U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission home page


Sukhoi Su-2

Sukhoi's first independent design was the SU-2.

Sukhoi Su-9

The Su-9 was one of a series of supersonic jet fighters.

Sukhoi Su-15

The Sukhoi Su-15 V/STOL fighter in flight.

The Sukhoi Company

The Sukhoi company has produced some of the most advanced Soviet jet fighters of all time. About half of Russia's current tactical air power is due to Sukhoi's contributions.

The history of the Sukhoi company is closely associated with the life of Pavel Sukhoi, one of the greatest Soviet aircraft designers. Sukhoi, born in 1910, had a very uneven career characterized by two distinct phases. If, in the first part of his career, he was dogged by bad luck, he flourished enormously in his later days.

Like many of his contemporaries such as Sergey Korolev, chief designer of the Soviet space program, Sukhoi served his apprenticeship under the famous Andrey Tupolev, the patriarch of the modern Soviet aviation industry. In the 1920s and 1930s, as a senior engineer working for Tupolev at TsAGI (the Central Aero-hydrodynamics Institute), the premiere Soviet aeronautics organization, Sukhoi designed several bombers and fighters. He also worked on a number of Tupolev designs including the ANT-31 (I-14), which was the first Soviet all-metal low-wing monoplane fighter with retractable undercarriage and an enclosed cockpit. His first truly independent design was the ANT-51 (Su-2), a ground-attack aircraft that entered service in 1940.

In September 1939, the Soviet government appointed Sukhoi to head a new organization named the Experimental Design Bureau No. 134 (OKB-134) at a plant in the city of Kharkov in Ukraine. (The Russians called their aeronautics companies "design bureaus.") There, he designed the Su-6 ground-attack aircraft. Although he produced several excellent designs during the 1930s and 1940s, he was never able to achieve success due to a combination of testing accidents, political opposition, and Stalin's personal whims. After the war, Stalin assigned him and several other major Soviet designers—such as Mikoyan, Lavochkin, and Yakovlev —to build the first generation of Soviet jet fighters. Sukhoi used the German Me 262 and modified it to build his own Su-9 fighter. The Soviet Air Force never used the aircraft, partly because Stalin criticized Sukhoi for simply copying an old German aircraft instead of proposing an original Russian design. Ironically, it was at the very same time that Stalin had ordered Tupolev to make an exact copy of the American B-29 Superfortress.

Despite the setback, Sukhoi doggedly continued to pursue more advanced designs including the supersonic Su-17, a prototype for a frontline fighter. Eventually, Stalin grew intolerant of Sukhoi's work and closed down OKB-134 in November 1949; Sukhoi's team ended up as a subdivision of the Tupolev design organization.

Sukhoi's second—and far more successful—career began after Stalin's death in 1953. Later that year, in October, Stalin's successors put Sukhoi to work at a plant in Moscow where he formed a new organization known as OKB-51. The current Sukhoi company grew from this organization.

The design bureau designed and built a series of new supersonic jet fighters including the Su-7 and Su-9 in the 1950s and 1960s. These two aircraft were extensively modified over the years and used in vast numbers by the Soviet Air Force and other Communist countries. Like a number of other aviation designers, Sukhoi embraced the concept of evolutionary development rather than large technological leaps in aircraft design. For example, Sukhoi improved the original Su-9 delta-winged series into the Su-11 and Su-15 fighter-interceptor series for service with the Soviet Air Defense Forces. He also modified the Su-7B ground-attack aircraft into the Su-17 variable-geometry aircraft by introducing small modifications to the original design. Sukhoi's aircraft symbolized the general trend of Soviet aircraft design that used common components and standardization that allowed Soviet plants to produce large numbers of aircraft very quickly.

At the same time, Sukhoi did try to experiment with some radical innovations. One of his most famous creations was the T-4, a highly advanced supersonic (Mach 3) strike/reconnaissance aircraft, proposed as a response to the American B-70 Blackbird. In designing the aircraft, Sukhoi pioneered the use of new compact avionics systems and titanium structures. Although the aircraft flew successfully several times beginning in 1972, the Soviet Air Force never used it due to shifting requirements and its high expense. A full-scale model now remains in an aviation museum outside of Moscow, a sad reminder of a forgotten era.

Besides the T-4, the design bureau also produced the high-performance Su-24 (codenamed "Fencer" by NATO) multi-role aircraft in the 1970s, and the Su-25 ("Frogfoot") close support aircraft in the 1980s. In the mid-1990s, the new Su-34 began replacing the Su-24 while the redesigned Su-39 shturmovik (Russian word for "battleplane" or fighter) has been substituting for older model fighters such as the Su-25. Perhaps the most well known of Sukhoi's fighters has been the Su-27 ("Flanker"), a long-range superiority fighter, famous for its versatility and overall capabilities.

Like all Russian aviation companies, Sukhoi has been hard hit by the ruin of the post-Communist economy. Despite the poor conditions, Sukhoi has recently produced the new multi-role, all-weather S-37 interceptor—first flown in September 1997—which is equipped with state-of-the-art electronics, forward-swept wings, and thrust vector control. With the S-37, Sukhoi is competing with the MiG company to provide Russia's fifth generation advanced fighter aircraft. The Russian military, however, has expressed little interest in the proposal. Sukhoi is also developing, again in competition with the MiG firm, the lightweight Su-54 fighter, an aircraft comparable to the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter.

The Sukhoi company is now known simply as OKB Sukhoi and comprises 51 percent part of the AVPK Sukhoi (the Sukhoi Aviation Military-Industrial Complex), a giant conglomerate of design bureaus and production plants designed to bring together research, development, and production of military aircraft. It is currently diversifying into the civilian market by creating sports aircraft, freight vehicles, and passenger aircraft. Through its nearly 50-year history, the design bureau has designed about a hundred different aircraft, 50 types of which were put into series production.

—Asif Siddiqi


Boyd, Alexander. The Soviet Air Force Since 1918. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1977.

Gunston, Bill. The Osprey Encyclopedia of Russian Aircraft: 1875-1995. London: Osprey Aerospace, 1996.

Higham, Robin, John T. Greenwood, and Von Hardesty. Russian Aviation and Air Power in the Twentieth Century. London: Frank Cass, 1998.

On-Line References:

"Russian Aviation Museum." http://www2.ctrl-c.liu.se/misc/ram

"Russian Aircraft Resource History." http://www.royfc.com/links/acft_history.html

Educational Organization

Standard Designation (where applicable)

Content of Standard

International Technology Education Association

Standard 6

Students will develop an understanding of the role of society in the development and use of technology.

International Technology Education Association

Standard 8

Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design.

International Technology Education Association

Standard 10

Students will develop an understanding of the role of experimentation and research and development in problem solving.