With equipment orders from its own Air Force, and former Soviet Republics drying up, Russia needs to showcase its wares with a show of the profile and scale to rival those of Farnborough and Paris. The 10th MAKS International Aerospace Show, held at Zhukovsky airfield on the outskirts of Moscow, hosted such an event in August 2011. The enthusiastic local crowd, many who were local aerospace workers that arrived on foot, was an indication of the importance for the future of the industry in Russia.

The first morning of a four day trip to Russia and day one was to be spent at the trade day on Thursday. Expectations were high as clear blue skies welcomed the morning in Moscow. The first hurdle to encounter after battling through the horrendous Moscow traffic and arriving at the airfield was to negotiate the nowadays inevitable security checks. On the trade day everyone breezed through, even with a large camera bag, it was simply put through the X-ray machine and you ware waved on through the metal detector, simple. The public day was a different matter; a sea of humanity as far as the eye could see greeted us as we stepped off the coach and began the arduous task of getting through security. Every bag was being hand searched; if you had camera equipment everything was thoroughly checked. Once through the entrance, the tedium of waiting in line was soon forgotten as the aircraft in the static park came into view.

The line of aircraft seemed to stretch far in to the distance. Like Paris, many of the aircraft taking part in the flying display are deployed from the static park, but in the main were more sensibly parked. At Fairford we have the cones to contend with when shooting the static, in Russia you have a six-foot high fence, luckily the gaps are quite big and one can easily poke a camera through them. While frustrating for the photographer, it was done to keep the many of the enthusiastic Russian locals who in the past used to climb all over the jets and had to have their photograph taken in front of as many aircraft as possible.

One aspect of Zhukhovsky which gives a unique atmosphere are the numerous test and development aircraft dotted around this huge airfield. Unfortunately they are not usually in a position to photograph, and any unauthorised approach is actively discouraged. There are plenty of interesting aircraft south-side as well, with old IL-76s and MiG-25s amongst others that have been just left there seemingly to simply rot away.

The show itself was opened earlier in the week by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who a couple of years back flew to the show in a Tu-160 “Blackjack” but no such repeat this year. Unfortunately on the days attended there were no large Russian aircraft in the flying display, although they were well represented in the static with a Tu-95 “Bear”, Tu-160 “Blackjack”, IL-76 “ and a Beriev A-50 ” Mainstay” (Those that are not aware this is a Russian airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft based on the Ilyushin Il-76).

The flying programme proper was kicked off by the appearance of the Sukhoi Su-34. Trying to make sense of the Programme was a challenge throughout the afternoon, as it was in Cyrillic script. The obvious stuff stood out, but some surprises throughout the afternoon kept you on your toes.

MAKS, being a trade show, reflected the more politically open aspect of present day Russia, and is becoming increasingly international, with amongst others a large presence of American military aircraft. Amongst them on static saw a Galaxy C-5, P-3 Orion, KC-135, C-130, F-16DG Night Falcons, A-10s and F-15Es. The F-15E was also in the flying display and really put on an amazing display, probably one of the finest F-15 demonstrations that I have seen, with some insane high-g turns, lots of afterburner and even what looked like an attempt at a cobra manoeuvre as the aircraft was repositioning for its next pass! The demo pilot looked determined to rip the wings off the Lakenheath jet. The display was even more dramatic on the Saturday when the weather was damp, the F-15 seemed to turn in to a high speed cloud at times there was that much vapour pouring off it.

Other foreign military participation from the West was the French Air Force who brought along their specially marked 10,000 hours Rafale (plus backup jet). A polished display from the French showed everyone why they won the best solo jet demonstration at RIAT this year.

The teams of the Russian Swifts in their MiG-29s and the Russian Knights in their Su-27s both performed magnificently, throwing out flares to add to the spectacle. On some occasions they fly in a combined formation, but on the public day I was there, this was not to be. Other display acts included the Baltic Bees from Latvia in their L-39С Albatros aircraft along with another Russian display team also using L39s was team “RUSS” whose routine had some striking similarities to the Red Arrows in places and was actually a good display. Interesting to note that unlike in previous years at MAKS there were none of the major foreign military display teams in attendance.

A couple of airliners in the flying display; the biggest being the A380 company demonstrator, and was displayed in typically spectacular fashion, other aircraft included the Sukhoi Superjet 100 and the Antonov AN-158. Both of which also put on a very spirited display.

Another highlight was the appearance of the Beriev Be-200 Altair. This is a multipurpose amphibious aircraft designed by the Beriev Aircraft Company and manufactured by Irkut. Marketed as being designed for fire fighting, search and rescue, maritime patrol, cargo, and passenger transportation, it has a capacity of 12 tonnes (12,000 litres, 3,170 US gallons) of water, or up to 72 passengers. After rotating for take-off the display pilot kicked the aircraft over to give a very fine topside view of this unique and unusual aircraft. The main part of the display was the water bombing demo where the aircraft proceeded to dump 12 tonnes of water from its separate compartments in the colours of the Russian Federation flag.

Helicopter enthusiasts were also well catered for both in the static and the flying display. The static had an array of Mi-8s, a Mi-26, Mi-26T, a pair of Mi-28s, Kazan Ansat, Kamov Ka-52 and Ka-32 while the flying display consisted of a group fly past by a Mi-26T, Ka-226T, Mi-17, Mi-28N, Mi-38 and a Ka-52. Each then proceeded to run through its own individual display routine. As impressive looking is the Mi-28 and Ka-52 they certainly do not seem to be as agile as the AH-64 Apache.

The undoubted stars of the show were the company demonstrators, the MiG-29 OVT (recently renamed MiG-35), the Sukhoi Su-35, and the real star attraction, the Sukhoi T-50 (also known as the PAK-FA) all drawing spontaneous applause – the MiG-29 OVT and Sukhoi Su-35 for their thrust vectoring induced acrobatics and the T-50 for its showcase of cutting edge Russian aerospace technology. All the pilots acknowledged the cheering crowd while taxiing back to their respective aprons. The T-50 is still in the early stages of development and it showed. The display although interesting was not dynamic and didn’t really show what the aircraft can potentially do. It will be fascinating to see how development of the aircraft progresses and what sort of display we are likely to see at MAKS 2013.

The static was also good for Russian jets with an Su-25, Su-27, Su-30, Su-30MK, Su-34 and Su-35 from Sukhoi and a MiG-29K, MiG-29SMT, MiG-31BM and MiG-35 (OVT) from Mikoyan-Gurevich.

With the crowd estimated at approaching 100,000 on the public days, a quick exit was not expected, but at least it gave one last chance to look at the wonderful Russian aircraft in the static. Overall it was a very interesting and entertaining, if exhausting way to spend a couple of days in the company of some fascinating aircraft. If you want to experience this unique and refreshing show, the next one is in 2013.