An aviation exhibition not only reveals the performance of the global aviation market, it can also be a strong indicator of a states economic power and this is especially the case if that country is the organising nation. Nowhere else is such a high level of technology developed and employed than in the aviation industry. The amount of new contracts signed, particularly within the civilian sector, is also a clear indicator of the health of a nations aviation industry and to a certain degree, the overall condition of that nation. Based on the success or failure of these fairs, experts can certainly draw their own conclusions. As such, it is no wonder that this year's MAKS at Moscow/Zhukovsky was so intensively observed by many journalists and correspondents.
Sanctions imposed by many western nations, foremost by the EC countries against Russia, have had an obvious impact at MAKS 2015. Not only had the number of aircraft participating from foreign countries fallen considerably, especially in comparison with previous years, but as far as new contracts being signed goes, well its not really worth mentioning. In comparison to MAKS 2011 where some 10 billion USD worth of contracts were signed or MAKS 2013 where this figure exceeded 21.2 billion USD (official figures), the only significant contract signed in 2015 was the procurement of 48 Sukhoi Su-35 (NATO codename: Flanker E) fighter aircraft for the Russian Air Force, a contract worth approximately 1.5 billion USD.
In the commercial arena, the SSJ100 from the Sukhoi Company has scored a few points. As the only Russian manufactured airliner (in the 100-150 passenger class), approximately 100 SSJ100 of the aircraft are available and these could be sold or leased in the near future to a diverse range of customers. Due to the strong devaluation of the Ruble Russian airlines can not afford to extend or replace its current aircraft inventory with the latest models from Boeing or Airbus. The negative effect of this is that the Russian domestic industry has not managed to produce any aircraft that are in direct completion to the Airbus A 320/Boeing 737 class of aircraft. The Tupolev 204/214 series proved to be rather underwhelming despite its modern technology, while another issue was its additional weight especially when compared to its competition. The only new development in the 150-200+ passenger class market segment is the Irkut MS-21. The MS-21 is intended to complete its first flight next year and according to official reports some 175 firm orders have been placed.
Unfortunately, no other real commercial news came from MAKS 2015. A total of 760 companies were exhibited at MAKS 2015 of which just over 600 were Russian companies and slightly more than 150 coming from other countries (this is in comparison to 2011 with a total 842 exhibitors, or 2013, with 1100 exhibitors). A true reflection of these quite difficult times.
It would be presumptuous to regard current developments as completely negative, for example the lack of participation by Western companies has resulted in a stronger commitment to local products, a phenomena not only reflected in the military technology sector. In Russia’s commercial aviation sector, many Western companies are performing a balancing act. On one hand they have to comply with strict sanctions that are in currently in place, while on the other hand they do not want to lose this lucrative market to Russia’s domestic firms. The strong links between Russian industry and its aviation sector is another problem. No only do western companies produce components for Russian aircraft, conversely the Russian aviation industry is now working much closer with their Western counterparts. For example, the main landing gear truck beam of the new Airbus A 350-900 is manufactured by the Russian company VSMPO-Avisma. So the motto now seems to be; wait and show as much patience and good will as possible in order to be in a good position once the sanctions are lifted.
Clearly the number of exhibiting western companies had declined with an almost complete absence of Western products in the flight program and static displays. The only foreign western aircraft performing in the flying display was the brand new Airbus A 350-900. This majestic machine (for many aviation enthusiasts the model A 350 is most beautiful aeroplane ever made by AIRBUS) was presented only on the trade days and left MAKS after a brief flyby on the Friday later heading towards Toulouse/France. The direct competitor Boeing was represented only by a small booth in one of the exhibition halls. The same was true for many suppliers such as engine manufacturers Rolls Royce and Pratt & Whitney, to name just a few.
To compensate for the lack of foreign aircraft attending, a typically pragmatic Russian solution was found. The Zhukovsky area also incorporates numerous hangars where many older aircraft have been put into storage, some of them where bought out to take part in the static display - a measure that was greatly appreciated, especially by the many aviation enthusiasts in attendance. For example a MiG 1.44 technology demonstrator was put on static display to the general public for the very first time. Only two of the type were ever built with the prototype shown performing only a single test flight. The project was canceled in 2000 due to financial problems with the actual whereabouts of this aircraft being a long kept secret. Whether displaying this 5th generation fighter prototype has something to do with the announcement of the RSK MiG company developing a new, lightweight 5th generation fighter to replace the numerous MiG-29 models in worldwide service, still remains pure speculation.
Another highlight was the Myasischev VM-T ATLANT. A version of the Myasischev M-4 (NATO codename: BISON), this large long-range bomber was equipped with a huge, teardrop-shaped transport container to transport the former Soviet BURAN space shuttle. Only two aircraft were built being mainly used to transport the ENERGIJA booster rockets to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
A Mikoyan & Gurevich MiG-27L (NATO codename: FLOGGER), a MiG-25 (NATO codename: FOXBAT) and a Sukhoi Su-15 (NATO codename: FLAGON) rounded out the ranks of former Soviet Union frontline fighters at MAKS 2015. In relation to civilian aircraft, the Tupolev Tu-144 was not to be missed. This aircraft (not airworthy, but in very good general condition) is stored in one of the hangars of the Gromov Flight Test & Research Centre in Zhukovsky and was presented complete with "crew" for the spectators.
No completely new aircraft were to be seen at MAKS 2015 but this was to be expected by anyone. The time when new aircraft were presented to the public by the aviation industry every few years are long gone and Russia of course is no exception. The products of the JSC Sukhoi consortium dominated the flying program with almost all types, including a prototype of the T-50/PAK-FA series that was demonstrated in flying the program. The only notable novelty, at least regarding its the appearance at MAKS, was the Sukhoi Su-30 SM. Based on the SU-30 MK/MKI series this version features BARS-R PESA (Passive Electronically Scanned Array) radar and a 3D thrust vectoring. The main difference when compared to the MK/MKI export models is the SM variant utilises mainly Russian componentry, most components, like the avionics and ejection seats, have been replaced with those of Russian manufacture. The first two aircraft were delivered to the Russian Air Force for evaluation in 2012. By 2016 all 60 Su-30 SM aircraft ordered should be in operational service replacing the already outdated Sukhoi Su-24 (NATO codename: FENCER) in the fighter/bomber role.
In relation to aerobatic teams, there was plenty for the spectators to see but there were also a few huge disappointments. Just two weeks before the start of MAKS a Mil Mi-28N (NATO codename: HAVOC) of the BERKUTY aerobatic team (GOLDEN EAGLES) crashed due to a hydraulic malfunction at an air show in Dubrovichi/Ryazan. The pilot, Lt. Col Igor Butenko, tragically lost his life, his weapons system officer escaped with minor injuries. Due to this incident the complete Mi-28 fleet of the Russian Armed Forces (up the 100 aircraft) have been grounded. There was still a Mi-28 on display on the very first show day (probably with a special dispensation), however not a single Mi-28 was to be seen for the rest of the flying program (according to unconfirmed reports, this could mean the reason for the crash had been discovered).
The GOLDEN EAGLES helicopter aerobatic team is the world's only display team equipped with six modern combat helicopters. As regrettable as it was, the fact that the GOLDEN EAGLES were not present at MAKS, due to the aforementioned technical problems is of course perfectly understandable.
The second disappointment was the newly established KRILYA TAVRIDI Team (Wings of Taurida; Taurida is the old Russian name for the Crimea - In view of the current political situation a most unfortunate name for the team, at least from an international perspective) equipped with Yakovlev Yak-130. The only highlight flown by this team was a lacklustre formation flyby. But of course, any new team needs a considerable amount of time to rehearse their various manoeuvres and as the KRILYA TAVRIDI was established only at the beginning of this year no one expected their display to equal that of the FRECCE TRICOLORI or the RAF RED ARROWS. What the audience did see is not worth mentioning.
On the other hand, the FALCONS OF RUSSIA (Sokoly ROSSII) were playing in a completely different league. At MAKS they presented themselves in a four-ship formation each consisting of 2 x Sukhoi Su-27M and 2 x Su-30SM. The latter wore the new dark grey camouflage scheme of the VVS (Vozdushno-Kosmicheskie Sily Rossii - Russian Air Force) representing a stark contrast to the old light blue paint scheme of the Su-27M. Their extremely dynamic display featuring precise manoeuvres and close formation flying not only to looked beautiful but also highlighted the great flying skills of the pilots. The FALCONS of RUSSIA are part of the 968th IISAP (968th Composite Training and Research Aviation Regiment), which is based at Lipetsk.
More widely known (especially abroad) are the RUSSKIYE VITYAZI (RUSSIAN KNIGHTS). The team were still flying their Sukhoi Su-27P and Su-27UB but will soon convert to the Su-30SM two-seat multi-role combat aircraft. The RUSSIAN KNIGHTS were founded on 5th of April 1991 and have since been guests at numerous national and international events. Their last planned visit to a European event (Air 2014 in Payerne/Switzerland) was summarily canceled by the Swiss Air Force due to the political situation in the Ukraine. The RUSSIAN KNIGHTS stand out not only for their attractively coloured Sukhoi's but also for their extremely precise, close formation flying and dynamic solo manoeuvres. The use of flares during and especially at the end of their display sets their display apart from the rest and was the proverbial icing on the cake.
Also sporting some very nice paint schemes were the STRIZHI's (SWIFTS). The SWIFTS, similar to the RUSSIAN KNIGHTS, are based in Kubinka as an element of the 237th Aircraft Demonstration Centre. Unlike many Western teams neither the RUSSKIYE VITYAZI nor the STRIZHI use smoke generators. Currently the STRIZHI still fly the MiG-29 and MiG-29UB, however it is planned for the team to convert to a more modern type (RSC MiG-35) within the next one to two year. Besides the aforementioned two more jet display teams were present at this year's MAKS, the BALTIC BEES and RUSS, both flying the out dated Czech built Aero L-39 ALBATROS jet trainer.
Summary: Current international sanctions are a curse for the Russian aviation industry, but they can also be seen as a blessing. In relation to a lack of competition, there is lost ground that can be made up for – this fact has been repeatedly highlighted in discussions with representatives from western companies. However the American companies in particular fear they may loose their share of the long term market, not only to the Russian aviation industry but also to the Chinese. The strong increase in presence of Chinese companies has caused some concern with their participation tripling at MAKS 2015 as compared to previous fairs. China also hopes to strengthen their own market position in Russia by taking advantage of the (temporary) abolition of Western competitors.
The current economic crisis in Russia, a weak Ruble and sanctions imposed by EU and other Western countries certainly contributed to MAKS 2015 being crowned as not a great success within the commercial sector, but for most spectators this was only of secondary importance. All who attended enjoyed a great flying program with mostly wonderful flying weather on the trade days and some mixed weather conditions on the public days. Normally I would end this report with the following sentence: CU at Zhukovsky in 2017! However, this still remains to be seen as Zhukovsky is soon to be developed into a civilian airport. At the moment, the taxiway is completely rebuilt and a new terminal and rail connections are already being planned. Because of this its not completely clear where MAKS will take place in the future. That's why I formulate my final sentence as follows: CU at MAKS 2017 – well just let us see!
Robert Kysela / CHK6
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