The IAR 80 was a Romanian World War II low-wing, monoplane, all-metal monocoque fighter and ground-attack aircraft. When it first flew, in 1939, it was comparable to contemporary designs such as the German Messerschmitt Bf 109E, the British Hawker Hurricane Mk.I, and the American Curtiss P-40B/Tomahawk Mk.I and superior to the Dutch Fokker D.XXI and Polish PZL P.24. However, production problems and lack of available armament delayed entry of the IAR 80 into service until 1941. It remained in front-line use until 1944.<ref name="Neulen p. 114.">Neulen 2000, p. 114.</ref>
In order to ensure that the Royal Romanian Air Force or (ARR) could continue to be supplied with aircraft in time of war, the government subsidized the creation of three major aircraft manufacturers in the 1920s and 1930s. The first was Societatea pentru Exploatări Tehnice (SET) which was formed in Bucharest in 1923. Next came Industria Aeronautică Română (IAR) which set up shop in Braşov in 1925. Finally there was Intreprinderea de Construcţii Aeronautice Romaneşti (ICAR), which was founded in Bucharest in 1932.
In 1930 the Romanian government issued specifications for a new fighter. Although the government did not expect bids from its own aircraft industry, IAR produced several prototype fighters in response to the tender. None of the other Romanian companies entered a bid, and as the industry was rife with corruption, the government nationalized IAR while the other two companies were left to their own devices.
The fighter contract was eventually won by the Polish PZL P.11, which at the time was considered to be the best fighter in the world. The FARR purchased 50 of a modified version called the P.11b, all of which were delivered in 1934. A second contest was also fought between the newer IAR.24 and PZL P.24 designs, and once again the newer PZL design won a contract for another 50 aircraft.
Although IAR's own designs had not entered production, they nevertheless won the contracts to build many of the airframes under license, as well as providing the engines, licensed versions of the famous Gnome-Rhone 14K. Other licensed contracts included the Potez 25, the Morane-Saulnier 35, and the Fleet 10-G. As a result the company had enough money to fund a design shop even if its designs never saw production.
Despite the constant race with PZL, an IAR design team led by Dr. Ion Grosu continued work on fighter designs. He was convinced that the low wing design pioneered on the IAR.24 represented a much better design than the PZL gull-wing design, which was often referred to as the "Polish wing". Once again the team studied the new PZL fighter looking to incorporate its best features into a new plane, and the result was the IAR.80.
- Description: Low wing monoplane fighter with conventional control surface layout.
- Fuselage: The fuselage is circular in cross section, turning to egg shaped behind the cockpit where it incorporates a ridge-back. The general fuselage layout bears a certain resemblance to the F4U, but was based on the Polish PZL P.24.
- Wings: The wings are rectangular, the trailing edge tapers very slightly towards the front. Small flaps run from the fuselage to a point about 1/3 along the span, where oversized ailerons start and run out to the rounded caps on the wingtips.
- Other details: The canopy was of the bubble type, sliding to the rear to open, a quite modern design at the time. The cockpit is relatively far to the rear, over 1/2 of the way back from the nose. Tail-dragger landing gear were used, with the main gear wide-set and retracting inward, and the tail "gear" being a simple skid that did not retract.
The design was a true mix of features. The tail section was inspired directly from the P.24, and was of semi-monocoque construction. 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 mounted just behind the engine, and were of the same design as those used on the early IAR.24, which had competed with the P.24.
According to one source, the wing profile was taken directly from the Italian Savoia Marchetti bomber, in service with the ARR at the time, as the design team did not have the time to complete wing design studies. As a result, the profile was less favorable for higher speeds, but gave the aircraft more maneuverability.
The cockpit's interior, instruments, and gunsight were almost entirely imported from foreign suppliers. This effort to aggregate a fighter from various sources was, again, a result of the authorities' indifference during the pre-war years and the last-minute demand to IAR to produce a front-line fighter.
The aircraft was considerably more modern than the Polish designs, and the team finally had a design that could beat PZL's best.
Considered one of the best fighters in 1939, a report of the Luftwaffe major that tested it in March 1941 said:
"Take off 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."<ref name="ww2">"IAR 80/81." worldwar2.ro. Retrieved: 16 June 2010.</ref>
Work began on the IAR.80 prototype in late 1937, originally with an open cockpit and the 870 hp (649 kW) IAR K14-III C32 engine which was a licensed Gnome-Rhône 14K II Mistral Major. The prototype was completed slowly, and first took to the air in April 1939. Test flights of the prototype were impressive; the aircraft could reach 510 km/h at 4,000 m (317 mph at 13,000 ft), service ceiling of 11,000 m (36,000 ft) with the ability to climb to 5,000 m (16,400 ft) in 6 minutes <ref name="Neulen p. 90.">Neulen 2000, p. 90.</ref> which was respectable at the time, though not up to the contemporary Supermarine Spitfire or Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters. In comparison the P.24E was almost 450 kg lighter, yet over 80 km/h slower even though it used the same engine. The IAR.80 also proved to be a delight to fly and highly maneuverable.
A number of minor problems turned up during the prototype phase, and were dealt with over the next year. To improve power the design was updated to mount the newer 930 hp (690 kW) C36 version of the K14-III. However this engine was slightly heavier than the C32, which required the fuselage to be stretched to move the center of gravity back into the proper position in relation to the wing. The extra space in the fuselage was put to good use by increasing the size of the fuel tanks to 455 l (100 imp gallons). The wing was also enlarged and the tail was revised to eliminate the bracing struts.
Since the space was inserted behind the engine, the cockpit ended up further back on the aircraft. A side effect of this extreme rearward position was that the pilot had even worse forward visibility while taxiing than most other taildraggers. To address this somewhat, the pilot's seat was raised slightly and a bubble-style canopy was added.
The updated prototype was tested competitively against the Heinkel He 112, which had just arrived in Romania as the start of a potentially large order. Although the He 112 was somewhat more modern and much more heavily armed with two machine guns and two 20 mm cannon, the IAR.80 with its considerably more powerful engine completely outclassed it in all other respects. The ARR was impressed and ordered 100 of the new fighters on 18 December 1939. Orders for additional He 112s beyond the original 30 were cancelled. The government in Bucharest ordered another 100 IAR 80s in August 1940. Further orders for batches of 50 IAR 80s followed on 5 September 1941 and 11 April 1942, then another 100 on 28 May 1942, to be followed by 35 of the IAR 81C development in February 1943, with a further 15 in January 1944.<ref name="Neulen p. 90."/>
Production of the IAR.80 was to start immediately, although the armament proved to be a serious problem. The prototype had mounted only two Belgian-made Fabrique Nationale 7.92 mm machine guns, a licensed modification of the Browning 30 cal. This armament suite was clearly not heavy enough for combat use, and the production model was supposed to mount six of these guns. The German invasion of Belgium and the Low Countries in 1940 ended the supply of the FN guns, and there was no indigenous machine gun that was suitable for use in aircraft. Lacking armament, production was put on hold.
It wasn't until November 1940 when Romania joined the Axis that the Germans eventually allowed the delivery of the guns to resume. As a result the first production IAR.80 didn't roll off the line until January 1941, although the first batch of 20 had been quickly delivered by the middle of February.<ref>"IAR 80 & 81." century-of-flight.net, 2003. Retrieved: 16 June 2010.</ref> The new armament supply still wasn't enough to fully equip the aircraft, so the production models only carried four guns. The production models also included new oxygen gear.
The initial batch of fighters was well received by the Romanian pilots, but they considered the aircraft underpowered and lacking firepower. In order to address the power issue the aircraft mounted the 960 hp (716 kW) K14-IV C32 engine in the 21st through 50th examples, but there was little they could do about the firepower issue at the time.
In April 1941 the Romanians were firmly in the German sphere, and as a result the Germans released more of the FN guns for their use. These were quickly incorporated into the design, and the resulting 80A model finally mounted the original design complement of six guns. The design also added armored glass to the windscreen, armor to the seat-back, and a new gun sight.
They also took this opportunity to mount the newer 1,025 hp (764 kW)K14-1000A engine. The extra engine power proved to be more than the fuselage structure was designed to handle, and it had to be reinforced with a duralumin "belt" just behind the cockpit in the first 95 A series aircraft built before the fuselage could be modified.
Although the IAR.80A had a more powerful engine, the added weight of the guns, ammunition and armor plating actually reduced the top speed slightly to 316 mph (509 km/h). Nevertheless the new model was clearly an advancement, and the A model replaced the earlier one on the assembly line starting with the 51st airframe. Eight of these had been completed in time for the invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.
Even the release of more of the FN guns couldn't make up the entire needed supply, so throughout late 1941 and early 1942, guns from the PZLs and some observation aircraft were stripped and used in the IARs.
Combat over the Soviet Union proved that even six of the FN guns still lacked punch, and once again the design was modified to increase the firepower. In this case 13.2 mm FN machine guns in use in Romanian SM.79s were stripped from those aircraft and added to the IAR.80 in a new lengthened wing. The result was the IAR.80B, which also introduced new radio gear, an area where the aircraft had previously been weak.
A total of 50 of the new design were completed, including 20 airframes which were originally intended to be IAR.81As. These last 20 were thus able to carry a 50 kg (110 lb) bomb or a 100L (22 imp (26.4US) gallon) drop tank under each wing. The entire series were delivered between June and September 1942.
The ARR had been intending to replace its light strike and dive bomber aircraft for some time when the war opened in 1941. The first role was to be filled by the IAR 37 (and later 38 and 39 models) but the plan was to fill the second role with the Junkers Ju 87. Once again the Germans deferred and the ARR was left searching for a design. The modification of the existing IAR.80 as a dive bomber was seen as a reasonable response, easier than designing an entirely new aircraft; as well as having all of the obvious production benefits.
The IAR.81 was developed as a result. The design was a rather modest change to the IAR.80A models that were then in production, adding a hinging bomb cradle under the centerline to throw a 225 kg (500 lb) bomb clear of the propeller (many dive bombers used a similar system). Delivery consisted of a shallow dive from about 3,000 to 1,000 m (10,000 to 3,000 ft) with the speed around 470 km/h (290 mph). Pilots did not like the aircraft, as the drag from the bomb cradle was enough to seriously hamper performance.
Fifty of the design were ordered in the middle of 1941. After the first 40 were delivered, a further modification was added to the design to mount a 50 kg (110 lb) bomb in racks under each wing. The wing racks could also mount 100L drop tanks, allowing the 81 to be used in the long-range fighter role.
As the fighter model was converting from the A to B series with the addition of the 13.2 mm guns, likewise the 81 model was upgraded in the same fashion, creating the IAR.81A. By this point the only distinguishing feature between the 80B and the 81A was the 81's centerline bomb rack, and both designs were being built on a common assembly line.
The first order for 81As was cancelled and the airframes were instead delivered to fighter units as 80Bs. Efforts to obtain the Ju 87 continued to drag on, so a second batch of IAR.81As was ordered much later in May 1943 to replace losses. Once again fate intervened, and the Germans released the Ju 87 for delivery before the batch could be completed. Like the first batch, these 10 airframes were again stripped of the centerline bomb rack and delivered as fighters.
The supply of the 13.2 mm guns was clearly limited, and in a further attempt to increase the firepower of the design the Romanians signed a deal with Ikaria in Germany for a supply of 20 mm MG FF/M cannons. These were in turn a licensed version of the famous Swiss Oerlikon FF, which had been in use in various German aircraft with a thin-walled shell with extra explosive. The new gun also required a redesign of the wing, a problem that should have been fixed with a more flexible mounting during the 80B project.
The resulting 60 IAR.81B models were originally intended to be dive bombers, but were delivered as fighters without the centerline bomb rack instead. After the first 10 were completed, self-sealing tanks were added along with improved seat-back armor. The first 10 were delivered in December 1942 and the entire order was completed by April 1943.
The final stage in the IAR.80's wartime history was the 81C. This version changed the guns once again, this time to the Mauser MG 151/20 which was replacing the MG FF/M in German service and had just been released for Romanian use. The order for the 81C was placed in May 1942, predating the second order of the 81As.
The first order for 100 airframes was delivered, like all of the prior updates to the 81 series, with the centerline bomb rack removed to be used as fighters. An additional order for 35 was placed in February 1943, and then another 15 in January 1944. These aircraft were primarily to replace losses in earlier models, while production of the Bf 109G ramped up.
By 1944 the ARR fighter units included examples of 80A, B and C models, as well as 81A, B and Cs. In order to up-gun the earlier fighters as well as simplify logistics and maintenance, an upgrade program was started in mid-1944 to bring all existing airframes to the 81C armament suite of two MG 151/20s and four FN 7.92s. The resulting A and B models of the 80 and 81s would become the 80M and 81M respectively, although at this point there were no dive bombers in use so the difference in naming is interesting. It is unclear how many of these conversions were completed.
Various IAR.80s soldiered on in Romanian service until 1949, when they were replaced by La-9s and Il-10s. At that time the airframes with the lowest hours were modified by removing one of the fuel tanks in front of the cockpit and inserting another seat, resulting in a training aircraft called the IAR.80DC. These were used for only a short time before being replaced by Yak-11s and Yak-18s Soviet aircraft in late 1952.
IAR realized that the Mistral Major was at the limits of its development potential even by the middle of 1941, when the 1000A model reached the same ultimate output as the original Gnome-Rhône versions. An ongoing program to fit the IAR.80 with a more powerful engine had been in the works for most of the design's lifetime, but this proved to be a fruitless endeavor.
The most obvious choice for a new engine would be the BMW 801 used in the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. This engine produced a full 600 hp (447 kW) more power, and although it was heavier, it was of roughly the same size as the K14. IAR engineers estimated that a BMW powered IAR.80 would have a maximum speed of at least 600 km/h (373 mph). But, as always, the Germans were unable to supply the engine as every example coming off the line was needed for installation in a German airframe. Licensed production was likewise out of the question, the engine production was in the midst of being ramped and the demand was so great that not even one set of jigs could be spared.
Another attempt was made to fit the Junkers Jumo 211 to the airframe, although this engine was also in high demand in Germany. However in this case the SM.79JRs in FARR service already used the engine, so some were available for testing. One 1,220 hp (910 kW) 211Da was obtained, complete with cowling and ring radiator from an SM.79 and fitted to an IAR.80 in 1942. The concept was abandoned after the first test flight however, when the in-flight vibrations proved to be so bad that the engine was idled and the aircraft landed, never to be flown again.
After World War II, the Russians shipped home the entire I.A.R. factory and all aircraft from Braşov, as "war reparations".<ref name="story">The I.A.R.80 Story</ref>
After the Soviet occupation of Romania, within five years all remaining IAR 80s were scrapped and replaced with Soviet fighters. None of them is known to survive. An IAR 80 post war rebuilt after the fall of Communism and painted in its 1941–1944 original colors was shown at the Mihail Kogălniceanu airshow, near Constanţa. An IAR 80 can be found at the National Military Museum in Bucharest, which is a rebuild from IAR 80DC two-seat trainer parts.
When Operation Barbarossa started, the IAR 80 equipped Esc. 41, 59 and 60 of Grupul 8 Vânátoare, part of the Grupul Aerian de Lupta (GAL), that were tasked to support the Romanian 3rd and 4th Armies deployed at the southern flank of the Eastern Front.<ref name="Neulen pp. 95–96.">Neulen 2000, pp. 95–96.</ref> Grupul 8 was the only unit assigned a pure fighter role, while Grupul 5 and Grupul 7, equipped with German superior aircraft (Heinkel He 112s and Messerschmitt Bf 109s) were employed primarily as fighter-bombers and bomber escorts.<ref name="Bernád p. 12.">Bernád 2003, p. 12.</ref>
On 22 June 1941, during the first day of the offensive, the IAR 80 patrols had their baptism of fire, achieving a single aerial victory (claimed by Sublocotenent aviator Ioan Miháilescu of Esc 60 van, a future ace) during four separate air combats. However, at least four IARs force landed with battle damage, while another two suffered engine trouble.<ref name="Bernád p. 14.">Bernád 2003, p. 14.</ref> By the end of 1941, 20 IAR 80/81s had been lost in combat in accidents.<ref name="Bernád p. 23.">Bernád 2003, p. 23.</ref> During 1942 the Romanian aviation industry reached its highest output so that the Royal Romanian Air Force could be re-equipped as follows: Esc. 47, 48 and 52 (Grupul Vânátoare), Esc. 43, 44 and 50 (Grupul 3 Vânátoare) and Esc. 41, 42 and 60 (Grupul 8 Vânátoare) received the new IAR 80A. Esc. 53 also replaced its Hurricanes with the IAR 80A, while Grupul 6 Bopi re-equipped with the IAR 81.<ref name="Neulen pp. 99–110.">Neulen 2000, pp. 99–110.</ref>
In June 1942, the operational IAR fighter forces on the Eastern front, combined into the Flotilla 2 Vânátoare consisted of Grupul 8 Vânátoare, commanded by Cdr. Lt Col E. Pirvulescu, and included Escadrila 41, Escadrila 42 and Escadrila 60 with 12 IAR 80As each. During the Battle of Stalingrad, on 12 September, Grupul 8 Vânátoare IAR 80Bs (along with Grupul 7 Vânátoare’s Bf 109s) claimed to have shot down seven Yaks but they lost two IARs. <ref name= "Bergström-Dikov-Antipov p. 151.">Bergström-Dikov-Antipov- 2006, p. 151.</ref> Grupul 8 moved at the end of September, to Karpovka, joining Grupul 7, equipped with Bf 109s.<ref name="Neulen p. 100.">Neulen 2000, p. 100.</ref> On 12 and 13 December, Grupul 6 used its IAR 81s to support the German counterattack by the Panzergruppe Hoth of the Heeresgruppe Don, from Kotelnikovo towards Stalingrad.<ref name="Neulen p. 102.">Neulen 2000, p. 102.</ref> In the summer of 1943 the FARR's IAR-80s were transferred to Romania for air defense duties,where they were used in combat against the USAAF. USAAF attacks were directed at the oil refinery installation at Ploieşti, in particular. On 1 August 1943 the IAR 80 faced the B-24 Liberator for the first time. There were 178 B-24s from 9th USAAF, part of the Operation Tidal Wave. The IAR 80Bs of Escadrila 61 and 62 of Grupul 6 Vânátoare, as well as IAR 80Cs from the newly formed Escadrila 45 of Grupul 4 Vânátoare,<ref name="Bernád p. 34.">Bernád 2003, p. 34.</ref> together with the Bf 109Gs from Esc. 53 and Bf 110s from the Romanian night fighter squadron, dived on the low-flying, four-engined bombers, belonging to five USAAF bomber groups (the 44th, 93rd, 98th, 376th and 389th). The Americans lost – in combat or on the way back – 51 bombers. Only 89 reached their bases, of which only 31 were serviceable for a mission the next day. The Romanians pilots claimed 25 certain and probable victories for just two losses,<ref name="Neulen pp. 99–110."/> one IAR 80 B and one Bf 110C. According to Romanian statistics, IARs and Messerschmitts were confirmed as having shot down ten B-24s, with two probables.<ref name="Bernád pp. 33-35.">Bernád 2003, pp. 33–35.</ref>On 10 June 1944, IAR 80s took part in one of the major air battles when the USAAF attacked Ploieşti, with 36 P-38 Lightnings of the 82nd Fighter Group carrying one bomb each, escorted by 39 Lightnings of the 1st and 82 FGs. The IAR 81Cs from Grupul 6, as well as the German fighters from I./JG 53 and 2./JG 77, intercepted the large American formation. Romanian pilot Dan Vizanty, commander of Grupul 6, recalled later:
"Our Lightning attack came as a complete surprise to the Americans. Our attack was so quick that not one of the 100 (sic) American aircraft managed to fire a single shot at our aircraft parked on the ground. Everything happened between ground level and about 2,000 meters (6,550 ft), and was total confusion. I was excited and proud of my "mills", the IAR 80s, which, thanks to their extraordinary agility, remained victorious in the air. I saw their crazy dives, quick rolls, reverse turns and inverted flying, always with just brief burst of fire to save ammunition. It was an incredible sight, but also a drama for the Lightning pilots, who, at this low altitude, were inferior to the ever-present, nimble IAR 80s".
The USAAF lost 22<ref name=Hatch/> or 23 P-38s on that day. Eight were claimed by Grupul for themselves – the rest were claimed by the Luftwaffe and by anti-aircraft gunfire. The Americans claimed 23 victories, although the Romanians and Germans each reported only one aircraft lost on that day.<ref name="Neulen p. 114."/>
The American account of this battle conflicts significantly with the Romanian one. Fighter pilot Herbert "Stub" Hatch, who took part in the dogfight, wrote that his flight of 16 P-38s, the 71st Fighter Squadron, was challenged by a large formation of Romanian IAR 81C fighters that he misidentified as Focke-Wulf Fw 190s.<ref name=Hatch/> According to Hatch, the fight took place at and below Template:Convert in a narrow valley.<ref name=Hatch>Hatch 2000, pp. 59–67.</ref> Hatch saw two IAR 81Cs hit the ground after taking fire from his guns, and his fellow pilots confirmed three more kills from his guns, making Hatch an ace in a day. However, the outnumbered 71st Fighter Squadron took more damage than it dished out, losing nine aircraft. The Americans never again repeated the P-38 dive-bombing mission profile over Romania.<ref>"Mission No. 702 / 10 June 1944 / Romana Americana Oil Refinery, Ploesti, Rumania." 82nd Fighter Group. Retrieved: 27 August 2009.</ref> But during 1944 USAAF aircraft appeared over Romania in more significant numbers. Many air combats occurred and by the time of their last encounter with the USAAF on 3 July 1944, pilots of Grupul 6 vanatoare had submitted 87 confirmed (and ten not confirmed) claims.<ref name="Bernád p. 84.">Bernád 2003, p. 84.</ref> But casualties among the Romanian fighter pilots quickly mounted too. The three IAR 80/81 groups (the 1st, 2nd and 6th) in a period of less than four months – known as the "American Campaign" – had at least 32 IAR pilots killed in action, including 11 aces. These losses exceeded the number of casualties suffered in the previous two and a half years of fighting against the Soviets.<ref name="Bernád p. 50.">Bernád 2003, p. 50.</ref> Because of these heavy losses, all IAR 80/81 units were withdrawn from combat against Americans in July 1944 and IAR pilots started to convert to the more modern Bf 109G-6s.<ref name="Bernád p. 84.">Bernád 2003, p. 84.</ref>
- Royal Romanian Air Force
- 1st Fighter Group FARR received IAR-80Cs aircraft in October 1943.
- 2nd Fighter Group FARR operated IAR-80Cs aircraft.
- 3rd Fighter Group FARR received IAR-80As aircraft in August 1942.
- 4th Fighter Group FARR received IAR-80As aircraft in July 1942. In early 1943 was reequipped with IAR-80Cs.
- 5th Fighter Group FARR operated IAR-81Cs aircraft.
- 6th Fighter Group FARR started training on IAR-80s aircraft since 27 September 1941 and in January 1942 conversion to IAR-81 begun.
- 7th Fighter Group FARR received IAR-81Cs aircraft in October 1943.
- 8th Fighter Group FARR received first IAR-80s aircraft in February 1941. In April 1943 was transformed into 8th Assault Group FARR and reequipped with Henschel Hs 129Bs.
- 9th Fighter Group FARR was formed in April 1942 and received IAR-80As aircraft. In April 1943 unit was reequipped with Bf 109Gs.
- Romanian Air Force - Postwar.
One source states that the IAR.81Bs that were delivered as fighters were actually referred to as IAR.80C in service, reflecting the fact that they were used as fighters instead of bombers. It's unclear if this was the case, and as the later 81C model definitely did not receive a "modified name" in the same fashion, it's unlikely this was true.
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- IAR 80 at historynet.com
- IAR 80 at worldwar2.ro
- The I.A.R.80 Story
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- Dan Antoniu and George Cicos, "Modeller's Guide to IAR 80/81 Variants", March–April 2005, IPMSStockholm.org Magazine.
- The Hodgepodge from Romania: The Story of the IAR 80 and 81, Jason Long, World War II (magazine)