The National Museum of US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, has acquired a Soviet-vintage warbird Sukhoi Su-27′ Flanker.’ While this is not the first time the museum will have a foreign aircraft on display, this fighter jet has a ‘murky past’ as it resurfaces after being sold off to undisclosed private individuals.
The National Museum USAF announced on social media X (previously called Twitter), sharing the photos of the vintage aircraft the National Museum USAF: “Here’s a first look at the museum’s recent acquisition of the Sukhoi Su-27. Plans call for this aircraft to join the Cold War Gallery this fall.”
The Soviet Union developed Sukhoi Su-27 during the Cold War to answer the F-15 Eagle. It first entered service as an air superiority fighter but later had a variant used as a carrier-based fighter, while the platform has become a proven export aircraft.
The Su-27s have been the backbone of the Ukrainian Air Force’s air superiority plan. In 2022, the Ukrainian Air Force sent a flight of Su-27s to bomb the Russian garrison on Snake Island in May 2022.
— National Museum USAF (@AFmuseum) September 26, 2023
Ownership Changed Hands Before USAF Grabbed Su-27
A probe to ascertain the previous ownership of the fighter jet that has made its way to the USAF’s National Museum by Flight Global revealed that the twin seater Su-27 UB ‘Flanker’- C was acquired from the Ukrainian Air Force and was imported by a company called the Pride Aircraft in the US in 2009.
The company provided private adversary air services to the military on contract before it went bankrupt in 2020. The company acquired an airworthiness certificate for the SU-27 from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2009. Then, the FAA issued the certificate to another company called Tactical Air’s Website in 2010.
Tactical Air’s website has active contracts with the US Navy and US Marine Corps. The company operates 25 Northrop F-5 third-generation supersonic fighters and eight Canadair CF-5Ds.
Tactical Air also says it offers “extensive experience” operating customer-owned aircraft “to support their training objectives.” The company lists the Su-27 among that list, noting it has flown the Soviet-era jet in “global training operations.”
The aircraft records show that it was assigned a civil registration number in the year and was owned by Meridian, a firm based in Delaware with expertise in “military aeronautics.” They boast about finding and selling single or small military aircraft at request.
In 2018, the registration of the aircraft expired, and the Su-27 fell off the radar. It remains unclear how the plane made its way into the hands of the USAF and what the service used it for before putting it in the museum.
The US had acquired a few Su-27s. Since the Cold War, the US has been interested in laying its hands on Soviet military hardware. The main goal was to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the adversary’s aviation technology.
The USAF also used them for training, where the Soviet-origin aircraft formed the Red Team under a project named Constant Peg. It is widely speculated that the Su-27 has spent its last few years under the US military’s Foreign Material Exploitation (FME) program in Area 51.
Ukraine: Treasure Trove Of FME Intelligence
The Ukraine conflict has singlehandedly allowed the US and other Western countries to lay their hands on Russian weapon platforms and other equipment.
The primary weapon platforms or systems that the Ukraine war has yielded for the program include an almost intact RTU 518-PSM self-projection jamming pod, which is part of the Khibiny-U electronic warfare suite that the Su-30SM Flanker-H fighter jet carries.
The Ukrainian forces have also retrieved parts of Russian missiles and Iranian-made drones. Investigations of these materials have already revealed a reliance on foreign-made microchips and other components.
Russia’s heavy use of Iskander short-range ballistic missiles has also exposed a built-in countermeasures capability unknown earlier.
Russian Fighter Jet, American Bomb
The Ukrainian forces have reportedly modified its Su-27 Flankers to make them able to carry American-made Joint Direct Attack Munition-Extended Range glide bombs. This has transformed the aging interceptors into multi-role fighter bombers.
This was revealed through a photo shared by the Ukrainian Air Force to mark Independence Day. In the photo, Lt Gen Mykola Oleshchuk, the air force commander since 2021, can be seen scribbling his wishes on a 500-pound JDAM-ER hanging on a custom-made pylon under one of the wings of the vintage Su-27.
The Su-27-and-JDAM combination is a potentially powerful one. The twin-engine, single-seat Su-27, with its 36-ton maximum weight, can haul tons of bombs out to a radius of 700 miles or more—and defend itself while en route.
Ukraine’s fleet of Su-27s includes a mix of Su-27Ss and Su-27Ps. The S-models are first-generation Flankers with only rudimentary air-to-ground capability employing unguided bombs. The Su-27Ps had their bomb interfaces removed in the late 1980s.
The integration of the Su-27Ps with JDAM-ERs required a new pylon. When the US supplied High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles last spring in 2022, they also provided custom pylons for Su-27s and smaller Mikoyan MiG-29s. A slightly customized pylon could make the Su-27 compatible with the JDAM ER.
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com