Russia’s Sukhoi SU-27: A Fighter Aircraft Designed for WW3 That Never Came

The Sukhoi Su-27 was built to counter the most advanced US build fighter jets.
Ukrainian Air Force Sukhoi Su-27P Flanker

The Sukhoi Su-27 was assembled specifically to challenge U.S. airpower to counter American air supremacy in the event of World War III – and the Soviets built a groundbreaking fighter that contended with the F-14 Tomcat (now retired) or the F-15 Eagle.

And the Su-27 was the inspiration for similar Soviet and then Russian aircraft such as the Sukhoi Su-34.

Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker

Sukhoi Su-27
SU-27 Flanker 04 by Ronnie Macdonald. Licensed under CC 2.0

The Sukhoi Su-27 is a fourth-generation, single-seat, multirole heavy fighter aircraft designed in the Soviet Union by Sukhoi in the 1970s – and it has been one of the most important achievements in Russian aviation in the past decades.

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The Sukhoi Su-27 is a good-looking aircraft that incorporates superior aerodynamics, excellent fuel efficiency, and an increased thrust-to-weight ratio.

sukhoi su 27
Su-27 escorting a B-52 by Master Sgt. Burt Traynor 
1st Combat Camera Squadron 

Russia has approximately 357 Sukhoi Su-27s (out of 680 Su-27 that were assembled) in its numerous variants, half of which have been updated with state-of-the-art tools.

Today, multiple countries operate the Sukhoi Su-27 to protect their air space. Particularly, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force has 76 units redesigned with local components and was officially designated as the Shenyang J-11.

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It is a high-quality fighter jet after decades of service

Su-27
Su-27 by nara.getarchive.net. Public Domain

In the late 1960s, the US developed its first fourth-generation fighter aircraft, the F-14 Tomcat, and the F-15e Eagle, and the Soviet leaders soon realized that they were a massive threat in the event of a war with the US.

In response, the Soviets started to create a long-lasting solution, and the Soviet aircraft industry was asked to develop an agile, highly maneuverable aircraft to contend with the F-15 and F-14.

On May 20, 1977, engineers presented the prototype of the Sukhoi Su-27 fighter. The new Sukhoi started serial production in 1981, and it stays in service as one of the most symbolic Russian fighter jets.

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Sukhoi Su-27 and F-15 Eagle?

Sukhoi Su-27

  • Unit cost: $30,000,000
  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 71 feet 10 inches (21.9 meters)
  • Height: 19 feet 5 inches (5.92 meters)
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 30,450 kilograms (67,131 pounds)
  • Fuel capacity: 3,080 gallons (9,400 kilograms) 
  • Max speed: 2,500 km/h (1,600 mph)
  • Range: 2,190 miles (3,530 kilometers)
  • Service ceiling: 62,000 feet (19,000 meters)

F-15 Eagle

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 63 feet 9 inches (19.43 meters)
  • Height: 18 feet 6 inches (5.6 meters)
  • Max takeoff weight: 68,000 pounds (30,844 kilograms)
  • Fuel capacity: 13,455 pounds (2,070 gallons) 
  • Max speed: 1,875 mph (2,655 km/h)
  • Service ceiling: 65,000 feet (20,000 meters)

Su-27 performance

The Su-27 was specially designed during the Cold War with a single mission: to defeat the US and its NATO allies’ airpower.

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It is still a very maneuverable aircraft compared with its modern competitors, with very good avionics due to all the modernization it has undergone over the years.

During the Eritrean-Ethiopian war, an Ethiopian Su-27 shot down two Eritrean MiG-29s and damaged another one, showing the capabilities of this aircraft in an actual combat scenario.

In 2022, 5 Sukhoi Su- 27 were shot down. 4 were Ukrainian Su-27s and 1 was from Russia – and Russian and Ukrainian S-27s are still clashing.

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It was involved in public accidents

The Su-27 was implicated in the biggest air show crash in history. In 2002, a Ukrainian Su-27 crashed while executing an aerobatic demonstration, taking the lives of 77 viewers and injuring 543 around Lviv, Ukraine.

However, the tragedy is attributed to the pilot who after this catastrophe ended up serving jail time.

The Soviet Union was always a step behind the American Air Force but the Su-27 evened the odds

It was a reasonably sophisticated aircraft for its time, and even today, it is still a worthy contender on any battlefield. The Su-27 has an essential role today in the Russo-Ukrainian war and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

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Feature image credit: Ukrainian Air Force Sukhoi Su-27P by Dave_S. Licensed under CC by 2.0