KUALA LUMPUR: One of the things that has always drawn “oohs” and “aahs” from people watching the aerial displays at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibitions (Lima) for the past few years are those put on by the Royal Malaysian Air Force pilots of the SU-30MKM Flankers.
The manoeuvrability of the aircraft, its thrust vectoring working overtime, was always a sight to behold as the pilots pulled out all the stops. The thing that always got to the crowds was its ability to fly at extremely slow speeds, and even seem to hover in midair in what is fittingly called a Cobra position, like the extended head of a cobra about to strike.
The pride of the RMAF’s jet forces will be here again, showing off for the crowds. But, this year, the RMAF’s Flankers will not be the only ones.
After a hiatus of four years, one of the world’s most famous aerobatics teams is returning to Langkawi, with an even bigger bang.
The Russian Knights are at Lima 2017 to put on a treat for those who follow aerobatics teams the world over.
But more significant than that, the Knights’ new Sukhoi SU-30SM aircraft, designated Flanker-C by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or Nato, will be making their “world premiere”, according to Russian Aerospace Forces commander-in-chief Colonel-General Victor Bondarev.
Since being formed in 1991, the Russian Knights have been flying the SU-27 Flanker, the predecessor of the SU-30.
The SU-30SM is a multi-role fighter aircraft developed by JSC Sukhoi Design Bureau for the Russian Aerospace Forces. It is an advanced derivative of the SU-30MK combat aircraft family flown by several air forces worldwide,
And with the new aircraft comes a new flight demonstration programme, or aerobatic routine.
Russian Knights leader Colonel Andrei Alekseyev said the pilots have been training on the new routine practically every day, weather permitting.
“SU-30SM is an excellent aircraft. We are in the process of mastering this fighter. There will be many new elements with the use of ‘supermanoeuvrability’ in the individual aerobatics. We will also add something new to the group aerobatics,” he said.
Four of the new Flanker-Cs will fly at Lima 2017.
Bondarev said the Knights pilots had concurrently trained on the aerobatics routines and operational aspects of the Flanker-C.
“The pilots have already completed the full training course and mastered the aerobatics (aspect),” he said.
Alekseyev, meanwhile, praised the combat capabilities of the aircraft, saying it was much better than those of previous generation fighters.
(The Russian Knights is one of the few aerobatics teams in the world which fly aircraft that completely retain combat capabilities. The pilots are also fully combat-trained, alongside having to master aerobatic routines.)
The Russian Knights was formed on April 5, 1991, at Kubinka Air Base in the then Soviet Union. In September that year, the team became the first to perform outside the Soviet Union when they toured the United Kingdom.
Four years later, they were in Langkawi for Lima, but would not return for another 18 years. The long hiatus could have been because of the disaster that struck the team after leaving Langkawi in 1995.
On Dec 12 that year, while the Flankers were on their back to Russia from Langkawi, three of the five aircraft crashed into a mountainside while approaching Cam Ranh airfield in Vietnam in adverse weather.
But the Flankers, Malaysian and Russian, will, of course, not be the only ones screaming across the skies of Langkawi this year.
The RMAF’s F/A-18D Hornets, Hawk 108s and 208s, A400M Atlas and Pilatus PC7 MKII are also returning to the air show.
Two other aerobatics teams — Tentera Nasional Indonesia-Angkatan Udara’s Jupiter flying KT-1Bs and South Korea’s Black Eagle flying KAI-T50Bs — will also show off their skills.
Also returning to Langkawi skies is one of two aircraft said to have made the final list for the RMAF’s multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) replacement programme. Dassault Aviation’s Rafale will be on aerial display for all to see.
The other MRCA replacement programme candidate, the Eurofighter Typhoon, will not be flying, though visitors can see get a feel of it as BAE Systems, one of the companies involved in manufacturing the aircraft, has a full-scale replica set up outside the Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre.
Other fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters involved in the air show include those from the Royal Malaysian Navy, police, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, Malaysia Airlines Bhd, Royal Thai Air Force, United States Air Force (though the B-1B Lancer will only perform a fly past) and Indian Air Force.
On static display, however, visitors can see all of the above, plus a few more from the civilian side of the aerospace industry. Highlights include the Fire and Rescue Department’s Mi-17 and AW139 helicopters, US Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, P-8 Poseidon and MH-60 Seahawk, a Russian Air Force IL-76, USAF KC-135 Stratotanker and Singapore Air Force’s F-15SG Eagle and AH-64 Apache.
Not to be left out is the maritime segment of Lima, which this time reverts to the original format of being separated from the aerospace exhibition centre.
As always, the bulk of the ships on view will be from RMN, led by one of its two Scorpene submarines. This time, it is the turn of KD ‘Tun Razak’.
Making its debut will be the RMN’s new training ship ‘Gagah Samudera’, only recently commissioned. It will be joined by the training ship KLD ‘Tunas Samudera’, a sailing ship.
Also in the mix are KD ‘Inderasakti’, KD ‘Jebat’, KD ‘Kasturi’, KD ‘Lekir’, KD ‘Selangor’, KD ‘Perantau’, KD ‘Mutiara’, sister ships KD ‘Laksaman Tun Abdul Jamil’ and KD ‘Laksamana Hang Nadim’, KD ‘Perdana’, KD ‘Gempita’, KD ‘Kinabalu’, KD ‘Mahameru’ and MV ‘Mega Bakti’.
MMEA, meanwhile, will have five vessels on show, including its latest vessel, the new generation patrol craft KM ‘Bagan Datuk’, which it officially received on Wednesday. The others are KM ‘Marlin’, KM ‘Perwira’, KM ‘Pekan ‘and KM ‘Sugut’.
Other Malaysian agencies taking part are the marine police, Marine Department and Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, which will have its RV ‘Discovery’, a coastal research vessel, anchored off Tanjung Malai.
Various navies are also sending ships for the maritime segment. There are two ships each from the Pakistan and Indonesian navies, and a ship each from the Indian, Italian, Australian, Singapore, Thai, US, Philippine and Vietnam navies as well as one from the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force.
The maritime segment will also have smaller craft on show, including a fast interceptor craft from Muhibbah Engineering, and a sea plane, the unique-looking Wing-in-Ground ground effect vehicle called Airfish 8.
One of the main highlights of Lima 2017, however, will be the display of unmanned vehicles. Among these are the USAF’s MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), MMEA’s Fulmar UAV, Skyeton Aircraft’s ACS 30 UAV, MAST’s Teledyne autonomous underwater vehicle and Saab’s Seaeye remotely-operated vehicle for underwater operations.