Russian Knights first ever display, with highly maneuverable Sukhoi Su-30 SM
Russian Air Force aerobatic team, the « Russian Knights » currently perform their first aerobatics program ever, with four Sukhoi Su-30 SM fighter airplanes, at LIMA17 Airshow in Langkawi, Malaysia, from March 21th, to March 25th.
Russian Knight's journey from Russia to Malaysia, started from Kubinka, their home base, on March 11th. From Kubinka, they flew to Novossibirsk, to Irkutsk, to China, to Hanoi, finally landing to Langkawi on March 19th. They had to land on several airfields, as no tanker logistics are available to refuel these jets on their way to Asia. The formation was composed of four airplanes tasked to fly a show altogether, plus a fifth one to be used as a spare only. Let’s remind, up to now, six brand new Su-30 SM fighters have been delivered to the Knights between october and december 2016. But « Russian Knights » pilots already had already flown familiarization programs from 2013, on the Su-30 SM at Lipetsk, before they were supplied with their own jets. A few months, from october 2016, to march 2017, proved to be enough, to organise a new display with the four aircrew tasked to fly in LIMA. Interestingly, the Knights had also included in their agenda, training, travel, and display with previous Su-27s to Zhuhai, China, in november 2016, though the transition program to the newest SMs had somewhat begun. Although the complete six Sukhoi Su-30 SM team should be soon ready, the four heavy fighters already in Malaysia were enough to impress visiting VIPs and other teams being there.
I was much pleased to meet the Russian Knights aircrew here in Langkawi, including team’s leader, Colonel Andrey Alexeev. He entered the Russian Air Force in 1995. He started flying with the Knights in 2003. Alexeev explained how positive and creative it is for his guys, to perform aerobatics with the Su-30 SM. In fact, the Su-30 SM was designed along the Su-35, a single seat-fighter air superiority variant, with the same maneuvering capabilities. The Su-30 SM is a multirole airplane capable of fulfilling air-to-air, air-to-ground, and air-to-surface missions. More than 80 Su-30 SM fighter aircraft have been delivered so far to the Russian Air Force.
It is worth summarizing the aerobatics performed by the Su-30 SM solos, as I could observe them in Langkawi, in their order of appearance. I would assume to say that the Su-30 SM is able to « defy gravity », being able to be pulled up to a 160 degrees angle of attack. Irkut representatives explain that this heavy fighter has no way to spin, as in any situation, it is fully under control by the « flight control system ». Surely, it is the case with other existing super maneuverable fighters. So in that show, the Russian Knights solos can perform :
1. Take-off with the use of thrust vectoring
2. Barrel while climbing
3. Forced 180-deg level turn
4. Barrel in level flight
5. Barrel in level flight
6. Bell with tail slide
7. Pull up with 70 … 90-deg
8. Wingover split
9. Left and right turns
10. Forced half-loop
11. Vertical turn
12. Barrel at high angles of attack
13. Transition to level flight with 60 … 70-deg pitch
14. 180-deg turn with speed increase
16. Descending to 150 … 200 m altitude
17. Level flight at 150 … 200 m altitude
18. Vertical climbing, split, vertical diving, transition to level flight
19. 90-deg turn, barrel at hight angles of attack
20. Landing approach, landing.
As a full four ship formation, the Su-30 SMs perform a display that remains pretty similar to that of previous « Su-27 era » Russian Knights. It still starts with « Nesterov loop », bearing the name of the finest WWI Russian pilot who was first in the world, to perform a loop. Then it performs traditional half rolls and loops all together. The four jet sounds altogether is always amazing, while all four heavy SMs flying closely is looking smart.
Founded in 1991, the Russian Knights is the first and only one, in the world of aerobatic teams to fly heavy jet fighters. Full team that previously performed on six Sukhoi Su-27 Flankers, from 1991 to 2016, weighted no less than 150 tonnes at the time, and full six airplanes formation wingspan was 75 meters. Colonel Alexeiev reminded that they always have been part of the Kubinka based 234rd Regiment, and as such they still train as fighter pilots, not only as aerobatics experts.