On October 21, 1966, the first Yakovlev Yak-40 prototype made its maiden flight. The regional trijet – designed and manufactured by Yakovlev – was the first of over 1,000 built over the span of 15 years. This aircraft type made history as the first Soviet-built airliner that was designed to Western airworthiness requirements.
Born in the Soviet Union
Photo: Getty Images
The Yakovlev Design Bureau was established by aeronautical engineer and designer, Alexander Sergeyevich Yakovlev in the 1930s, during the reign of the Soviet Union. Early aircraft types included trainer monoplanes and biplanes.
Over the years, the manufacturer has added a long list of bombers, trainers, airliners, helicopters, reconnaissance, utility, and experimental aircraft to its portfolio – most notably, its famed line of World War II piston-engine fighter aircraft.
In with the new
Photo: Getty Images
By the early 1960s, the Soviet state-owned airline, Aeroflot, was operating international and domestic trunk routes using jet- and turboprop-powered airliners. Its local services, however, were still being served by dated piston-engine planes.
To replace the aging aircraft, Aeroflot assigned Yakovlev to design and build a turbine-powered airliner. While high speed was not needed, the aircraft had to be able to operate safely and reliably in under-equipped airports. This was because many of Aeroflot’s local services operated out of grass airfields with short, unpaved runways.
A short-range regional airliner
After studying various designs to meet the carrier’s specifications, Yakovlev settled on a straight-winged triple-engine jet that could carry up to 32 passengers in a four-abreast configuration. The wings were designed to be unswept low wings, fitted with large trailing-edge slotted flaps – to give the aircraft the required short-field take-off and landing performance.
The Yak-40 officially entered into passenger service for Aeroflot on September 30, 1968. The aircraft was upgraded several times to allow for a longer range, and in 1975, the last upgrade saw one less cabin window on the right side. The aircraft type was in production until November 1981.
By then, the aircraft type had proven to be a hit, with the success of Aeroflot’s local operations riding on Yak-40 – flying to 276 domestic destinations. At the height of its popularity, the Yak-40 became the first Soviet aircraft to receive certification from Italy and West Germany, and was demonstrated in 75 countries.
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130 units of Yak-40 were exported to Afghanistan, Angola, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Italy, Laos, Madagascar, Philippines, Poland, Syria, Vietnam, Yugoslavia and Zambia.
While its popularity survived several decades, the Yak-40 was involved in over 120 accidents between 1970 and 2018, several of which killed all on board.
The end of an era
Just like it replaced obsolete piston-engine planes, newer, more efficient aircraft began to replace the Yak-40. By the late-2010s, only 22 of the 1,011 Yak-40 aircraft remained in use by civil operators. Out of these, less than ten are used for scheduled passenger service – most have been reconfigured for VIP-charter uses.
The Yak-40 is also being used by military operators, though only around 17 remain in service.