Like most people I used to think that all Russian fighters were MiGs. In reality, much of their interceptor force came from the Sukhoi design bureau. There were no aircraft "companies" in the Soviet Union, but the design bureaus served a similar function.
Never heard of an SU-9? No problem, that's why we're here. You're probably a Cold War geek like myself or you wouldn't be reading this.
The big difference between an SU-9 and a MiG-21 is that the Sukhoi is much larger, about one and a half times the size of the MiG. Most MiGs were nimble little sports cars, Sukhois were big fast muscle-cars.
The reason they look about the same is they were designed around the same time from the same set of numbers. During the Korean War, the Soviet aerodynamic research institute TsAGI did a series of aerodynamic studies for the development of future fighter aircraft.
They came up with what you see here. A sharply swept delta wing, but with a conventional tail. This aircraft shared development with the SU-7 ground attack aircraft and the fuselage looks almost identical.
Range was limited as was typical in many Soviet aircraft. They could build a powerful jet engine but fuel efficiency was never their strong point.
Handling was supposedly unforgiving. Takeoff and landing speeds were insanely high, somewhere around 200 knots!
Its closest US counterpart would probably be an F-101 or F-102. Both were early interceptors with good performance but hampered by poor armament.
Its strengths would have been speed and rate of climb. It was designed to get up and go after high flying bombers.
Its weakness would have been its armament or almost total lack thereof.
The intake shock cone housed a very primitive R1L radar. It carried no guns. Sole armament was four K-5 (NATO AA-1 Alkalai) missiles. These were, to put it mildly, junk. They were primitive "beam riders" meaning they could only be used from a pure tail-chase attack.
The SU-9 pilot would have depended heavily on GCI (Ground Controlled Intercept) guidance to line him up almost directly behind the attacking bomber. The K-5 missile had a maximum range of less than 4 miles and a minimum range of just over a mile. That's a pretty small window to line up a shot. He would then have to lock on and "ripple fire" at least two or probably all four missiles to have any chance of a hit.
After those missed (and they probably would) he would be reduced to a ramming attack, except he's probably out of gas at this point. I have little doubt that a dedicated PVO pilot would have rammed an attacking bomber if ordered to. One of these actually attempted to ram Francis Gary Powers but missed.
The SU-11 looks almost identical to its predecessor. The only distinguishing features are the external fuel lines to feed the thirstier engine and the larger shock cone housing the improved radar.
Some sources claim it carried four missiles but I've never seen a picture with more than two mounted, so I'm going to say two was more likely.
The interesting thing about the R-8, and most other Soviet air to air missiles, is that it came in both a heat seeking and Semi-Active radar guided versions. Normal load for an SU-11 would have been one of each. Soviet tactical doctrine was to fire both, with the heat seeker actually being launched first. Otherwise the heat seeker might actually lock on to the other missile.
Theoretically the SU-11 could carry a gun pod(s) in place of the external fuel tanks. I don't know if they actually did.
Note that each missile has a different seeker head. One is IR and the other is radar guided.
That brings us to the quintessential Soviet interceptor - the SU-15 "Flagon".
It shares a lot of DNA with the SU-9/11 but is a much different configuration. They ditched the shock-cone intake and went with two turbojets fed by side mounted intakes. The initial versions kept the pure delta wing but later versions gained a "kinked" or "cranked" delta wing with blown flaps for better takeoff and landing performance.
The new nose allowed for a much improved radar to be installed. Operationally however it was still very dependent on GCI. The aircraft could actually be controlled from the ground via data-link up to the last part of the intercept.
The plane was quite well suited for its role as an interceptor. Fast, high rate of climb, decent radar and avionics plus a reasonable weapons load.
It had its share of weaknesses as well. Those two gas-guzzling Tumansky turbojets limited its range. Takeoff and landing speeds were still quite high, 215 knots for the early models and around 200 even with the improved wing!
Handling was reported to be responsive but very unforgiving, not atypical for high performance aircraft of that era. Visibility over that long nose looks iffy for takeoffs and landings. I'm guessing here, but you could probably kill yourself in one these about as easily as you could in an F-104.
Having closely studied Soviet aircraft he had this little tidbit about Sukhoi:
When you look at a Sukhoi prototype it's nice and clean. After they've crashed a bunch of them, it will have sprouted all sorts of stall fences and vortex generators to make it fly properly. There are graveyards in Russia full of Sukhoi test pilots.The biggest weakness of the SU-15, however, was its lack of any look-down/shoot-down capability. By the time this aircraft entered service US bomber tactics had already switched to low level penetration. These were still in service when I was flying B-52s and we didn't consider them to be much of a threat for that very reason. PVO came to prefer MiG-23s over the SU-15 because the MiG at least had some capability against a low flying target.
The SU-15 is most notable for shooting down KAL Flight 007 in 1983. Most of what can be said about that incident has already been written so I'm not going to beat it to death here.
There was one interesting fact that came out of incident - as the SU-15 was lining up for a missile shot, the 747 reached one of its programmed navigational waypoints and began a gentle 30-degree-banked airliner turn to the right. This was enough to cause the Sukhoi's radar to break lock and force the pilot to circle around for another pass.
Against a well trained bomber crew that was maneuvering and employing countermeasures one of these would have had a very tough time.
Cool SU-15 video. There are actually 4 parts to this.
SU-9 video, in Russian.
And another. This one actually has footage of the K-5 missiles being fired.
That's all for today. There's more Cold War fun to come.