March 12th, 2012 marks 96 years since the creation of the first fighter regiments in Russia. Today we will visit the Buturlinovka Voronezh region, where the Kursk air squadron, composed mostly of Mig-29SMT and Mig-29UBT jets, is temporarily based.
Right now, the crews are preparing the 4+ generation fighters for live firing exercises at the “Lagoda 2012” in the Western Military District. Training for young pilots has already begun. In addition, the Mig-29SMT fighters of the Kursk air squadron are due to begin combat patrols to protect Russia’s western and south-western borders.
The assistant commander for training, Major Alexander Solodov, demonstrates the VKK-6M pressure suit. The suit is crucial for pilots who fly at hgih altitudes. When flying at altitudes exceeding 12 km, a special device in the suit feeds oxygen to manually compress the body. This compensates for the pressure that is supposed to be delivered by the lungs. The suit can withstand up to 10 units of pressure.
The Deputy Squadron commander explained the importance of today’s flight programs, which will take place during the day, at night, and during adverse weather conditions. “They will practice simple and complex maneuvers, as well as combat systems. In addition, pilots will sharpen their landing skills as well as flying through clouds.”
The commander of the Kursk air squadron , Ruslan Kupchin, graduated from the Kachin military aviation university in 1990. In December 2010, he was appointed commander of the squadron. He stated that the pilots fly an average of 112 hours per year. They are pleased with the squadron as a whole, though the aircraft have a few problems which are being resolved. By the way, though the Mig-29SMT has officially been accepted into service, it is still performing combat trials.
The story behind the acceptance of these aircraft into the Russian air-force is quite interesting. They were originally built for Algeria, but were rejected by the customer after the transfer. In 2009, twenty-four “Algerian” Migs were delivered to the Kursk airbase in Lipetsk. Algeria had purchased thirty-four aircraft in two versions: the Mig-29SMT single seat fighter and the Mig-29UBT two-seat trainer. Between 2006 and 2007, the customer received 15 fighters, but stopped accepting them after, as they claimed, defects had been found on the aircraft. It is widely believed that their decision was actually political. These “Algerian” aircraft are currently some of the most modern fighters in the Russian air-force. Russia currently operates over 300 Mig-29’s of various modifications, but the latest were delivered nearly 2 decades ago. By the time the transfer was completed, the “Algerian” Migs had gone through no more than 80 hours of flight.
The Mig-29UBT’s do not have an operational aerial refueling system. These fighters have the same avionics as the Mig-29SMT, minus the radar. The Mig-29SMT is an upgraded version of the Mig-29SM, and has new avionics, can carry more (and newer) types of weapons, and has an increased range. Its development began in 1997. Visually, the main difference between the Mig-29SMT and its predecessors is the “hump” on its back, which houses two internal fuel tanks. The Mig-29SMT can carry a total of up to 6,100 liters of fuel internally. The Kursk pilots have not yet practiced air-to-air refueling.
The engines are the same as those on previous variants: a pair of RD-33’s. They are still gas-guzzling and smoky. After landing, technicians download logs which contain information about the status of the aircraft’s systems. An interesting fact about the Mig-29SMT is that it is the first aircraft in Russia which will be serviced and repaired not on a calendar schedule, but based on its actual state. This approach will significantly reduce operating costs. Besides increasing the service life from 4,000 to 6,000 hours, this also leads to a decrease in the cost of flying hours by 40% and an increase in the aircraft’s “cost effectiveness” by 3.3 times when compared to its predecessors.
After the disbandment of the Su-25 regiment in Buturlinovka, the airbase was empty for a while. And while in other places, ignorant citizens would have tried to get rid of the airbase, here it is the opposite. The locals understand the benefit of the military presence due to the availability of more jobs. Speaking of jobs, the pilots earn very decent pay. The commander earns a salary of 67,000 rubles (2,300 dollars), while the ground staff earn 42-47,000 rubles ( 1,500-1,700 dollars). On weekends, the pilots get to go home; Kursk is 400 kilometers away. Most of the pilots are young, with the average year of birth being 1983 or later.
The essence of air combat training is as follows. Two aircraft take off with 5-10 minute intervals. The first aircraft is the target, the second is the interceptor. The command post guides the aircraft apart to a distance that requires the aid of the radar, usually 30-40 km apart. Then, the target aircraft flies a specific route, while the interceptor engages it. Once the target aircraft receives information that it has been locked on, it begins to perform maneuvers to try to thwart the attack. Depending on the task, the flights are carried out by single aircraft, a pair, or a group.
More photos here.