From fighter bombers to artificial hearts: The achievements of Sukhoi

The Sukhoi Su-30/35. Source: Press Photo

The Sukhoi Su-30/35. Source: Press Photo

The name Sukhoi summons the roar of some of the world’s most fearsome fighting planes, both past and present. But while also mastering production of civil aircraft, the factories and laboratories of the Sukhoi design bureau worked in areas where military technology seemed to have no application.

Pavel Sukhoi, the man who was to found the company that became one of the world’s best-known manufacturers of fighter jets, took his first steps in aircraft building in the 1930s in a country still ravaged by civil war.

The new Soviet planes originated in a simple two-story building where the designers worked upstairs and the workshops were laid out below. In the final years of the decade, still under Sukhoi’s leadership, the “I” series fighter planes took flight, as well as the DB long-range bomber and the RD long-distance aircraft in which the Soviet pilots performed a record-breaking flight of 10,000 km (6,200 miles) in 62 hours without landing.


Bombers with a crucial edge

In 1940, the Su-2 light bomber went into mass production, a seemingly unexceptional short-range aircraft but with some crucial advantages over rival models: The cockpit’s design offered a wider field of vision to the pilot, while the location of the bomb load helped to increase speed. More than 900 units were built, which led to the workshop receiving the status of an individual production unit. The armored Su-6 and Su-8 were built on the basis of the Su-2, as well as the Su-1 high-altitude fighter which was fitted with a 20-mm auto-cannon.

A Soviet aerospace engineer Pavel Sukhoi. Source: Press photo

During the Second World War, Sukhoi aircraft took an active part in the battles of Moscow, Stalingrad and Kursk, operating under such an effective cloak of secrecy that Soviet troops on the ground did not even recognize their silhouettes.

After the war, Soviet aviation development was concentrated on jet aircraft, and the Sukhoi design bureau was again at the forefront of the work, using this new technology to produce the Su-9, -11, -13, -15 and  Su-17 models. These also served as a test platform for the first Soviet pilot ejection systems with parachute braking.

The Sukhoi Su-2 light bomber. Source: Press photo

However, none of the immediate post-war Sukhoi models made it into mass production, and an Su-17 crash in 1949 brought a halt in development followed by the temporary closure of the design bureau. It reopened in 1953 and immediately set about creating fundamentally new supersonic aircraft that incorporated either swept or triangular wing designs.


A revolutionary breakthrough

The breakthrough that cemented the Sukhoi team’s place among the leading designers of the age came with the T-4 high-speed reconnaissance, anti-ship and strategic bomber aircraft. Developed from 1962 and now regarded by experts as being 20 years ahead of its time, the aircraft was used to test cutting edge technologies like the welded titanium fuselage and auto-throttle control system.

The Sukhoi T-4high-speed reconnaissance, anti-ship and strategic bomber aircraft. Source: Press photo

While the T-4 did not go into mass production, it gave rise to new generations of military aircraft like the Su-24 bomber, which made its maiden flight in 1969. For the first time since the Su-2 a Sukhoi design was mass-produced, becoming the country’s first strike aircraft capable of operating on the battlefield regardless of weather conditions.Pavel Sukhoi, the man who was to found the company that became one of the world’s best-known manufacturers of fighter jets, took his first steps in aircraft building in the 1930s in a country still ravaged by civil war.

The Sukhoi Su-s5 attack bomber. Source: Press photo

Six years later the bureau scored another hit with the Su-25 attack bomber, unequalled in its power to destroy armored vehicles. Named the Rook (Grach in Russian) because of its distinctive shape, the model still forms the backbone of Russian military aviation. Meanwhile, the design bureau began work on a fourth-generation fighter to produce the Su-27, which produced the Su-30, Su-32 and Su-33 as offshoots.


Moving beyond fighter jets

Technologies perfected by the Sukhoi team also found application in the non-military sphere, most notably in pioneering the artificial heart in the 1960s and 1970s and leading to the innovation’s global application.

The Sukhoi Superjet 100 airliner. Source: Press photo

From the early 1990s onward, the Sukhoi company also started to master production of civil aircraft, producing cargo aircraft and aircraft for agricultural purposes under its brand name. In the 2000s, the Sukhoi Superjet 100 airliner emerged as the flagship model of the company’s civil aviation work, and is now drawing orders from around the world. 

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