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The Polikarpov I-16 was a monoplane evolution of the I-15 biplane that featured low-wing cantilever design. In addition, the aircraft (together with the I-153) introduced retractable landing gear into early Soviet fighters. The early I-16s featured an enclosed cockpit where the one-piece windscreen/canopy slid forward for pilot entry/egress, but the sliding feature would jam leading to subsequent designs having a fixed windscreen and no canopy.

The I-16 would see its baptism of fire in the second Sino-Japanese War, Battle of Khalkhin Gol, and the Spanish Civil war. It was in the last example that the I-16 would face off against the Messerschmitt Bf 109 for the first time and more than hold its own in aerial combat. It was because of that experience that later Bf 109 variants which faced the Soviets in WWII were better prepared to face the I-16 and prevail.

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