With the La-5FN emerging as the dominant VVS fighter on the Eastern front development was now also taken up by the Central Aero Hydrodynamics Institute (TsAGI)whose work was followed closely by Lavochkin. After failed attempts to incorporate the more powerful but unreliable Ash-71 engine it was realised that future development lay along the route of the proven but now fully developed Ash-82FNV unit from which no more hp could be extracted.
TsAGI therefore concentrated on improving the aerodynamic aspects of the type. From 16th December 1943 to the 10th February 1944 the La-5FN "206" underwent evaluation.
The spinner shape was made shorter and the hucks starter dog removed.
The oil cooler was housed more aerodynamically and relocated on the fuselage behind the wings
Engine cowling was simplified and number of panels reduced.
A new main wheel door was added to reduce drag over the wheel well.
The exhaust cover plates were reduced in size.
The super charger inlet was rehoused under the engine.
Performance was seen to significantly improve over the present production La-5FN adding 50km/hour to its top speed.
Before testing was complete Lavochkin was also tasked with the development of a "1944 model" of the La-5FN.
Accounts differ as to the exact specification of the "1944 model" however the following is generally accepted.
The 1944 model prototype was completed for mid January 1944 and first test flown on the 2nd of February where it immediately surpassed the low level maximum speed of not only the current La5FN but also the FW 190 A5 (597km/h to the FW's 560km/h). On the 16th February the aircraft was given to the state for testing. These continued until the 20th when engine problems occurred and reopened on the 8th March until the 27th March (despite an incident on the 22nd March which revealed that some key fuselage parts were lacking essential glue!)
However the results were outstanding. Top speed at 6000 metres was 680km/hr and climb rates were again significantly improved. The aileron and elevator control was further improved over production La5FN models whereby one handed operation of the joystick was possible in all circumstances.
Many of the advances developed in the La-5FN 206 had been incorporated with the following changes.
The super charger intake had been split and relocated in the wing roots
3 Beresin UB 20 cannons were incorporated
The landing gear struts were made longer
A new VISH 105 B-4 (anti flap) propellor had been fitted with automatic variable pitch control.
The wing to fuselage fillet plates had been redesigned
The cockpit cover had been redesigned (incorporating a roll bar)and a small access window added to the rear cockpit area.
Engine cowling design was further refined and sealed hermetically
Series production was immediately ordered however inorder to sustain present out put levels (La-5FN )and properly tool for the new design a 3 month plan was incorporated to manage the change over at the Gorkii plant (which still had a large stock of La5 type wings)
The Moscow (GAZ 381)plant however went in to production of the new mark immediately. Now re named the La-7 Moscow had produced 5 more by the end of March and was wholly converted to La-7 production by the end of June. Gorkii's stock of La-5 wings meant that it continued La-5FN production up until the end of October 1944 albeit along side increasing La-7 production.
The model did not incorporate all of the developments of the 1944 model. The Beresin cannon were replaced with the ShVak units used to date on the La-5FN (but reintroduced on later 1945 models).Further some problems still persisted: not in the least was pilot discomfort due to cockpit over heating now made worse due to the elimination of the La-5FN's cockpit ventilation ducts and the hot oil pipes running under the floor. Additional ventilation ducts were later added to the wing roots to alleviate the problem.
Post production tests in June revealed a drop in performance due to production errors. Once these were solved a batch of 20 La-7's were included in "inservice trials"with the 63rd Guards Air Fighter Corps. During the trials they flew 462 combat sorties and shot down 55 enemy aircraft( 52 FW's & 3 109's) for 4 combat losses. Some engine failures were experienced and subsequently found to be due to dust intake through the now lower air intake. By October production was in full swing at both Gorkii and Moscow plants. The La-7 was proving the dominent aircraft of the eastern front. Out performing the latest FW190 A8 variant in all aspects of climb speed and manoeuverability.
By the end of hostilities on the Russian/German front over 3500 La-7 had been sent to front line guards units and over 5000 were eventually produced in total. Survivability and combat victories were the highest among those regiments flying the La-7. (Although it is also true to say that the La-7 was given to the best regiments).
Latterly the 3 Beresin cannon were added to the La-7 increasing fire power considerably, however only 368 of these fighters saw front line action.
In his initial choices of birch and pine Gorbunov had indeed allowed the mass production of fighter aircraft using material native to Russia. Aircraft when manufactured were done so with a life expectancy under combat conditions of months rather than years. The wood was not treated with any preservative and so its natural life was not long by "normal air craft" standards. In deed only 2 examples of the La mark survive today. (Both La-7's one at Prague Kbely museum the other at Moscow Monino Museum) In fact the frames were so vulnerable to fungicidal attack that when a squadron was sent to a subtropical climate (after the war) all planes were grounded and lost due to weakened structural members so attacked.
One post war incident does reflect the design considerations undertaken by Lavochkins engineers. The country to operate La-7's and La-5FN's longest was in fact Czechoslovakia who maintained them operationally until 1950(Russia dropping the mark by 1947). In 1946 they grounded all but 2 of the mark on the basis of structural degradation. An investigation was conducted to find that the air frame strength had been reduced by half. After initial alarm it was later discovered that Lavochkins engineers had allowed for this in their calculations and that the craft were still fully combat worthy!
The La-7 in Aces High II
The big brother of the La5, it is almost the same airplane with a modified engine and repositioned intakes. This turned something that was already a good plane into a excellent performer. There are some other key changes though, both good and bad. The firepower has been increased (you have a 2 or 3 gun option) with the 3 cannons weighing no more than the 2 guns on the La5 but have slightly less ammo per gun. Really, the increase in firepower more than makes up for the decrease in ammunition. The handing has also changed, it is not nearly as nimble as the La5 and has a far more vicious low speed stall. In terms of pure performance, there may not be anything better under 10K.
The major asset of the La7 is simply pure power, it really has nothing else going for it that stands out, but sometimes power is enough. The engine imparts a sea-level cruise speed of 358mph, which would put it in the top of class, but adding WEP brings this up to 380mph. This is outstanding, and is faster than every other non-perk aircraft in the game, though some planes like the Fw190D9 and Bf109K4 can give it a pretty good run for the money. Still, the majority of aircraft can't come close and are easily left behind. Acceleration and climb is equally staggering, with the La7 capable of over 4K/minute from sea-level, though this starts to tail off over 10K. WEP time is incredibly long, I don't know that I've ever really run a La7 out of WEP when flying it in a fight, likely this is because of fuel, which runs out very quickly. Fuel range is very poor with the duration at full throttle only being 28 minutes with no option for droptanks. I think this is about the shortest fuel supply of any aircraft in the game that can't take droptanks, and when you are using WEP like it's going out of style, you'll find your actual airborne duration is more like 18 minutes or less. Above 10K, the La7 quickly loses it's edge with a number of aircraft out-stripping it in terms of speed and climb rate, but that tends to suit the style of fight in Aces High anyway, where fights start out at medium altitudes and usually progress quickly down to the weeds.
Aces High II Performance Charts
One would think that the firepower on the La7 would be excellent when seeing it on paper. Really the choice is easy, a three 20mm with 150 rounds/gun, with a twin 20mm with 200 rounds/gun presented as an option though probably less than 1% of La7 sorties are flown with only 2 guns. Being cowl mounted the concentration of fire is excellent and anyone caught in the gunsight is likely in deep trouble before they can react. Cowl mounted weapons also don't suffer from convergence problems like widely wing mounted weapons, and it is possible to set the convergence out to D650. That in mind, now comes the really bad news, the ballistics of the Soviet cannons are awful, beyond ugly, and set a new level of aiming difficulty on targets out past D300. While the convergence might be effective at D650 it is almost pointless to set it out that far because the real range that you can expect to land aimed hits at is more like half that distance. Shooting at ranges outside of around D350 is simply spraying hoping for lucky hits, and you likely don't have all that much ammunition to waste with only 150 rounds/gun. A lot of people have troubles adapting when they've been used to flying something with hispanos, or US .50's, and falsely believe that shooting in the La7 is just as easy, while it certainly is not. This also leads to new players have troubles hitting anything in the La7, since they don't have the techniques mastered to get in close and land fatal hits in very short periods of time. This often leads new La7 pilots to resort to Head-On shots at suicidal close ranges. Good La7 pilots though can get in close and deliver crippling fire quickly, leading to the belief that the La7 has better guns than it actually does.
The La7 might be considered a nimble plane, though I wouldn't really class it anywhere near a turn-fighter. At high speeds, it probably turns with just about anything in the game, though really all high speed turns are limited to the blackout limit at 5G anyway. While only a little better than average in the turning game at mid-low speeds, in the process of turning, it really gets away from it's main strength, speed. Low speed turning is dangerous since the La7 has a nasty stall behaviour, quickly and easily stalling only one wing and snap-rolling the plane downwards (maybe into the ground). You really don't need to push the La7 very far into unfriendly manuevers to realize how short tempered it can be when flown outside it's limits. High speed handling is excellent, even at extreme speeds, and I've never had an La7 come apart on me under structural loading that would have sent many other planes to the scrap-yard in pieces. One last point, the La7 really glides well, just like a P-51, so engine damage/failure should involve a climbing process with the plan to glide back to safety (reducing engine RPMs the La7 seems to glide forever).
Fighting in the La-7
The icon "La7" is bound to draw a lot of attention so you will likely find yourself a rather hunted individual. Many MA opponents know that the La7 is the greatest threat to them if they are forced to try and escape low so will attempt to remove all La7s quickly while they have advantage. The P-51, in particular, will want to eliminate you so that it can dominate in the high speed fight without having to worry about low La7's causing them problems as the fight altitude deteriorates. The P-51 is an excellent matchup for the La7 and is an extremely dangerous opponent to encounter, but the balance favors the La7 as the fight get lower, which is the natural progression for most fights.
The key in the La7 is to use your speed to your advantage for both offense and defense, never slow down and learn to react to everything happening very quickly. Staying really fast typically helps keep anyone off your tail, or at least makes their job getting there a whole lot more difficult, plus likely extending the time you have to notice. You really need to have some experience and anticipation to properly fly the La7, with such inaccurate guns you need to get in close where aiming is not an issue. Your firing opportunities are likely to be brief, but if you are good, they will be very bloody for the enemy. I've cut many a Spitfire to ribbons in one pass with a 1/4 second firing because I anticipated his break turn, and then met him at short range when he was presenting a full plane view while turning. Slashing attacks are great, appearing quickly, taking a couple of shots while passing through a pile of bad-guys, and then racing out the other side to safety, or reversing to make another pass.
Defensively, you should be able to out-run anything you can't out-turn as long as you detect it early enough so you can build up seperation and maximize your speed. Try and not get cornered where you must turn and slow, that is almost certain death for any number of Spitfires who will dive 15K or more to get enough speed to catch you. You only need to break clear from an enemy with superior E, but vastly inferior natural top speed, once, and then you should be able to motor away. Against someone with similar high speed at your altitude, you should still likely be faster if only by a bit. You may also have a turn-rate advantage as many of the fastest aircraft (190D9, 109K4) that are not known to be considered even average turners (significantly towards the bottom of the pile overall). Don't worry about having to dive away, that's fine, playing to your advantage as long as you can find a direction to run while low that won't lead you to more high enemies.
Head-Ons are not really recommended, although it is a typical of the La7 but only because many people who fly it haven't yet developed the techniques to employ other tactics properly. The views and stall of the La7 also make it feel uncomfortable, since they are restrictive to people how have been used to the carefree handling and sight from such planes as the Spitfire and P-51D.
Fighting against the La-7
When attacking the La7, you should try and take away it's one advantage, speed. You want to corner it, slow it down, and then pin it there while you take your shot. Typically this is done by starting a dive to catch the La7 and force him to react. The La7 is a fairly nimble plane with poor visibility, difficult handling, and ineffective long range firepower. The Typhoon, 190D9, 109K4, and P-51's can all force this style of fight and really cause an La7 problems. Still, a smart La7 pilot will try and draw out your energy reserve and then turn the tables, chasing you down with superior speed at sea level.
To attack the La7 from above is not very difficult since they always tend to be operating at very low levels and making slashing attacks. Position yourself above it and wait for it to reverse or turn, then dive in and make your move. Fire at long range and try to get hits whenever possible. The La7 is a tough aircraft but has a number of rather fragile components that seem to take damage easily. Fuel, the tail, and the engine all see to be a little more fragile than average while the actual wings and body seem quite tough. A wounded La7 is likely to try and run for home which may deny you a kill, but it will also take him away from the fight. One point of warning, be careful of smoking La7's, be it radiator, fuel, or oil leaks. La7's can sometimes trail smoke while actually having no leak. It usually seems to happen with the loss of the rudder or tail-wheel for some reason.
Defense of the La7 starts with good situational awareness. The sooner you can detect an La7 in the area, the sooner you can plan what your best course of defense may be. With slashing attacks, most La7 pilots can't hit an aircraft that performs even a basic type of break turn when the closing rate is very high, the key is timing it to be unexpected and too late for the La7 to compensate. The faster the closure, the shorter the time for the La7 to adjust and the sooner you may need to start your defense. In a BnZ style attack, the La7 can corral you and slowly work you out of energy, pushing the fight lower and lower and playing right into his game. Try and break way early, building up speed and then forcing the La7 to either overshoot (giving you a snapshot opportunity), or have him end up out of phase with you and heading the wrong direction (often using speed to induce a level of blackout or tunnel vision that may allow you to slip out of his view while you change heading). The speed margin on some aircraft compared to the La7 is such that a break of as little as D1.5 may be enough to guarantee a long pursuit which the La7 may not be willing to risk. If the La7 seems willing to enter a turn-fight and you are in a superior turning aircraft with no other enemies nearby, then oblige. Eventually the La7 will likely find he is being out-angled and decide to run for it. He won't likely be gone long, and you likely have no real avenue for pursuit, so expect him to come back as soon as you break off the chase, or when he builds up sufficient energy/speed/altitude that he feels he can come back and finish the job. Usually, rather than a pursuit, I would instead look for cover, using the time he runs to replace lost energy while finding a spot that discourages the La7 from returning.
One last point, the La7 has a really trouble with overshoots both because it packs on speed easily, and because it can't have the controls wrestled around when in close because it can stall violently. Most La7 drivers easily overshoot, so rolling scissors and other maneuers may cause an La7 to blow clean by you. You must be careful to not allow the La7 a shot as he passes though since he can take you down so quickly from in close, so make the maneuvers violent and unpredictable. Once he overshoots, you may or may not have a shot opportunity in return, though he is unlikely to stay in range for long.
Soda's Aircraft Evaluations