An Analysis of the Su-27 Flight Demonstration at the 1989 Paris Airshow 901001

At the 1989 Paris Airshow, the Soviet Su-27 “Flanker” performed a maneuver during its flight profile which demonstrated a surprising level of pitch agility. From an initial position at 1000 feet AGL, trimmed for level flight at approximately 220 KIAS, the pilot, Viktor Pougachev, commanded a rapid nose-up pitch maneuver, achieving a peak pitch attitude of 110° to 120° and demonstrating no tendency to roll off or depart from the show line. The maneuver gave the impression of a Cobra arching its head back to potentially strike. Hence, the popular name for the maneuver became “Pougachev's Cobra.” Performing such a maneuver at low altitude in front of an international audience had never been done by any aircraft previously. The Su-27 did the maneuver every day of the show.
Obviously, this maneuver demonstrates a high level of pitch agility, and this fact, coupled with the uniqueness of the maneuver, stimulated a great deal of discussion during the Paris Airshow and after.
Several important questions arise from the discussion, such as:
  • What is the tactical value of “Pougachev's Cobra” maneuver?
  • Can any other fighter aircraft perform the maneuver?
  • What design characteristics are required in order to allow an aircraft to perform this maneuver?
This paper will discuss each question. It will address the combat effectiveness of transient agility in air combat, will show the results of simulation experiments conducted on all U.S. fighters attempting to do the Cobra maneuver, and will identify the three most critical design features that must be included in an aircraft in order to allow this maneuver to be flown.


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