The IAR 80 was a Romanian fighter/ground attack aircraft developed during the Second World War. The aircraft had a low-wing monoplane, all-metal monocoque that was comparable to other contemporary designs such as Hawker Hurricane and Bf 109E.
Its first flight took place in 1939 but it went into service in 1941 due to production problems and lack of available armament. IAR came from Industria Aeronautica Romana, which could be translated as Aeronautical Romanian Industry, which had its headquarters in Brasov and was opened in 1925. In the 1930s Romanian Government issued specifications for a new fighter but they were not anticipating bids from its own aircraft industry, IAR produced several prototypes in response to the tender. The Polish PZL won several contracts, but IAR made some aircraft under PZL license and produced some engines.
Various components of the cockpit such as interiors, instruments, and gunsight were sourced from foreign suppliers to create a frontline fighter. This decision was made due to the last-minute requirements for the aircraft.
A Luftwaffe major who tested it in March 1941 had this to say about the IAR 80:
“Takeoff and landing are very good. It’s 20–30 km/h slower than the Bf 109E. The climb to 5,000 meters is equivalent. In a dogfight, the turns are also equivalent, although the long nose reduces the visibility. In a dive it’s outclassed by the Bf 109E, because it lacks an automated propeller pitch regulator. It’s a fighter adequate to modern needs.”
The IAR was fitted with an IAR K14-III C32 engine which was a licensed Gnome-Rhône 14K II Mistral Major with 870hp. The aircraft could reach 510 km/h (320 mph) at 4,000 m (13,000 ft), a service ceiling of 11,000 m (36,000 ft) with the ability to climb to 5,000 m (16,000 ft) in 6 minutes. The next prototype had a better engine with 930 hp and a slightly higher seat for the pilot because the sit was too low to taxi in good conditions initially.
The fuselage was circular in cross-section, turning to egg-shaped behind the cockpit where it incorporated a ridge-back. The general fuselage layout was based on the Polish PZL P.24. The fuselage from the engine back to the cockpit was new, consisting of a welded steel tube frame covered with duralumin sheeting
The wings were tapered with rounded tips, the trailing edge angled very slightly forwards. Small flaps ran from the fuselage to a point about 1/3 along the span, where the ailerons started and extended out to the rounded wingtips. A bubble canopy was fitted, sliding to the rear to open, providing excellent visibility except over the nose due to its rearward position. A conventional tailwheel landing gear was used, with the main gear wide-set and retracting inward, with a non-retractable tail skid.
Armed with a formidable array of weaponry, including four 7.92 mm FN Browning machine guns and two 20 mm MG FF cannons, the aircraft could hold its own against adversaries in aerial combat.
As World War II engulfed Europe, Romania found itself drawn into the conflict. The IAR 80, serving as the backbone of the Romanian Air Force, faced a baptism of fire. It made its combat debut during Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, in 1941. In several air battles, the IAR 80 demonstrated its prowess, taking down Soviet and Allied aircraft alike.
However, as the war progressed and more advanced enemy planes entered the fray, the limitations of the IAR 80 became apparent. Despite its formidable design, the aircraft’s engine lacked the horsepower to compete with the latest fighter planes of the era. This prompted the development of an improved version, the IAR 81, which incorporated various enhancements, including an uprated engine, increased firepower, and better armor.
The IAR 80’s shining moment came during the summer of 1944, during the Jassy-Kishinev Offensive. Romanian pilots flying IAR 80s achieved a series of impressive victories against the Soviet Air Force, further cementing their reputation as skilled aviators. However, the war was not kind to Romania, and by the end of the conflict, the country had been occupied by the Soviets, effectively halting further development of the IAR series. Moreover, in the 50s all remaining aircraft were destroyed, and the Soviets made aircraft replace them. No original aircraft exists today but there are some mock-ups in Bucharest Aviation Museum.
Between 1941 and 1944, Romanian aircraft won 2,000 air victories. The most famous flying aces were Captain Prince Constantin Cantacuzino, who gained 69 certified victories, Captain Alexandru Șerbănescu, who shot down 60 enemy airplanes, and Captain Horia Agarici.
Despite its relatively short-lived prominence, the IAR 80 holds a significant place in Romanian aviation history. It symbolizes the determination of a nation to develop its own cutting-edge aircraft during tumultuous times. Nowadays there are a few ambitious people who want to bring this historic aircraft back to life, but the mission is a challenging one due to the complexity of the project and given the fact that modern requirements should be accounted for when building a replica. Despite the challenges, they took archived drawings and tried to 3D model this aircraft, and, in the end, we might see this old fighter in the sky again.