Russian Li-2


To relieve the pressure on the factory, Douglas sold the licenses to manufacture the DC-3 to three countries; Holland, Japan, and Russia. A royalty paid to Douglas for each aircraft manufactured was part of the license agreement. Tony Fokker never manufactured any DC-3s for Holland, but he distributed 63 before the war in Europe ended his operation. Fokker died of pneumonia complicated by meningitis a week before Germany invaded Holland.


In 1935, the State Commission of the USSR under the guidance of aircraft designer A.N. Tupolev purchased in the U.S. the Douglas DC-2 aircraft. After extensive testing, it was decided to purchase a license for its production back in the USSR.


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A Russian Li-2 flying over the snow covered Russian terrain. (FLARF)

In the summer of 1935 a special commission from the USSR arrived at the Douglas Aircraft Corp plant and after much discussion and evaluation chose the more advanced Douglas DC-3 aircraft.

On July 17, 1935 an agreement was signed with Douglas in the amount in excess of 350,000 rubles to license the DC-2. The contract stated that the USSR was not only buying a license to build the aircraft, but Soviet engineers would be trained As part of this agreement, in 1937-1938 the USSR purchased 21 DC-3s.

The Russians imported 21 prewar DC-3s and two unassembled airframes. Initially the Russians designated their home-built DC-3s, PS-84 (Passazhirskii Samolet -Plant 84 {near Moscow}). In early November 1938, the first aircraft rolled off the assembly line from imported U.S. parts. From September to December 1939, the aircraft passed Government tests and was recommended for release to flight. The aircraft was designated the PS-84.

On September 17, 1942, the Soviets renamed them “Li-2s,” after Boris P. Lisunov, the aeronautical engineer who supervised production (Lisunov had spent almost two years in the United States, in Santa Monica, studying DC-3 production methods). The Russians built at least 3,500 DC-3s and according to Douglas records, a Russian official of the old Soviet Union said they built as many as 7,500. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union there have been unsubstantiated and no doubt exaggerated reports that Russia built as many as 20,000 Li-2s. Russia has never paid Douglas a cent in license fees.

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Li-2-315 (Pierre-Alain Petit via Grady Cates

The PS-84 used the 900 hp Shvetsov M-62 engine (developed from the licensed Wright SGR-1820F which powered the DC-2) and the engine configuration gave the nacelles a narrower chord. Even after they upgraded the engines to 1200 hp ASH-62, the nacelle shape remained close to the first models.
Besides receiving civilian DC-3s the Russians also received 707 Lend Lease C-47s. After the war, the survivors went to Aeroflot, the Russian state-owned airline, and other Communist bloc countries, and were in service up through the 1970s. American ferry crews, either from the Air Transport Command or by contracted airline pilots, delivered most of the Russian Lend Lease C-47s to Fairbanks, Alaska. The Russian pilots took over from there and delivered the ships to Russia.

Between the Lend Lease and Russian production, the numbers were so large that the survivors remained in service with some being observed in China, and with Aeroflot in the remote parts of Russia as late as 1980.


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This photo of Li-2 FLARF gives some detail of the metal engine covers. (Court Munk, 1994)

Holland’s KLM Airline was the principal purchaser of the DC-3s, buying a total of 25. Sweden, Swissair, Czechoslovakia (CSA), France, Poland, Hungary, Australia (ANA), Sabena, and Romania (LARES) purchased the rest.

©Copyright Henry M. Holden 1996, 2013


For the complete story on the Douglas DC-3 see “Legacy of the DC-3”

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