MAKS Moscow, Russia 2017
During the third week of July the biennial aviasalon MAKS was held once again at Zhukovsky airport. 2 members attended the event for 3 days. One day they went inside to capture the static exhibition and during the other 2 days they stayed outside the airfield to capture the flying display as this is the best position for photographing the aircraft that perform flying displays, because on base you suffer from backlight the whole day.
The static area, which was positioned on the shorter runway at Zhukovsky airport, could largely be divided into several sections. These being preserved aircraft, aircraft models from the manufacturers, aircraft used within the Russian Armed Forces and experimental/research aircraft.
Amongst the displayed preserved aircraft the most notable ones were the MiG 1.44. An aircraft that used to be the answer to the American made F-22 Raptor, but the project was ultimately cancelled after some troublesome budgetary and design problems. Another interesting aircraft on display was the Myasishchev VM-T Atlant. The aircraft is a derivative from the Myasishchev M-4 bomber and was used to carry the booster rockets from the space shuttle and some other space vehicles. Therefore the tail was redesigned so that it could carry the big payloads that were fitted onto the back of the plane without disturbing the flight characteristics and controllability. A third aircraft worth to mention was the Tu-144D, in the Western part of the world better known as the “Concordski” to refer to the English/French build Concorde. The Tu-144D was the first supersonic Russian build airliner and externally looked really similar to the Concorde. Another very interesting aircraft that was present, but wasn’t positioned next to the other preserved aircraft because it also participated in the flying display, was a recently restored Il-2 Shturmovik! This plane was found on the bottom of a lake and, quite unbelievably, restored back to flying condition! This Il-2 is one of only 2 flying examples in the world.
A large part of the static at MAKS 2016 were the company owned aircraft. Most of these airframes came, off course, from Russian manufacturers. A big part of the static could be described as modernized or upgraded versions from already existing helicopter types. For example, on display were, the Mi-26T2, Mi-35M-3, Mi-28NE and an upgraded/improved Mi-2. Also present were various variants from the Mi-8/17/171 helicopter in different configurations.
Apart from the large amount of helicopters, also some fixed wing factory owned aircraft were present in the static, these came mostly from foreign countries. Some examples were an improved version of the LET-410, PC-12 and P-180. Also interesting to see was an upgraded version from the An-2 with, most notably from the outside, an upgraded engine and wing structure and a upgraded version from the Yak-52, renamed to the Yak-152.
Third part of the static exhibition were the experimental aircraft. Some interesting airframes could be seen here, but most notably were the 3 Il-76 variants used for different tests. The first one is a prototype and a modernized version of the Il-76 (Il-76MD-90A) with updated avionics, engines and a glass cockpit. Second Il-76 in the experimental part of the static was the Il-76LL. During the MAKS 2017 Air Show this particular aircraft was fitted with an Klimov TV7-117ST turboprop engine besides its normal turbofan engines. Last Il-76, also an Il-76LL that was present in the experimental parc came from the Gromov Flight Research Institute and this aircraft was fitted with an PD-14 turbofan engine.
Besides these 3 big experimental aircraft, several other transport-like experimental aircraft were present in the static part of the show, these being an Il-114LL, used amongst other things for testing new avionics, radar and thermal vision mapping. Another interesting aircraft that was present was a Tu-154M from the Gromov Flight Research Institute. This aircraft is used to test new fly-by-wire components that are going to be used in new fighter aircraft. Besides these experimental aircraft/testbeds, a couple more airframes were shown to the public as could be seen in the pictures below.
The last, and largest part of the static, consisted out of aircraft used within the Russian Armed Forces. Also these could be divided into several sections. The big aircraft consisting out of the bombers, AWACS and transport aircraft.
The helicopters used within the Russian Armed Forces. And lastly the fighter – fighter/bomber aircraft, this part could also be seen as a gathering from the Sukhoi-family as there was a large number of them present.
In the flying display a lot of interesting items were performing. No less than 90 airframes displayed during MAKS 2017. From those 90 flying assets, a large amount came from display teams. In total, 8 display teams attended the airshow. Lien and Tim attended the flying part of the show on Saturday and Sunday. The flying displayed differed a bit on both days, a couple of flying acts performed only on Saturday or vice versa.
The biggest differences on the 2 days were that on Saturday the show was opened by a fly-pass from various helicopters from the Russian Helicopters Company. Afterwards a couple of helicopters that flew in the fly-pass performed a solo display. Also only displaying on Saturday was the Il-114LL, used as a flying testbed for new avionics and performance of radars, photography and thermal vision mapping of sea and ground surfaces. Last flying act that was only seen on Saturday was that of a MiG-29UB that performed 2 single passes between two display acts.
On Sunday there only was one flying act that didn’t displayed on the Saturday. This act came from the Russian Falcons. The team flew their display at MAKS 2017 with 4 Su-35S Flanker E’s. The team doesn’t really perform a full aerobatic show though, they begin their show with a couple of formation passes after which the team splits up in 2 pairs of 2 and then they actually perform some basic fighter maneuvers during a 2 vs 2 mock-up dogfight.
The display from this team actually showcase how a normal work day from the pilots of the team looks like as they, and the rest of the pilots in the squadron, are responsible for the operational conversion of pilots on the latest type of aircraft within the Russian Air Force.
This wasn’t the only team on Sukhoi that displayed at MAKS. Their national display team, the Russian Knights also fly on the mighty Sukhoi fighter. Until 2016 they flew the legacy Flanker, but in early 2017 the team switched to the more modern and powerful Su-30SM.
The team isn’t a full time aerobatic team like for example the RAF Red Arrows, USAF Thunderbirds or US Navy Blue Angels. The pilots’ full time job is fighter training and they practice their display only a couple of times before they go to an airshow. The number of aircraft that they perform their show with also varies, but at MAKS 2017 they flew their show with 6 Su-30SM’s.
Their normal routine is that they start with 6 aircraft and showing close formation flying passes. After these couple of passes the team splits into a section of 2 solo acts and the main formation of 4 planes that keep performing the formation passes. Then the team further shrinks to only 2 aircraft that perform some opposition passes. After this duo completed their sequence only 1 plane remains and it performs a more dynamic solo display that showcases the real power and maneuverability from the Su-30SM. To give their show some more punch the team also uses a lot of flares during their display.
Sukhoi not only designs fighter aircraft but also aerobatic aircraft and planes for commercial use. The Sukhoi Design Bureau showcased their latest airliner, the Sukhoi Super Jet 100, at the MAKS airshow. Although it’s an airliner, the crew from the SSJ-100 still gave a short but really impressive display that showcased the flight envelope from this passenger jet.
Another solo act that flew during the weekend was a very special one. It was the first public display from a recently restored Il-2 Shturmovic. The Il-2 is a ground-attack aircraft that was used in large numbers during the Second World War. The particular aircraft that flew during the MAKS airshow actually underwent an intensive restauration like already explained earlier in this report. The display itself wasn’t that spectacular, it only consisted out of a couple of passes, but just to see such a rare aircraft in flight alone makes it that more special.
During the airshow also a number of civilian teams performed in the flying display. 2 of these teams flew with propeller driven aircraft. The first one was the “Chelavia Team”. This team flies with 6 Sierra/Tecnam P-2002’s and the aircraft are flown by instructor pilots from the pilot training centre ChelAvia.
Their display isn’t fully aerobatic but consists more of several formation passes from the whole team and afterwards they split into two groups, one main formation with 4 aircraft that keep performing various formations and a section of 2 aircraft that mostly perform a couple of opposition passes. The second team that performed at MAKS 2017 with their propeller aircraft was “The First Flight” team. This team actually consists out of sport pilots that won prices in aerobatic championships. The team flies their display with a mix of 3 different types of planes. At MAKS they performed with 1 Piper PA-23 Aztec, 1 Yak-54 and 4 Yak-52’s. In comparation to the Chevalia Team, the display from “The First Flight” is more aerobatic and dynamic.
Apart from these 2 prop display teams, also 2 civilian jet teams performed at the airshow. The first team is called “Team Russ” and they fly 6 L-39 Albatross aircraft. Their display could be compared to that from the famous Breitling Jet Team that also flies the Albatross in the same number as Team Russ. Only noticeable difference apart from the color scheme is that team Russ uses different colors of smoke. The colors the team uses are the ones that are in the Russian flag so red, white and blue.
The second civilian display team that was present at MAKS also performed with the L-39 jet trainer but they came from Latvia. The Baltic Bees was one of only 2 foreign teams to perform at MAKS. Compared to the other teams that were present, The Baltic Bees is a pretty young team, formed in 2008 and at that time they only flew with 2 L-39’s. Nowadays the team performs with 6 L-39’s and their routine can also be compared to that of the Breitling Jet Team but one big difference is that from the solo pilot.
The solo act from the Baltic Bees, but also that from Team Russ, really shows the maneuverability and handling that this jet trainer has, something that you don’t get to see within the routine from the Breitling Jet Team. For example, both teams’ solo pilots perform the incredible Lomcovak maneuver.
The Russian Armed Forces also use this jet trainer, but at the 2017 MAKS airshow the planes possible successor was also presented, the SR-10. During the MAKS 2017 airshow the plane was still in its development stage, but it could be used as a lead-in jet trainer within the Russian Armed Forces before the student pilots transit to the more advanced Yak-130 “Mitten”. Also this last one was showcased at the airshow. On the Saturday the Yak-130 was presented in a duo display. One aircraft flew in a clean configuration and in the colors from a new team that is planned to be formed. The second Mitten flew with a full weapons load and wing tanks. Apart from an advanced jet trainer, the Yak-130 can also be used as a light attack aircraft.
After the student pilots complete their training on the Yak-130 they can transition to front line fighter aircraft. One of these fighter aircraft is the MiG-29 Fulcrum. The capabilities from this fighter aircraft were shown at the airshow by the Swifts display team. They fly a mix from single and twinseat MiG-29’s. Apart from the Russian Knights, the Swifts are Russia’s second national display team. Just like the Russian Knights, the pilots from the Swifts display team aren’t full time display pilots. Their full time profession is fighter pilot training. The pilots only train the display routine a couple of days before they go to an airshow.
At the MAKS airshow the team performed with 6 MiG-29 Fulcrums. In comparison to the Russian Knights, the Swifts almost exclusively perform formation passes as a whole team whereas the Russian Knights, as explained earlier, begin their show as a team and end it as a solo display. Apart from the MiG-29’s from The Swifts also a brief solo display was performed by a more modern variant of the Fulcrum, designated the MiG-29M2.
Other aircraft that student pilots can transit to after their advanced jet training are the ones from the Sukhoi family. Currently, fighter aircraft from the Sukhoi company are in service in a great variety within the Russian Armed Forces. This was also very well presented at the MAKS airshow. Earlier in this report we saw that a quartet of Su-35S Flanker E’s demonstrated the basic fighter maneuvers during the MAKS airshow. But this wasn’t the only quartet of Sukhoi jets that visitors at the airshow could see. Another, even more impressive item was showcased.
This item was a very impressive demonstration from the Sukhoi fighter jet family that the Russian Armed Forces currently use in their inventory. Flying in to the airshow was a nice formation consisting out of a single Su-34, a single Su-35S and a duo of the latest Sukhoi development fighter, the T-50 PAK-FA. The T-50 PAK-FA was still in its testing phase at the time of the 2017 MAKS aviasalon.
This quartet first performed a couple of formation passes and afterwards they split up. The Su-34 Fullback fighter/bomber aircraft and the Su-35S Flanker E multirole air superiority fighter both performed a solo display and afterwards the 2 T-50’s performed a mock-up dogfight. The T-50 is Russia’s first developed stealth fighter and belongs to the 5th generation of fighter aircraft. A couple of weeks after the aviasalon the official designation for the PAK-FA was revealed. Once the PAK-FA finishes its final tests and is accepted in the Russian Armed Forces it will get the designation Su-57 and will be nicknamed “Frazor”.
Even though a large portion of Sukhoi fighters already performed at MAKS 2017, the mock dog-fight from the PAK-FA’s still wasn’t the last display from a Sukhoi fighter.
Finishing the Sukhoi demonstrations were 2 Su-30SM Flanker-H’s. These 2 Su-30SM’s also performed a mock-up dogfight. From outside the Su-30SM can be easily identified by the little canards in front of the wings. The Flanker H is also equipped with thrust vectoring nozzles that makes this big fighter even more maneuverable. The pilots that demonstrated the Su-30SM during this mock-up dogfight really made great use of this feature.
Closing down the airshow was the second foreign display team that attended MAKS. This team was Al Fursan (The Knights) and they come from the United Arab Emirates. This team is one of the youngest military aerobatic teams in the world, it was only created in 2010. The team flies 7 Aermacchi MB-339NATs, the number of aircraft actually resembles the number of Emirates that compromises the UAE.
The teams’ aircraft are painted in a special black/gold color scheme on the topside. This isn’t a random choice, the meaning behind this color scheme is that it symbolizes the sand and the oil of which they have plenty in the UAE.
The bottom side of the aircraft are painted in the colors of the UAE’s flag. One of the most impressive characteristics from Al Fursan is their final pass in which the 2 solo pilots barrel roll around the main formation while the whole team makes great use of their smoke generators.
The MAKS airshow really is an airshow that any aviation enthusiast must visit at least once in its life. The majority of aircraft that can be seen at this airshow will probably never be seen at an airshow in Europe.
The MAKS 2017 edition, for me, reminded us more of a gathering from the Sukhoi-family. We were amazed by the amount and diversity of Sukhoi aircraft that could be seen at this edition.
The next MAKS edition, in 2019, is planned to take place from 27th of August until the 1st of September at the airfield of Zhukovsky. During this edition also a partner nation will join the aviasalon. It is planned that this partner nation is going to be China which can make this edition even more interesting to visit if they bring over some aircraft.
To conclude this report we would also like to thank Lucien Wagner from Airshowtrips.com for organizing this trip, helping with all the necessary paperwork and for being an incredible guide and translator during our stay in Moscow and at MAKS.
Text: Tim Van den Boer
Photography: Tim Van den Boer, Lien Lamberts