MAKS - 2017 / Zhukovsky / Russian Federation

For the thirteenth consecutive time the INTERNATIONAL AVIATION & SPACE SALON - MAKS-2017 was held on the grounds of the M.M. Gromov Flight Research Institute located in the Zhukovsky district of Moscow. Over a total of six days (three trade visitor days, one student day and two public days) the largest aviation exhibition to be held on Russian soil was conducted. According to official figures a total of 452,300 visitors attended MAKS 2017 while a record number of over 880 companies exhibited at this years show. Sales figures were equally impressive with all contracts and orders generated amounting to a total of a whopping 5.741 billion euros (394 billion rubles). AVIASALON does not achieve the sales figures of some of the major Western players, such as the SALON INTERNATIONAL DE L'ARONAUTIQUE ET DE L'ESPACE at Le Bourget or the Farnborough INTERNATIONAL AIRSHOW, and its important to note that this is primarily due to the strict economic sanctions currently imposed on Russia (this has also resulted in a large proportion of  exhibitors from the West not being present) by the European Union, however regardless of this the figures generated are still very impressive.

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Economic sanctions against Russia have been in force since March 2014, however the Russian aviation industry (or at least parts of it) appear to be anything but harmed by these restrictions. In fact, the resulting lack of competition has been exactly what many of Russia’s domestic aviation companies have needed in order to catch up with foreign markets, this being most apparent within Russia’s civil aviation sector. Unfortunately, Russia’s local aviation industry has not been competitive for quite some time. Products such as the Tupolev Tu-204/214 or the Iljushin Il-96 have had little chance in the global aviation market, this is particularly so in relation to cost-effectiveness where Russian aircraft have lagged significantly behind their Western counterparts. This should however  change with the introduction of new aircraft such as the Irkut MC-21 (actually MS-21, the Cyrillic "C" is an "S" and stands for "Samoljot" = airplane), a twin-engine short to medium range airliner in the same class as the Boeing 737NG or Airbus A320NEO. The MS-21 made its maiden flight shortly before MAKS-2017 (on 28th May) with many visitors hoping to see this aircraft in the air at AVIASALON. Unfortunately, the MS-21 had completed only nine test flights prior to the start of the exhibition and as such the manufacturer had to cancel its flight demonstration at MAKS.

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Another state-of-the-art airliner from the Russian aviation industry is the Sukhoi SSJ-100 SUPERJET, unfortunately the SSJ-100 has not been the success the manufacturer had originally hoped for, the main reasons being attributed to technical problems and a relatively poor supply of spare parts. The SSJ-100 is a regional airliner/business jet with the ability to carry up to 100 passengers (hence the name SSJ-100). To date, Sukhoi has manufactured and delivered 120+ SSJ-100 aircraft with the majority of the type being owned and operated by Russian corporations (AEROFLOT operates 45 of the type of which 35 are currently in active service with the rest in storage). The balance of Russia’s commercial aviation production is exported to foreign (and mostly) Western customers, something that is slowly but steadily increasing. For example, the Dublin based airline CityJet operate five SuperJet 100-95 aircraft with an option to acquire an additional ten aircraft. At MAKS-2017 the SSJ-100 once again provided a very impressive flying demonstration.

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Making its maiden flight at AVIASALON, and also the only aircraft of Western production to appear, was the new Airbus A350-900 XWB – albeit only being demonstrated for one day only! Ironically, the only customer to acquire the new A350-900 is AEROFLOT placing an order for 14 of the type with delivery expected to commence at the beginning of next year. The A350 was designed to rival the Boeing 787 and as a successor to the A340 series of airliners with the type shown being the Dash 900 variant. The stretched version of the A350 has a seating capacity for up to 325 passengers while the Dash 1000 can accommodate up to 440 passengers.

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European and US companies were moderately represented in the exhibition halls. The booths belonging to large companies such as BOEING or ROLLS ROYCE were of a size that could have easily fitted a small German towns Christmas market. Again however, due to the ongoing sanctions, many company representatives present were anything but happy, with a sales representative from one of the larger German company openly stating what many had already thought - "these sanctions do not hurt Russia, they really only hurt the German and European companies!" The vacuum created by these sanctions is increasingly being replenished by Chinese companies. Unfortunately though Chinese presence at  AVIASALON 2017 was not part of the flying program with most Chinese companies presenting products more related to the support aspects of the aviation industry.

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An aviation exhibition is primarily a sales fair presenting the perfect opportunity to introduce potential customers to the latest developments within the aviation industry. Of course, gone are the days when an extremely wide range of new developments would be presented at every aviation trade fair. At AVIASALON 2017, there were two basic trainer aircraft that were met with a great deal of interest, the SAT SR-10 and the Yakolvlev Yak-152 with both aircraft recent contenders to provide the new two-seat basic trainer for the Russian air force. The winner of this competition was the single-engine Yak-152 and while the plane looks rather dated, at least in design, appearances can be very deceptive. The fuselage of the Yak-152 is of a monocoque construction with power provided by a single V-12 cylinder diesel engine (Raikhlin RED A-03) rated at a full 460 HP. The Yak-152 made its maiden flight on 29th September 2016 and full production is scheduled to commence in 2018. The VVS (Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily Rossii or Military Air Forces of Russia) will receive a total of 150 of the type replacing its aging fleet of Yak-52 aircraft. The SR-10 was designed by the relatively unknown SAT design bureau and is a single-engine, jet powered trainer. The wings are negatively swept (10 ø) so this sleek machine looks a little like a scaled-down version of the Sukhoi Su-47 BERKUT. At the time of AVIASALON there were no orders for this interesting looking little trainer.

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A highlight at MAKS 2017 was certainly the flight demonstration of two Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA multirole fighters with the types official name finally being announced at the end of AVIASALON as the Su-57! There are nine prototypes currently involved in an intensive flight test program with series production scheduled to commence next year, however industry insiders believe delivery of the first of the type to the Russian Air Force (VVS) will not take place until 2020. These delays are primarily due to the new engines that will power the Su-57. At the moment, very little is known about these engines except that they are more compact and of a lighter weight than the NPO Saturn 117S turbofans previously in use. The new engines (official name: Saturn AL-41F1S) are the same as those that power the Sukhoi Su-35. The new Su-57 engine, officially named Izdeliye 30, is believed to produce a tremendous level of power (17.6 kN with afterburner). The flight demonstrations of the Sukhoi Su-57 were consistently impressive, even if one could not shake off the feeling that the pilots were far from (or being allowed to) demonstrating the full potential of this advanced 5th Generation fighter.

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In addition to flight demonstrations of the Su-57 multirole fighter, it was mainly the obligatory displays of the Sukhoi Su-30/34/35 family that thrilled the audience. Displays commenced with a four-ship formation consisting of a Su-34 (NATO Code: FULLBACK), two Su -57 and one Su-35S (NATO Code: FLANKER-E). The Su-35S is a fourth-generation (known in Russia as 4++ Generation) air superiority fighter that features thrust vectoring nozzles and the advanced Irbis-E passive phased array radar. At present, 72 of the type are operated by the VVS with other operators being the People's Republic of China (24 aircraft) and the Indonesian Air Force (9 aircraft). The Su-34 heavy fighter-bomber has recently seen action in the Syrian conflict with 14 of the type flying strikes from Latakia air force base against rebel held areas. By 2020, about 200 Sukhoi Su-34 aircraft would have be delivered to the VVS of which more than half have taken part in combat operations.

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The dominant design bureau in the former Soviet Union, at least in the field of fighter aircraft development, was previously Mikoyan & Gurevich OKB. While the legendary name MiG is still synonymous with Russian fighter jets (and not only in the West), in contrast to Sukhoi, the company RAC MiG itself (Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG, successor to the MiG OKB corporation) could not build on any great past success. While there are still many MiG-29 (NATO Code: FULCRUM) fighters operating in more than 20 different air forces, they are no longer regarded as a truly first rate fighter. According to estimates, Russia still has 150+ Mig-29 S/SMT/UB versions still in active duty. Part of this fleet will soon be replaced by the latest model from RAC Mig - the MiG-35 (NATO Code: FULCRUM-F). This is a heavily modified version of the MiG-29M2 featuring thrust vectoring engines and a state-of-the-art Fasotron NIIR Zhuk-A Pulse-Doppler radar. Up to 170 of the type will be procured for the VVS, the number of potential customers abroad is also quite considerable.

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Following the display of the MiG-35, two Sukhoi Su-30SM (NATO Code: FLANKER-H), sporting their relatively new dark gray camouflage schemes, took off to commence their displays. Both aircraft belong to the Russian Black Sea Fleet/43rd Independent Naval Shturmovik (Assault) Air Squadron based in Saki in the Crimea. The Russian naval aviation forces currently operate 20 of the type replacing the Sukhoi Su-24M/MR (NATO Code: FENCER). During their displays, both aircraft (as with the Su-57) performed simulated air combat maneuvers followed by very impressive solo routines. The Su-30SM is powered by two NPO Saturn AL-31FP turbofan engines featuring three-dimensional thrust vectoring. With afterburner, each NPO Saturn AL-31FP engine is capable of delivering 130.76 kN of thrust, which provides the Su-30SM with a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.02 (at normal takeoff weight).  Equipping the VVS with the modern Su-30 SM is now in full swing with more than 80 machines already being delivered and 30 more to follow by 2020. In addition to Russia, the armed forces of Belarus (12 machines) and Kazakhstan (6 machines delivered, by 2020 and a total of 30 more aircraft to be procured) have ordered or have received this modern multipurpose fighter aircraft.

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Of course, aerobatic displays are not to be missed at any aviation exhibition with several display teams being present at AVIASALON 2017. Above all of course, Russia’s national aerobatic team, the RUSSKIYE VITYAZI (The Russian Knights). This team has recently been fully modernized with the latest Sukhoi Su-30SM replacing their older Su-27P and Su-27UB display aircraft. A performance by RUSSKIYE VITYAZI is not only the highlight of every air show, but also an incredible example of primary flying skills. The precise close formation flying of their six large fighter jets is unmatched and a hallmark of this team. The RUSSKIYE VITYAZI were founded in April 1991 and only a few months later made their first international appearance in August 1991 at the Poznan Air Show/Poland. Since then, the Russian Knights have participated in numerous events at home and abroad – and since 1993 at almost every AVIASALON in Zhukovsky!

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In addition to the RUSSKIYE VITYAZI, it is above all the STRIZHI (The Swifts) display team that inspires the spectators with their performances. The STRIZHI are based at Kubinka Airbase (237th Guards Proskurov Aircraft Demonstration Center) and fly six MiG-29s (2 x MiG-29UB & 4 x MiG-29A), which are to be replaced by the brand new MiG-35s in the coming years. Unlike many Western aerobatic teams, the STRIZHI have not changed their flight program for more than 10 years. Especially spectacular is the beginning of their performance where approaching show center, parallel to the spectators and at a height of 1000ft, the formation launches hundreds of flares into the sky – truly an impressive spectacle!

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Making their debut at MAKS was a team from the Emirates - the AL FURSAN (The Knights). This demonstration team has been around for only seven years and currently operate seven Aermacchi MB-339NAT aircraft - the same aircraft as flown by the famous FRECCE TRICOLORI. The AL FURSAN team not only utilize the MB-339 as display aircraft but also use the type to provide pilot training. Therefore, it is not surprising that their maneuvers are almost identical to those of the famous Italian display team. This however does not detract from the quality of the AL FURSAN display as the precision and aviation skills of the pilots from the Emirates are in no way inferior to their role models. Last but not least, visitors were able to admire two more display teams at AVIASALON 2017. The famous BALTIC BEES from Latvia and TEAM RUSS from Russia. Both are civilian jet teams equipped with popular AERO L-39.

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Verdict: The reason why AVIASALON 2017 was held in mid-July this year (July 18 - July 23, 2017) was due to an overlap with another major event near Moscow, the INTERNATIONAL ARMY GAMES 2017, however this change that had no impact whatsoever in relation to the success of MAKS 2017. Compared to 2015, there were no major changes to the flying program or the static displays (except for a few minor things) - this is not a complaint, only an observation. After all, the fact that almost half a million visitors attended speaks for itself!

The organization of this years event was, as in previous years, truly excellent. A visit to this impressive aviation exhibition is not only a must for aviation enthusiasts, trade visitors and those interested in aviation technology, but also for the general public at large. For this reason: CU at MAKS 2019/Zhukovsky Airfield/Russia!!!

Robert Kysela / CHK6

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