A Russian fighter trying to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier after flying a mission as part of Russia’s Syrian operation on Nov. 13 crashed into the Mediterranean Sea due to the failure of both engines, according to sources in the Russian Defense Ministry.
A source familiar with the organization of flights on the aircraft carrier told Gazeta.ru that the MiG-29KR from the Admiral Kuznetsov missile aircraft carrier had fallen into the sea because both of its engines broke down in mid-flight.
The source added that the fighter’s pilot, who is chief of the service for Black Sea aviation flight safety and who ejected from the plane, has more than 200 landings on the Admiral Kuznetsov under his belt.
A source from the Defense Ministry also said that the pilot is highly qualified and is “one of the most experienced” of those trained in deck landings.
After the incident the Defense Ministry’s information and mass communications department made an official statement explaining the reason for the plane’s technical malfunction.
Urgency during landing
The source told Gazeta.ru that the deck of the Admiral Kuznetsov has four arresting gears.
When carrying out a landing the pilot must try to have the plane’s tailhook catch the second cable or if it can, the third (there is even a fourth, reserve cable). If the pilot tries to catch the first cable, there is a danger the tailhook may touch the ship’s deck, especially since at sea the aircraft carrier is subject to rocking.
On Nov. 13, the day of the accident, three MiG-29KRs took off from the aircraft carrier. After completing their flight missions the planes returned to the ship. The landings were to be conducted at an interval of three-four minutes.
The first fighter landed without any complications.
The second MiG-29KR caught the second arresting cable, tore it and in the end caught the fourth, reserve cable. The torn second cable got tangled up with the third cable and incapacitated it for a plane’s landing.
For some time it was basically impossible for the planes to land on the aircraft carrier. At that time the third MiG-29KR was approaching.
Since the aircraft carrier’s team needed some time to fix the arresting cables, the flight supervisor told the pilot of the third plane to land after circling the ship a second time.
While the plane was waiting to land both of its engines broke down. According to a preliminary theory, fuel had stopped entering the engines. In such cases, a jet plane plummets like a rock and the pilot can do only one thing: eject.
One of the most interesting cases involved the air force of the tiny former Soviet republic of Moldova. The new republic’s inventory consisted of 34 MiG-29 Fulcrums, eight Mi-8 Hip helicopters and a handful of transport aircraft — a sizeable force for such a small state. To put Moldova’s size into perspective, the country’s population is smaller than the metro area of Portland, Oregon.
Moldova couldn’t afford to maintain the fleet and, to make matters worse, was in a deep recession. Meanwhile, the United States feared Moldova would sell the MiG-29s to Iran, which could use them to bolster its own fleet of Fulcrums. Washington was also wary that Moldova might pass the technology to Iran’s rivals since the fleet included 14 MiG-29C variants configured to deliver nuclear weapons.
So in 1997, the United States deployed its most powerful tool to get the MiG-29s for itself. That tool … was money. Washington bought 21 of the MiG-29s — including 14 C models, one B model and six A models — and flew them in pieces on C-17 transport planes to Dayton, Ohio.
Not only was purchasing the jets a good way of ensuring they did not end up in Tehran’s hands, it gave Washington an opportunity to inspect one of the most sophisticated Soviet jets ever built. In exchange, Moldova received $40 million in humanitarian assistance, some army trucks and other non-lethal equipment.
Moldova sold the rest of its air force to Eritrea and Yemen. The newly American MiG-29s would largely disappear into a maze of testing squadrons, intelligence centers and U.S. Air Force “exploitation facilities,” according to Air & Space Magazine.
The MiG-29 was a maneuverable, deadly aircraft for its time. Its Archer AA-11 missiles were sophisticated for the 1990s because of their ability to lock targets with a helmet-mounted cueing system at greater angles away from the jet’s nose than comparable American fighters. However, this advantage would collapse when the Pentagon introduced the AIM-9X missile in 2003 and associated helmet-mounted displays.
The Fulcrum further lacked the avionics and information management systems to tell the pilot what was going on outside the airplane, or where they were. A pilot literally had to look at paper maps to figure out their location. In general, the MiG-29 is a fine airplane engineering wise, but increasingly obsolete for aerial warfare in the 21st century without upgrades.
Incidentally, 1997 was the same year that another country outside the former Soviet bloc obtained MiG-29s. That country was Israel, which loaned three single-seat Fulcrums for a couple of weeks from an undisclosed Eastern European country.
Given that the MiG-29 was the most advanced jet fighter Russia ever gave to its Arab clients — Iraq and later Syria — the Israelis doubtlessly welcomed an opportunity to test and evaluate it themselves.
Israeli pilots who tested out the aircraft were quite impressed. While different from the standard American-made jets they were accustomed to, they reported that the MiG-29 was easy to fly. Its computers for enabling landing if the pilot experienced difficulty were quite noteworthy.
This is due to the fact that this system “stabilizes the jet in case the pilot is affected by vertigo disease, and loses his orientation in space,” IAF Magazine noted. “Such systems do not exist in western aircraft, counting on the pilot to handle such situations independently.”
One test pilot concluded that the Fulcrum’s “abilities equals and sometimes even exceeds those of the F-15 and F-16 jets. The aircraft is highly maneuverable, and its engines provide higher weight to thrust ratio. Our pilots must be careful with this aircraft in air combat. Flown by a well trained professional, it is a worthy opponent.”
Little wonder then why Washington seized the chance to assess these formidable fighters while simultaneously denying Tehran an opportunity to expand its own fleet. Today there are still MiG-29 operators all over the world — largely in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and South Asia.
Poland has some Fulcrums operating alongside their U.S.-made F-16 jets. Curiously, Israel signed a deal in August 2011 to refurbish, modernize and overhaul Poland’s MiG-29s. The source of Israel’s own Fulcrum lease is still unknown
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