Debates About Performance Aside, Sukhoi’s Su-57 “Felon” Is A Smooth Criminal.
There are a few “holy grails” for western aircraft spotters and photographers. Sukhoi’s new Su-57 “5th generation” fighter, recently named the “Felon” by NATO [this has been officially confirmed to us by the NATO Allied Air Command] has certainly become one of those “grail” aircraft for photographers.
TheAviationist.com spent two weeks with the new Sukhoi Su-57 in Russia at the MAKS 2019 Aviasalon Air Show earlier this year. This author became one of very few westerners to “fly” the aircraft in a Sukhoi company virtual reality flight simulator at MAKS.
Firstly, the Su-57 cockpit is incredibly easy to learn. While I was only allowed to perform basic flight maneuvers in the simulator, and was not permitted to ask questions about the aircraft’s systems, the aircraft was very easy to learn on a rudimentary level. Monitoring flight instruments and using the flight controls was largely intuitive for even a basic general aviation pilot. The Su-57 uses a center-stick, as opposed to the U.S. F-35 and F-22, which are both side stick. To me, the center stick remains somewhat more ergonomic. It has the added advantage of being able to be controlled by either hand, or both hands. Throttles in the Su-57 are large, and easy to operate in synchronization or asymmetrically.
The Su-57 flew in several different programs at MAKS 2019, including an interesting combat simulation, impressive formation flights and the most remarkable flights, the aerobatic demonstrations flown by Sukhoi’s top pilots, including Hero of the Russian Federation and test pilot, Sergey Bogdan.
Debates about capabilities and performance (and actual “generation”) aside, there is no denying the Su-57 demos at MAKS 2019 were a photographer’s dream. The Su-57 flights all had excellent lighting from the cross-field photo platform, perfect skies every day of the show including rehearsal days, and varied flight routines and routes over the demonstration area to produce a wealth of different shots. In addition to the aerial photography, taxiway and static area viewing options at MAKS 2019 were also excellent for the Su-57.
Russia plans to procure a force of 76 Sukhoi Su-57 “Felons” by 2028 according to remarks made by Russian President Vladimir Putin. A new procurement contract for the additional aircraft was signed in July, 2019. This followed, and contradicted, a late 2018 announcement by the Russian Ministry of Defense that the program may not move forward into full scale production. According to a July 30, 2019 article in The Diplomat by journalist Franz-Stefan Gady, “Prior to the signing of June 2019 contract, the Russian MoD had only committed to buying 16 of the jets by 2027.”
Current reports say there are 10 Su-57s in service with the Russian Air Force or in testing. This includes four Su-57s that performed a test deployment to Syria in late February, 2018. In at least one mission during the Syrian deployment, an Su-57 employed a cruise missile in combat.
Further interesting projects with the Su-57 involve inter-operability with Russia’s latest remotely piloted combat aircraft, the Okhotnik. The Su-57 has already been seen flying with the Okhotnik and one aircraft, bort number 053, has the likeness of the Okhotnik RPA integrated into its overall paint scheme.
While a good deal of speculation about the specific role of the Su-57 and its eventual numbers in the Russian military remain, as well as conversations about potential export, one thing is for certain about the Su-57, they have become a favorite subject of aviation photographers from around the world.