There are several related developments of the Su-27 design. The Su-30 is a two-seat, dual-role fighter for all-weather, air-to-air and air-to-surface deep interdiction missions. The Su-33 ‘Flanker-D’ is a navy fleet defence interceptor for use on aircraft carriers. Further versions include the side-by-side 2-seat Su-34 ‘Fullback’ strike variant and the Su-35 ‘Flanker-E’ improved air defence fighter.
In 1969, the Soviet Union learned of the U.S. Air Force's "F-X" program, which resulted in the F-15 Eagle. The Soviet leadership soon realised that the new American fighter would represent a serious technological advantage over existing Soviet fighters. What was needed was a better-balanced fighter with both good agility and sophisticated systems. In response, the Soviet General Staff issued a requirement for a Perspektivnyy Frontovoy Istrebitel (PFI, literally "Prospective Frontline Fighter", roughly "Advanced Frontline Fighter"). Specifications were extremely ambitious, calling for long range, good short-field performance (including the ability to use austere runways), excellent agility, Mach 2+ speed, and heavy armament. The aerodynamic design for the new aircraft was largely carried out by TsAGI in collaboration with the Sukhoi design bureau.
When the specification proved too challenging and costly for a single aircraft in the number needed, the PFI specification was split into two: the LPFI (Lyogkyi PFI, Lightweight PFI) and the TPFI (Tyazholyi PFI, Heavy PFI). The LPFI program resulted in the Mikoyan MiG-29, a relatively short-range tactical fighter, while the TPFI program was assigned to Sukhoi OKB, which eventually produced the Su-27 and its various derivatives.
The Sukhoi design, which was altered progressively to reflect Soviet awareness of the F-15's specifications, emerged as the T-10 (Sukhoi's 10th delta wing design), which first flew on 20 May 1977. The aircraft had a large delta wing, clipped, with two separate podded engines and a twin tail. The ‘tunnel’ between the two engines, as on the F-14 Tomcat, acts both as an additional lifting surface and hides armament from radar.
The T-10 was spotted by Western observers and assigned the NATO reporting name 'Flanker-A'. The development of the T-10 was marked by considerable problems, leading to a fatal crash on 7 May 1978. Extensive redesigns followed, and a heavily revised version, the T-10S, made its first flight on 20 April 1981.
Soviet Su-27 in-flight
The production Su-27 (sometimes Su-27S, NATO designation 'Flanker-B') began to enter VVS operational service in 1985, although manufacturing difficulties kept it from appearing in strength until 1990. The Su-27 served with both the V-PVO and Frontal Aviation.
The Su-27's basic design is aerodynamically similar to the MiG-29, but it is substantially larger. The swept wing blends into the fuselage at the leading edge extensions and is essentially a cropped delta (the delta wing with tips cropped for missile rails or ECM pods). The Su-27 is also an example of a tailed delta wing configuration, retaining conventional horizontal tailplanes, though it is not a true delta.
The Su-27 had the Soviet Union’s first operational fly-by-wire control system, developed based on Sukhoi OKB’s experience in the Sukhoi T-4 bomber project. Combined with relatively low wing loading and powerful basic flight controls, it makes for an exceptionally agile aircraft, controllable even at very low speeds and high angles of attack. In airshows the aircraft has demonstrated its manoeuvrability with a Cobra (Pugachev’s Cobra) or dynamic deceleration – briefly sustained level flight at a 120° angle of attack.
The naval version of the 'Flanker', the Su-27K (or Su-33), incorporates canards for additional lift, reducing take-off distances. These canards have also been incorporated in some Su-30s, the Su-35, and the Su-37.
Su-27 carrying R-27 missiles
The Su-27 is armed with a single 30 mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-30-1 cannon in the starboard wingroot, and has up to 10 hardpoints for missiles and other weapons. Its standard missile armament for air-to-air combat is a mixture of Vympel R-73 (AA-11 Archer), Vympel R-27 (AA-10 'Alamo') weapons, the latter including extended range and IR guided models.
The Su-27 has seen limited action since it first entered service.
In the morning of 13 September 1987, a fully armed Soviet Su-27, Red 36, intercepted a Norwegian Lockheed P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft while flying over the Barents Sea. The Soviet fighter jet performed different close passes, colliding with the reconnaissance aircraft on the third pass. The Su-27 disengaged and both aircraft landed safely at their bases.
These aircraft were used by the Russian Air Force during the 1992–1993 war in Abkhazia against Georgian forces. One fighter, piloted by Major pilot Vaclav Alexandrowich Shipko (Вацлав Александрович Шипко) was reported shot down by an S-75M Dvina on 19 March 1993 while intercepting Georgian Su-25's performing Close Air Support.
The Su-27 entered Angolan service in mid-2000 during the Angolan Civil War. It is reported that one Su-27 in the process of landing, was shot down by SA-14 MANPADs fired by UNITA forces on 19 November 2000.
Four Indonesian Flanker type fighters including Su-27s participated for the first time in the annual Pitch Black exercise in Australia on 27 July 2012. Arriving at Darwin, Australia the Indonesian fighters two Su-27s and two Su-30s were escorted by two Australian No. 77 Squadron F/A-18 Hornets. Exercise Pitch Black is a major multi-national biennial exercise hosted by the Royal Australian Air Force, involving Offensive Counter Air and Offensive Air Support missions being flown at training ranges across the Northern Territory. Exercise Pitch Black 12 conducted from 27 July through 17 August 2012, and participated 2,200 personnel and up to 94 aircraft from Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, New Zealand and the United States.
Left side scheme of a Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker B, first production series
Su-27M (Su-35/Su-37, Flanker-E/F): Improved demonstrators for an advanced single-seat multi-role Su-27S derivative. These also included a two-seat "Su-35UB" demonstrator.
Su-32 (Su-27IB): Two-seat dedicated long-range strike variant with side-by-side seating in "platypus" nose. Prototype of Su-32FN and Su-34 'Fullback'.
Su-27PD: Single-seat demonstrator with improvements such as inflight refuelling probe.
Su-27PU (Su-30): Two-seat limited production machine with improvements such as inflight refuelling probe, fighter direction avionics, new flight control system, and so on.
Su-30M / Su-30MK: Next-generation multi-role two-seater. A few Su-30Ms were built for Russian evaluation in the mid-1990s, though little came of the effort. The Su-30MK export variant was embodied as a series of two demonstrators of different levels of capability. Versions include Su-30MKA for Algeria, Su-30MKI for India, Su-30MKK for the People's Republic of China, and Su-30MKM for Malaysia.
J-11: Version of Su-27 built under licence in China.
Su-27SM (Flanker-B Mod. 1): Mid-life upgraded Russian Su-27S, featuring technology evaluated in the Su-27M demonstrators.
Su-27SKM: Single-seat multi-role fighter for export. It is a derivative of the Su-27SK but includes upgrades such as advanced cockpit, more sophisticated self-defense electronic countermeasures (ECM) and an in-flight refuelling system.
Su-27UBM: Comparable upgraded Su-27UB two-seater.
Su-27SM2: 4.5-gen block upgrade for Russian Su-27, featuring some technology of the Su-35BM; it includes Irbis-E radar, and upgraded engines and avionics.
Su-27SM3: The same as the Su-27SM but in contrast is newly built rather than a mid-life upgrade.
Su-27KUB: Essentially an Su-27K carrier-based twin-seater with a side-by-side cockpit, for use as a naval carrier trainer or multi-role aircraft.
Su-35BM/Su-35S: Also dubbed the "Last Flanker" is latest development from Sukhoi Flanker family. It features newer avionics and new radar.
Operators of the Su-27
Around 680 Su-27s were manufactured by the Soviet Union and Russia. This total includes only Su-27s and not later derivative aircraft.
People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) - 59 Su-27 fighters, consisting of 33 Su-27SKs and 26 Su-27UBKs as of January 2013 The Flankers were produced under three separate contracts by the Russian KnAAPO and IAPO plants. Delivery of the aircraft began in February 1991 and finished by September 2009. The first contract was for 18 Su-27SK and 6 Su-27UBK aircraft. The deal, known as '906 Project' within China, saw the Su-27 exported to a foreign country for the first time. In February 1991, an Su-27 performed a flight demonstration at Beijing's Nanyuan Airport. The official induction to service with the PLAAF occurred shortly thereafter. Chinese Su-27 pilots described its performance as "outstanding" in all aspects and flight envelopes. Differences over the payment method delayed the signing of the second, identical contract. For the first batch, 70% of the payment had been made in barter transactions with light industrial goods and food. Russian Federation argued that future transactions should be made in US dollars. In May 1995, Chinese Central Military Commission Vice Chairman, Liu Huaqing visited Russia and agreed to the term, on a condition that the production line of Su-27 be imported. The contract was signed the same year. Delivery of the final aircraft from the second batch, occurred in July 1996. In preparation for the expanding Su-27 fleet, the PLAAF sought to augment its trainer fleet. On December 3, 1999, a third contract was signed, this time for 28 Su-27UBKs. All 76 of the aircraft featured strengthened airframe and landing gear - result of the PLAAF demands that the fighter has a "usable" air-ground capability. As a result, the aircraft are capable of employing most of the conventional Air-to-Ground ordnance produced by Russia. Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) increased to 33,000 kg (72,750 lb). As is common for Russian export fighters, the active jamming device was downgraded- Su-27's L005 ECM pod was replaced with the L203/L204 pod. Furthermore, there were slight avionics differences between the batches. The first batch had N001E radar, while the later aircraft had N001P radar, capable of engaging two targets at the same time. Additionally, ground radar and navigational systems were upgraded. Of some note is that none of the aircraft are capable of deploying the R-77 "Adder" missile due to a downgraded fire control system.
At the 2009 Farnborough Airshow, Alexander Fomin- Deputy Director of Russia's Federal Service for Military-Technical Co-operation, confirmed the existence of an all-encompasing contract and an on-going licensed production of the Su-27 variant by the Chinese. The aircraft are being produced as the Shenyang J-11.
Russian Air Force - 355 Su-27 aircraft, including 225 Su-27s, 74 Su-27SMs, 4 Su-27SM3s, and 52 Su-27UBs in service as of January 2013 A modernisation program began in 2004. Half of the fleet has been modernized by 2012. The Russian Air Force received 12 Su-27SM3 aircraft in 2011.
According to the FAA there are 2 privately owned Su-27s in the U.S.
Two Su-27s from the Ukrainian Air Force were demilitarised and sold to Pride Aircraft of Rockford, Illinois, USA. Pride Aircraft modified some of the aircraft to their own desires by remarking all cockpit controls in English and replacing much of the Russian avionics suite with Garmin, Bendix/King, and Collins avionics. The aircraft were both sold to private owners for approximately $5 million each.
The Dutch private training support company ECA Program placed an order with Belarus for 15 unarmed Su-27s (with an option on 18 more) for use in dissimilar air combat training. Deliveries are to be completed by the end of 2012.
Russian Knights paying tribute to Igor Tkachenko, leader of the group who died during practice a week earlier.
9 September 1990: a Soviet Su-27 crashed at the Salgareda airshow in 1990 due to pulling a loop at too low an altitude. The pilot, Rimas A.A. Stankevičius and a spectator were killed.
12 December 1995: two Su-27s and an Su-27UB of the Russian flight demonstration team Russian Knights were lost, crashing into foggy, hilly terrain outside of Cam Ranh, Vietnam, killing 4 team pilots. The team of six Su-27s and an Ilyushin Il-76 support aircraft were en route home from an airshow in Malaysia, with a stop at Cam Ranh for fuel, led by the Il-76 and flying echelon right and left to it. After being vectored for approach, the lead Il-76 took a wrong course too close to terrain, which the three right-echelon Su-27s impacted. The remaining aircraft landed safely at Cam Ranh. Cause of accident was controlled flight into terrain; contributing factors were pilot error, mountainous terrain and poor weather.
December 1998: An Ethiopian Su-27 crashed during a night-flying exercise, killing a pilot.
6 January 1999: An Ethiopian Air Force Su-27, piloted by a Russian pilot, crashed during test flights. The pilot ejected safely.
27 July 2002: A Ukrainian Su-27 crashed while performing an aerobatics presentation. It crashed into the crowd and an Il-76 on static display, killing 85 spectators. Both pilots ejected and suffered only minor injuries.
15 September 2005: A Russian Air Force Su-27P crashed in Lithuania after it strayed out of its air corridor while it was flying from St. Petersburg to Russia's Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad due to a mechanical failure. The Su-27 was armed with at least 4 air-to-air missiles. The pilot ejected and was taken in Lithuanian custody. The incident led to an international debate between Lithuania, Russia and NATO.
29 July 2008: an Su-27UB crashed on a training flight in Primorye Territory, Russia. 1 pilot was killed but the other survived.
16 August 2009: While practising for an airshow, two Su-27s of the Russian Knights collided in mid-air during a test flight 5 km from Zhukovsky Airfield, south-east of Moscow, killing the Knights' leader, Igor Tkachenko. One of the jets crashed into a house and started a fire. The pilots were training for the 2009 MAKS Airshow. A probe into the crash has been launched; it is thought the accident may have been caused by a "flying skill error", according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
30 August 2009: A Belarus Air Force Su-27UBM crashed at the 2009 Radom Air Show in Poland. The Su-27 crashed after exiting a loop, possibly due to an engine failure from a bird strike. Both pilots died after opting to stay with the aircraft to steer it away from spectators.
6 April 2011: A Russian Air Force Su-27SM crashed during a training drill near the city of Vladivostok in Russia's Far East. The pilot ejected unhurt.
28 June 2012: A Russian Air Force Su-27UB crashed in Karelia, Russia. Both pilots ejected unhurt.
31 March 2013: A Chinese PLA Air Force Su-27UBK crashed during a drill in Shangdong, China. Both pilots died.
Aircraft on display
Su-27 Red 27 at Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow