While I was visiting MAKS 2005 Aerosalon airshow, four years ago, I just had the feeling I was about to have a heart attack there. There were all the jetfighters and huge airlift airplanes that did not make it anymore to western Europe airshows. As many russian combat airplanes were on flying displays everyday, as in the Air Tattoo. I'd say the real fact with most airshows taking place in North America and western Europe, is that you only watch half of the earth's airplanes flying. You can't see there airplanes built in Russia, though that country remains one of the two main centers of gravity for air and space inovation in 2009. Russia is by no mean something apart. While the russians rank first with space launches, Mig and Sukhoi build some of the most powerfull and agile combat aircraft in the world. They tackle the US giants for military airplanes export. Last but not least Antonov provides the largest cargo airplanes in the world.
So why am I visiting Zhukoskii every two years ? The main reason is that instead of sticking to a local national team closing the daily display flying training aircraft, I know I should see - at least - the Russian Knights (flying four to six heavy Su-27s depending on the day), and the Swifts 'Strizhi' (are flying four to six MiG-29s), both teams being part of the 237th Display Aviation Regiment stationned at Kubinka. These are the heaviest and largest wingspanned national teams in the world, trailing vortices and shockwaves. And if that was not enough for a sole air force, the russian headquarters had the excellent idea to add the Sokoli Rossii team from Lipetsk flying four Su-30s and focusing on air combat display. But I will even more be motivated to come back in 2011 since I had the opportunity to wingwalk a Tu-144, thanks to a Tupolev Tu-334 engineer, who opened widely all of the '144' doors for my eyes only.
As Col Igor Tkatchenko (Commander - 237th Display Regiment) and two other Russian Knights aircrew collided three days before MAKS 2009 inauguration day, the last four Knights Su-27s refused to take part to the daily festivities, excepting on Sunday August 23rd. They just performed superb four-ship flypasts in the name their late Commander. The reason for the accident www.sky-lens.com/articles-news.php is still unknown but russian officials favour the pilots error thesis, though according a russian media, Col Tkatchenko had warned a few years ago that their Su-27 Flankers were too old to fly safely with the team. Of course safety was discussed much due to a someone on the ground who was tragically 60% burnt by one of the falling Flankers, let's notice authorities were courageous enough not to cancell all the Aerosalon. However the show was by international safety standards.
The official annoucement on inauguration day by Prime Minister Putin that he had signed for 48 brand new Su-35 Flankers to be delivered by 2015, plus 12 Su-27SM and four Su-30M2 (by 2011) was enough to hide the poor state of readiness of much of the Air Force. So the Lipetsk team filled the gap left by the Knights, and the Strizhi added much as well. Though Strizhi leader (Col. Koposov) flew a polished solo routine, it was disappointing that for once the team did not fly all six MiG-29s but only four instead. That detail taken apart if there was only main disappointment with the Aerosalon itself, it was the weather. Every day was cloudy and 15°C cold - unusual in Moscow in August , so flying displays were flat routines.
Yet many local test pilots did a spectacular job, though they were blessed with the clouds : Vlasov and Chichov with the MiG-35, Beliaev with the MiG-29 OVT, Bogdan with the Su-35, Vachouk with the Su-30MKI and Gorbounov with a MiG-29 SMT. The tradition in Russia is that each main combat aircraft latest variant has its own solo, whereas NATO countries take each the bad habit to stick to a single national solo. The best display overall was a whole group flypast teaming a Sukhoi Superjet 100, the Su-35, the Su-30MKI, the MiG-29OVT and the MiG-35, as their break was worth the travel. Each MAKS 2009 owns its own surprises and it seems to me that few airshow organising teams are as creative with the air displays as the MAKS one. Also few airshow andiences are as so enthusiastic than russian people attending the air display. Not only they are patriotic with each performing pilot, but also they salute with cries all foreign teams performances. MAKS 2009 gathered the Patrouille de France, Rafale Solo Display, and the Frecce Tricolori who stole the audience. Unfortunately the US did not send any flying item this year.