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100 years in the sky: centenary of Russian Air Force


The official celebrations of the centenary of the Russian Air Force came to an end on Sunday 12th August 2012. The main event of the day was a large air show at Zhukovsky air field

Tens of thousands of spectators came to Zhukovsky to watch the magnificent show.




The show was opened by a group off parachute jumpers who landed with huge flags of Russia, the Russian Ministry of Defence and the Russian Air Force. Then, six Sukhoi-25 jets flew over the air field and gave the sky the colours of the Russian tricolour. Followed by a group of 21 jets – MiG-29, Sukhoi-25 and Sukhoi-27 – flying over the spectators forming the figure 100.

A five Su-25s display the colours of the Russian flag
A formation of five Su-27s, eight Su-25s and eight MiG-29s described the figure 100 as they opened and closed the Russian air force’s centenary airshow at Zhukovsky .

History of the Russian Air Force

Military aviation in Russia started in 1910 when the first training was started in Sevastopol and St. Petersburg. The first planes used for the service where five Farmans and five Bleriots as part of a newly formed naval aviation unit. In the summer of 1912 a special naval aviation unit was formed under the order of the Russian Ministry of War. In the same year the expertise was brought into practice when the first squadron was deployed to Bulgaria during the Balkan War, where they conducted reconnaissance missions against the Turks. From then on the Air Service gradually expanded.

In the one-century long history of the Russian air force, attention is paid to the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45 against Nazi Germany. Although the beginning of the war was a disaster, with the Soviets losing twelve hundred planes, its pilots made 6,000 flights and destroyed 78 German planes. Over the next 4 years Soviet pilots managed to defeat Germany’s air force in fierce air battles.
After the Second World War, the Soviet Air Force started its transition to jet aviation. In April of 1946, the first fighters, Yak-15 and MiG-9 equipped with thermal jet engines were tested. Later, the front-line of the Air Force received more advanced L-15 and MiG-15 fighter jets.
There was only a five-year break in the use of fighter jets after the end of the Second World War before combat operations were launched in the airspace of the Korean Peninsula. Although the Soviet Union did not formally take part in the Korean War, its aircraft, advisers and experts were sent there.
The Soviet Air Force acquired huge combat experience when the country became involved with Afghanistan. The operation of Soviet war planes in the hills prompted the army to reintroduce low flying attack aircraft into the Air Force. This role was mainly played by Su-25 aircraft that could fly anywhere while helicopters had no access to some places in mountainous regions.

In the late 1980s - early 1990s. with the collapse of the Warsaw Treaty Organization and the implementation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, the Soviet Air Force fleet has undergone a significant reduction. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991,aircraft and personnel of the Soviet Air Forces – the VVS were divided among the newly independent states. Russia received the majority of the most modern fighters and 65% of the manpower. The major commands of the former Soviet VVS – the Long Range Aviation, Military Transport Aviation and Frontal Aviation were renamed, with few changes, Russian VVS commands. However, many regiments, aircraft, and personnel were claimed by the republics they were based in, forming the core of the new republics' air forces. Some aircraft in Belarus and Ukraine (such as Tu-160s) were returned to Russia.

After some difficult year fore the Russian Air Force a new impulse was given in with the introduction of new types like the SU-34 and a new organizational structure more in line with modern conditions and realities of the time. The new structure created four operational-strategic commands: the Western (headquarters - St. Petersburg), Southern (HQ - Rostov-on-Don), central (headquarters - Yekaterinburg) and East ( Staff – Khabarovsk). The next step was a transition to a two-level (brigade, battalion), the control system of the Air Force. As a result, the total number of associations of the Air Force has been reduced from 8 to 6, all connections are air-defence (4 and 7 divisions, corps air defence) reorganized into 11 teams of aerospace defence. , the active fleet renewal. In place of the fourth-generation aircraft to come to new versions, as well as modern types of aircraft (helicopters), with greater combat capabilities and performance characteristics.
The importance of military aviation in the Armed Forces structure and in increasing Russia’s combat capability will gradually increase in the coming years. By 2020, the Air Force will get more than 600 planes and a thousand helicopters.

Helicopter displays at Zhukovsky

At Zhukovsky, the 20th Anniversary of another unique outfit, the Berkut (Golden Eagles) helicopter display team was being celebrated. Having previously flown the Mi-24V Hind-E gunship, the team had recently converted to the fearsome Mi-28N two-seat anti-armour attack helicopter as their display mount. The display comprised of a six ship formation which then split into a diamond of four helicopters for some dynamic manoeuvres.

The 'Havoc' display was later matched by solo Mi-2 and Ka-52 routines. The distinctive coaxial rotor design of the Kamov 'Alligator' proved particularly agile even with its side-mounted cannon and six wing-mounted hard points.

Saturday at Zhukovsky

The show was a three day event with Friday being the rehearsal day, Saturday the vip day and Sunday the public show day. On the Friday we visited some of the museums in Moscow including Monio. During the air show it was allowed to take pictures from outside the base. This gave us the opportunity to take picture with the sun in the right place. Because from inside the base you are facing the sun directly. The schedule of the show on Saturday was changed by a late arrival of Putin and several thunder showers. The morning started with at weather check by a Su-27 and Tu-95 after this the show started as advertised. With the arrival of several helicopters and plane from the presidential flight (Rossiya) the show started.

One big thing in the show was the fly by of most active type of the Russian air force the highlight for me being the fly by of three Tu-95. During the day several heavy thunderstorms which got really nasty during the afternoon halting the air show for two hours or so. When the show was resumed there was still some lightning in the area and the L-39 show took place in really doubtful weather conditions! Still most of the programme was done and the day was finished with a awesome display of the Su-37 making moves in the sky that don’t seem possible.
Unfortunately the Mi-28 demo, MiG-31 fly-by and the Lipetsk formation where cancelled due to the weather . The Lipetsk formation had shown a dogfight the day before right above the heads of the people there.

The show day at Sunday

On arrival at Bykovo air field it was evident that it was going to be busy at Zhukovsky. Bykovo home of the Bykovo Aircraft Repair Facility was full of cars and buses. But with a amazing efficiency everyone was transported to Zhukovsky.
On arrival at Zhukovsky at first some aircraft where pictured around the entrance containing some not often seen examples. After a further security check we entered the air show, the static was filled with the latest types all freshly painted and in the newest colour schemes.

As the display started with six Su-25s trailing white, blue and red smoke displayed the national colours of the Russian Federation followed closely behind by five Su-27s, eight MiG-29s and eight Su-25s displaying the number 100. The Russian spectators starting to wave there flag and sharing out loud like real patriots.



The flight program consisted of two parts - the Legends of the World’s Aviation, which involves overhauled World War one and two aircraft, and the Common Skies show representing modern combat aircraft.

The show went on with a historical part covering the years from the beginning until the Mig-15 it contained various historic types such as Bleriot, Po-2, Yak-3,Yak-11, MiG-3, Polikarpov I-15 and European types like the Hurricane, B-25 Mitchell, and P-51 Mustang.

From there on the show consisted of several flypasts interrupted by displays of show teams and solo aircraft. The flypasts consisted of almost every current type in the Russian air force. The formations where made up in theme’s like bombing, transport ect. They included Tu-22Ms, Tu-95s and Tu-160s from the strategic bomber force, as well as an Ilyushin Il-80 flying command post, A-50 AEW aircraft and newly acquired Su-34s, MiG-29SMTs, Yak-130s and An-140s, as well as Mi-35M, Mi-28N and Ka-52 helicopters

Some planes from the presidential flight.
All seen during Putins visit to the show

Three Russian aerobatic display teams ,the Swifts with their MiG-29s, Russian Knights  Su-27s; and Golden Eagles, Mi-28Ns were joined by the Red Arrows Hawks from the UK, the Frecce Tricolore MB-339s from Italy, the Finnish Midnight Hawks and the Polish team with their TS-11 Iskra trainers.

The  MiG and Sukhoi company both displayed their latest aircraft. The MiG-29M2 4++ generation fighter performed a solo display before joining up with the Sukhoi T-50 fifth generation fighter. Both flew in formation before the public. This was the second prototype of the T-50. And the Sukhoi Su-35 demonstrator 901 gave a stunning performance using extensive vectored thrust.

The only foaring yet fighter to give a display was a French air force Rafale from the famous EC 2/30 “Normandie-Niemen". Chasse "Normandie-Niemen" has a long history with Russia celebrating its 70th anniversary of its initial commissioning, in the Soviet Union, in the Autumn of 1942. During the war the French fighter pilots flew around 5000 combat missions, bringing down nearly 300 German planes.

One thing we missed at Saturday was the Lipetsk formation consisting of four Su-27s, four Su-34s and two MiG-29s they made there arrival in a impressive way. Before splitting into separate type displays. First the Fulcrums gave a display with power and a lot off smoke showing of the dog fight capability of the type. This was followed by a display of the Su-34 demonstrating that this heavy strike fighter is still very agile. The group of Su-27s gave a display consisting off a lot off roles before climbing away in a trail of flares. A performance to remember.


With the air show taking place at Zhukovsky there was a opportunities to see the aircraft at the different OKB ranging from a Tu-144 to a MiG-25. Not al could be photograph but the array of different aircraft present at the OKB's was great. In the centre aerie was a small collection of early production models of jets, the only Tu-155 in existence and even a Buran space shuttle .



The finale of the show was for the teams from Kubinka ,the Strizhi (Swifts) flying the Mig-29 and the Russkiye Vityazi (Russian Knights) flying the Su-27. At first they flew in a combined formation followed by a display of the separated teams. Booth teams gave a excellent display with a lot of afterburner and flares. Like with most of the impressive displays the crowd was still applauding as the Knights and Swifts departed. The show ended as it begun, With the Su-25 displaying the colours of the Russian flag followed closely behind by the MiG-29s, Su-27s and Su-25s forming the number 100.

This was an air show where in the coming years is said: You had to be there!


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