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The Sukhoi Su-27: A powerful fighter

The aircraft amazed audiences when it first appeared  

KIEV, Ukraine -- The aircraft that crashed at the Ukrainian air show is known as an effective and powerful fighter with no particular history of technical problems.

Local media released unconfirmed reports that engine failure might have caused the crash. Defence experts said the Ukrainian

military was short of cash for spare parts and maintenance.

But military officials said the pilot was performing a very difficult manoeuvre before the accident, and Ukrainian authorities said it was too early to draw any conclusions.

The jet was performing an intricate air manoeuvre when it went down (July 27)

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Footage of the deadly airshow crash (July 27)

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The Su-27, whose NATO codename is "Flanker," is a combat aircraft considered a mainstay of Russian air power.

Developed by the Soviet Union to keep up with the U.S. F-15 programme, it more than levelled the playing field, according to experts.

"The aeroplane has been in service since the early- to mid-1980s and it is a very effective and powerful fighter aircraft," Nick Cook, aerospace consultant for Jane's Defence Weekly, told Reuters.

"It has no particular history of technical problems. It has a reputation for being very manoeuvrable."

The jet, in service since 1981, is capable of carrying one or two crew, depending on the configuration of the plane, as a frontline fighter or a trainer.

Aviation experts said Saturday's disaster was strongly reminiscent of a crash in June 1999 at the Paris air show. A Russian Sukhoi-30MK fighter crashed there when it scraped the ground during a loop.

An inquiry board blamed pilot error for that crash, in which the two pilots ejected to safety and no one was hurt.

Experts say Sukhois -- named after aircraft designer Pavel Osipovich Sukhoi who produced the first Soviet supersonic interceptor in the 1940s -- are less known in the West than Russia's MiGs only because the old Soviet Union kept most of them for itself, rather than export.

Sukhoi jets are air show favourites because of their high agility and daring aerobatics. The planes are equipped with advanced "thrust vectoring" engine nozzles, which give great manoeuvrability.

They amazed observers when they first appeared at Western air shows after the fall of the Soviet Union because they could do tricks far beyond the ability of other such large twin-engined jet aircraft.

The Sukhoi showstopper is known as the "Cobra tactic," in which the pilot climbs almost vertically, stalls the jet at the peak, points the nose off at an angle and then soars away.




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