After Vladimir Petlyakov had been arrested and imprisoned in 1937 for allegedly deliberately delaying design work on the Tupolev ANT-42 bomber, the Pe-2 was designed in a Sharashka. In the Sharashka, Petlyakov was put in charge of a team to develop a high-altitude fighter escort for the ANT-42 under the designation VI-100. In December 22, 1939, the first of two prototypes flew and was a very sophisticated aircraft for its time, featuring a pressurized cabin, all-metal construction, superchargers and many electrically-actuated systems. The prototypes proved so pleasing that production was ordered almost immediately. It is said that Petlyakov and his team could see the VI-100 prototype from their prison as it was put through its paces for the crowds watching the annual May Day parade in 1940.
After the Soviet Air Force had a chance to regroup after the German onslaught during the Winter, the aircraft did not really show its true potential until the end of the year. The Pe-2 quickly proved itself to be a highly capable aircraft, capable of eluding the Luftwaffes interceptors and allowing their crews to develop great accuracy with their bombing. Throughout 1942 the design was steadily refined and improved, in direct consultation with pilots who were actually flying them in combat. The product of this evolutionary development was the Pe-2FT variant, where FT stands for Frontovoe Trebovanie(Frontline Request).
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