‘FAB’ hauls his gargantuan Sukhoi Su-30MKM Flanker into a gentle left turn, plugs the ‘burners for some airspeed and levels off before pulling back on the stick and grabbing sky like a moon-bound Saturn V.

Outside, vortices stream from the multirole fighter’s canard foreplanes as moisture is literally squeezed from the humid Singapore air. The humidity is a God-send for those looking for some spectacular ‘vapes’.

“One thousand… two thousand… three thousand…”

Have a good one sir! Sukhoi 1’s crew chief climbs down the ladder as Fab and Bashful continue strap in to prepare for their routine. The large glass dome on the left is the infra-red search-and-track (IRST) ball, which allows the Flanker to acquire and track targets passively, without tipping off its adversary. The four blade aerials slightly offset to the right are for the Flanker’s Combined Interrogator Transponder (CIT). Pic by Iwan Shafiee Aircraft Photography.

The minute the count reaches “Four thousand…”, Lt Col Faisal Abu Bakar, callsign Fab, kicks left rudder and grunts inside his Ulmer Su30 UECT 82VB oxygen mask as G-forces tear into him and his backseater, Major Mohd Afian Abdullah, callsign ‘Bashful’.

Aided by the thrust vectoring control system on the Lyulka Saturn AL-31FP afterburning turbofan engines, the Flanker of No 11 Squadron, Royal Malaysian Air Force, enters into a freakishly impossible maneouvre called the Spin Roll and recovers, with only a slight loss in altitude.

The crowd lining the tarmac at the 2018 Singapore Aerospace watch, mouths agape, as the crew of ‘Sukhoi 1’, put the super-agile, multirole fighter – all 26-tonnes of it – through its paces.

As Fab continues to set up his cockpit switches for takeoff, Bashful holds up his hands to test the sunlight readability on his Heads-Up-Display (HUD). The HUD displays critical flight information up-front so that aircrews can be ‘eyes-out’ and visually acquire and track their adversaries, negating the need for them to be ‘head-down’ to scan their instruments. Pic by Iwan Shafiee Aircraft Photography.

Still hauling bags of energy, Fab yanks the centrally-mounted control stick back into his gut and sets up his next sequence, an extreme, slow-speed, high-alpha pass. He pitches the nose up, bangs the twin throttles fully forward against the stops, past the détente, and watches his airspeed windmill down on his large, collimated Heads-Up-Display (HUD) on his main instrument panel.

The afterburners are blazing, belching out twin tongues of pure blue flame. Fab has selected max ‘burners in combat mode for that little bit of extra power. The air immediately behind the twin nozzles is distorted by the heatblur of superheated gasses.

Inside the cockpit, Fab and Bashful are rocked by a slight juddering. But the Flanker quickly settles down.

Sukhoi 1 taxis out to the runway, all the while checking the flight control surfaces, including the large dorsal airbrake (shown here in the extended position). Pic by Iwan Shafiee Aircraft Photography.

With the nose at 65 degrees AoA (angle of attack, or alpha), Sukhoi 1’s forward momentum has been reduced to a leisurely crawl. Its massive wings are no longer generating lift. The only thing preventing this multi-million ringgit fighter from falling out of the sky is the steady pulse from the two engines going at full chat, pumping out 54,000 pounds of thrust. Thrust is beating physics into submission. And doing a damn fine job of it, too.

In the back seat, Bashful calls out the airspeed and altitude.

Canopy sealed, Fab and Bashful conduct tests of their flight control surfaces. Note the immense stagger between the two cockpits. Also of interest is the heavy stainless steel heat and blast shielding for the Gsh-301, 30mm cannon, located on the starboard LERX. Pic by Iwan Shafiee Aircraft Photography.

“Airspeed, fifty-two (knots). Altitude 1,000 (feet),” he says as the Flanker continues to edge slowly forward. Bashful’s job as the Weapons Systems Officer (WSO or ‘Whizzo’ in RMAF parlance) usually, is to manage the complex weapons system on board the fighter, to help plan and execute a mission as tactician, and to act as a second pair of eyes in a close-in ‘knife fight’ or a dogfight.

On this evolution, however, he is part safety officer, calling out airspeed and altitude, and part show manager, to help Fab hit all the critical points in the aerial sequence and to make sure that the Flanker doesn’t stray too far from the crowd line, show centre and the datum.

From the ground, the Flanker’s profile is not unlike that of a menacing cobra, hood extended, poised to strike. Fab and Bashful hold this position for a good 30 seconds, demonstrating the type’s phenomenal nose-pointing and high-alpha capability, and excellent slow-speed handling characteristics. As an added bonus, the pair punch off magnesium decoy flares, used in aerial combat to confuse heat-seeking missiles, in a spectacular display of pyrotechnics.

Fab and Bashful are part of a 23-man ‘det’ or detachment, from the RMAF at the 2018 Singapore Aerospace exhibition at the Changi Exhibition Centre. The show began on Feb 6 and ends today (Sunday Feb 11).

Afterburners blazing, Fab and Bashful exit one aerial sequence to set up the next one. Note the slight downward cant of the left thrust-vectoring nozzle, which adds a little bit more roll authority to the manoeuvre. Pic by Iwan Shafee Aircraft Photography.

The biennial show attracts aerospace and defence companies eyeing a slice of the very lucrative Southeast Asian aerospace markets, estimated at between US$3 billion and US$4 billion, annually.

Royal Malaysian Air Force chief General Tan Sri Affendi Buang, said the presence of the RMAF at Changi was at the invitation of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and demonstrates the spirit of mutual cooperation between the two air forces.

“Our participation here, and the RSAF’s presence at the Langkawi International Maritime Aerospace exhibition since 2001, underscores our warm and long-standing defence relations and our strong commitment to regional security,” said Affendi.

Good vapes! Vortices stream from the Flanker’s canard foreplanes and leading edge root extensions (LERX) as Fab pulls hard on the pole and goes ballistic, into the vertical. Pic by Iwan Shafiee Aircraft Photography.

The two air forces also interact regularly through bilateral and multilateral exercises, visits, professional exchanges, and cross-attendance of courses.

This year’s event marks the second time the RMAF dispatched two of its premier multirole combat aircraft south of the border. The detachment, comprising seven officers and 16 enlisted, transited from their home port in Gong Kedak, Kelantan, and arrived in Singapore on Feb 2. The other Flanker demo crew are Lt Col Mohd Jasmi Abdul Wahab, callsign ‘Pmad’ and Maj Fat-Hi Akmal Norsaid, callsign ‘Bean’.

This marks Fab and Bashful’s second time displaying the Flanker at Singapore Aerospace.

“Our sequence lasts about eight minutes and comprises nine manoeuvres, including the Falling Leaf, the TVC (thrust vector control) Turn 360, Loop, Tumble and Yaw, the Max AB (afterburner) Turn, the TVC J-Turn, the Cobra Spike, and Tailslide,” said Fab, who has logged more than 1,000 hours on the Flanker.

While the Max AB Turn demonstrates the type’s ability to turn inside an adversary in a turning fight, the others, such as the TVC Turn 360, the Loop, Tumble and Yaw, the TVC J-Turn, Cobra Spike, and Tailslide showcases the Super Flanker’s excellent aerodynamics, carefree handling, redundant digital fly-by-wire flight control system and the engines’ remarkable resistance to disturbed airflow.

Coming in low and fast, at the speed of heat! Tucking in their landing gear, Fab and Bashful are airborne, just a few feet off the ground. With their Lyulka Saturn AL-31FP afterburning turbofan engines in full reheat, the air behind them is distorted by the heatblur of superheated gasses. Pic by Iwan Shafiee Aircraft Photography.

Fab and Bashful are stoked at performing again in Changi and are looking forward to wowing the crowd today.

“Grab your small children by the hand, folks… ‘cause we’re coming in at the speed of heat,” chuckles Bashful.

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