Chinese Su-27 Jet Threatened U.S. Surveillance Aircraft with a barrel roll stunt over the top of it

A Chinese Su-27 Flanker flew within 50 feet of a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine warfare aircraft.

It looks like not only Russian Su-27 Flanker are involved in close encounters with U.S. surveillance planes around the world.

As reported by the Washington Free Beacon, a Chinese Su-27 flew dangerously close to a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) aircraft over the East China Sea, on Aug. 19.

The P-8, a derivative of the Boeing 737, capable to carry the Mk-54 airborne torpedo and the Harpoon anti-ship missile, and to perform ASW missions as well as ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) tasks, was conducting a routine surveillance mission in international airspace when a Chinese Flanker intercepted it.

Routine stuff, until the Chinese jet flew within 50 feet of the Poseidon “and then carried out a barrel roll over the top of the aircraft” a maneuver meant to threaten the American aircraft, as commented by US officials familiar with the incident who have talked to Washington Free Beacon’s

The American jet was one of the aircraft assigned to U.S. Navy’s VP-16, a squadron based at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, that has been deployed to Kadena, Okinawa, one the largest U.S. airbases in the Asia-Pacific region, located about 400 chilometers East of the disputed Senkaku islands (Diaoyu for China), since December 2013.

Navy’s Poseidons not only assisted rescue efforts in the Philippines, supporting Operation Damayan, but they are constantly monitoring Chinese movements in region where tension is still high following the establishment of a Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).

As already recalled when reporting about the RC-135U intercept last June, on Apr. 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3E with the VQ-1, flying an ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) mission in international airspace 64 miles southeast of the island of Hainan was intercepted by two PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) J-8 fighters.

One of the J-8s piloted by Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei, made two close passes to the EP-3 before colliding with the spyplane on the third pass. As a consequence, the J-8 broke into two pieces and crashed into the sea causing the death of the pilot, whereas the EP-3, severely damaged, performed an unauthorized landing at China’s Lingshui airfield.

The 24 crew members (21 men and three women), that destroyed all (or at least most of ) the sensitive items and data on board the aircraft, were detained by Chinese authorities until Apr. 11.

H/T to Isaac Alexander for the heads-up

P-8A Safe Sep Harpoon #1 T-3 BuNo 167954 TD Ray Samora.

Image credit: PLAAF, U.S. Navy


About David Cenciotti 4450 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.


  1. Weren’t they participating in the CINCPAC Fleet exercises at Pearl Harbor this past July????

  2. Great to finally see the Aviationist catching on to this incident, but there is one blaring technical error: the Chinese aircraft involved was not a Su-27 but rather a J-11B, and they are different, despite the superficial commonalities of the two.

    The J-11B was indeed developed on the basis of the ubiquitous Flanker fuselage design, with some more RAM and composites added, but the subsystems, weapons, electronics, and anything else that is an arbiter of an aircraft’s capabilities, are uniquely different. That’s pretty evident in the utilization of a domestic PD radar, engines, FBW controls, MAWS, cockpit, and others, on the aircraft. This is also why the J-11B was seen sporting only Chinese weaponry.

    One easy way to distinguish the two would be to look at the radome, weapons carried, engine petals, and IRST. The J-11B always have a black solid radome, and it is the only aircraft of its lineage to do so. The J-11B also sports a center-lined IRST ball, and the shorter WS-10 nozzles. The aircraft, do note, also carry the Chinese PL-12 missile; J-11Bs and Su-27s cannot interchange their respective Chinese and Russian weaponry due to data linking systems.

  3. I wonder how the Americans would react if the Chinese conducted a, “routine surveillance mission in international airspace” close to the US mainland.

    • Happens all the time. Just ask the Russians. Fortunately, the US F15s do not perform barrel roll maneuvers around their Tu-95s. That would be provocative and irresponsible.

      • Not so, barrel rolls on bears were standard practise on USN vessels, especially F8s which never had a downward facing camera. Pilot would form up to the rear & low, increase power to just above the bear then slow barrel roll over to get a complete picture.

        Link provided gives you an idea when siht goes wrong

        • Maybe.. but I can’t see an F8 having to get as close as 50 feet to snap a picture. In this case, maybe the Chinese pilot misjudged his distance? I would love to know if the US crew got any video of the incident.

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