Sukhoi Su-33 (Flanker-D) Carrier-Based Air Defense Fighter Aircraft
The Sukhoi Su-33 Flanker is the navalized version of the base Su-27 Flanker air superiority fighter.
Authored By Dan Alex; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Sukhoi Su-33 (NATO: "Flanker-D") represents the navalized equivalent of the land-based Russian-produced Sukhoi Su-27 "Flanker" series of air superiority aircraft which itself was developed and produced by the Soviet Union to rival the new American McDonnell Douglas F-15 "Eagle" air superiority mount during the Cold War. The Su-33 initially existed as the Su-27K (from the T-10K prototype) before securing its official designation and first flight was recorded on August 17th, 1987. Operational level service was attained in 1995 though the aircraft was not formally introduced into Russian Naval Aviation service until August 31st, 1998. Su-33s are assigned to the deck of the Admiral Kuznetsov - the only operational Russian Navy aircraft carrier in service (2012). Only 24 Su-33 systems have been produced to date (2012), showcasing the limited power of the modern Russian Navy compared with its land and air force strength. The navalized Mikoyan MiG-29K is set to replace the ship-based Su-33 fleet by 2015.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Navy fell largely behind the West in terms of sea-based aerial firepower. With the VTOL Yakovlev Yak-38 (NATO: "Forger") being the only available mount, thought was given to modernizing the attack wing with a more flexible solution. In conjunction with this new requirement, a new carrier design was also formulized to expand the tactical capabilities of the Soviet Navy. By the late 1970s, the excellent Mikoyan MiG-29 "Fulcrum" and Sukhoi Su-27 "Flanker" air superiority aircraft were both introduced and these became the basis for several navalized versions to follow (as the "MiG-29K" and "Su-27K" respectively). As the Soviet carriers was smaller in overall size when compared to US Navy full-size carriers, a ski ramp was affixed to the launching end of the flight deck. As such, the MiG-29K and Su-27K were appropriately modified for the role.
Outwardly, the Su-33 shares the same smooth contours of the land-based Su-27 series. The aircraft is a single-seat mount powered by twin engines. Wings are high-mounted and well-swept along their leading edges. The cockpit is set to the front of the tubular fuselage and set well-aft of a long nose cone assembly. The pilot is afforded excellent views out of the cockpit thanks to its elevated positioning and lightly-framed canopy. Intakes used to aspirate the twin engine configuration are set well-aft of the cockpit and positioned along the underside of the aircraft. The engines exhaust at the rear through conventional circular exhaust port rings. The Su-33 sports twin vertical tail fins and conventional tailplanes. The undercarriage is fully-retractable and consists of two single-wheeled main legs and a twin-wheeled nose leg. When at rest, the Su-33 maintains a very tall stance, with ample clearing of its underwing ordnance hardpoints.
Key differences with the Su-33 are apparent when compared to the land-based Su-27 series and these have been necessitated by the confines of life at sea aboard space-strapped aircraft carriers. The undercarriage has been properly reinforced for the rigors of flight deck operations and an arrestor hook ensures short landing distances upon recovery. Each main wing assembly and horizontal tailplanes are constructed to fold upwards along the respective mid-points which drastically reduces its storage footprint. The Su-33 has also been given forward canards (small wing assemblies ahead of the main wings) and enlarged moving wing surfaces for improved low-speed stability, useful when taking-off from short runways or attempting to land on a moving runaway. The Su-33 has also been completed with an in-flight refueling probe which critically extends the aircraft's operational range to nearly limitless coverage over war theaters assuming proper maintenance cycles are also met.