Civil aircraft
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Strategic and special purpose aircraft


Development: Sukhoi Design Bureau
Maiden flight: 1987

The Su-33 (Su-27K) is a single-seat multi-purpose shipborne-decking fighter airplane with horizontal takeoff and horizontal landing capability, complete with folding wing and tail plane for hangar storage.

The Su-33 is intended for naval air superiority missions, the air defense and missile defense of a ship group, the destruction of any aerial, sea-surface and ground targets with missiles and bombs, as well as supporting the combat operations of other fleet air force units such as shipborne, missile-carrying, anti-submarine, radar surveillance, and other aircraft.

The Su-33 can also perform containment functions prior to engagement and maintaining an operational environment in the near and far maritime zones, which makes any aggression from the sea impractical or extremely difficult. The tactical operating range of the Su-33 is 1,200 km. The fighter is capable of barraging a designated area performing air defense and missile defense missions 500 kilometers away from its carrier over more than two hours. The use of a Su-33 leads to a one-and-a-half-fold to double increase in the strike capabilities of operational units in initial naval operations at a distance of 1,500-2,000 kilometers from the shore.

The USSR Navy’s carrier ships had long carried only vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft that could not compete with the US Navy’s aircraft taking off with the use of steam-driven catapults. In order to catch up, the Sukhoi Design Bureau mounted an effort to design and launch production of a new shipborne airplane based on the Su-27’s design in the mid-1970s. The Su-27K (shipborne) was to become the first domestically-produced heavy-class fighter capable of take-offs or landings on ship decks in the traditional fashion, i.e. with a take-off run and landing roll.

The Su-27K development project entered its active phase in 1982 when the government decided to launch construction of an aircraft-carrying heavy cruiser at the Black Sea Shipyard in Nikolaev, which was meant to provide air defense for the Navy’s ship groups in the world's oceans and seas. To achieve a shorter take-off distance for airplanes like the Su-27 and MiG-29, a takeoff ramp was designed in the nose section of the ship’s flight deck instead of a catapult. Such a concept required experimental testing. To test the engineering concepts for the take-off and landing of decking airplanes, explore the specific nature of seaborne aircraft operations, and train future sea-based aviation pilots, the government made the decision to set up a Research and Training Facility (NIUTK) in Crimea, which would later be renamed “Nitka” (Aviation Research and Training Complex).

In 1982-83, the first stage of ramp take-off tests and the ground stage of arrester gear landing tests were completed. N. Sadovnikov was the Design Bureau’s lead test pilot for that program. He was the first of the Design Bureau’s test pilots to successfully complete a ramp take-off on August 28, 1982. The testing of a no-flare landing and take-off from the new ramp version with a greater angle began with another modified test airplane in 1984. V. Pugachev operated the first deck running landing on September 1, 1984, and N. Sadovnikov successfully completed the first take-off from the new ramp on September 25, 1984.

The possibility of designing and producing a shipborne fighter was therefore proven in principle, and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and USSR Council of Ministers passed a resolution assigning the Sukhoi Design Bureau to develop the Su-27K, based on the Su-27’s design, on April 18, 1984. Earlier, the Mikoyan Design Bureau had been tasked with the development of a shipborne fighter based on the MiG-29’s design. Therefore, an informal competition for “a spot on deck” was initiated between the two Design Bureaus. A conceptual design review was completed in November, 1984, and detailed design documentation for the Su-27K (T-10K) was completed in 1985-86. The work was led by Deputy Chief Designer K. Marbashev.

Two initial test Su-27K airplanes were manufactured by the Design Bureau in cooperation with the production plant in 1986-87. The first flight of the T10K-1 test airplane was operated by the Design Bureau’s test pilot, G. Pugachev, on August 17, 1987, and N. Sadovnikov first took off in the T10K-2, the second test airplane, on December 22, 1987. V. Pugachev successfully landed the T10K-2 on the deck of aircraft-carrying heavy cruiser "Tbilisi" (subsequently renamed “Admiral Kuznetsov") for the first time in the history of national aviation on November 1, 1989.

Production of Su-27K airplanes was launched by KnAAPO in 1989, when the production plant manufactured a test airplane for static tests. The first flying prototype of the produced T-10K-3 airplane was assembled in early 1990. The first flight of the production Su-27K was completed on February 17, 1990 (by test pilot I. Votintsev). Six more Su-27K airplanes were produced by KnAAPO in 1990.

Official tests of the Su-27K were completed in 1994. A total of 24 Su-27K airplanes were produced by that time and reassigned to the Northern Fleet Base, home-base of the "Admiral Kuznetsov" aircraft-carrying heavy cruiser. The first four airplanes were ferried to Severomorsk from the production site in Komsomolsk-on-Amur on April 1993 and joined the 279th Naval Fighter Regiment (KIAP). The "Admiral Kuznetsov" aircraft-carrying heavy cruiser completed its first long oceanic tip to the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea during the period of December 1995 to March 1996.

The Su-27K was officially passed into service by presidential decree, and accepted by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and given the name “Su-33 shipborne fighter” on August 31, 1998.

A two-seat operational training version had been developed by the Design Bureau since the mid-1980s. Later, work on a new dual-cockpit version designated as the Su-27KUB (10KUB) would be started in the early 1990s. The test prototype model was manufactured at the production site in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in 1995-98; the final assembly was completed in Moscow, where a T10K-4 test airplane was used for modifications. The first flight of the 10KUB test prototype model was completed on April 29, 1999 by the plant’s test pilots V. Pugachev (Captain) and S. Melnikov (Co-Pilot). The airplane successfully passed the factory stage of tests. Finally, the 10KUB had the chance to receive the high praise of fleet air force pilots.


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