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Lavochkin La-17M Target Drone

DAYTON, Ohio (06/2008) -- The Lavochkin La-17 in the restoration hangar at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio (06/2008) -- The Lavochkin La-17 in the restoration hangar at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Note: This item is currently in storage.

In 1950 the Soviet Air Force began development of a radio-controlled aerial target for training fighter pilots. Production of the Lavochkin La-17 target drone began in 1954. Over the next 40 years, the La-17 incorporated various improvements, including an autopilot, and the last one was built in 1993. A ground-launched tactical reconnaissance version (La-17R) was built in the early 1960s and carried a variety of payloads that included high-resolution cameras, real-time television cameras and radiation monitoring equipment.

The Soviets used various methods to launch the La-17. The first version was airdropped from a Tu-4 (a copy of the Boeing B-29), but to lower costs, later versions were ground-launched from converted artillery carriages. Rocket-assisted take off (RATO) boosters mounted under each wing provided the necessary thrust for launch.

Since La-17s were designed to be shot down, they used inexpensive parts wherever possible. For example, the small propeller on the nose drove an electric generator, which powered the autopilot and radio control equipment much like the Messerschmitt Me 163. Early La-17s that were not shot down landed on the ground or water -- usually damaging the engine. The inexpensive engine, a de-rated non-afterburning variant of the MiG-19 engine, was easily replaced. Later models added a landing skid. The La-17M was haunted by a short range and a primitive guidance system.

The La-17M at the National Museum of the United States Air Force was found floating in the Black Sea by the U.S. Navy in the late 1980s after it had crashed while flying out of a Soviet test/training facility. It came to the museum in 1998.

TECHNICAL NOTES:
Engine: Mikulin RD-9BK turbojet of 4,300 lbs. thrust
Speed: 560 mph
Ceiling: 55,770 ft.

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