Sukhoi director-general Mikhail Pogosyan managed to get through his Sopwith lecture at the Royal Aeronautical Society last night without mentioning the "M-word" once.
That would be M as in MiG.
Summarizing the history of the Sukhoi design bureau and company, Pogosyan traced its practice of taking "calculated risk" back to its first days, and its founder Pavel Sukhoi. Pogosyan noted that - alone among bureau chiefs - Sukhoi was never a member of the Communist party. (For engineers and other professionals, Party membership was a privilege, not a duty.) "Sukhoi could not rely on political connections - he simply did not have any," Pogosyan said.
Could this be a reference to a rival fighter bureau, whose co-founder's brother was one of the Sovier Union's top leaders? Pogosyan was not naming names.
Then, too, the "we was robbed, I tell you, robbed" sentiment that appears from time to time in the Western industry (ask anyone at Northrop Grumman about the YF-23) clearly has its equivalent in Russia. Pogosyan talked a lot about Sukhoi's T-4, the Mach 2.8 canard bomber prototype that the bureau tested in the early 1970s and which contributed a great deal to the Su-27 design. "The development was stopped as a result of Tupolev's intrigues," Pogosyan said, "when they were fighting in support of the Tu-160."
But Pogosyan credits this tough upbringing for Sukhoi's current success, making Sukhoi more innovative and daring than its competitors (for instance, going to fly-by-wire control for the Su-27 when MiG stayed with mechanical controls for the MiG-29). Today, it is Sukhoi that has succeeded in export markets and international partnerships, and Sukhoi that has been selected for the PAK-FA future fighter program.
On the other hand, it's also easy to see why Sukhoi has found it easy to work with non-US partners - HAL, Alenia and Boeing - and why it might be a while before we see any collaboration between Sukhoi, MiG and Tupolev.
photo credit: Sukhoi