Russian Pilots Go Viral In Dangerous Sales Job


A retired top U.S. military official says showboating Russian fighter pilots are posturing for social media, trying to go viral to raise the profile of their military and maybe sell some airplanes. In the past few weeks U.S. military have complained their aircraft have been buzzed by Russian fighters, including an inverted Su-35 that came within 25 feet of a P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft. “Given the unpredictability, you have to make sure that you maintain a safe distance and don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that they even see you, because they may not see you,” retired Gen. Frank Gorenc told Gorenc, the former commander of U.S. forces in Europe, said cash-strapped Russia needs the YouTube hits to remind the world that it’s still a force to be reckoned with.

Along with the COVID-19 issues, Russia has suffered a major loss of oil revenue and is using social media to bolster its position as a world player. “You know, it goes kind of viral,” Doug Barrie, a senior fellow for the International Institute for Strategic Studies said. “So you wonder if there’s an element of that, of how it plays on social media and in wider Western media, whether or not if it’s valuable.” He also said it might be a marketing ploy since the aircraft of choice for YouTube intercepts has recently received an upgrade with the formidable Su-35 replacing older Su-27s and Su-24s. “It’s perhaps unsurprising that these aircraft have been bumped into [the rotation] more often than we’ve previously seen them; the imagery of the Flanker is great,” he said. Gorenc agreed. ”The Su-35 is a highly capable airplane that they produce,” Gorenc said. ”They’re obviously … trying to sell it. And this is a good way to show it off.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Urmuhguwd! He farted in my general direction!

    How about this:
    If you believe they are attempting to get YouTube hits…don’t post the video you took to YouTube…

  2. My experience with formation flying is with flying skydivers. This looks like some real sloppy flying to me, the kind I would not want to be around in the air. Nothing a radar lock on or a Sidewinder, or even a few 20mm rounds couldn’t fix.

  3. Yes we heard you the first time Bob. The Russian plane is obviously not part of the US flight and this encroachment certainly was not briefed. Those two factors let alone a myriad of others make it unsafe, particularly in the case of the 25 feet near a P-8. If you had ever commanded a transport category aircraft you wouldn’t be making your point not just once but twice. The bottom line is that it’s unprofessional. Unprofessional makes it unsafe.

  4. As a retired KC-135 Boom Operator, I have a lot of experience with mixed formations. The Russian is piloting an aircraft orders of magnitude more maneuverable than the one he is buzzing, so yeah, Bob, as long as he knows what he’s doing there’s little danger of a collision. The problem is he has no idea if the crew in the P-8 are aware of him or not. If the P-8 pilot just happens to glance up at the last minute to see what would appear to him an imminent collision, how do you think he would react? The P-8 has a typical crew of nine. Do you think someone might get hurt if one of them happens to be out of their seat when the pilot executes a negative g pushover to avoid a collision?

    This is only one scenario that comes to mind illustrating why what these Russian pilots are doing is a bad idea. I’m sure you can think of more with a little effort.

    There is a very good reason why all formation flights should start with a preflight briefing between all the pilots involved.