The Russian Knights at Kubinka Air Base in Moscow, Russia

The Russian Knights at Kubinka Air Base in Moscow, Russia.
The Russian Knights (Russian: Русские Витязи) are an aerobatic demonstration team of the Russian Air Force. Originally formed on April 5, 1991 at the Kubinka Air Base as a team of six Sukhoi Su-27s, the team was the first to perform outside the Soviet Union in September 1991 when they toured the United Kingdom. On December 12, 1995, disaster struck as three team members flew into a mountainside while practicing formation flying in adverse weather. Despite this unprecedented tragedy, the team bounced back and now performs with four Su-27P’s and 2 Su-27UB’s and in 2005, the Russian Knights acquired five Su-35 Super Flankers, but due to financial problems, these are not used in the displays.

The Kubinka air force base located 60 km west of Moscow is well known both in Russia and abroad. For years, it has been known as the Air Force installation used for demonstrating advanced combat aircraft to the national and foreign leaders. Kubinka AFB’s personnel were first Soviet pilots to fly jet fighters in solo and group aerobatics: as early back as on 1 May 1946 Kubinka aces made their overflight of the Red Square as part of air parade formation. Nowadays, Kubinka AFB is known as the best aerobatics school where the world-renowned Russian Knights and Swifts aerobatics teams are stationed. Meanwhile, Kubinka is a major base of the Russian Air Force in the Moscow region, featuring a 65-year history.

Since 1935, it hosted the 82nd aviation detachment (separate) joined in 1938 by the 11th and 24th air regiments. Personnel of these units field-tested the advanced Yak-1 and LaGG-3 fighters and defended the Soviet capital during the second World War. After WWII, Kubinka AFB was the home base for the 324th Svirskaya fighter air division. In November 1950, it was redeployed to Korea in full, with the base being taken over by the 9th fighter air division. Since 1952, the 234th fighter air regiment - predecessor of the present-day 237th Aircraft Demonstration Centre - has been stationed in Kubinka.

In May 1989, the 1st squadron of the Centre (then designated as the 237th composite air regiment) received Su-27 fighters. The pilots were quick to familiarise themselves with the new materiel and soon they flew their first training sorties in pairs, troikas and, then, in four-aircraft diamond-shaped formations. The leader of the first ‘diamond’ was Anatoly Arestov, left and right wingmen were Aleksandr Dyatlov and Ivan Kirsanov respectively, with Vladimir Bukin becoming the tail-end charlie. The Su-27 proved to be much harder to control when manoeuvring as part of a tight formation, compared with the MiG-29. There were several reasons for that, namely: the fighter’s heavier weight, larger dimension, inertness, peculiarities of its fly-by-wire control system and, no matter how strange it might seem, its superior aerodynamic characteristics. Problems were in abundance, as was the desire of the pilots to fly the same aerobatics previously flown in Kubinka by the MiG-19, MiG-21, MiG-23 and MiG-29 fighters.

Early in 1991, the six-aircraft aerobatics team was finally set up. The leader was Vladimir Basov, left wingman - Aleksandr Dyatlov, right wingman - Sergei Ganichev, tail-end charlie - Vladimir Bukin, outer left wingman - Vladimir Bazhenov and outer right wingman - Aleksandr Lichkun. The first foreign tour was to be made to the UK. A decision was made to find a designation for the new unit, devise an emblem, have flight suits made and devise the paintjob for the fighters.

Thus, on 5 April 1991, the Russian Knights came into being (according to the explanatory dictionary by Ozhegov, Knight (vityaz in Russian) is a valiant, gallant Russian warrior of the ancient times). As early back as in September 1991, the Russian Knights flew to the United Kingdom. Then came the tours of Malaysia, the US, France, the Netherlands, Canada, Slovakia, Belgium, Luxembourg. Everywhere the Russian Knights would earn the applause of the public. This was the case at another Malaysian air show, too, in December 1995. However, not all of the Knights were destined to come back to Kubinka then.

On 12 December 1995, when approaching the Kam Ranh airfield (Vietnam) in adverse weather for refuelling, three fighters of the Russian Knights team flew into a mountain due to unsatisfactory leadership of those in charge[1]. Guards Colonel Boris Grigoryev, Guards Lieutenant-Colonels Nikolai Grechanov, Nikolai Kordyukov and Aleksandr Syrovoy were killed as a result of the crash. The pilots were buried at the cemetery of the Village of Nikolskoye (vic. Kubinka AFB). In October 1996, a monument was installed on the grave of the Russian Knights lost to the above incident.

It seemed the Knights would never recover from the tragedy. Both in Russia and abroad few believed that the Russian Knights would get back on their feet and resume flying. The doubts proved wrong. A new ‘diamond’ of four Su-27s sporting a new bright paintjob and flown by Aleksandr Lichkun, Vladimir Kovalsky, Sergei Klimov and Vladimir Bukin performed in September 1996 during the Gelendzhik ‘96 hydro-aviation air show. In 1997, a six-aircraft formation took to the air. Igor Tkachenko became the left outer wingman, with Ivan Kirsanov becoming the right one. In June 1997, following an 18-month break in their tours, the Russian Knights flew abroad again. After the Kam Ranh tragedy, they paid visits to Austria, Slovakia, France and China.
[Source: Wikipedia]

Related entries:

Leave a Reply