Russian strategic bomber ‘PAK-DA’ undergoes ejection seat tests; Many call it Moscow’s first “pure stealth” aircraft
“Russia has started testing an ejection seat for a promising long-range aviation complex (PAK-DA),” said the general director of the research and production enterprise (NPP) Zvezda, Sergey Pozdnyakov.
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“We are almost on schedule. Testing has only just begun,” he said, responding to a question about whether testing of the PAK-DA bomber seat had begun.
According to Pozdnyakov, the tests would include climatic and resource tests and examine “mechanical impacts”. This involves checking if the structural integrity is maintained and if the system can withstand the extreme pressures on the seat while being ejected by the rocket boosters in mid-flight.
In July 2021, Pozdnyakov said deliveries of the seats to the Tupolev State Joint-Stock Company (PJSC) should begin by 2023.
The PAK-DA is Russia’s first ‘long-range strategic bomber’ developed in decades, intended to replace the three mainstays of the Tupolev Design Bureau’s RuAF – the Tu-160 ‘Blackjack’, the Tu-22M and the 1950s Tu-95. ‘Bear.’
Whether this means the Tu-160 will simultaneously serve alongside the PAK-DA for some time before being phased out is unclear.
However, air forces do not usually retire entire fleets of aircraft all at once, and some numbers are retained and upgraded until their replacement completes series production.
After at least two years of rigorous flight testing, the final production model is frozen to reveal necessary modifications and fixes. Flight and ground crew also take the time to fully familiarize themselves with the aircraft.
Moreover, Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov said in February this year that the upgraded Tu-160M will also be built with the PAK-DA during his visit to the Tu-160M factory. 160 from Kazan. The heavily upgraded “M” variant of the Tu-160 first flew in 2021, six years after its modernization program began in 2015.
“It is about to complete the preparations for its first flight (PAK-DA) and then go through all the stages of testing and launching into series production. Two aircraft, the Tu-160M and the PAK-DA will be produced simultaneously,” Manturov said in comments quoted in several Russian media.
Russia will receive the first newly built Tu-160M strategic missile carrier bomber by the second quarter of 2022 for further state trials and operational service.
Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the PAK-DA and the Tu-160 will serve together for a substantial amount of time before the latter is decommissioned.
Half a billion rubles of ejection seats
With a crew of four on the Tu-160, Russian state manufacturers will manufacture twelve ejection seats for the first PAK-DA, the development and mass production of which will cost 500 million rubles, according to a report by Izvestia. These four would be for the three prototype models that will initially be produced.
The Prospective Aerospace Complex for Long-Range Aviation (PAK-DA) began construction in May 2020 and is expected to begin flight testing by March 2025 and mass production by 2028-2029.
According to Izvestia, the two phases would be preliminary tests in April 2023 and “state tests” by February 2026. This period will also see the test of the “rescue system”, which can be assumed to be the ejection seats.
Previously, Pozdnyakov said that a new, larger parachute for pilots was also in development. This is “because when the large mass pilot parachutes and lands not at ocean level or zero level, but at 1000-1500 meters, the falling speed is higher and the dome area is more needed “, he added.
The seats will also have a new ejection control unit since the cabin will have to release not two but four pilots and their seats sequentially. This requires finer synchronization.
Russia’s first “pure stealth” fighter?
The PAK-DA flying wing design can stay airborne for 30 hours, fly at subsonic speeds, and has an engine with approximately 23 tons of thrust. In August, a Popular Mechanics publication suggested that the Russian PAK-DA would have a longer range than the American B-2 Spirit, because Russia has fewer tanker aircraft for air-to-air refueling.
Based on statements by Russian defense industry and ministry officials that the next-generation aircraft will feature new technologies and “materials” to “reduce its radar signature,” it appears the PAK-DA will be a full-featured stealth bomber, which will make it Russia’s first.
The Su-57 is often described as a very “low observability” aircraft that is not meant to be nearly invisible to radar, unlike the American F-22A and F-35 Lightning II.
The direct competitors of the PAK-DA will be the American B-21 “Raider” and the Chinese H-20, two aircraft whose first models are also being manufactured. However, the PAK-DA designation will likely change after the serial production design is finalized.
The Su-57, for example, was initially called PAK-FA during its design, development and flight test phase. The ability to fire the Russian Kh-47M2 ‘Kinzhal’ hypersonic missile, precision bombs, highly encrypted communications equipment, electronic warfare, jam-resistant systems and even air-to-air missiles for self-defense are just a few- one of the basic capabilities Russian planners envisioned for the aircraft.
But the plane’s defining feature will likely be a sixth-generation combined-cycle engine, research and development (R&D) for which kicked off in July 2021.
United Engine Corporation (UEC) deputy general manager for strategy Mikhail Remizov claimed “promising areas” like a “combined powertrain” and a “more electric motor” for “future fighter jets”. Until then, the PAK-DA and Su-57 would fly with fifth-generation engines.