The long awaited 5th generation Russian Stealth Fighter, classified as the Sukhoi Pak-FA T50, flew its first test flight on 29 January 2010.
Piloted by Sergei Bogdan, a test pilot for Sukhoi, the T50 made a successful 47 minute testflight, taking off and landing from Sukhoi’s factory runway. On touching down, Bogdan told reporters that everything went well, and that he was impressed by the way the T50 handled:
In the course of the flight weve conducted initial evaluation of the aircraft controllability, engine performance and primary systems operation, the aircraft had retracted and extracted the landing gear. The aircraft performed excellently at all flight-test points scheduled for today. It is easy and comfortable to pilot
Here’s a video report of the test flight, courtesy of Russia Today:
The T50 is Russia’s first 5th generation plane, and is their answer to the US F22 and F35 fighters, and the long awaited European Joint Strike Fighter. It has stealth capabilities, much improved on board electronics (which will take a lot of load off the pilot) and the ability to fly at supersonic speeds for the entire length of its flight, but opinion is divided as to it’s true quality.
Obviously, Sukhoi and the Russian government are talking up it’s qualities, but others are less impressed. Military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer (who, it should be noted, is usually critical of the Russian military and government) had this to say:
“It’s a humbug. It’s just a prototype lacking new engines and a new radar. It takes new materials to build a fifth-generation fighter, and Russia lacks them.”
When you combine this with cautious statements from Prime Minister Putin, who called the test flight of the Pak-FA “a big step forward,” but tempered his praise by noting that “a lot remains to be done in terms of engines and armament”, it’s fair to observe that Russia’s plane may not be of quite the high quality of its US and European competitors.
Nonetheless, Russia has pumped almost $10 billion into research and development for their new stealth plane. In order to recoup all that money, they won’t be able to just reserve it for the Russian military. Yes, the Russian air force will order around 150-200, at a cost of around $100 million apiece, but the investment will be realised when Sukhoi makes them available on the international market. India, who were partners in the development of the fighter are said to be going to buy around 200-250 and, if the Pak-FA is of good enough quality and at the right price point, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see global sales top a thousand pretty quickly.
(By the way – in a surprising move, there are rumours that the Pak-FA’s sold to India may actually be constructed in India, in order to keep costs down. If this proves an profitable strategy, we may see the production of even more Russian military equipment outsourced to countries where labour is cheaper.)