Military Aviation

The Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker, the masterpiece of Soviet Design that found itself on opposite sides of the Russian-Ukraine War

The Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker also found itself on opposite sides of various conflicts, from the Eritrea-Ethiopia War of 1999, to the present conflict over Ukraine today.

As mentioned earlier in our prior article on the Sukhoi OKB, one aircraft type was instrumental in the success of the Sukhoi Design Bureau. The Sukhoi Su-27, NATO Codename “Flanker.” Designed as a flying Missile Battery for the Soviet Air Defense Forces (PVO), the Su-27 was specifically intended to counter the USAF F-15 Eagle, which itself was built to conquer the threat of the Soviet Mig-25, which itself was designed as an interceptor to protect the Soviet Motherland from the Mach 3 Capable B-70 Bomber.

A masterpiece of Soviet Design, the Flanker Wowed Airshow crowds when first revealed to the West in the 1989 Paris Air Show. During a routine by Sukhoi OKB Test pilot Victor Pugachev, his demonstration of his Kobra Maneuver was greeted by disbelief, and influenced Western efforts into High Angle of Attack (AoA) Maneuvering into the 1990s, with the F-22’s thrust vectoring, and F-18E/F Super Hornet high AoA capabilities a direct result of demonstrated Soviet Capabilities.

Pugachev’s Kobra, Paris Air Show 1989.

Though slow flying can make an aircraft an easier target, the weapon’s load of the Su-27 also bears mention. Designed to duel with Sparrow equipped F-15s in the plains of Central Europe, the Su-27 compensated for lower Soviet missile electronics tech by having a potential warload of up to a DOZEN Air to Air Missiles. This warload could be split between Radar Guided and Infrared Heat Seeking Missiles, and when coupled with the Off Boresight capability of the R-73 missile, the result was a masterpiece of Aeronautical Design. A Su-27 could hang back and serve as a missileering missile truck, but also had the maneuverability to mix it up close in.

In the vast skies over Mother Russia, this capability put the machine at the top of the Soviet Union’s aeronautical Pyramid, just in time for the Soviet Union to collapse into 15 separate Independent Republics. Only Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbeckistan kept the Flanker regiments in their respective republics, but Russia had the crown jewels, the Sukhoi OKB itself, plus the test complex at Akthubinsk, where the latest versions of the Suknoi Series were being developed. Russia also inherited the factories in the Military Industrial Complex which made the airframes and engines, so was in a key position to dominate the export market for Su-27s and future design derivatives.

The Sukhoi 27 was priced just right too, with the Sukhoi OKB offering creative financing terms and often times even resorting to barter deals for commodities in exchange for completed fighters. Thus, the Su-27 began to become an export success during the lean years of the 1990s, when Russian domestic contracts all but dried up.

Selling for approximately $30 million USD per airframe during the 1990s, the Su-27 offered an F-15 like capability at an F-16 like price. That $30 million price tag meant a cash infusion of millions with every order into both the Design Bureau and Factory coffers, making the difference between corporate survival and the grim kind of Post Soviet Bankruptcy facing so many Soviet era Military Industrial Facilities.

The Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker also found itself on opposite sides of various conflicts, from the Eritrea-Ethiopia War of 1999, to the present conflict over Ukraine today. Ukraine entered the conflict with approximately 30 plus Su-27s, both single seaters and dual control trainers. The force remaining remains a highly relevant military secret, and yet Ukraine’s Flanker Force has managed to inflict losses on the vastly larger Russian VKS.

Reports are that the Ukrainian Air Force’s Flanker Force suffered its worst losses on Mar. 5, 2022 to a force of Russian VKS Sukhoi Su-35s.

If that is the case, the only aircraft in the Russian VKS inventory capable of going head to head against Ukraine’s Flankers and winning is an improved derivative of the Sukhoi OKB’s magnificent original design.

Be sure to check out William Cobb’s Facebook Page Pensacola Aerospace Museum for awesome aviation’s photos and stories.

Photo credit: Oleg Belyakov and Dave_S. from Witney, England via Wikipedia

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William Cobb

Mr. William Cobb is a licensed Instrument Flight Instructor in Single and Multi Engine Airplanes who is the founder and director of the Pensacola Aerospace Museum. Mr. Cobb spent from 2008 to 2015 instructing for the U.S. Navy's Initial Flight Screening program. After 8 years of full time Flight Instruction, Mr. Cobb started his own Commercial Drone Business, obtaining the first FAA Part 107 certification in his FAA region. Subsequent Drone work led to his becoming involved in Film Production work, and his establishing the Pensacola Aerospace Museum, an entity dedicated to honoring the memory of all those who ever gave their lives to flight.

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