Hero of The Russian Federation, Top Sukhoi Test Pilot, Bogdan Thrilled in Su-57 Demo.
It was the most perfect of conditions, Russia’s most famous test pilot and their most advanced new fighter. The results at Zhukovsky International Airport on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019 were admittedly remarkable.
It was also a high-profile marketing opportunity for Sukhoi and the entire Russian aerospace and defense industry as they continue to discuss export of their newest Sukhoi Su-57, now being developed in a “Multi-Role” version called the Su-57E (“E” presumably for “Export”).
Aviation photographers who were lucky enough to be on Zhukovsky’s media platform on Sunday, Sept 1, were treated to one of the most sensational flight demonstrations in all of aviation. Hero of the Russian Federation Test Pilot, Sergey Bogdan, flew his flight demonstration in Russia’s newest Sukhoi Su-57 “5th generation” fighter aircraft on the last day of the massive MAKS 2019 airshow. And while the real-world relevance of airshow demonstration flights is seldom related to an aircraft’s actual combat capability, Bogdan certainly scored a major “victory” in generating sensation and marketing buzz for Russia’s newest Sukhoi.
This flight demonstration at MAKS 2019 came just before another significant first for the Su-57 when it flew to Ataturk Airport in Turkey on Sept. 14, 2019 for the first Turkish flight demonstrations at the Technofest Air Show from September 17-22. The Su-57’s upcoming demonstrations in Turkey further reinforces the conversation about export ambitions for this latest Sukhoi and follows Turkish President Recep Erdoğan visit to MAKS 2019 at the beginning of this month in Zhukovsky.
Sukhoi’s test pilot Sergey Bogdan is the latest in the lineage of celebrated Russian test pilots. Test pilot and fellow hero of the Russian Federation, Anatoly Kvochur, a Ukrainian-born aviator who became famous after a miraculous incident at the 1989 Paris Air Show when he steered a crashing MiG-29 damaged by bird strike away from the crowd before ejecting only feet from the ground, then calmly strolled next to the burning wreckage as rescue crews arrived. Anatoly Kvochur cast the mold for the modern Russian test pilot hero image. Bogdan has continued that legacy with a remarkable resume’ of flight testing accomplishments.
Sergey Bogdan graduated from the Russian Borisoglebsk Higher Military Aviation School of Pilots with honors in 1983. After several operational and testing flying posts, Bogdan entered the Moscow Aviation Institute in 1992. In 1993, he became a test pilot and performed flight testing in the Sukhoi Su-27, Su-30MKK, Su-25TM, MiG-29S and several other developmental aircraft. He was awarded the Russian Order of Courage for flight tests of the Sukhoi Su-25UTG ground attack aircraft carrier variant and the multi-role Sukhoi Su-33 onboard Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov.
From 2000 on, Sergey Bogdan became Sukhoi’s most noteworthy test pilot. He was the first man to fly Russia’s Su-57, called the “PAK-FA” during development, on its maiden flight in 2010. He had already flown at the MAKS airshow at Zhukovsky International Airport in 2001, 2003, 2005. He was also the first flight test pilot on the Sukhoi Su-30MKI and Su-35.
But even more than his long flight testing resume’, Sergey Bogdan has become a Russian aviation star. His humble good looks and pleasant demeanor has made him a favorite at MAKS, with crowds mobbing him for autographs, selfies and a chance to shake the living legend’s hand at the first-ever Sukhoi Su-57 static display this year at MAKS 2019.
For westerners, the easiest way to understand Russia’s reverence for Sergey Bogdan is to picture a modern-day Chuck Yeager, but in Russian. And while Bogdan may not share Yeager’s list of historic aviation firsts, he is perfectly calibrated to emerge in the modern social media era as the man with the “Russian Right Stuff”. Bogdan has risen to prominence not just on his flight test resume’, but in the post-Soviet Russian Federation where heroes are more open, accessible and celebrated than during the Cold War years, he has risen to popularity on his friendly demeanor and openness with aviation fans.
But Sergey Bogdan’s talent extends well beyond being a sought-after selfie magnet and collectible aviation autograph. He knows how to fly a demonstration flight for the crowds and the cameras, and on the final day of MAKS 2019, Bogdan did just that.
As the solo demo Sukhoi Su-35 variant turned into tight final approach on one of Zhukovsky’s two runways, Sergey Bogdan released the brakes on his Su-57 and slammed the throttle forward on the other parallel runway. At MAKS, you don’t spend time waiting between flight demonstrations. And while there have been conversations and even experiments with re-engining the Su-57, Bogdan’s take-off showed no sign of wanting for thrust.
Bogdan yanked the Su-57 off the runway and tucked the landing gear in while passing directly in front of the media stand, angling upward into a near-vertical, maximum power climb to begin his demo.
Performing an Immelmann turn well before the end of Zhukovsky’s runway and not far from the photographer’s stand, Bogdan flew inverted, directly overhead, afterburners sawing into the air with reverberating thunder, then cloaked himself in brilliant-white sunlit vapor as he hauled back/left on the stick.
The media stand at Zhukovsky for MAKS 2019 was positioned ideally for best lighting of take-offs and landings, but many flight demonstrations actually took place behind the media scaffolding, closer to the river behind the official photographers’ area. Bogdan knew this, and kept his demo directly over and nearly right above show-center (photographers’ left). As a result, over the next six minutes, photographers on the media stand got some of the best photos of the Su-57 ever shot.
Bogdan’s demo showcased the aircraft’s low-speed capabilities, thrust, turning capability and aerobatic ability. It included a stunning two-revolution pedal-turn, a vertical pirouetting maneuver of dubious tactical significance but spectacular visual appeal.
On previous days at MAKS 2019 and during earlier practice flights, photographers had enjoyed puffy, white cumulous clouds as a nice backdrop for Bogdan’s, and other Su-57 pilots’, flight demos. Sunday’s final demo by Bogdan also featured contrasting blue skies and bright cumulus clouds as a backdrop for the Su-57’s unusual pixelated camouflage paint scheme. During these eight minutes, the lighting and skies above Zhukovsky made this flying demo into the world’s largest aviation photo studio.
Tactical capabilities discussions aside, there is no doubt the unique, pixelated, two-tone blue and white “camouflage” paint scheme of the Su-57 looks more interesting in a demonstration setting, and makes for better photos, than the U.S. Air Force’s functional “stealth grey” F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lighting II.
Half-way through his demo routine, Bogdan still had plenty left in his bag of Russian flight demo tricks. Climbing vertically above the photographers stand, he pulled his throttle to idle and slid reward in a tail slide. “He’s backing up!” one of the photographers on the stand can be heard to say in AirGuardian’s video featured on YouTube. Bogdan then firewalled the throttles again, pushing them past their military power stops into afterburner, and flew out of the tail slide into another tight, pirouetting turn to return to show center. From there, Bogdan executed a kind of “tail-slide flare” for landing, turned 180-degrees at the end of the runway, and flew a steep approach to land directly in front of the crowd with no drag chute. After a short roll-out, Bogdan steered his Su-57 toward the crowd line at Zhukovsky to raucous applause, waving to the audience with his elevators and rudders. Photographers on the media stand could be heard to say, “Pretty impressive…” as they lowered their long telephotos and crouched over their playbacks to see their photos.
Sergey Bogdan’s sensational final day demo at MAKS 2019 revealed nothing new about the tactical utility of the Su-57. There were no surprises about its performance or capabilities. His demonstrations and the other Su-57 demos at MAKS 2019 did create a significant sensation with aviation photographers and fans from around the world, resulting in millions of new media impressions through video and stills across network news, aviation specialty press and on social media. As Russia begins conversations about the export potential of its new Su-57, it’s important to remember that a good sales pitch can be nearly as important as a good fighter in the modern era of social media air supremacy.