By Vladmir Isachenkov
Friday, March 4, 2011; 10:55 PM
Aircraft designer Mikhail Simonov, 81, whose supremely maneuverable, heavily armed and far-flying Sukhoi fighter jet became an staple of the Soviet military and a cash cow for post-communist Russia, died March 4 in Moscow. The cause of death was not disclosed.
Developed to counter the U.S. F-15 fighter, Mr. Simonov's sleek twin-engine, twin-fin Su-27 joined the Soviet air force in the early 1980s and won respect in the West for its range of more than 2,000 miles, its impressive agility and its ability to fly at 2.35 times the speed of sound.
It was a star of international air shows, performing aerobatics that few other fighter planes could accomplish, and is matched only by the MiG jet and Kalashnikov assault rifle as a symbol of Russia's considerable prowess in weapons-making.
The Su-27's thrust-to-weight ratio and sophisticated control system allowed it to perform exceptional maneuvers at very low speeds, such as raising its nose and standing on its tail for a few seconds - a stunt called the Cobra.
When state defense orders ground to nearly a halt after the 1991 Soviet collapse, Mr. Simonov played a key role in winning lucrative export deals. The cash-strapped government sold hundreds of fighters to China, India and other foreign customers under contracts worth billions of dollars.
Mr. Simonov started working as an aviation engineer in the 1950s and joined the Sukhoi design bureau as a deputy chief designer in 1970. During the following nine years, he led the development of the Su-24 bomber, the Su-25 ground attack plane and the Su-27.
After serving as deputy minister of aircraft industries from 1979 to 1983, he was named the top Sukhoi designer and continued work on the Su-27.
The Su-27 remained a mainstay of the Russian air force after the Soviet collapse, along with later versions such as the Su-30 and the Su-35.
While Mr. Simonov polished the original Su-27 design, adding upgraded engines and modern avionics, the work on a prospective fifth-generation fighter to compete with the U.S. F-22 Raptor has dragged amid the post-Soviet industrial decline.
The prospective Sukhoi T-50 made its maiden flight last year - nearly two decades after the Raptor's first prototype took to the air - and Russian officials said it will take at least five more years for the new jet to enter service.
- Associated Press