The bear is back

This article first appeared as a Comment in the 25 June Paris report issue of Flight International:

The thrust-vectoring Sukhoi Su-35 – in its overseas debut – was always going to be a roaring success at a show at which the sequestered big guns of the US defence world were absent. The fourth-generation fighter putting on a virtuoso performance in the thunder-threatened skies above Le Bourget was part of what was the largest-ever contingent of Russian aircraft at Paris.

Russia’s aerospace industry has been in the doldrums since the collapse of Communism. A combination of the peace dividend, economic chaos and a dysfunctional commercial aircraft sector producing types that no-one – even in Russia – wanted to fly in meant the industry veered close to extinction by the turn of the century.

Only the Russians’ deep-rooted expertise in areas such as Cold War fighters and heavy helicopters kept the design bureaux and production plants in business.

Now, with the Su-35 and in-development Sukhoi PAK-FA stealth fighter, a raft of innovative helicopter models – manufactured with Western-style efficiency – and civil aircraft such as the Sukhoi Superjet and Irkut MC-21, Russia’s aerospace stands a fighting chance of becoming a player once again to be reckoned with in the global marketplace.

The industry may have many challenges – its new-generation airliner programmes are by no means guaranteed success – but at Paris, Russia certainly had a message for the world: the bear is back.

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