Sukhoi T-50 Moves to Radar, In-flight Refueling Tests

 - August 31, 2012, 10:05 AM
The second prototype of the T-50 stealth fighter lands at Zhukovsky after its display at the recent Russian air force 100th anniversary airshow. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

The third prototype of Russia’s new T-50 stealth fighter now has an AESA radar. Sukhoi reported this month that the program has logged more than 120 test flights, which suggests that only some 20 flights have been made in the past nine months. However, Russian air force commander Gen. Victor Bondarev told journalists that testing of the PAK FA (the Russian acronym for Future Complex of Frontal Aviation) is on schedule, and that performance to date is “by and large corresponding to the specification that we put forward for this aircraft.” The T-50 first flew on Jan. 29, 2010. 

Sukhoi said that the second prototype (side number 52) conducted initial inflight refueling trials, in conjunction with a Russian air force Il-78 tanker and an Su-25UB two-seat chase plane. The T-50 hooked up with the tanker five times. Sukhoi said that this prototype is also being used on a separate test program examining stability, controllability and the structural response of the design in various flight configurations and various corners of the flight envelope, including supersonic.

Meanwhile, the first prototype (side number 51) is “completing preparations” for testing at high angles of attack and for super maneuverability. 

Side number 53 is fitted with the AESA designed and built by the Scientific Research Institute of Instruments named after Tikhomirov (NIIP). The maker claims “considerable progress” in early ground and flight tests. The radar “corresponds to the best systems available elsewhere,” it said. NIIP also noted that tests of the PAK FA’s electro-optical sensor system have started.

NIIP unveiled a full-scale prototype of the AESA radar for the PAK FA at the Moscow Airshow (MAKS) in 2009. This unit uses locally produced components, including solid-state transceivers, based on “nanohetero structures.” It is built on module principles and with other applications in mind, including aircraft that are already in service and anti-aircraft defense systems. The technologies employed in the new radar permit an increase in target detection ranges, and enable simultaneous operations in both air-to-air and air-to-surface modes, including recognition and classification of detected targets. These technologies also permit engagement of several targets simultaneously, using precision guidance munitions, NIIP says. The radar has integrated capabilities for secure communications and electronic countermeasures.

Speaking at the recent Russian Air Force 100th Anniversary airshow, Gen. Bondarev said that a total of 14 T-50 prototypes will be assembled. The fourth example will fly shortly, he added. Evaluation of the prototypes at Russian air force bases will start next year, to be followed by delivery of production aircraft in 2015. Bondarev further stated that Russia’s Weapons Program 2011-2020 calls for the acquisition of a combined total of 250 Su-34, Su-35 and T-50 tactical fighters.