Irbitis VEF I-16

By Jim Schubert


Karlis Irbitis designed the I-16 in mid to late 1938 for Valsts Elekrtotechniska Fabrika (State Electro-Technical Factory) in Riga as an inexpensive, lightweight fighter for the Latvian Air Force. Due to problems with procurement of the engine from Czechoslovakia and of Kollsman instruments from the USA the first flight did not occur until the spring of 1940. This flight, from Riga’s Kalnciems Aerodrome, lasted only a few minutes when the engine quit due to inadequate fuel feed. Test pilot Konstantins Reichmanis made a safe dead-stick landing without damaging the plane. Only a couple of more flights were made before the project was shut down and placed in storage by the Soviet occupation of Latvia. The I-16 was left dormant during the Soviet presence and was not revived until the Germans replaced the Soviets as occupiers of Latvia. Development of the I-16 proceeded slowly under German oversight with the plane being flown only a few more times before being abandoned by the Germans as being of no value to them. The ultimate fate of the I-16 is not recorded but it was probably scrapped.

The airplane was of, primarily, wooden construction and was covered, save for the nose and control surfaces, with plywood. A Czechoslovakian, license-built Walter Sagitta 1 SR, air-cooled, supercharged, V-12 engine of 460 hp provided power. Armament was two 7.7mm Browning machine guns mounted in the top deck of the fuselage to fire through the propeller. Provisions were made for two more such weapons, one under each wing.

Wingspan: 27’ (8.23 m)
Length: 23’ 11” (7.3 m)
MTOGW: 3,410 lb (1,550 kg)
Max. Speed: 301 mph (483 km/h)
Range: 503 mi (805 km)

The Kit

The kit is bagged, as are most CMR kits. The resealable polyvinyl bag contains:

A cover sheet with “box art” shown here.

Two A-4 size sheets of instructions. These give you a typically neat and clean CMR exploded, isometric drawing graphically showing assembly of the parts. Also shown are the three sets of markings covered by the decals – Latvian, Soviet and German. Only the first of the three references cited below mentions the plane in Soviet markings, whilst the second specifically says it never wore red stars and the third is silent on the subject. I suggest you forget the red stars. CMR give no advice regarding the color of the airplane other than the CGI color rendering on the cover sheet showing it in a medium neutral gray. The Latvian aviation web site, referenced below, notes that records indicate the airplane was painted “bronze aluminum”. Just fooling around, I got a nice looking color by mixing Testors Model Master Jet Exhaust enamel with Floquil Old Silver and Flat White lacquer – proportions are up to you; mess with it till it looks good but keep it light.

A very nice decal sheet with everything in perfect register. The VEF logos are, however, missing. I’ve illustrated the logo and its placement here for your convenience. This is such a plain little airplane that we need all the decoration we can get.

21 parts cast in pale cream, rather brittle, resin. The two small scoops atop the engine cowling are too small when compared with photos; this is easily corrected.

The propeller-cum-spinner needs some work to properly represent the wooden, German-made Schwarz propeller fitted by VEF. The prominent Schwarz logos are included on the decal sheet. The propeller is, appropriately, painted black. Photos show the tips to be a contrasting color – probably yellow.

Cockpit detail is a bit sparse so Imagineering and installing some more detail would be a good idea.

I believe, judging from photos, the cooling air intake in the cowl bowl should be much larger than it is, as cast by CMR; it should be wider and wrap under the bottom of the cowl a bit. Study the photos on the Latvian aviation web site to see what I mean. If you are afflicted with AMS, you’ll want to do something to indicate the air-cooled V-12 behind that big hole.

The balance of the parts look good as is.

Two clear, vac-formed canopies. When painting the model don’t forget the seam on the top centerline of the canopy where the halves of the original were glued together.


It’s a pretty airplane but I wonder about the market viability of a kit of an obscure, short lived, one-off prototype. Whatever CMR’s business thinking was behind their choice of subject, it has been well executed and looks like an easy build, right out of the bag, for the average modeler.

Many thanks to CMR for providing the review sample.


  • Air International, Vol. 24, No. 4, April 1983; Fighters A to Z Description and three view.

  • Description and 12 B & W photos & two color profiles.

  • Brief description and one color profile.


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