In mid-July we have attended the Moscow MAKS Aviasalon, organized at the Zhukovskiy/Ramenskoe airfield. MAKS is one of a few occasions, on which it remains possible to experience the Russian aviation up-close and personal. Here we are referring, primarily, to the latest state-of-the-art aircraft, such as the MiG-35, or the latest product by Sukhoi – the 5th generation PAK FA fighter.
MAKS itself is not a typical airshow. The event shall be rather viewed as an aerospace industry fair, during which the tycoons of the sector sign lucrative contracts, selling their products. Nonetheless, the aerial displays constitute the best form of marketing, as we are given a chance to watch the product perform in its natural environment, up in the sky.
Even though the display program is quite impressive, one should still take notice of the Zhukovskiy static display which is going to make a heart of any aviation russophile skip a beat. The static display also featured some legacy aircraft which cannot be witnessed anywhere else, even at the events where Russia would mark its presence. Here we are referring to aircraft such as the Mikoyan MiG-1.44 prototype. It was a disappointment that PAK FA T 50 (now known as Su-57) was not presented within the static display, nonetheless the remaining hardware was jaw-dropping enough, ranging from all of the Mil’s helicopters, including the Mi-26, through Il-76 airlifters, MiG-29 fighter aircraft, Sukhoi family combat aircraft (Su-30SM, Su-34, Su-35), Tupolev’s bombers (Tu-22M, Tu-160, Tu-95), Kamov’s rotary-wing aircraft, with the Tupolev Tu-144 or Miasischev Atlant to finish with. All of the above could have been witnessed up close and personal, with some aircraft and hidden treasures remaining hidden from the general audience’s eye – for example one could spot a Buran space shuttle, placed somewhere in the backstage.
The frequent MAKS visitors were a bit disappointed with the flying program. For me, a first-timer, what was happening in the air was still very impressive. The flying program began with a flypast of a helicopter formation which then transitioned into a dynamic display, with the huge Mi-26 presenting its grace in the air, preceding the show of attack helicopters. Unfortunately, Kamov’s helicopter with their peculiar twin-rotors were missing from the dynamic portion of the show, only participating in the flypast.
Following the helicopter portion, we could have witnessed the Il-2 Sturmovik in the air, according to the Russians the only aircraft in this condition in existence in the world. The pilot was not easy on the warbird, presenting its capabilities to the fullest. Following the historical aircraft, the experimental SR-10 forward-swept wing trainer performed a display. The program also included general aviation highlights, nonetheless it is obvious, that the “heavy metal” portion of the show is the absolute highlight of MAKS.
MiG-29M2 opened the military section, being followed by two Yak-130 aircraft – a trainer and a combat variant. A peculiar feature of the Russian air shows is seen in the unrestricted use of flares. The combat Yak released quite a few of those in the air. Then, the sky was taken over by Sukhoi – 2 T-50s, Su-35 and Su-34 were presenting their incredible maneuvering capabilities. Throughout the weekend – and MAKS lasts for a week – a program was also presented by 4 Su-35 aircraft flying together.
What’s interesting, this was not the end for the Sukhoi festival in Moscow. Two aerobatic teams were using derivatives of the well known Su-27 designs during their displays. Here we are referring, firstly, to a display of a pair of Su-30SM jets belonging to the Russian Navy, presenting an air combat maneuvering program, showcasing the platform’s capabilities in the air. Secondly, we could have also witness a beautiful ballet of the “Russian Knights” aerobatic teams, using six examples of the Su-30SM jets. Their display was not reminiscent of anything one can admire at the European air shows. The Sukhoi’s airframe is quite heavy, e.g. it has no ability to perform rapid barrel rolls. This does not change the fact that the display itself is very graceful. 12 Saturn engines working together in a perfect sync create an unforgettable experience that cannot be described in a written form. Strizhi team, flying the MiG-29 jets, was the second of the highlights, complementing the flying program.
The quantity of flares used in the air is high also in case of the team displays. Furthermore, the weather conditions in Moscow, including the high level of humidity, make it possible to capture interesting phenomena such as the “irisation”, that is a rainbow visible in the clouds of vapor forming on the aircraft, when these are seen against the sun. The weather, throughout the week, was very varied, ranging from thunderstorms, finishing with 30 degrees centigrade heat.
When it comes to the “international” dimension of the Russian event, due to the tense diplomatic relations and difficult relations between Moscow and the West, the transnational profile of the Salon was somewhat limited. We could have witnessed two foreign displays by Al Fursan and Baltic Bees, with the program presented by the former team being highly reminiscent of the one showcased by the Italian Frecce Tricolori.
In general, even though MAKS was said to be more modest this year, in comparison with the previous edition, the trip to Moscow was worth it. The fact that we could have witnessed the latest Russian hardware in the air, in the hands of the most experienced pilots, knowing their aircraft by heart, is enough to motivate oneself to visit Russia.
What is more, attending the MAKS Salon it would be a sin not to visit the Central Air Force Museum in Monino, located around 2 hours away (train ride) from Moscow. The collection of aircraft gathered there, including the all-titanium Sukhoi T-4 bomber, is undoubtedly a worthy highlight to see.
The author would like to thank Andrzej Rogucki here, without whom the trip to Russia and the MAKS attendance would probably still be a dream which has not come true.