Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker

Sukhoi Su-27 - Sukhoi Su-27 at an aerobatics show.
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Information on the Su-27 Flanker

The Sukhoi Su-27 (Су-27 in the Cyrillic alphabet) (NATO reporting name 'Flanker') is originally a Soviet fighter aircraft designed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau (SDB). It was intended as a direct competitor for the new generation of American fighters (which emerged as the F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and F/A-18 Hornet), with exceptional range, heavy armament, and very high agility. The Su-27 most often flies air superiority missions, but is able to perform almost all combat operations. Some believe the Su-27 to have been born from a competition between Sukhoi and Mikoyan-Gurevich, given the Su-27's and MiG-29 'Fulcrum's similar shape. This is not so. The Su-27 was designed as long-range air superiority fighter and interceptor, whereas the MiG-29 was designed to fill the role of short-range tactical support fighter.

The Su-33 'Flanker-D' Fleet Defense Interceptor was developed from the Su-27 design for use on aircraft carriers. Main differences include a tail hook and canards. Given the purpose of this interceptor, one would say that its closest counterpart is the American F-14 Tomcat, whereas the MiG-29K 'Fulcrum-D' would be analogous to the F/A-18 Hornet.

The Su-30 is a two-seat, dual-role, fighter for all-weather, air-to-air and deep interdiction missions.

Further versions include the Su-34 'Fullback' strike variant and the Su-35 'Flanker-E' improved air defense fighter.


In 1969 the Soviet Union learned of the United States Air Force's selection of McDonnell Douglas to produce the Fighter Experimental design (which was to become the F-15 Eagle). In response to that upcoming threat, the Soviets instituted the PFI (perspektivnyi frontovoy istrebitel, Advanced Frontal Fighter) program for an aircraft that could match the new American fighter on its own terms.

When the specification proved too challenging and costly for a single aircraft in the number needed, the PFI specification was split into two: the LPFI (Lyogkyi PFI, Lightweight PFI) and the TPFI (Tyazholyi PFI, Heavy PFI), just as the F-15 program spawned the Lightweight Fighter (LWF) program that produced the F-16 and YF-17 Cobra. Sukhoi OKB was assigned the TPFI program.

The Sukhoi design, which was altered progressively to reflect Soviet awareness of the F-15's specifications, emerged as the T-10 (Sukhoi's 10th delta wing design), which first flew on 20 May 1977. The aircraft had a large delta wing, clipped, with two separate podded engines and a twin tail. The 'tunnel' between the two engines, like on the F-14 Tomcat, acts both as an additional lifting surface and hides armament from radar. While being developed, it was spotted by spy satellite at the Zhukovsky flight test center near the town of Ramenskoe, resulting in the temporary codename of Ram-K. It was believed that the Ram-K was being developed in two versions: a swing-wing fighter similar in function to the Grumman F-14 and a two-seat fixed wing interceptor aircraft which in fact turned out to be the unrelated Mikoyan MiG-31.

The T-10 was spotted by Western observers and assigned the NATO reporting name 'Flanker-A'). The T-10's development was marked by considerable problems, leading to a fatal crash on 7 May 1978. Extensive redesigns followed, and a heavily revised version, the T-10S, made its first flight on 20 April 1981. This, too, had considerable teething problems, leading to another fatal crash on 23 December 1981.

The production Su-27 (sometimes Su-27S, NATO designation 'Flanker-B') began to enter VVS operational service around 1984, although manufacturing difficulties kept it from appearing in strength until 1986. The Su-27 served with both the PVO and Frontal Aviation. In V-PVO service it was primarily an interceptor, supplanting older aircraft like the Sukhoi Su-15 and Tupolev Tu-28. Although the 'Flanker' has some capacity to carry air-to-ground weapons, in Frontal Aviation service its primary role was neither air support nor battlefield air superiority--it was intended as a sort of aerial interdictor, tasked with fighting its way past enemy (presumably NATO) lines to strike tanker and AWACS aircraft. Soviet planners knew that NATO forces possessed a considerable advantage because of these assets, and believed that attacking them directly would limit NATO ability to maintain an extended air campaign. The Su-27 retains that role in CIS service, with later marks being equipped to carry the new Novator KS-172 AAM-L long-range anti-AWACS missile.

From 1986 a special Su-27 designated P-42, rebuilt from the prototype T-10S-3 aircraft and stripped to minimum weight, began to set the first in a series of performance records for rate of climb and altitude, the aircraft setting 27 new class records between 1986 and 1988.


The Su-27's basic design is aerodynamically similar to the MiG-29, but it is substantially larger. It is a very large aircraft, and to mimimize its weight its structure has a high percentage of titanium (about 30%, more than any of its contemporaries). No composite materials were used. The swept wing blends into the fuselage at the leading edge extensions and is essentially a delta, although the tips are cropped for wingtip missile rails or ECM pods. The Su-27 is not a true delta, however, because it retains conventional tailplanes, with two vertical tailfins outboard of the engines, supplemented by two fold-down ventral fins for additional lateral stability.

The Su-27's Lyulka AL-31F turbofan engines are widely spaced, both for safety reasons and to ensure uninterrupted airflow through the intakes. The space between the engines also provides additional lift, reducing wing loading. Movable guide vanes in the intakes allow Mach 2+ speeds, and help to maintain engine airflow at high alpha. A mesh screen over each intake prevents debris from being drawn into the engines during take-off.

The Su-27 had the Soviet Union's first operational fly-by-wire control system, developed based on Sukhoi OKB's experience in the Sukhoi T-4 bomber project. Combined with relatively low wing loading and powerful basic flight controls, it makes for an exceptionally agile aircraft, controllable even at very low speeds and high angles of attack. In airshows the aircraft has demonstrated its maneuverability with a Cobra (Pugachev's Cobra) or dynamic deceleration - briefly sustained level flight at a 120? angle of attack. Thrust vectoring has also been tested (and is incorporated on later Su-30MKI and Su-35 models), allowing the fighter to perform hard turns with almost no radius, incorporate vertical somersaults into level motion and limited nose-up hovering. The Su-27 is today one of the world's most agile aircraft, although the MiG-29, F-15 and F-16 fighters can also claim the same.

The naval version of the 'Flanker,' the Su-27K (a.k.a. Su-33), incorporates canards for additional lift, reducing take-off distances (important because the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov has no catapults). These canards have also been incorporated in some Su-30s, the Su-35, and the Su-37.

In addition to its considerable agility, the Su-27 uses its substantial internal volume for a very large internal fuel capacity. In an overload configuration for maximum range, it can carry 9,400 kg (20,700 lb) of internal fuel, although its maneuverability with that load is limited, and normal load is 5,270 kg (11,620 lb).

The Su-27 is armed with a single Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-30-1 30 mm cannon in the starboard wingroot, and has up to 10 hardpoints for missiles and other weapons. Its standard missile armament for air-to-air combat is a mixture of Vympel R-73 (AA-11 Archer), Vympel R-27 (AA-10 'Alamo') weapons, the latter including extended range and IR guided models. More advanced Flanker variants (such as Su-30, -35, -37) may also carry Vympel R-77 (AA-12 Adder) missiles.
Su-27UB cockpit showing IRST system.
Su-27UB cockpit showing IRST system.

The Su-27 has a high-contrast tunable HUD and a helmet-mounted sight capability, which, paired with the R-73 missile and the plane's superb agility make it one of the world's best dogfighter aircraft. The original radar, the Phazotron N-001 (NATO 'Slot Back'), is a pulse-Doppler set with track-while-scan capability, but its processor is relatively primitive, making it vulnerable to false alarms and blind spots, as well as being more difficult to use. Su-30 and Su-35 aircraft have the vastly superior Phazotron 'Bars' N-011M with an electronically steered antenna, improving range, multiple target capability, and sensitivity.

The Su-27 has an infrared search and track (IRST) system in the nose just foreward of the cockpit, which also incorporates a laser rangefinder. This system can be slaved to the radar, or used independently for "stealthy" attacks with infrared missiles (such as the R-73 and R-27T/ET). It also controls the cannon, providing greater accuracy than a radar sighting mode.

Production and users

Around 680 Su-27s were manufactured by the USSR, and 400 are in service with the Russian Tactical Air Force. Of the CIS member states, Ukraine has around 60, Belarus has possibly 25, Kazakhstan has around 30 and is due a further 12 under agreement; and Uzbekistan has 25.

The Russians presently plan to upgrade their aircraft to the Su-27SM standard, which will include a glass cockpit and a change to digital FBW. The radar is to be upgraded with a phased array (most likely Pero) allowing increased range. The self defense and navigation suites will also be upgraded, as well as an attack suite. They hope this will be completed by 2008.

China received 26 in 1991 and a further 22 in 1995 before signing an agreement in 1998 for licensed manufacture of 200 as the Shenyang J-11 (about 90~100 have been built by 2004). Vietnam has twelve Su-27SK and has ordered a further 24. Ethiopia has 8 Su-27A and 2 Su-27U. Malaysia has ordered 18 Su-30MKM in 2003 worth US$900 million and expecting deliveries in 2006. The Su-30MKM is equipped with the latest missiles to include a variety of the AA-10 missiles, AA-12 and AA-11 as well as complete range of air to ground weapons to include guided and unguided missiles and bombs. Malaysia's aircraft comes equipped with canards and thrust vectoring engines for high agility. Indonesia has 2 Su-27SK and 2 Su-30KI. About 8 Su-27/27UB went to Angola.

After years of negotiations, India finally ordered 50 Su-30MKI aircraft with more powerful AL-31FP engines, advanced avionics, canards, and thrust vectoring. Hindustan Aeronautics has a license to manufacture up to 140 additional aircraft through 2020.

The USA is claimed to possess a single Su-27 Flanker B and a Su-27 UB twin-seater. Three Su-27s are claimed to be possesed under civil-registration, one of them was transported to the United States of America territory inside an Antonov-62.

The Mexican Navy is planning to buy 8 single-seat Su-27s and 2 Su-27UB two-seat trainers.

Also, Venezuela is already in the list of new customers for the acquisition of this type of aircraft, having closed a deal with the Russian authorities to buy 24 Su-30MK (the exact version and equipment is still unknown) for about US $1BN.

Combat service

The Su-27, despite its impressive air combat maneuvering (dogfighting) capacity, has seen little action since it first entered service. The only notable exception is during the Eritrean-Ethiopian War (1998-2000). For the latter half of the conflict, Su-27As were used extensively by Ethiopia in CAP (Combat Air Patrol) missions and as escorts for Mig-21 and Mig-23 bombers. In the course of their service, Ethiopian Su-27s shot down four Eritrean MiG-29s; some of the Flankers were flown by Russian & Ukrainian trainers (some of whom were accused of being mercenaries), while some were flown by their Ethiopian pupils.

One such victory was achieved by Ethiopian female pilot Aster Tolossa, becoming the first African woman to achieve a dogfight victory.


Soviet-era Su-27 variants and derivatives include:
T10 ("Flanker-A"): Initial prototype configuration.
T10S: Improved prototype configuration, more similar to production spec.
Su-27S (Su-27 / "Flanker-B"): Initial production single-seater. The "T10P" designation is sometimes used for Su-27S single-seaters stripped of secondary strike capability.
Su-27UB ("Flanker-C"): Initial production two-seat operational conversion trainer.
Su-27SK: Export Su-27 single-seater.
Su-27UBK: Export Su-27UB two-seater.
Su-27K (Su-33 / "Flanker-D"): Carrier-based single-seater with folding wings, high-lift devices, and arresting gear, built in small numbers. They followed the "T10K" prototypes and demonstrators.

Post-Soviet era variants and derivatives include:
Su-27P: Single-seat demonstrator with improvements such as inflight refueling probe.
Su-27PU (Su-30): Two-seat limited production machine with improvements such as inflight refueling probe, fighter direction avionics, new flight control system, and so on.
Su-30M / Su-30MK: Next-generation multirole two-seater. Apparently a few Su-30Ms were built for Russian evaluation in the mid-1990s, though nothing much came of the effort. The Su-30MK export variant was embodied as a series of two demonstrators of different levels of capability.
Su-30MKA: Export version for Algeria.
Su-30MKI: Substantially improved Su-30MK for the Indian Air Force, with canards, vectored-thrust engines, new avionics provided by several nations, and multirole capability.
Su-30MKK: Su-30MK for the Chinese air force, with updated Russian-built avionics and multirole capability, but no canards or thrust-vectoring engines. The Chinese navy also bought similar "Su-30MK2" machines with enhanced antishipping attack capabilities.
Su-30MKM: Su-30MK for Malaysia.
Su-30KN: Improved single-seater that features new electronics that allow the Su-30KN to perform new functions, most of these new functions revolve around navigation.
Su-30KI: Improved single-seater with Su-30MK features for Indonesia deal that fell through, following in the steps of an "Su-27SMK" evaluation aircraft flown in the mid-1990s.
Su-27M (Su-35, Su-37): Series of improved demonstrators for an advanced single-seat multirole Su-27S derivative. The series also included a two-seat "Su-35UB" demonstrator.
Su-27SM: Upgraded Russian Su-27S, featuring technology evaluated in the Su-27M demonstrators.
Su-27UBM: Comparable upgraded Su-27UB two-seater.
Su-32 (Su-27IB): Two-seat dedicated long-range strike variant with side-by-side seating in "platypus" nose.
Su-27KUB: Essentially an Su-27K carrier-based single-seater with a side-by-side cockpit, for use as a naval carrier trainer or multirole aircraft.

Source: This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Sukhoi Su-27".

Su-27 Flanker Specifications

Crew: One
Length: 21.9 m (72 ft)
Wingspan: 14.7 m (48 ft 3 in)
Leading edge sweep: 42?)
Height: 5.93 m (19 ft 6 in)
Wing area: 62 m? (667 ft?)
Empty weight: 16,380 kg (36,100 lb)
Loaded weight: 23,000 kg (50,690 lb)
Max takeoff weight: 33,000 kg (62,400 lb)
Powerplant: 2? Lyulka AL-31F turbofans, 122.8 kN (27,600 lbf) each
Maximum speed: 2,500 km/h at altitude (1,550 mph Mach 2.35)
Range: 1,340km combat mission at sea level 3,530 km combat mission at high altitude (800 mi at sea level / 2070 mi at high altitude)
Service ceiling: 18,500 m (60,700 ft)
Rate of climb: 325 m/s (64,000 ft/min)
Wing loading: 371 kg/m? (76 lb/ft²')
Thrust/weight: 1.085

* 1x 30 mm GSh-30-1 cannon with 150 rounds
* 8,000 kg (17,600 lb) on 10 external pylons
- Up to 6 medium-range AA missiles R-27, 4 short-range heat-seeking AA missiles R-73
-- Upgraded Su-27SM is capable of using R-77 instead of R-27
- Su-27IB can be used to launch X-31 anti-radiation missiles, air-to-ground missiles X-29L/T (laser/TV guidance, which may be projected to helmet), KAB-150 and UAB-500 bombs with laser, TV, or IR guidance

Su-27 Flanker Videos

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