The Ameriyak That Never Was

Soviet airliners have an understandably poor reputation and record. It’s gotten to the point where one should be fair and point out that their less than ideal safety record was more to the issues with infrastructure and human resources and less to the mechanical design of the aircraft themselves. But it isn’t excessive criticism to point out that in spite of their rough-field capability, they were fuel-inefficient, uncomfortable, and only able to succeed in a politically closed field.

But there were still some diamonds in the rough, and not just giants like the Antonov beasts. The three-engined Yak-40 was interesting for being a pioneer in the field of light regional jets when the rest of the world was still using propeller planes for that role.

Which leads to a detente-era footnote: The plans to build and sell a version of the Codling (yes, that was its reporting name) in America. Amazingly, this was not a project from the legendarily Kremlin-friendly Armand Hammer. But it could have been. The potential plants were located in the depressed locations of Youngstown and Niagara Falls. The engines and avionics would be replaced with western models. A memo in the White House of all places (pgs 22-26) details the lofty goals for the LC-3, as it was planned to be called.

Of course, the deal unsurprisingly fell through. But it’s still an interesting piece of aircraft history. As is, it was the first Soviet civilian aircraft to attract legitimate attention from western airlines. And the irony of an airplane designed by a communist state being used to ferry rich private-sector VIPs to their vacations in Aspen is too fun not to smile at.

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