Sukhoi Su-33


Sukhoi Su-33

An Su-33 on board Admiral Kuznetsov.
Role Multirole fighter
Manufacturer Sukhoi
First flight May 1985
Introduction 1994
Status Operational
Primary user Russian Naval Aviation
Number built 24+
Developed from Sukhoi Su-27

The Sukhoi Su-33 (NATO reporting name ‘Flanker-D’) is a carrier-based multi-role fighter aircraft produced by Russian firm Sukhoi beginning in 1982. It is a derivative of the Su-27 ‘Flanker’ and was initially known as the Su-27K. The main differences from the Su-27 are that the Su-33 can operate from aircraft carriers and is capable of aerial refueling.


Full scale design development of the Su-33 started in 1984 as T10K, under Konstantin Marbashev. N.F. Sadovnikov was appointed the Design Bureau's chief test pilot for the programme. Conceptual design had the passed critical design review by November 1984, with the detailed design finalized in 1985. The Su-33 first flew in May 1985, and entered service in the Russian Navy in 1994. An air regiment comprising 24 fighters of the type was formed upon the Russian Navy’s only operating aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov.

During testing, each pilot made 400 landings on a concrete runway matching the size, and shape of the carrier deck (the NITKA), in order to practice no-flare landing technique before making an actual landing on a carrier deck. Despite this, at one point a minor accident occurred during a touch-and-go. During a landing, the wind blew at 45 degrees to the port beam causing the prototype (then called T-10K), piloted by Victor Pugachev, to drift 3 meters off course, nearly causing an accident. As the aircraft cleared the deck, a landing gear oleo struck several struts on the lower hull sponson. The struts buckled but the aircraft was undamaged. The pilots of both the MiG-29K ‘Fulcrum-D’ and Su-27K had all already seen the struts but did not complain about the placement because they were below flight deck level, their only objection being the turbulence generated by the sponson, which was later fixed.

The first actual carrier landing did not pass without incident, as would be hoped. It was discovered that despite the shortening of the fighter, it was still too tall to fit through the hangar door, and special clamps had to be fitted to the landing gear to squeeze it through the hangar.

Su-33 at MAKS Airshow 2007.

The next day, it was found prior to takeoff, that when the water cooled jet blast deflectors were set at their normal setting of 60 degrees, they were too close to the engine nozzles. They were ordered to be set at 45 degrees, but the actuator could not hold them in that position. The crew then improvised makeshift braces out of steel pipe to hold the deflector in position. Unfortunately, the welders neglected to clear the metal fragments that resulted from their work, and these fragments pelted observers. Then to make matters worse, the pop-up detents would not retract when ordered, and the prototype sat in front of the shield for 8 seconds longer than the maximum safe time of 6 seconds. This then caused the shield's water pipes to explode, blowing apart the shield. Some observers believed the fighters fuel lines had ruptured and ran, fearing an explosion. Pugachev, who was piloting, was then ordered to throttle back his engines which resulted in the detents retracting, causing the fighter to jerk forward. Pugachev reacted quickly and stood on the brakes and shut off the engines. The fighter was towed to another position and Pugachev took off without using jet blast deflectors, or detents, climbed steeply, performed the Pugachev’s Cobra and flew away. From then on, a Kamov Ka-27PS search-and-rescue helicopter was flown close to the carrier in the event of an accident.


Su-33 being prepared for take-off on the Admiral Kuznetsov.

Unlike comparable American carrier-borne fighters like the F-14 Tomcat, the Su-33 is designed to use a ski-jump instead of catapult for carrier takeoff. The ski jump provides many advantages over a catapult launch. The most evident is that a ski jump does not put stress on the airframe and pilot, allowing lower weight because less structural reinforcement is required and prevents G-LOC (G-induced loss of consciousness.) Also, with a ski jump launch, the aircraft can engage full afterburner earlier than a catapult launch, because the aircraft is restrained by pop-up detents rather than a catapult shoe. Once in the air the aircraft has a positive AOA as well as pitch angular speed which increases during acceleration, and assists the climb. This method does require an aircraft that is more stable and maneuverable at low speeds. On the down side, an aircraft launched off a ski jump cannot launch at maximum takeoff weight (unless MTOW is very light to begin with, as in the BAe Harrier and its family), so either combat load or range will suffer vis à vis a catapulted aircraft. Large aircraft cannot launch off a ski jump at all, restricting a ski jump-equipped carrier to tactical aviation only.

The Su-33 sports canards that shorten the take-off distance and improve maneuverability, but required reshaping of the leading edge extensions. The canards counter pitch-down force generated by leading and trailing edge flaps reducing approach speed by 1.5 times; they also act as destabilizers in supersonic flight, by reducing pitch trim drag. The wing area was also increased, though the span remained unchanged. The wings were fitted with power-assisted folding, and the vertical tails were shortened to allow the fighter to fit in the typically crowded hangars of an aircraft carrier. The rear radome was shortened and reshaped to allow for the tail hook, as well as to save space inside the hangars. The IRST was moved to provide better downward visibility and an L-shaped retractable refuelling probe was fitted to increase range.

The Su-33 carries guided missiles such as the Kh-25MP, Kh-31 and Kh-41. The plane can be used in both night and day operations at sea. It can operate under assistance of the command center ship, or in conjunction with a Kamov Ka-31 (a variant of the Ka-27) early-warning helicopter. The R-27EM missiles provide it the capability to intercept antiship missiles.

Other than air defence, the duties of the Su-33 include destruction of enemy ASW, AWACS, and transport aircraft, anti-shipping strike, support of amphibious landing, escort, reconnaissance, and laying of minefields.


  • Russian Naval Aviation


  • Ukrainian Air Force

Potential operators

The state-run company Rosoboronexport is finishing negotiations with the People’s Republic of China to ship up to 50 aircraft totalling US$2.5 billion dollars. China would initially acquire 2 aircraft worth US$100 million dollars for testing and then have further options to acquire an additional 12-48 aircraft. The fighters are intended to be used with the fledgling Chinese aircraft carrier program.

At the sixth Zhuhai Airshow in fall 2006, the first deputy director of the Military Technological Cooperation Bureau of Russian Federation, lieutenant general Aleksander Denisov of the Russian Air Force, confirmed at the news conference to the public that China had approached Russia for the possible purchase of Su-33, and negotiation was to start in 2007. The Xinhua News Agency subsequently published the information on its military website on the same day on November 1, 2006 and this is the only known official Chinese governmental acknowledgment on this matter, but neither the Russian general nor the Chinese reporters disclosed any information on whether the deal was direct purchase, license assembly or technology transfer, but simply stating that China had planned to "introduce Su-33".

Specifications (Su-33)

Data from KNAAPO Su-33 page, Sukhoi Su-30MK page, Gordon and Davison

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 21.94 m (72 ft)
  • Wingspan: 14.70 m (48.25 ft)
  • Height: 5.93 m (19.5 ft)
  • Wing area: 62.0 m² (667 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 18,400 kg (40,600 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 29,940 kg (66,010 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 33,000 kg (72,750 lb)
  • Powerplant: 2× AL-31F afterburning turbofans
    • Dry thrust: 7,600 kgf (74.5 kN, 16,750 lbf) each
    • Thrust with afterburner: 12,500 kgf (122.6 kN, 27,560 lbf) each
  • Wingspan, wings folded: 7.40 m (24.25 ft)


  • Maximum speed: Mach 2.17 (2,300 km/h, 1,430 mph) at 10,000 m (33,000 ft) altitude
  • Stall speed: 240 km/h (150 mp/h)
  • Range: 3,000 km (1,860 mi)
  • Service ceiling 17,000 m (55,800 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 325 m/s (64,350 ft/min)
  • Wing loading: 483 kg/m²; (98.9 lb/ft²)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.83
  • Maximum turn: +8 g (+78 m/s²)
  • Landing speed: 235-250 km/h (145-155 mph)


  • 1x 30 mm GSh-30-1 cannon with 150 rounds
  • Up to 6,500 kg (14,300 lb) of munitions on twelve external hardpoints, including:
    • R-27/R-73 air-to-air missiles
    • Various bombs and rockets
    • ECM pods