Sukhoi Su-15

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The Sukhoi Su-15 (NATO reporting name Flagon) was a twin-engined interceptor aircraft developed by the Soviet Union in the 1960s to replace the Sukhoi Su-11.



Recognizing the limitations of the earlier Su-9 and Su-11, the Sukhoi OKB quickly began the development of a heavily revised and more capable aircraft. A variety of development aircraft evolved, including the T-49, which shared the fuselage of the Su-9 (including its single engine), but used cheek-mounted intakes to leave the nose clear for a large radome for the 'Oriol-D' (Eagle) radar, and the T-5, essentially a heavily modified Su-11 with a widened rear fuselage containing two Tumansky R-11 engines.

These led to the T-58, which combined the twin engines with a modified version of the T-49's nose, but with side inlets further back, behind the cockpit. The T-58 first flew on 30 May, 1962. As the Su-15, it entered service testing 5 August, 1963, but its service entry was delayed by Soviet government ambivalence about the value of manned interceptors as opposed to ballistic missiles (directly parallel to the political controversies in Britain that led to the cancellation of the TSR-2 and other aircraft). Nevertheless, it was finally accepted by the V-PVO, with the first Su-15F (NATO reporting name 'Flagon-A') entering service in 1967.

As one of the V-PVO's principal interceptors, the Su-15 was involved in a number of incidents with foreign aircraft. One such attack was in 1978, when Korean Air Flight 902 was attacked over Murmansk by a PVO Su-15. Although the civilian aircraft survived the missile hit, it subsequently crashed, killing two passengers. In 1981 a Baku, Azerbaijan-based Su-15 rammed an Iranian Canadair CL-44, apparently as a deliberate attack. More notorious was the Korean Air Flight 007 incident in 1983, when a Korean Boeing 747 was shot down by a Su-15TM based on Sakhalin, killing all 246 passengers and 23 crew. Other incidents involving reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft may have occurred, but gone unrecorded.

Although it was produced in large numbers, the Su-15, like other highly sensitive Soviet aircraft, was never exported to the Warsaw Pact. Many now belong to the Georgian and Ukrainian air forces following the collapse of the Soviet Union, although few, if any, remain serviceable.

In Russia, the Su-15 was gradually phased out by 1993 in favour of more advanced interceptors, including the Su-27 'Flanker' and MiG-31 'Foxhound.'


Although many components of the Su-15 were similar or identical to the previous Su-9 and Su-11 (NATO reporting name 'Fishpot'), including Sukhoi's characteristic rear-fuselage airbrakes, the Su-15 abandoned the shock-cone nose intake for side-mounted intakes feeding two powerful turbojet engines, initially the Tumansky R-11F. The change allowed room in the nose for a powerful search radar, initially the 'Oriol-D' (NATO 'Skip Spin'). The early Su-15F (known as 'Flagon-A' by NATO) had pure delta wings like its predecessor, but these were replaced on the Su-15MF ('Flagon-D') by a new 'kinked' delta planform of increased span, with small wing fence above each outer pylon. This was accompanied by a new tail with greater anhedral.

Like the original Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, the 'Flagon' had exceptional speed and rate of climb. The Su-15 was a "hot ship" in every respect. Take-off and landing speeds were very high, and while the controls were responsive and precise, the aircraft was extremely unforgiving of pilot error. It was intended as a stand-off interceptor, not an agile fighter, and did not suffer fools gladly.

Despite its powerful radar, the 'Flagon,' like most Soviet interceptors before the late 1980s, was heavily dependent on ground control interception (GCI), with aircraft vectored onto targets by ground radar stations.

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Three views of a Su-15

Primary armament of the Su-15 was the R-8 (later R-98) air-to-air missile (AA-3 'Anab'). Early models carried two missiles, but 'Flagon-D' and later versions could carry four. Like most Soviet missiles, the R-98 was made in both infrared and semi-active radar homing versions, and standard practice was to carry the weapons in pairs to give the greatest chance of a successful hit. Later 'Flagon-F' models often carried two R-98s and one or two pairs of short-range R-60 (AA-8 'Aphid') missiles. The R-23 (AA-7 'Apex') medium-range missile, shared with the MiG-23, was also an option in place of the R-98. Late-model 'Flagons' also sometimes carried a pair of UPK-23-250 23 mm gun pods on the fuselage pylons, each containing a two-barrel GSh-23L cannon (similar to that used by the MiG-21 and MiG-23).

Other variants

The first Su-15F and Su-15MF models were superseded in 1970 by the Su-15T ('Flagon-E'), which added a new radar, the 'Taifun,' additional internal fuel, and stronger landing gear for higher takeoff weights. It also added two side-by-side fuselage pylons for drop tanks or gun pods. The new radar proved to be an almost total disaster, and in 1973 the Su-15T gave way to the Su-15TM (possibly also known as Su-21), with a new ogival nose radome to accommodate the heavily revised Taifun-M radar.

Other Su-15 models included:

  • T-58VD ('Flagon-B'): One-off prototype using three Kolesov lift-jets in the centre fuselage to provide STOL capability. Not mass-produced.
  • Su-15U and Su-15UT ('Flagon-C'): Two-seat, combat-capable trainers based on the Su-15F and Su-15T, respectively, with a rear instructor seat replacing a fuselage fuel tank. Instructor was provided with a periscope to improve the miserable visibility. Both Su-15U and Su-15UT were known as 'Flagon-C' to NATO.
  • Su-15UM (or Su-21U) ('Flagon-G'): Trainer version of Su-15TM.

Some reports indicate that the Su-15TM was also designated Su-21 and the Su-15UM Su-21U. It is still not entirely clear which is correct.

Specifications (Su-15TM 'Flagon-F')

  • Role: interceptor
  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 20.50 m (67 ft 3 in) (excluding probe)
  • Wingspan: 10.53 m (34 ft 7 in)
  • Height: 5.08 m (16 ft 8 in)
  • Wing area: 36 m² (387 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 12,245 kg (27,000 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 18,000 kg (39,700 lb)
  • Engines: 2 x MNPK 'Soyuz' Tumansky R-13F2-300 turbojets
    • Thrust (dry): 80.42 kN (18,080 lbf) (combined)
    • Thrust (max): 139.95 kN (31,460 lbf) (combined)
  • Maximum speed: Mach 2.5 (clean at high altitude)
  • Rate of climb: 13,700 m/min (45,000 ft/min)
  • Wing loading: 102.4 lb/ft² (555 kg/m²)
  • Service ceiling: 20,000 m (65,600 ft)
  • Combat radius: 745 km (450 mi)
  • Ferry range: 2,250 km (1,400 mi)
  • Armament:
    • two R-98M/AA-3 Anab (outer wing pylons)
    • two or four R-60/AA-8 Aphid (inner pylons)
    • option of two UPK-23-250 23 mm gun pods on fuselage pylons

Related content

Similar aircraft: Shenyang J-8

Designation sequence: Su-10 - Su-11 - Su-15 - Su-17 - Su-20 - Su-21 - Su-22 - Su-24 - Su-25 - Su-26 - Su-27

See also: List of military aircraft of the Soviet Union and the CIS

Lists of Aircraft | Aircraft manufacturers | Aircraft engines | Aircraft engine manufacturers

Airports | Airlines | Air forces | Aircraft weapons | Missiles | Timeline of aviation

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