company has produced some of the most advanced Soviet jet fighters of all
time. About half of Russia's current tactical air power is due to Sukhoi's
of the Sukhoi company is closely associated with the life of Pavel Sukhoi,
one of the greatest Soviet aircraft designers. Sukhoi, born in 1910, had a
very uneven career characterized by two distinct phases. If, in the first
part of his career, he was dogged by bad luck, he flourished enormously in
his later days.
Like many of
his contemporaries such as Sergey Korolev, chief designer of the Soviet
space program, Sukhoi served his apprenticeship under the famous Andrey
Tupolev, the patriarch of the modern Soviet aviation industry. In the
1920s and 1930s, as a senior engineer working for Tupolev at TsAGI (the
Central Aero-hydrodynamics Institute), the premiere Soviet aeronautics
organization, Sukhoi designed several bombers and fighters. He also worked
on a number of Tupolev designs including the ANT-31 (I-14), which was the
first Soviet all-metal low-wing monoplane fighter with retractable
undercarriage and an enclosed cockpit. His first truly independent design
was the ANT-51 (Su-2), a ground-attack aircraft that entered service in
1939, the Soviet government appointed Sukhoi to head a new organization
named the Experimental Design Bureau No. 134 (OKB-134) at a plant in the
city of Kharkov in Ukraine. (The Russians called their aeronautics
companies "design bureaus.") There, he designed the Su-6 ground-attack
aircraft. Although he produced several excellent designs during the 1930s
and 1940s, he was never able to achieve success due to a combination of
testing accidents, political opposition, and Stalin's personal whims.
After the war, Stalin assigned him and several other major Soviet
designers—such as Mikoyan, Lavochkin, and Yakovlev —to build the first
generation of Soviet jet fighters. Sukhoi used the German Me 262 and
modified it to build his own Su-9 fighter. The Soviet Air Force never used
the aircraft, partly because Stalin criticized Sukhoi for simply copying
an old German aircraft instead of proposing an original Russian design.
Ironically, it was at the very same time that Stalin had ordered Tupolev
to make an exact copy of the American B-29 Superfortress.
setback, Sukhoi doggedly continued to pursue more advanced designs
including the supersonic Su-17, a prototype for a frontline fighter.
Eventually, Stalin grew intolerant of Sukhoi's work and closed down
OKB-134 in November 1949; Sukhoi's team ended up as a subdivision of the
Tupolev design organization.
second—and far more successful—career began after Stalin's death in 1953.
Later that year, in October, Stalin's successors put Sukhoi to work at a
plant in Moscow where he formed a new organization known as OKB-51. The
current Sukhoi company grew from this organization.
bureau designed and built a series of new supersonic jet fighters
including the Su-7 and Su-9 in the 1950s and 1960s. These two aircraft
were extensively modified over the years and used in vast numbers by the
Soviet Air Force and other Communist countries. Like a number of other
aviation designers, Sukhoi embraced the concept of evolutionary
development rather than large technological leaps in aircraft design. For
example, Sukhoi improved the original Su-9 delta-winged series into the
Su-11 and Su-15 fighter-interceptor series for service with the Soviet Air
Defence Forces. He also modified the Su-7B ground-attack aircraft into the
Su-17 variable-geometry aircraft by introducing small modifications to the
original design. Sukhoi's aircraft symbolized the general trend of Soviet
aircraft design that used common components and standardization that
allowed Soviet plants to produce large numbers of aircraft very quickly.
At the same
time, Sukhoi did try to experiment with some radical innovations. One of
his most famous creations was the T-4, a highly advanced supersonic (Mach
3) strike/reconnaissance aircraft, proposed as a response to the American
B-70 Blackbird. In designing the aircraft, Sukhoi pioneered the use of new
compact avionics systems and titanium structures. Although the aircraft
flew successfully several times beginning in 1972, the Soviet Air Force
never used it due to shifting requirements and its high expense. A
full-scale model now remains in an aviation museum outside of Moscow, a
sad reminder of a forgotten era.
T-4, the design bureau also produced the high-performance Su-24 (codenamed
"Fencer" by NATO) multi-role aircraft in the 1970s, and the Su-25 ("Frogfoot")
close support aircraft in the 1980s. In the mid-1990s, the new Su-34 began
replacing the Su-24 while the redesigned Su-39 shturmovik (Russian
word for "battleplane" or fighter) has been substituting for older model
fighters such as the Su-25. Perhaps the most well known of Sukhoi's
fighters has been the Su-27 ("Flanker"), a long-range superiority fighter,
famous for its versatility and overall capabilities.
Russian aviation companies, Sukhoi has been hard hit by the ruin of the
post-Communist economy. Despite the poor conditions, Sukhoi has recently
produced the new multi-role, all-weather S-37 interceptor—first flown in
September 1997—which is equipped with state-of-the-art electronics,
forward-swept wings, and thrust vector control. With the S-37, Sukhoi is
competing with the MiG company to provide Russia's fifth generation
advanced fighter aircraft. The Russian military, however, has expressed
little interest in the proposal. Sukhoi is also developing, again in
competition with the MiG firm, the lightweight Su-54 fighter, an aircraft
comparable to the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter.
company is now known simply as OKB Sukhoi and comprises 51 percent part of
the AVPK Sukhoi (the Sukhoi Aviation Military-Industrial Complex), a giant
conglomerate of design bureaus and production plants designed to bring
together research, development, and production of military aircraft. It is
currently diversifying into the civilian market by creating sports
aircraft, freight vehicles, and passenger aircraft. Through its nearly
50-year history, the design bureau has designed about a hundred different
aircraft, 50 types of which were put into series production.