The International Aviation and Space Salon (MAKS) is an important event where the Russian Federation can demonstrate the might of its military-industrial complex in peaceful times by showcasing its products from the aviation sector. It is the largest aerospace and aviation exhibition in Eastern Europe. MAKS has been held in Russia every two years since 1993 at the airfield in Zhukovsky (in the Moscow region), which is operated by the Gromov Flight Research Institute and is considered to be the main aircraft test base in Russia.
At this exhibition, not only are the latest innovations from aerospace engineers presented but scientific conferences are staged, during which experts in this sphere can share their revolutionary ideas with each other. And visitors can, in the meantime, enjoy a spectacular air show, during which teams of pilots from the Russian Federation and other countries get to showcase their skills by performing complicated maneuvers. On average approximately 500,000 people attend each MAKS event, and the year 2019 saw a record 600,000.
There have been 14 air shows (including MAKS-2019) since 1993 already. With time, the number of exhibits has increased slowly but surely, and so has the number of nations taking part in the event, and the worth of agreements, signed by Russia and other countries, who are impressed with the former’s achievements in the aerospace industry. In 2013, when MAKS marked its 20th anniversary, $16 billion worth of contracts were signed, in the years that followed the amounts have been far smaller. But in any case, it is impressive that $3.8 billion worth of agreements were concluded in 2019.
MAKS-2019 was held in August-September 2019. Thirty three nations took part in this exhibition, and in fact, China was the first foreign nation to become one of the co-organizers of this air show in its history. During MAKS-2019, the PRC had its own pavilion for exhibiting its products, which included many models of passenger and military aircraft, turbojet engines as well as military drones.
Visitors also had a chance to see a product of joint collaboration between Chinese and Russian aerospace engineers, i.e. a model of passenger jet CR929. It is a wide-body long-haul aircraft that can transport from 200 to 300 passengers. The agreement on Russia’s and China’s collaboration to work on this new aircraft was signed during the visit of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin to Beijing in 2014.
Afterwards, Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation and the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) began to design the passenger plane together. In November 2018, a life-size model of CR929 was displayed for the first time at the PRC’s China Airshow. The plan is to conduct the first test of the aircraft by the end of 2022. Production of the first batch of CR929s should start by 2027. It is expected that these jets will compete with aircrafts manufactured by Western companies Boeing and Airbus on the Asian market. Experts working on CR929 have stated that these aircraft will have the advantage of lower manufacturing costs and better fuel economy in comparison to their Western equivalents. Initially, CR929s will be equipped with foreign engines, but, in the future, the plan is to use Russia’s new super-thrust aircraft engines, PD-35. Research and development work on them should finish in 2025. The design of this new engine is based on that of Russia’s new turboprop engine PD-14, whose model was also exhibited at MAKS-2019.
Visitors to MAKS-2019 also had a chance to see another interesting model, i.e. that of Russia’s future supersonic business jet. The Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI) of the Russian Federation is currently working on this supersonic aircraft. Up to now, research into movement at speeds exceeding the speed of sound has been the focus of the military aviation sphere. However, Tupolev Tu-144, a passenger supersonic aircraft designed in the USSR, made its first flight as far back as 1968. Unfortunately, these jets had a number of accidents involving human casualties, and a decision was made to stop working on this project (high expenses associated with production and use of these aircraft were also taken into consideration).
The already completed Tu-144 planes were then employed as freight carriers, and in 1999, they flew for the last time. The same misfortune befell the Concorde, a British-French supersonic passenger airliner, after it was involved in an accident in July 2000 that resulted in 113 deaths. There have been no other supersonic passenger aircraft in the history of aviation thus far. And now the Russian Federation has decided to revisit this idea. Vladimir Putin personally announced this decision in February 2019, during his official visit to Tatarstan (a republic in the Russian Federation). He said that the successfully-tested design and technology of Russia’s new strategic bomber, Tupolev Tu-160, could be used as the basis for the supersonic passenger jet. In addition, the President of the Russian Federation mentioned that further work on the Soviet-era Tu-144 had been suspended for financial feasibility reasons. Regular passengers could not afford those flights, while the leadership of the nation had no need for a commercial transcontinental carrier that flew very fast. However, times have changed, and nowadays there are rich companies and people who need to travel around the world for business at top speeds, and can afford flights on supersonic aircraft. According to employees of TsAGI, these considerations were taken into account in the design of the latest supersonic jet, whose model was showcased during MAKS-2019. The airliner will be able to reach speeds of approximately 1,900 km/hour (which is around twice the speed of modern passenger aircraft) and to transport up to 8 people. The target audience for such flights will include the wealthiest individuals and staff of the largest companies. It has been reported that Saudi Arabia’s leadership had already expressed their interest in this project.
Still, as per usual visitors to MAKS-2019 primarily focused on innovations from the Russian military aviation sector. They had a chance to see the 5th generation jet fighters, Sukhoi Su-57, both in the air and on the ground.
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was among the guests of honor at MAKS-2019. He was particularly interested in Su-57 aircraft. After Turkey purchased Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems despite warnings and threats of sanctions made by the United States, the latter refused to supply Turkey with F-35 combat aircraft. So now, Turkey needs a suitable replacement for American fighter jets, and Su-35 could truly meet its needs.
The next MAKS exhibition will take place in 2021.
MAKS-2019, just as all the previous air shows, clearly demonstrates that Russia was and still is one of the leaders in the world of aviation. And we can expect that the Russian Federation will continue to make a significant contribution to the exploration of the skies and space, and will continue to foster closer ties with its foreign partners.
Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”