Interview with Alexander V. Pulenko, test pilot of Sukhoi

Alexander V. Pulenko is a test pilot of the Russian KnAAPO (Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production). He is an Colonel of the Russian Air Force and was one of the first pilots to fly the Su-27P during the 80´s. Served as a pilot of the Russian Air Defence Force and graduated as a test pilot at Zhukovsky in 1995.
In this interview Alexander Pulenko talks about his professional experience as a test pilot of the Su-27 family.

How is it like to be a test pilot and what exactly does this pilot?

- In my case, I was in command of an unit of fighters when Anatoly Petrov, then director of KnAAPO, made a proposal to me to go work there as a test pilot. I accepted and from there, I can say that my professional career began again.
I attended the test pilots school of Zhukovsky, the only of its kind in Russia. Many surprises where waiting for me there, the first of them concerned the type of training. At the school I received a totally different training from the one I´ve got in the Air Force. Much emphasis was given to theoretical knowledge - aerodynamics, dynamics of flight, flight safety and knowledge of structures. The technique of piloting was brought to perfection, so that you´re able to understand even the minor changes in the behaviour of the aircraft and, in case of problems, react quickly thus avoiding dangers during a flight test.
From the first day of activity pilots usually think that there isn´t significant details in aviation. This is a mistake, especially for a test pilot. The routine of our work with a new aircraft is exactly the opposite of this, that is, we must understand all the details, even those that seem insignificant. Therefore, it is important to discuss with more experienced pilots, who have already made numerous flights on different aircraft. This way we increase our knowledge and learn that a test pilot life isn´t so easy. I believe that a test pilot is a person who has reached perfection in flying.

Which was the first plane you flew?

- After finishing my training in 1995, I returned to KnAAPO. At that time, the first Su-27´s, dedicated to export, were being delivered to our first customers. Because I had already flown in this type of aircraft while in the Air Force, I went to fly this variant. This aircraft is extremely agile and has exceptional power.
The export version is known as SU-27SK (Serial and Commerce) and differs from the Russian version basically by the equipment on board. The main job of this aircraft is air supremacy, as well as patrol and interception. They have long range and the armament includes air-to-air missiles and long and medium range air-to-ground missiles as well.
By the way, this was the plane that had greater commercial success, in comparison with other Russian aircraft during the 90´s.

What was the most interesting plane to you?

- The Su-33, an aircraft transported in carriers, which now operates in the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetzov. Because of peculiarities like a high Thrust/Weight ratio and also for its aerodynamics I consider that it is an interesting aircraft. I also believe the Su-35* is a a milestone in my career. This aircraft brought new concepts in terms of systems and ergonomics in the cockpit. I had the opportunity to evaluate his fly-by-wire in addition to all the various electronic systems on board which, essentially, make the Su-35 a very automated plane, making it easier to fly. The Su-35, with its advanced aerodynamics and canard configuration allows us to do manoeuvres that give as an edge in air combat.
Another interesting point of this aircraft, and that was clearly shown during a ten hours flight without intermediate stops between the factory and Moscow, relates to the pilot's seat. It is designed so that the body is left with an inclination where efforts suffered by the body of the pilot, during flight, are properly distributed and thus minimize the fatigue**.
Some experts say the Su-35, and his two seats version, the Su-35UB, is a fourth-generation aircraft, due to its performance. These fighters have employment of multiple weapons systems that allow not only the air combat but also attacks on ground targets. The Su-35 has a fantastic handling.

You have a special consideration for any of them?

Yes, I have a special consideration by the Su-35UB. I call him the "Swalow" because it is very easy to fly and he provides much pleasure while doing so. This aircraft has an excellent response in the three axes of flight and is a very "smart" plane when it comes to control. You do not need large deflections in the stick to obtain the desired answers. I also give much attention to the performance of the combat systems. In this aircraft,the systems are fully automatic,they are able to detect targets at long range, determine the priority threats and define the best missiles to be launched. Basically, the pilot only has to press a button.
Besides all these characteristics, the Su-35UB has a satellite navigation system that provides information about the arrival time of the plane to a target, exactly according the schedule, a feature which is very important in the operational theatres of today.
I also participated in another project, the Su-30MK,developed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau and KnAAPO. A series of innovations tested in the Su-35 where incorporated into the SU-30MK.

What is your opinion on the Western aircraft?

-We pilots are always interested in other aircraft. Last year I had the opportunity to visit Le Bourget and I was really impressed by the large number of aircraft that were there. Of the various aircraft I saw, the F-18 was the one who stood in my memory the most. I believe it is similar to the Su-35, but is not able to overcome it.I evaluated some cockpits as well. The one who called my attention the most was the Rafale cockpit, because it seemed to me a complete black hole. In our cockpit we have different colours for all instruments to make the learning process easier. In the Rafale, however, all instruments are monochromatic, from my point of view, this makes the learning process a lot harder. Not that a pilot is unable to properly operate the instruments, but certainly there will be discomfort. Also, the Rafale cockpit is very narrow, as compared to the Su-35;it seemed impossible to install myself there. In a way, I think we're way ahead in ergonomics.

What are the peculiarities that a test pilot finds during tests?

-We must follow a certain routine during test flights. Each new plane is like a baby that needs to learn everything, we have to check the functioning of all systems to ensure everything is working just fine. Sometimes we need to discuss solutions to problems that appear.
Every first flight of an airplane, even if it is an aircraft in production,might have its surprises -from a problem with a turbine to a decompression at 11 km, like the one that happened to me. One point I want to emphasize is that we never had problems with the fly-by-wire of our aircraft.

How should the relationship between a pilot and his aircraft be?

- There is an invisible connection between the pilot and his plane, making the two a single element. Although an aircraft cannot be treated as an "old friend", sometimes it doesn´t forgive you if you don´t do so. The pilot must respect it, regardless of his flight experience.

Interview taken from: "Tecnologia & Defesa - Ano 19 Nº 90 - Special Edition about FAB"

Photo taken from: Defesanet

*- The pilot refers to the former Su-35/T-10M.
**- As I said in the article about the Su-35 that can be found here in the blog, the seat, the Zvezda K-36, was reclined 30º.

Pavel be proud of your legacy!!!!

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