Su-47 Berkut: Unheralded Plane That Foreran PAK FA
1,316 views   /  14 Sep 2015
While media are doting on Russia’s 5th-generation T-50 PAK FA fighter jet and simulating imaginary duels between this aircraft and its American rival F-22 Raptor, I would like to tell you about a plane whose role can be described briefly as the indispensable forerunner of the PAK FA.
Back in the 1980s Soviet aviation engineers embarked on a very unusual plane construction: a forward-swept wing. They were seeking “to develop a fighter of the 1990s” but the collapse of the Soviet Union practically nipped their project in the bud in 1988. Luckily, the Navy came to the rescue. The Navy hoped that the new plane would fit aircraft-carrying cruisers thanks to a shortened takeoff distance, and insisted on the project to be resumed. The development was kept under top secrecy. While the Sukhoi bureau was tight as a clam, in the 1990s Western journalists started buzzing about some mysterious “project S-32 with a forward-swept wing.” They were not far wrong.
Since the state funding was axed by the Union’s fall, the Sukhoi had to bear all the expenses. The Navy gave up the idea of purchasing the fighter en masse – again, because of the ailing military spending. Finally, after all the hardships the S-37 plane made its maiden flight on September 15, 1999. In 2001, the aircraft, renamed to Su-47 Berkut, for the first time ever saw the general public, performing at the MAKS-2001 Air and Space Expo. Interestingly, the plane’s characteristics have been kept under such a secret that it has never been exhibited in stationary position.
But there are some points that have been revealed: the plane’s main advantage is its ultimate maneuverability: its aerobatics goes way beyond the capabilities of other planes. Second, it is built from composite materials, which is quite rare with fighters. This feature compensates the Berkut’s large size and makes it very easily controllable – one of the test-pilots said that even a fresh graduate of an aviation academy can quickly learn to operate the plane.
In addition to that, the forward-swept wing did something more than increased maneuverability: it also decreased the plane’s radar detectability.
Finally, you may wonder, what does it all have to do with the praised PAK FA? The answer is simple. The Berkut became a flying lab for developing the equipment later used in the T-50. Without the Berkut, the PAK FA may have not ever taken off.
So in conclusion I would say the following: the prospective next generation fighter S-37 never realized its potential due to financial hurdles; nor did it become the Navy’s number one. Only two Su-47s have been manufactured. However, the Su-47 served as a guinea pig for testing cutting-edge technologies later implemented in the PAK FA. It truly deserves a golden page in the history of aviation.
And let me shortly provide several basic facts about planes with a forward-swept wing. Germany’s Junkers Ju-287 bomber was the first jet aircraft with this peculiarity – it took off in 1944. The US Northrop Grumann X-29 caught the air in 1984. But the project was axed due to the plane’s complicated and thus vulnerable control system.
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