Philpott reports from MAKS 2005
Financial reasons have restricted Russian Air Force equipment from attending airshows in the west for many years. So, we visited the best place in all of Russia to see military aircraft perform - the MAKS airshow. This trade show is held at the test field of Zhukovsky, which is situated approximately one and a half hours south-east from the centre of Moscow. Many aircraft types can be seen around the field on numerous parking areas. The show's flightline only uses up half of the runway, which is a good indication of the size of the place! This year's show was held between 16 - 21 August.
Static aircraft included many items from the Russian Air Force and Navy. Representing naval aircraft was a MiG-29K with folding wings and arrestor hook, also a Sukhoi Su-33 Navy Flanker with folding wings plus folding elevator surfaces. Air Force types included an Sukhoi Su-34 'Platypus' Bomber Flanker, MiG-31 Foxhound long range, high speed interceptor, plus a MiG-21 Fishbed and various MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker squadron machines.
American aircraft in the static display included a pair of 494th Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagles from Lakenheath, one of the pair having a multi-striped tail fin indicating a Commander's machine. The only pair of F-16C aircraft at the show belonged to the 22nd FS, based at Spangdahlem in Germany.
The flying display begun with a formation of three Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot aircraft trailing the colours of the national flag, red, blue and white. Then to follow was the 'Russian Knights' display team, flying four single-seat Su-27 Flankers, and the solo aircraft being a two-seater aircraft. Performing tight turns and loops in formation, midway through the routine the solo Su-27 Flanker straightened up from a turn formation and thundered away to hold, while the remaining four Flankers continued the display. After the four broke from formation toward the crowd line, the solo two seater returned to finish the remainder of the display. Russian performances are notorious for using flares during their manoeuvres - the solo Flanker fulfilled this anticipation by firing while executing a barrel-roll in reheat, rolling away from the crowd! Fast reheat passes seemed to be absent from the display routines, but the noise was supplied by high-G turns with vapour boiling off upper wing surfaces!
The second fast-jet display team of Russia is the 'Swifts', consisting of five MiG-29s painted in red, white and blue. A bird outline is depicted on the upper and lower surfaces of the aircraft. The display routine is similar to the Russian Knights with the team flying loop, roll, turn manoeuvres in close formation. Other aerobatic display teams to participate were the French Patrouille de France and and the Italian Frecce Tricolori.
The only long-range bomber to participate everyday in the flying was an American B-1B Lancer. Most spectators didnít seem bothered about the noise - maybe the crowds assumed the B-1B was fitted with a hush kit in comparison to Russian supersonic bombers!
But forget all the display teams, the most interesting thing to watch was the Sukhoi Su-30MKI Flanker, with two dimensional Thrust-Vectoring engines. Thrust-Vector is where the thrust from a jet engine can be moved in terms of degrees - the thrust can be pointed up or down, resulting in flight characteristics that are very peculiar! Extreme angles of attack, stall loops and super cobras past the ninety-degree mark. Because of the slow speeds involved with Thrust-Vectoring, the control surfaces used for conventional flight simply do not have any effect.
The second aircraft in the flying display with Thrust Vector Control (TVC) technology was a MiG-29OVT Fulcrum. Although the MiG-29 does not operate this advanced engine system, it was used as a test aircraft. The newest MiG-29 variant, the MiG-35 featuring TVC, was announced at the show by RAC MiG. It will also include modern technology from the MiG-29M/M2, which was also in the flying display.
Thrust-Vectoring has been tested on western fighters including the F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-18 Hornet - although TVC have not been incorporated with these particular combat aircraft for operations, the new F/A-22 Raptor uses thrust-vectoring.
Despite the Mirage 2000C lacking Thrust-Vectoring technology the French pilot still managed to impress and proved the delta-winged Dassault-built aircraft to be extremely agile and very manoeuvrable. Normally thrown around, but this time really making full use of those onboard computers!
Even with all this Russian kit, most noticeably the Russian spectators all were clapping and cheering the flying displays - if youíre taking pictures and the Swifts or Russian Knights are inbound to perform, then you better hold your spot because the fence gets swamped!
If youíre a fan of Russian aviation there's no better place than Zhukovsky to visit... just remember to pinch yourself if you think you might be dreaming!