Russia’s most advanced fighter jet’s troublesome childhood

The developmental engines on the PAK-FA were a consistent source of criticism, especially following a sensational compressor stall incident at the MAKS 2011 airshow. (Photo: Rulexip via Wikipedia)

During this year’s MAKS expo in Moscow, PAK-FA, Sukhoi’s 5th Generation stealth fighter jet, also known as T-50, has shown a full-scope high aspect display, including the notorious Pugachev’s Cobra.

However, footage shows that, whilst still being impressive, the display was less dynamic than those of some other super-maneuverable previous generation jets.

“It could be seen that the plane still suffers from the strict g-limits,” says Piotr Butowski on his MAKS reports published on monthly aviation magazine Magazyn Lotnictwo.

“The plane underwent a modernization in the Sukhoi facility on the Polikarpov Street in Moscow Dec. 2012 and May 2013. The airframe was reinforced according to the flight tests and static tests that were already carried out; many new overlays can be seen on the airplane’s surface. ”

Indeed, the airframe has been strenghtened using pieces of metal put on the surface of the wings which can be spotted on this photo by Alexey Mitayev.

Back in the 2011, when PAK-FA debuted, both prototypes had technical problems. First one, “51” had structural breaks, while second one, “52” suffered a quite embarrassing flameout at the beginning of its MAKS 2011 performance and was forced to abort take off and display.

Besides the above mentioned (scarcely publicized) flaws, that are quite common among aircraft still under development (ask Lockheed Martin that produces the T-50’s American counterparts F-35 and F-22) PAK-FA has also shown new sensors, including the new side-looking radar, and ultraviolet sensor that allows the aircraft for additional passive identification.

The PAK-FA is planned to enter service in the late 2016 or early 2017.

Jacek Siminski for TheAviationist

Image credit: Wiki

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About Jacek Siminski
Standing contributor for TheAviationist. Aviation photojournalist. Co-Founder of Expert in linguistics, Cold War discourse, Cold War history and policy and media communications.


  1. Russia plans to export these fighters. I hope the USA has her stuff together on production, Russian difficulties aside. The F-22 needs to go back into production, too, and export considered with the Raptor as well. Japan, Britain and Germany come to mind.

  2. Although it is not relevant to this article, during russian air force commander visit to Iran, IRGC AF commander presented russian with a copy of Scaneagle as a gift.
    During this 5 day visit Russian AF commander also met with IRIAF and IRIADF commandersتصاویر-دیدار-شاه-صفی-با-همتای-روس

  3. “Still suffers from g-load restrictions?” They’re prototypes! Even doing a cobra is seriously ballsy, with how much that strains the airframe. What on earth did people expect?

    More bafflingly, why do those people not expect the same from the F-35, which is supposed to be much more developed? Did they do a cobra in that already then? And what of the J-20?

    I do feel the flameout is blown a little out of proportion too (though to a waaaay smaller degree); the photo seems to indicate the plane turned into a massive flamethrower, while in reality it lasted only a fraction of a second (watch a video about it to get a better impression). Sukhoi mentioned only having to clean the enige, no real damage was done. Of course, it is still quite embarrasing to have to cancel a show over this.

    • It’s the way American propaganda works. Anything ‘we’ make is perfect, anything ‘they’ make is inferior. Virtually every piece of information on the east from the west takes this as a default viewpoint.

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