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16 Aug, 2009 16:11

Fighter jets collide ahead of Moscow aviation show

Two Su-27 fighter jets of the “Russian Knights” aerobatics team have crashed during a final rehearsal ahead of the MAKS 2009 Air Show in the Moscow region. The squadron leader died in the collision.

A single-seat fighter jet SU-27 and a two-seater Su-27UB combat trainer were performing a flight in preparation for MAKS 2009 –Russia’s biggest aviation show – in the town of Zhukovsky.

When the two planes collided, the pilots ejected themselves from each of the aircraft. But Igor Tkachenko, the commander of the “Russian Knights”, was killed during the accident. ITAR TASS reports his body, parachute and ejection seat have been found near the village of Zakharikha.

The other two pilots have been found alive, with one of them reported to have suffered a spinal fracture.

“There was an orange flash during the collision, then black smoke,” one of the crash witnesses said. “When the smoke cleared, we saw one of the planes spinning down outside the field. We all held our breaths because we couldn’t quite tell what was happening to the pilots, if they were alive or not. We couldn’t see any parachutes,” he said.

Five people have reportedly been injured on the ground.

“I saw a cloud of fire in my neighbor’s garden. I thought it was the airplane at first, but then I saw all the pieces flying,” another witness told RT. “I hid myself behind the fence, to have some barrier between myself and the debris. One woman was walking down a little walkway over there and the fire swept over her. She got badly burned and is now at the emergency room.”

Initial reports on other casualties and damage caused by the accident were conflicting.

The press service of the regional centre of the Emergencies Ministry told ITAR TASS that four residents of the village where aircraft wreckage fell have been taken to hospital. Four buildings have been damaged – including two destroyed by fire – as a result of the SU-27 crash.

“In total, five people including one woman were injured and three men and the woman have been hospitalized. Another man refused hospitalization,” a source told the agency.

Earlier Interfax, citing a source in a local law enforcement agency, reported that a man might be trapped under the wreckage of one of the houses.

However, it has been determined that, in fact, no one has been discovered underneath the debris.

The collision took place around five kilometers away from Zhukovsky air field. Prosecutors from the Moscow Military District have launched a probe into the crash of the fighters.

A pilot error during the performance of an aerobatic stunt is cited by a Defense Ministry spokesman as a possible cause of the crash. Another, less likely, version is that a bird flew into one of the planes’ engines.

Both flight recorders have already been found and will be examined by Defense Ministry specialists.


The Su-27 (NATO designation Flanker) is a highly maneuverable front-line fighter aircraft designed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau. Equipped with an analog fly-by-wire control system, the Su-27 is also able to carry up to ten air-to-air missiles. The Su-27UB is a two-seat training version of the Su-27.

It’s possible that Tkachenko was trying to steer his plane away from the residential area and therefore postponed ejecting from the aircraft, test pilot Anatoly Kvochur told Russian Vesti TV channel.

“Most likely, he was not high enough to eject,” he said. Kvochur added that when the height is low and the plane is spinning, the likelihood of an unsuccessful ejection increases. The pilot also suggested that Tkachenko might have hoped to land and save his aircraft.

Also, Kvochur didn’t exclude that the general wear on fighter jets could have played an indirect role in the crash.

"The Air Force has not received new aircraft …… for a long time," he said.


MAKS – the International Aviation and Space Salon – is an International Air Show held near Moscow on Zhukovsky air field every two years. Russia's biggest exhibition for the aerospace industry, it is an important business event. The show also attracts thousands of aviation enthusiasts for the spectacular air show, with the best Russian and foreign aerobatic teams performing.

There will be no more flights at the air field on Sunday, Vladimir Borisov, head of the aviation show, told Ria Novosti. He also said that the start of the event, scheduled for August 18, will not be postponed.

However, it is possible that the “Russian Knights” team will not be excluded from participation in the show, according to a Russian Air Force official. He said that the planes could be replaced by additional aircraft, and there are also pilots who can take part in the event in case the pilots who ejected are temporarily unable to. The final decision will be taken by the head of the Air Force.

Born in 1964, Igor Tkachenko was the commander of the “Russian Knights” (“Russkiye vityazi”), which is the most famous of all Russian aerobatic teams. He had worked in aerobatics since 1989. The time he spent in flights is more than 2,300 hours. Tkachenko piloted such planes as L-29, MiG-21, MiG-29, SU-27, SU-35, as well as non-Russian made MiraGE-2000 and F-16.

He was married and had a son and a daughter.

Responding to news of Tkachenko’s tragic death, President Dmitry Medvedev offered his condolences to the family of the pilot.

Russian Knights “always eager to fly”

The Russian Knights aerobatic team was created on April, 5 1991 and is manned by the best pilots of the Kubinka Air Force base, who have fully mastered the piloting of the 4th generation Su-27 fighter.

Just several days before his tragic death, Igor Tkachenko spoke to RT about the aerobatics team he was commanding and certainly very proud of.

“We select pilots for our two groups – “The Swifts” and the “Russian Knights” – from among ordinary pilots, based on both their airmanship and their psychological characteristics,” he said. 

“Also,” he went on, “our squadron is unique in that unlike other aerobatic groups in Europe or, say, in the US. In addition to aerobatic training, we have regular training as well”.

“Our squadron is permanently ready for combat. In fact I believe it’d be good for every fighter pilot to go through the same training course as we have for our pilots here in Kubinka [Air Force base]," he said.

“One thing that our pilots share in common is that they are always eager to fly, they are willing to train day and night as much as they can,” Tkachenko added.

Black Sunday in Russian skies

Two people have been killed in another plane accident on Sunday in the Kaluga Region, southwest of Moscow.

A Yak-52 light-engine trainer aircraft crashed during a training flight, killing a student – Anton Khachkovsky, a cadet from the Ulyanovsk Aviation Institute – and Svetlana Fedorenko, his instructor.

The 37-year-old Fedorenko was a European Champion in aerobatics. Anton is reportedly the son of Dmitry Khachkovsky, a former “Russian Knights” pilot.

The Yakovlev Yak-52 crashed shortly after takeoff. Officials said there were no casualties or damage on the ground.

A rescue team, along with police, are working at the scene of the crash. Also, a criminal case has been launched to investigate the cause of the accident.