Russia's Ahktubinsk flight-test centre is crucial to its testing capability.
ONE OF RUSSIA'S most sensitive air bases celebrated its 75th anniversary in September, against a background of economic turmoil and serious doubts about many of the programmes in development at the Ahktubinsk State Flight Test Centre. GLITs, to use its Russian acronym, lies at the heart of the air force's weapons test and integration capability.
Built in 1960 on the steppe of the lower Volga near the village of Vladimirovka in southern Russia, Ahktubinsk remains one of the key centres for the air force.
It has gained in importance since the collapse of the Soviet Union, because many other former test ranges are no longer within Russia's borders. Important ranges at Turgiy, Suyunduk, Terekta and Guryev in Kazakhstan, and the naval-aviation site in Feodosia - which has become the indigenous flight-test centre for Ukraine's air force in the Crimea - are no longer available.
In replacing these ranges, the Russian air force has set up a weapons-test range in North Caucasus, near Nalchik, while a naval-aviation centre has been established at Gelendjik.
Summing up the scope of the work carried out by GLITs, its commander, Maj Gen Yuriy Klishin, says: "We test anything that flies, separates or rotates in the air." The air force says that GLITs, despite financial difficulties, continues to work on programmes such as the Sukhoi Su-27M (also known as the Su-35), Su-27IB (Su-34) and Su-25T, Beriev A-40 Albatross, Mikoyan MiG-31M and the Myasishchev M-55 reconnaissance aircraft. Flight-testing of the Mikoyan MiG-29M is also expected to resume soon. Many of these projects have been in test at the centre for years, although there are few signs that service entry is imminent for them.
The trajectory-measurement site, equipped with a myriad of data-gathering and telemetry systems connected to the main computer centre servicing the Groshevo weapons-test range associated with Ahktubinsk, is something of which the GLITs commander is proud. "We have had the opportunity to visit the US Air Force's Edwards flight-test centre in California and we discovered that we are not inferior to them," claims Klishin.
The collapse of the Soviet Union has seriously affected the way in which GLITs is operated. The average flying time logged by test pilots at Ahktubinsk in 1994 was only 45h; less than one-third of the number of being flown in the late 1980s. The reduction is in part the result of fuel and spares shortages.
Inadequate funding has also seen many of GLITs military pilots leave, primarily because of the low salary level. Col Vladimir Kachanov, the head of fighter flight-test programmes and lead pilot on the Su-27M, says that the number of his subordinates has fallen from 52 to 32.
Along with the need for investment in the software at Ahktubinsk, much of the centre's hardware infrastructure is badly in need of renovation. The site's two runways, its engineering and communications and the road network are described as being "in a very sad state".
Despite the day-to-day problems of operating Ahktubinsk on a shoestring, training and education programmes continue at the centre. In 1994, a specialised school, which included basic pilot training, was established at the base.
Source: Flight International