Germany ‘Paralyzes’ Russia’s High-Flying YAK-152 Aircraft As Moscow Struggles To Replace German Engines

A new light trainer aircraft for the Russian Air Force (RuAF), the Yakovlev Yak-152, has completed formal testing and will soon be inducted into the fleet.

The single-engine propeller plane is used for the first stage, involving basic pilot training for cadets. The aircraft, however, still flies with a German-made engine, for which the Russians are developing a domestic alternative.

While it is unclear how many units of the German engines Russia acquired and if all the Yak-130s produced so far use the same power plant, reports suggest that Russian industry is working on a homegrown piston engine.

It is likely that all commercial contacts between Russia and Germany, especially those involving aerospace products, will have been terminated after the sweeping sanctions that were levied following Russia’s February 2022 military operation in Ukraine. 

Russian industry has long initiated the import substitution of various electronic and computer hardware products since the 2014 Donbas War. Still, it accelerated the efforts since February 2022, when it was completely cut off from access to Western technology.

Another category that Moscow has been trying to indigenize is smaller and intermediate aerospace products, components, and sub-assemblies that it has imported from the West. 

Basic Trainer Completes Development & Tests

RIA Novosti quoted an unidentified official from the Yakovlev Design Bureau (YDB), who said that the “state joint tests” were “completed following previously approved plans” that “confirmed the main characteristics of the aircraft.” 

The Yak-152 and the Yak-130 aircraft are the two primary trainer aircraft in the Russian Aerospace Forces; after concluding the elementary piloting training on the Yak-152, the cadet graduates to the Yak-130, an intermediate jet trainer. He then progresses to squadron service, where he is imparted training on the actual leading aircraft by senior pilots. 

A Yak-130 in flight. Credit: United Aircraft Corporation (UAC).

“The Yak-152 and Yak-130 have a unified cockpit information and control field, and the integrated use of two training aircraft – a piston aircraft at the initial stage of training and a jet combat trainer for improving acquired skills. (This is part of an) optimal combination in the training system for Aerospace Forces cadets,” the report added. 

Replacing German Engines

The official added that the “next stage” in the Yak-152’s development will be the “import substitution” of the “engine, propeller, and other components with their testing in the short term.”

This means Russian companies have developed domestic alternatives of the products, which need to be tested to see if the Yak-152 performs to the required standards with these installed. “The current Yak-152 samples are equipped with German engines,” the report added.

The framing suggests all of the units fly with the German power plants. Last August, UAC Deputy General Director for Civil Aviation, General Director of Yakovlev PJSC Andrei Boginsky told RIA Novosti that Yakovlev was looking for partners in Russia to import the German aircraft engine for the Yak-152 for the Russian Aerospace Forces. Boginsky said, “Several Russian companies are ready to take on this work.”

“We are looking for opportunities: partners for import substitution of the German engine, who could start producing the engine. Several Russian companies are ready to take on this work,” Boginsky said.

He noted that aircraft manufacturers are now “in dialogue” with these companies, and all the necessary initial data are provided. “I can’t give a time frame, but the work is going on; no one is giving up,” Boginsky said. 

Without a locally-made, available, and fully logistically supported engine, the Yak-152 cannot enter mass production. The engine in question is the German-made RED A03T piston diesel engine, a product of RED Aircraft. Vladimir Reichlin, a German citizen of Russian origin, owns this company. 

German authorities banned RED Aircraft from supplying the engine to Russia in 2023, and Reichlin was sentenced to five years in prison in August of that year. Russian industry might have to reverse engineer the A03T or use the VK-650 helicopter engine as an alternative.

According to RuAviation, during the HeliRussia-2023 exhibition, the director of the VK-650 program at ODK-Klimov, Yevgeny Prodanov, revealed ODK was considering using the ‘V’ variant of the engine (VK-650V) for the Yak-152.

“Its design allows minimal modifications for various drones and for use as part of a hybrid propulsion system. In addition, the issue of using the engine on the Yak-152 airplane is currently being worked out. We plan to obtain a type certificate for this engine in 2024,” Prodanov added. 

An August 2021 report quoted Mikhail Gordin of the Central Institute of Aviation Engine Engineering, who said the challenge “lay in the successful layout and use of components that are not produced in Russia.”