Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 115

Russian efforts to showcase one of their most modern combat aircraft at the Paris Air Show–the world’s most prestigious aviation exhibit–suffered an embarrassing setback when the plane crashed on June 12 during its flight display. The plane, a Sukhoi-30MKI multirole fighter with advanced thrust-vectoring engines, is a development of the now venerable Sukhoi Su-27.

This family of aircraft has always been popular at air shows throughout the world. Spectacular aerobatics demonstrate the planes’ capability to fly at extremely high angles–even to seemingly fly backwards–often at very low altitudes. Maneuvers at the Paris show included several of these, during one of which the plane struck the ground as it bottomed out from a dive recovery. The two crewman safely ejected from the aircraft after the tail section burst into flames. Sukhoi chief designer Mikhail Siminov was quick to blame the accident on the pilot, Vyacheslav Averianov, but apparently retained confidence in him to announce that a second Su-30MKI would be flown out from Moscow for him to fly during the rest of the show.

Sukhoi has seen the Su-30MKI as a major foreign currency earner. In 1996, India signed a contract for forty of the multirole aircraft. In 1998, eight less sophisticated Su-30s were delivered. These were similar to the five “basic” Su-30 fighters in service with the Russian Air Force. The plane flown by Averianov in Paris was one of the prototypes of the more capable final version due to be supplied to India beginning in 2000. New Delhi has also been dickering with Moscow to obtain the rights to build the plane themselves under license. Indonesia also planned to acquire the Su-30 but had to back out of the deal when the Asian financial crisis rocked the Indonesian economy. China has shown an interest in as many as fifty of a modified version of the Su-30MKI. Ironically, the Russian Air Force is probably far down the list of potential customers for the US$35 million planes.

The loss in Paris will probably be only a minor setback for Sukhoi. Though the reputation of the plane may have been tarnished, the incident demonstrated that Russian ejection seats are impressive. The two pilots ejected from the plane while in a steep bank just a few hundred feet off the ground. Their seats functioned perfectly and they were uninjured. Paris Air Show official Edouard Marchegay labeled the Russian ejection seats as “clearly the best in the world.” (International press, June 14).