Wild Rumors Of First Su-57 Export Sale Spread As Details From Earlier “Felon” Crash Emerge

One of many Su-57 flight demonstrations during MAKS 2019. (All images: Tom Demerly / TheAviationist)

Unofficial reports of Algeria buying Su-57 Felons seem only to distract attention from recent crash of the first production example in Russia.

The “news” that Algeria has allegedly “signed a contract to purchase 14 of Russia’s newest Sukhoi Su-57 multi-role 5th generation fighter aircraft” has started making the round. Algerian Mena Defense outlet as well as Russian internal news media and Russian language social media have also reported on the story, but larger, credible media outlets such as the BBC World News and Reuters have not yet mentioned any sale.

The very same news media outlets report the Su-57 sale is part of a “package” including an additional 14 Sukhoi Su-34 and 14 Sukhoi Su-35s to Algeria. Dates for the “implementation” of the contract are reported as “2025”. The total price tag for the purchase is reported as “2 billion USD”. No confirmation of this part of the story has appeared in international media either.

Actually, the story seems to be, if not entirely false, at least embellished.

It is known that Russia has sought an export customer for its latest Su-57 5th generation tactical aircraft and it is also known that Algeria was offered the Su-34 in the past. However, while talks with Algerian government for the “Felon” might be in place, this does not imply a contract has already been signed.

An automated English translation of one Russian news story said that:

“The decision was taken in the summer of 2019 after the visit of the Algerian delegation to the MAKS air show in Moscow. During this visit led by the air force commander, the delegation of Algeria carefully studied the SU-57, and the Algerian pilot [of a] MIG-29 became one of the rare foreigners who had the opportunity to test the Russian aircraft on a simulator.”

Reporters from TheAviationist.com did see delegations from several African nations being given orientation briefings on various tactical aircraft including the Su-57 at MAKS 2019 earlier this year. This suggests a strong push for export of some of Russia’s newest tactical aircraft.

Several potential export customers including Algeria, North Korea and others were given demonstrations of the Su-57 and other updated Russian tactical aircraft at MAKS 2019 in an effort to bolster the Russian export market.

During the show, one of our reporters was allowed to “fly” the Su-57 in a static simulator that was claimed to have accurate flight controls and instrumentation. Russian defense contractor Sukhoi agreed to the brief simulator flight on the condition that our reporter received no technical briefing prior to the flight and was not allowed to ask questions about the aircraft systems.

Reports indicate members of the Algerian delegation flew this Su-57 flight simulator while visiting MAKS as they made their decision to purchase the aircraft. A reporter from TheAviationist.com, Tom Demerly, also flew the aircraft in this simulator.

Algeria’s motive for the alleged large purchase is reported to be the modernization of the neighboring Moroccan Air Force with 25 U.S. built F-16 Fighting Falcons. However, not only does it seem weird that the first contract for the “Felon” was not officially confirmed/announced, but it is also unlikely for a sale to come few days after the first production aircraft crashed in Russia during a factory flight test. So much so that someone believes the unsubstantiated rumors were spread to distract from Dec. 23 crash of the Su-57 during a factory flight test.

Russia vigorously marketed their latest Su-57, NATO codename “Felon”, to the export market during MAKS 2019.

Dealing with the latter, some details were published by TASS News Agency and others leaked on Russian social media:

“During a flight test, when the aircraft was being flown at maximum limits, there was a failure of an integrated control system. Reports differ as to whether the aircraft entered a series of uncontrolled rolls or a flat corkscrew. The malfunction began at an altitude of 10 kilometers (32,800 feet). The factory test pilot attempted to recover the aircraft during a descent of 8,000 meters (26,246 feet), but finally ejected at 2,000 meters (6,561 feet). The pilot parachuted successfully and was found an hour after the accident. Temperature at the time of the accident was 30-degrees below zero.”

A quote attributed to the unnamed Sukhoi factory test pilot was shared on Russian language social media that said:

“The stabilizers have risen in extreme opposite positions, began to rotate. Disabled the [automated control system?], switched to manual – no reaction. From 10 km to one and a half was transported – no result. Came out successfully, when landing slightly twisted my leg.”

The aircraft came down near the Komsomolsk-on-Amur aircraft plant in the Far East Khabarovsk Krai region of Russia. The first report of the accident surfaced early Tuesday morning on Russia’s official government sponsored RT News Network.

Russia has been actively working to expand the export customer base for their latest tactical aircraft including the new fifth-gen Su-57 and updated versions of their MiG-29 and Su-27 airframes. India, Turkey and now Algeria have been potential customers for Russia’s latest tactical aircraft. Nevertheless, no export deal has been signet. At least, not yet.

About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a 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 five books and contributed to many more ones.