MAKS 2011 - Zhukovsky / Russian Federation

Any aviation exhibition is generally a good indication of the technological prowess achieved by the organising country. The bi-annual International Aviation and Space Salon (MAKS 2011) recently held in Moscow was certainly no exception. When compared to previous exhibitions, MAKS showcased a wide range of current and emerging technologies which have no more roots originating from the former Soviet Union.  The Russian aviation industry has steadily evolved over the past 20 years and is now in a position not only to address its traditional local customer base, but now also act as a serious competitor and business partner within the larger international aviation market. This progress is particularly evident within the civilian sector, where a combination of close cooperation with international companies and development of a range of innovative range of products that target areas where competition from Western counterparts is minimal. A good example is the Sukhoi SSJ100, which reflects the current state of the art of the class. Within the military sector, well proven products are constantly enhanced and improved through a series of continual upgrades (MiG-35, Su-30MK, etc.), while newer developments include the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA (PAK FA: Perspektivnji Aviatsionnji Kompleks Frontovoy Aviatsji, or "fighter aircraft of the future"). The latter made its first public appearance at MAKS with both prototypes being flown in formation in the presence of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

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Western (and international) participation at MAKS 2011 was primarily restricted to the civilian aviation sector. A highlight was the appearance of the Airbus A 380 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, both presently at the forefront of current western airliner technology. The flagship of the Airbus fleet was displayed on the ground and in the air, while the Dreamliner was open for inspection on specified trade days only. There was not anything really new from the Russian side in relation to wide-body aircraft, the Russian aircraft industry is instead more focused on the short and medium range segment of the market as it tries to regain ground lost from the Tupolev Tu 204/214 with the new Irkut/Yakovlev MS-21. The later was shown at  MAKS 2011 albeit only as a mockup in the exhibition halls, the MS-21 will make its maiden flight in three years time at the earliest. Part of the flight demonstration program was the brand-new Tupolev (KAPO) Tu-214OS, which is based on the standard Tu-214, equipped with optical and infrared sensors as an integral part of the international Open Skies project.  The Russian defense ministry is planning the purchase two of these aircraft which will replace the now obsolete Tupolev Tu-154OM. Commercially, the Tu-204/214 class was not a great success, this was mainly due to the machine being too heavy for its class and therefore from an economic point of view represented no real match to its Western counterparts, such as the Airbus A 320/321 or the Boeing 737 series.

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A little smaller than the MS-21, and now in production, is the SSJ100 (Sukhoi Superjet 100). This particular aircraft made its maiden flight on 19th of May 2008 and was the first production aircraft to be delivered to the commissioning customer, the airline ARMAVIA, on the 19th of April 2011. The SSJ100 is a good example of international cooperation within the civilian aircraft industry. No fewer than 15 western manufacturers including Thales, Hamilton Sundstrand, Liebherr and SNECMA are now involved in the project while a joint venture consisting of Sukhoi and Alenia Aeronautica of Italy are responsible for marketing and sales, Boeing acts as a consultancy in such area as quality management and after-sales service etc. The SSJ100 is a very advanced machine for its class and also the first Russian aircraft design to meet a wide range of requirements from a broad clientel base. From a technical perspective the SSJ100 is truly state of the art incorporating a very sophisticated, multi-redundant, fly-by-wire flight control system that also can extend and retract the landing gear. Power is provided by the new Powerjet SaM 146 engine developed as a joint venture with the famous French SNECMA group. This efficient power plant features low operating costs and improved ease of maintenance. For example, replacement of the engines compressor blades can be carried out without the removal of the entire engine from the aircraft. During the daily flying displays the extremely low noise emitted from this aircraft was very evident – indeed, an important requirement in todays enviromental climate. As to whether the SSJ100 will be competitive on the international market remains to be seen, however – given the right conditions, these is no reason the SSJ100 should not be a viable commercial success.

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Amongst all the news at MAKS 2011, and what went almost unnoticed was the successor of the legendary Antonov An-2 (NATO code: COLT). The An-2 was used consistently for over 50 years in both civilian and military roles. A replacement for the largest single-engine bi-plane in the world has not been readily available, that is until now, at least according to the State Rocket and Space Scientific Production Centre (TsSKB-Progress) of Samara. This company also well known for its manufacture of the famous Soyuz rocket has now expanded into the aircraft production business with the new Rysatshok twin turboprop (designed by the Moscow based firm Technoavia SCF). This small multi-purpose aircraft was designed to operate from unpaved runways and employs a simple yet robust design. The Rysatshok made first flight on the 2nd of December 2010 achieving a maximum speed of nearly 400 km/h while carrying a payload of 1,500kg, accommodation is provided for up to 13 passengers (depending on the configuration). The range is specified as nearly 2,000 km. Power is provided by two General Electric H80 gas turbine engines (the prototype still has the older and less powerful W601 engines from the same manufacturer) each rated at 800 SHP. One very funny feature are the sheepskin seat covers provided, well at least in the prototype! Whether these will be available in production machines, could not be found out.

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Certainly, a highlight of MAKS 2011, at least from a military perspective, was the first public appearance of the Sukhoi T-50 (christened: RAPTORSKY, by the western press ). This high performance 5th generation fighter aircraft is equipped with modern avionics and a design that greatly reduces its radar signature, it was quite obvious that with its superior thrust to weight ratio and extreme agility that this fighter is presented as a serious competitor to the US Lockheed Martin F-22 RAPTOR. The maiden flight of the first prototype (T-50-1) took place on 29th of January 2010 in Komsomolsk. In the meantime, the two aircraft which are airworthy are in the test phase while a third is still under construction. Due to the relatively early conduct of flight testing, it is amazing that both prototypes were actually at MAKS as part of the flight display program. However, the flight demonstrations of the T-50 at MAKS were not really a true indication of the capabilities of the aircraft and therefore not representative of its actual performance. Further to this, both prototypes are not yet equipped with the planned Tikhomirov NIIP N-050 AESA radar installation or production power plants, but are currently using the tried and true NPO Saturn 117S unit, which has performed well in the Sukhoi Su-35. Information that has been received has been quite contradictory with some sources stating that the prototype is already equipped with an intermediate version of the new engine, which is also known as 117 (without the suffix S), however, this power plant has been problematic during development. When taking off on the last day of the event test pilot Sergei Bogdan had to cancel the display after a malfunction in the right engine. The fact that these situations , particularly in new developmental aircraft, do occur from time to time (actually they do occur quite a lot) was emphasized by the Russian side repeatedly. However, numerous media reports, mainly from the west, have reported this as a major setback for the entire program.

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To what extent the T-50 matches or even surpasses the capabilities of the American F-22 RAPTOR remains uncertain at this present time (in the case of the radar reflecting qualities of the T-50 with a sub 0.5 m frontal area, however, the lateral radar signature, according to calculations, is slightly more than 1 mư - at least, here the RAPTOR definitely maintains a strong lead). It is clear that all of these numerous estimates and assumptions are just vague calculations circulated by the media, for a realistic comparison one needs a little more than just assumed technical details. Importantly though, the T-50 does not place a heavy reliance on its stealth technology, unlike her American counterpart, but primacy is placed on agility utilising its enormously powerful engines and advanced avionics in addition to its already drastically reduced radar signature. Only when its new engines are made available will thrust as much as 180 kN (120 kN without afterburner), directed through a three-dimensional thrust vector control system, allow the T-50 display its fullest potential. In one aspect the Sukhoi will definitely outmaneuver the F -22 – in case of the price resulting in a potential export success. The Russian and Indian air force are already planning the purchase a total of 200+ machines of this type, and no doubt more sales success will certainly happen with in the future.

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It is interesting to observe the path that Russia is taking and where this will lead. With the Sukhoi Su-35 the Russian aerospace industry has developed a very capable and potent platform which fills a gap until the introduction of the high-performance T-50. Another focal point is the continuing development of products made by MiG RAC, particularly the MiG-35 multi-role combat aircraft. Equipped with the latest avionics (including the powerful Phasotron Zhuk AE AESA radar) and an air-to-air refueling capability, this product line continues to act as a strong competitor in the world market. This corresponds well to the Russian policy of maintaining ongoing development of existing products and only taking on new projects if it is absolutely necessary. While an important factor in the procurement of military equipment is technical superiority and most importantly price, the guaranteed availability of logistical and technical support is also of vital to any prospective new owner. This is where the Russian aviation industry, in more recent years, has tried to catch up with the west. Whether this is successful or not, only time will tell. Visitor interest, especially from the traditional customer base, was considerable, as was evidenced by the large number of various high-ranking delegations present at MAKS.

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In relation to rotary winged aircraft, MAKS 2011 had a lot on offer. Most impressive was a flight demonstration of the huge Mil Mi-26T2 transport helicopter (NATO codename HALO). The T2 version is a fully modernised variant of the civilian (T) version of this large, heavy-lift helicopter. The number 2 reflects the reduction of the original 5 man crew (pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, flight mechanic and navigator) to a modest two-man crew of pilot and co-pilot by installing a digitalised glass cockpit and modern avionics. This makes the Mil Mi-26 capable of day or night operation in all weather conditions. An indication of the enormous size of this machine is the fact that the Mi-26 has about the same load carrying capacity as a Lockheed C-130 HERCULES! Following a long wait one could finally see the prototype of the successor to the successful Mi-8/17 family in a flight demonstration. The development of the Mi-38 (civilian version is the Mi-382) goes back to 1983 with its inaugural flight taking place in late 2003. Problems, especially in the engine area, delayed the program again and again. The Mi-38 is, at least at first glance, a blend of the old and new. A modern glass cockpit, high-performance Klimov TV7-117V engines (each with 2,800 WPS) are coupled to the rigid airframe of the Mi-8/17 which has a much better aerodynamic profile, but when viewed from the rear one is strongly remind of its true pedigree. A new feature is the use of composite materials in the rotor area and the utilisation of a digital fly-by-wire flight control system. The aircraft displayed is the second prototype which is still fitted with slightly underpowered Pratt & Whitney PW-127 T/S gas turbine engines however the production machines are expected to be equipped with Klimov engines. Interesting, some previously tested components of the Mi-28 attack helicopter (opposite tail rotor, rotor head, gearbox) are also utilised, albeit in a modified form.

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The Mi-28 Attack Helicopter (NATO codename: HAVOC) was also demonstrated as part of the flight program as well as on static display with one aircraft of the Russian Armed Forces (Mi-28N) and the other an export version (Mi-28NE). It's concept is very similar to the  American AH-64 APACHE, and a direct comparison reveals there is not a lot of difference between the two aircraft, nevertheless many experts believe the Mi-28 to be superior to the AH-64 in some respects. The HAVOC is definitely ahead in relation to survivability particularly with regard to its new rotor blades being made of composite materials and designed to withstand direct hits from 30 mm ammunition. The flight demonstration, however, revealed little about the machines capabilities with the maneuvers flown being very sedate with many visitors commenting "That was all?" The flight demonstration of another Russian built attack helicopter, the Kamov Ka-52, was also not really that impressive either, however the quietness of this machine was very notable, particularly in the low-flying fast approach profile, this machine is almost acoustically inaudible. The Ka-52 (NATO codename HOKUM-B) and the Mi-28 are armed with the Schipunow 2A42 30mm automatic gun, this weapon is mounted on the right side of the fuselage (in the fixed forward firing position). This is generally regarded as a tactical disadvantage as the pilot must utilise the whole aircraft in order to aim the gun.

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One highlight, especially for the Russian audience, was the attendance of a large contingent from the U.S. Air Force. For many, particularly the older visitors, it must have been quite a strange feeling to watch a US Boeing B-52 STRATOFORTRESS approaching Zhukovsky. Apart from the aforementioned B-52, the American contingent also consisted of a MDD KC-10 EXTENDER, a Lockheed Martin F-16C FIGHTING FALCON, a Lockheed C-5 GALAXY, a Fairchild A-10 THUNDERBOLT II and two Boeing F-15C EAGLE with the latter providing a very dynamic flight demonstration. The number of vintage aircraft on show, especially when compared to the many western shows, such as ILA in Berlin or SBAC at Farnborough, was quite small, nevertheless where else could you see the worlds only airworthy Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-3 and a Polikarpov I-16 in flight. Even a rare Polikarpov I-15 bi-plane and a Polikarpov Po-2, circled around the airfield a few times. The latter was utilized as a "night attack aircraft during the Second World War. The Po-2 was not very successful from a military point of view, but annoyed the German soldiers who christened it the "The Russian Sewing Machine"

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In conclusion, MAKS 2011 was certainly the most successful aviation exhibition held in Russia in recent years with a total 842 exhibitors in attendance (compared to 735 at  MAKS 2009). Additionally, the numerous business deals exceeding $10b dollars and the countless contracts signed helped make this years MAKS a total success. Within the air base no less than 241 aircraft were represented ranging from Ultra Lights to the legendary Tupolev Tu-95 (NATO code: BEAR). On the three trade days alone over 100,000 people flocked to the site. The necessary logistical cost (the bulk of the audience was taken by shuttle bus from the train station and car parks to the exhibition grounds) was accomplished remarkably smoothly with typical Russian composure. And even if the weather did not play along on the last day of the event, we saw many very happy faces – from the audience as well as from representatives of the exhibiting companies.

Robert Kysela / CHK 6

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