Highlights of the 2005 MAKS Airshow

The Russians are aiming to make the MAKS airshow the Russian equivalent of the Paris Air Show or the British Farnborough Air Show.   This means making it a showcase for the Russian aerospace industry, and a place where business deals are made, or at least signed.   This Tupolev-334 airliner is one of the aircraft on display for prospective customers, though I doubt if this is the way they'll normally be used!   Aeroflot has already ordered the Tu-334, which is a 100 seat successor to the 76 seat Tu-134.

Tupolev 334 airliner taking off   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Another local aircraft is this prototype Yakovlev Yak-130 military jet trainer, which was put through its paces along with a MiG "advanced trainer", also a prototype.   The Yak-130 was initially developed in a joint venture with the Italian company Aeromacchi.   As well as acting as a trainer for pilots graduating up to the Su-27 "Flanker", the Yak-130 can be outfitted as a light attack aircraft or a ground attack trainer and, as with many Russian designs, it can be used from unpaved airfields.

Yak-130 Mitten prototype military jet trainer   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Each day's show was started by a trio of Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft, which have the unfortunate NATO code name of "Frogfoot", which raises the question when there are more than one of whether they're "Frogfoots" or "Frogfeet".   The Su-25 is the Russian equivalent of the A-10 Thunderbolt II.   Like the A-10, the Su-25 has titanium armour for the pilot and it has also been used in combat in Afghanistan, however the Su-25 is faster than the A-10 and, somewhat surprisingly, is said to be more maneuverable.   Nicknamed "the comb" because of all of the stores racks which extend out the front of the wing, the Frogfoot has a 30mm cannon and can carry 4000kg (almost 9000lb) of ordnance.

two Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft

Here's a Russian aircraft that I knew nothing at all about, from a manufacturer that even most aviation enthusiasts have never heard of.   The Myasishchev M-55 Geophysica is a civilian version of the M-55 "Mystic" high altitude reconnaisance aircraft.   The Geophysica has been doing stratospheric research in Europe, very similar work to NASA ER-2s derived from the U-2 spy plane.

Myasischev M-55 Geophysica

I made the trip from California to this show because I wanted to see Russian aircraft types and it was great to see the Frogfoot and the Mystic, but disappointing that none of the classic Russian bombers or transport planes of the Cold War flew during the weekend.   However it was good to see several fighters, even if all of them were derived from either the MiG-29 "Fulcrum" or the Su-27 "Flanker", including the one you see here, an Su-27SMK.   The Flanker was a Russian response to the American F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter; the Su-27SMK is an export version with in-flight refuelling capability and 12 hard points for ground attack work, analogous to the F-15E Strike Eagle.

Sukhoi Su-27SMK 'Flanker'   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The Zhukovsky Air Field where the show is held is also home to the Gromov Flight Research Institute, which is the Russian equivalent of NASA.   Here's one of their test aircraft, a Sukhoi Su-27P.   Like the Su-27SMK in the previous photo, this particular aircraft has appeared at several airshows throughout Europe, including several trips to the UK.

Sukhoi Su-27P 'Flanker' fighter

Here's a more advanced version of the Flanker, an Su-30MK which is fitted with a pair of small "canard" wings just behind the cockpit, as well as 8 hard points which allow air-to-ground ordnance to be carried in addition to the air-to-air weapons of previous versions, adding ground attack to the Flanker's original pure air-to-air role.   The Su-30MK has unbelievable maneuverability because of the "thrust vectoring" feature which allows it to direct the output of its two engines in slightly different directions.   This enables it to perform bizarre low speed gyrations which have been dubbed the "cobra maneuver", the "bell" and the "somersault", in which the plane flips 360 degrees without losing any altitude.   These maneuvers can be used to fool an enemy's pulse doppler radar, which relies on movement of the target, making the Flanker disappear from the radar screen, at least for a few seconds.

Sukhoi Su-30MK 'Flanker' fighter  (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

This MiG-29M2 "Fulcrum" also did a great demonstration.   The MiG-29M2 has longer range than previous versions of the Fulcrum, thanks largely to the in-flight refuelling equipment which you can see on the left hand side of the nose just in front of the cockpit, and also has a "glass cockpit" with LCDs rather than the "steam gauge" dials of earlier versions.   The new fly-by-wire system also makes it considerably more maneuverable.

MiG-29M2 'Flanker' fighter with thrust vectoring   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The MiG-29M2 is more advanced than its predecessors, but this MiG-29OVT is even more sophisticated, and the company insists that the improvements are great enough to merit a new designation, the MiG-35.   This version of the Fulcrum was demonstrated in public for the first time just before the show and has a new thrust vectoring system, which you can clearly see in operation in this photo.   Unlike earlier versions of thrust vectoring on aircraft like the Su-27 and the American F-22 Raptor which can only pivot up or down, the MiG-35 can vector up, down, left and right.   The MiG-35 can also move the nozzles further than earlier versions, up to 18 degrees, to allow even greater feats of maneuverability like the "double somersault" and "boomerang".

MiG-29OVT 'Flanker' fighter with thrust vectoring   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The helicopters which displayed were one of the highlights for me.   It would have been great to have seen an Mi-24 "Hind', the large helicopter gunship which became so familiar in Afghanistan, but we had to make do with this Mil Mi-8 "Hip", one of the most successful helicopters which has ever been produced anywhere.   It dropped a parachute display team from altitude and picked them up afterwards.   This photo was shot from the crowd side on Friday afternoon, from where you could see a tantalizing collection of MiG 25 Foxbats and other aircraft on the other side of the runway.

Mil Mi-8 'Hip' helicopter
Kamov Ka-226 helicopter carrying a load

My favourite Russian helicopters are those designed by the Kamov design bureau, which specializes in helicopters with contra-rotating rotors, which don't require the tail rotor needed to counteract the torque created by a single main rotor.   The tail rotor requires a significant amount of power, anywhere from 10% to 25% of the total, so a contra-rotating design is inherently more efficient, potentially allowing great lifting capacity and speed, and the lack of a tail rotor is also a significant benefit from the point of view of safety of people operating around the craft.

Two different configurations of the Kamov Ka-226 Sergei light multi-purpose helicopter were shown, this one hauling some drums and another one with a rear cabin occupying the space behind the cockpit.   The Ka-226 is an update of the Ka-26 "flying chassis" first delivered in 1965.   The detachable cabin can be used for medical evacuation or transport of personnel, or other equipment can be fitted for agricultural or other commercial work.

The main business of Kamov during the Cold War was the design and manufacture of military helicopters, particularly naval models like this Ka-31, which has the NATO reporting name "Helix".   This one is shown with a large rotating "Oko" radar panel underneath the fuselage, which allows the helicopter to act as a radar picket to warn the fleet of incoming aircraft.   Explosive bolts can be used to jettison the antenna in the event of a forced landing.   Kamov has succeeded in selling the "Helix" to Vietnam, India and other countries.

Kamov Ka-31 'Helix' naval helicopter   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Here's a real beast, another Kamov design called the Ka-50, which NATO knows as the "Hokum" and which the company itself calls the "werewolf" or "Black Shark", the latter name as a reference to its night-fighting ability.   There was indeed a Ka-50 in a black color scheme flying at the show, but it did only a single pass each day, while this one in camouflage did an extended display.   The Hokum is a single seat ground attack helicopter with several survivability features - armour plating to protect the pilot from armour-piercing bullets and 23mm projectiles, rotors which can withstand impact from ground fired automatic weapons, chaff and flare dispensers, and a rocket-powered pilot ejection system.

Kamov Ka-50 'Havoc' attack helicopter   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

For only the second time, the US Air Force sent a contingent to the show, this time consisting of two F-16 Fighting Falcons, two F-15 Eagles, a KC-10 tanker, a KC-135 tanker and this B-1B Lancer bomber.   The Lancer gave a pretty ordinary display, but it was certainly an interesting sight to see it flying over the Russian countryside.

USAF B-1B Lancer taking off

There was other foreign participation at the show, including what might be the last ever demonstration by an Italian Air Force G222 cargo plane, which is due to be retired from service soon.   This is always a remarkable show, certainly not one you'd imagine a cargo plane is capable of, and in Russia it at least ended without incident, unlike the G222 accident at RIAT 2002 in the UK.   The highlight for me was the first ever performance in Russia by a French Armee de l'Air Mirage 2000 fighter, which was the first delta-winged Mirage I'd ever seen flying.

Mirage 2000 climbing

The foreign participation included jet display teams from France and Italy.   Surprisingly for a nation with such an active military aerospace industry, the Patrouille de France flies trainers rather than fighters.   The Italian Frecce Tricolori (three-coloured arrow) also flies trainers and does some similar maneuvers to the French, such as a synchronised takeoff.   They use far more smoke - too much at times, but they do very good close formation flying.

Italian Air Force 'Frecce Tricolori' jet display team

However the Russians were the highlight of the jet display team demonstrations, fielding no fewer than three separate teams!   Each day's show ended up with a performance by "Russ" flying the very attractive Czech designed and built L39 Albatros jet trainer, which for many years was the standard Soviet bloc military trainer.

Russian Air Force 'Russ' L39 jet display team

Russ were good, but there's nothing better than a display team flying modern military fighter jets!   The "Swifts" fly MiG-29 Fulcrums in 6-ship deltas, 4-ship diamonds and various other arrangements.   The formations might not have been as tight as the US Navy Blue Angels, but the novelty of seeing them fly and the raw noise and power from their very smokey engines more than made up for it.   The Russian crowd were very vocal and enthusiastic, as they had been for other displays both local and foreign, and it all  worked together for a memorable show.

Russian Air Force 'Swifts' jet display team

The "Russian Knights" also performed in their Su-27 Flankers, flying riveting 5 ship, 4 ship and solo maneuvers.   Again, they weren't as tight as some other teams, but it was an excellent show nevertheless.

Russian Air Force 'Russian Knights' Su-27 jet display team   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The Russians have another trick up their sleeve, however - the Swifts and the Russian Knights performing together!   They did several passes in this 9 ship formation before breaking apart for the teams to display separately.   It's interesting to see from this display just how much larger the Sukhois are than the MiGs, and interesting also to see the wingtip vortices which came off the MiGs during dives and tight turns, always a nice touch during a display, even if it is less desirable when in battle.

Russian Air Force 'Swifts' and 'Russian Knights' jet display teams   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)