Thursday, March 30, 2006

Air Show Season Begins

There are about 20 or so military fighter jet performance teams besides the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels. I find it interesting to compare the airplanes each group chooses to fly. Except for the Americans and the Russians, all other teams fly trainer aircraft, not front line, top performance fighters. (I could be wrong on this, but that's how it looks to me.)

The Thunderbirds fly the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon. According to the Air Force, the F-16 is a "highly maneuverable multi-role fighter proven to be one of the world's best precision tactical bombers and air-to-air combat aircraft. The only modifications needed to prepare the aircraft for its air demonstration role are installing a smoke-generating system in the space normally reserved for the 20mm cannon, and the painting of the aircraft in Thunderbird colors."

The Russian equivilent to the Thunderbirds are the "Russian Knights." The RK fly the incredibly huge Su-27 flanker fighter jet. It's a much larger aircraft than the F-16, which makes it a difficult airplane (so I'm told) to use as a close quarters demonstration aircraft.

SU-27 Specifications
Takeoff weight: 51,015 lb
Powerplant: two Saturn/ Lyul'ka AL-31F afterburning turbofans
Thrust: 55,116 lb
Max Speed : Mach 2.35

F-16 Specification
Takeoff weight: 23,765lb
Powerplant: one Pratt & Whitney F100-220 afterburning turbofan
Thrust: 29,100 lb
Max Speed : Mach 2.0

I don't know if the Thunderbirds and the Knights ever fly at the same airshow. It would be a cool thing to watch and compare - the manueverable F-16 versus the huge, fast Su-27.

By the way, on March 25-26, in the skies over Fort Smith, Ark., Nicole Malachowski made aviation history when the Air Force Thunderbirds gave their first performance of the 2006 season. Malachowski is the first female pilot ever selected for either the Thunderbirds or the Navy's Blue Angels.


dogu said...

FWIW, the Blue Angels don't exactly fly 'front line' fighters. The F-18 C (single seat) and D (two seat) versions they fly are destined for the scrap heap. Once they finish their stint, they have all their gear removed and wind up on a stick on display somewhere.

Additionally, the Navy flies the newer E/F Super Hornet variants with the G's coming on line soon. The Marines do still fly the C/D versions but that's because they're waiting for the Joint Strike Fighter to come on line. The Marines could have gone with the Super Hornets and been flying new aircraft today but decided on the JSF instead (and they're waiting and waiting and waiting...)

Gotta say, of all the groups, I'm partial to the Angels. Their routines just seem to be faster, closer, more dramatic than the others. That and these guys land on carriers to boot - scariest thing a pilot ever does from what I hear.

Great pics. If you like amazing aviation pics (again, that Navy bias) ->


Anonymous said...

The SU-27 has been described as 2 F-16s welded together.

Matt said...

I loved going to airshows as well as a kid. I grew up in Michigan and we would travel around the state during the summer and make a point to hit at least one airshow.

Not to lighten the mood, but I found some airshow footage of a Thunderbird accident where the pilot ejected just before crashing. The footage is in to perspectives, from the ground and a cockpit cam on the pilot. It's quite amazing!