising £1500 having a life lasting 6 years.
“Aircraft fully overhauled by Termikas in Lithuania are superior and have the best paint jobs.
“It’s OK to leave 52s parked outside, providing they are used. Block up the elevator holes in the bird-nesting season. Water has been known to lift the plywood behind the leading edge of the composite prop blades, so keep them covered.
“It is worth checking to see if the aircraft has been landed wheels-up. You can tell by looking where the up-locks attach to the bottom of the wing—you might see a slight upwards bend. This raises the question, did whoever do it just bolt on a new prop, or did he have the engine checked for shock loading.
“You just don’t find a worn Vedeneyev engine because the 500 hour TBO (which costs £8,500 plus VAT) keeps them in trim. However, if the aircraft has been left outside all winter without being flown, get someone to look inside the spark plug holes with a boroscope for possible rust.
“If someone omitted to turn the prop blades by hand, tried to start the engine, had a hydraulic lock and bent a con rod, the rod would be rubbing on the piston skirt, there would be metal in the oil and the chip detector light in the cockpit would give the game away… unless someone was really unscrupulous and put in a dud bulb. There are 24 instrument light bulbs, by the way, and you can get replacements for 65 pence from Radio Spares.
“One thing you should do is turn the compressed air on and listen for a hiss from the instrument panel. It means the undercarriage ram seals are leaking. Overhaul is only £150 per ram, though.
“There were problems with the poor quality fabric that the Russians used on the control surfaces in the early days. Check that it’s been replaced with ceconite. More recently there’s a mod to deal with floating objects interfering with the controls. Make sure that’s been done, too.
“Basically, the Yak-52 is bomb proof, and the maintenance regime keeps it in good order, if it’s been responsibly maintained. Buy one that’s been neglected, and, as with any complex aircraft, you can face some big bills.
“It’s a bit like buying a nearly new car: you’re pretty safe if you can satisfy yourself as to the service record and there are no obvious signs of accident damage.”
Dave Holland, a fifty-year-old property developer from Staffs has ten hours in his Yak-52, and expects to fly 100 hours in it during the next 12 months.
“I got my licence and flew 200 hours in the early nineties, then dropped flying until eight months ago when I regained my licence so that I could buy an Antonov AN-2. I’ve always had a weakness for big aeroplanes, and had enough land for a farm strip. My wife had said she wouldn’t fly from it in any aircraft without on-board toilet. She meant passenger jets and thought she was safe—until I bought the AN-2… it had a toilet! It took me 25 hours of training in Lithuania to master the AN-2, and it was my first experience of taildraggers. Now I have a DA; the aircraft has been in great demand at airshows.”
Dave’s airstrip is in Staffordshire. It has three long grass runways but is 1,500 feet above sea level, which limits him to powerful aircraft. His AN-2 has an apt registration: LY-BIG.
He continues, “I bought the 52 for competition aerobatics and air racing. It fits me like a glove. The systems and gauges and build logic is similar to the AN-2, Russian rather than American. I soloed after just three hours. For the seven hours since then I’ve been learning aerobatics with an instructor at Gransden.
“The aircraft operates on a CAA Permit to Fly. Insurance costs £1,700. Parking outside at Gransden would cost £65 a month. I reckon on £110 an hour for fuel, engine depreciation and maintenance, which should average around £3,000 a year—every 600 hours the airframe has to be overhauled with major structural items undergoing crack detection. Fuel consumption is 45-60 litres (£51-68) an hour, depending on whether you’re cruising or doing aeros.
“I reckon the shortest runway I could land on would be 400 metres. The shortest safe operating runway would be 500 metres. Crosswind limit for me would be around 15 kts. Endurance is two hours, fifty minutes at economy cruise, which is fine for the aerobatics and racing contest flying I intend to do.”
There are 71 Yak-52s on the British register, plus others based in the UK but on foreign registers, so you won’t have to wait long to find a used one for sale. Richard Goode Aerobatics and Yak UK will usually know of at least one, and will overhaul and import one to order.
According to Mark Jefferies, prices are ranked as follows:
Below £35,000. An out-of-Permit aircraft with two years or less left on lifed items such as the propeller and hoses.
£35,000 to £37,000. An aeroplane that you can fly away, that had its last major overhaul over five years ago.
£37,000 to £40, 000. Factory overhaul within the last three years, and an aircraft with some optional extras—rounded wing tips, strobe lights and long range fuel tanks.
£40,000 to £45,000. Overhauled within two years, and with all the options, including the 400 hp engine, spinner, extra baggage storage space, a fixed step and metallic paint.
Over £45,000. Finished like it just left the factory. All mods.
A new Yak-52TW currently costs $179,000, and a new Yak-52W, $169,000. both made at Aerostar, Romania. The YAK-52TD is made in Termikas, Lithuania. To these prices add VAT and the cost of painting to your chosen colour scheme.
>>Ask maintenance agent what bills are coming up (from logs)
>>Look for signs of unreported wheels-up landing
>>Get engine checked if under utilised and parked outside
>>Check ADs complied with
>>List mods carried out against mods you’d like (eg long range tank)
>>Get a test ride—you might not like it!