Yesterday's dramatic and highly public crash of a $34 million Sukhoi Su-30MK during its flying display once again saw two Russian pilots make a seemingly miraculous escape, but their country's aerospace industry may not be so lucky.

The question on everyone's mind today - having established the pilots are unharmed - will be how much damage the crash will inflict on potential sales of the Sukhoi and other Russian fighters.

Sukhoi has been the strongest survivor of the massive upheaval in Russia's industry during the last 10 years and the bureau hopes to earn huge revenues from export sales.

As Russian aviation expert Paul Duffy observes: "If this accident does any damage to their commercial prospects, it will be very bad news indeed for the Sukhoi design bureau."

Pushing the envelope

It was not clear last night whether the crash was a result of technical failure, such as a flame-out, or due to a miscalculation in a display that was pushing the edges of the aircraft's envelope.

Eye witnesses reported seeing the Su-30MK - Sukhoi's premier fighter - apparently finish a "falling leaf" manoeuvre too low and with insufficient speed to complete the subsequent downward loop. At the bottom of the loop, the aircraft hit the ground, caught fire and became airborne again only to enter a stall turn.

The left engine became engulfed in flames moments before the pilots ejected, at about 150ft (45m), with their parachutes opening moments before they hit the ground. The aircraft came down within the airfield perimeter and a shocked silence fell over the showground before an announcement over the public address system that both pilots "...are believed to be in good shape."

Jean-Paul Bechat, chairman of French aerospace industry association GIFAS, said the two pilots were "...clearly flying too low and barely moving in the vertical plane and I am not surprised at the outcome."

Source: Flight Daily News