A stealth jet fighter intended to match the latest U.S. design made its maiden flight in Russia on Friday, an important step in the country’s efforts to modernize its aging Soviet-era arsenals.
The Sukhoi T-50 prototype took to the skies for a 45-minute flight from an airfield at the company’s production plant in the Far Eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur on Friday, Sukhoi spokesman Alexei Paveshchenko told The Associated Press.
Russian officials have spent two decades trying to build the so-called fifth-generation fighter and hope the T-50 can challenge the U.S. F-22 Raptor, which first flew in 1997. The Russian project has been veiled in secrecy and no pictures of it had been released before the maiden flight.
If the prototype bearing a close resemblance to the Raptor goes into production, it will be the first major new aircraft design built in post-Soviet Russia. Officials have expressed hope that the T-50 will enter service in 2015.
A Sukhoi statement quoted test pilot Sergei Bogdan as saying the craft was “easy and comfortable to pilot.”
Friday’s successful test of the plane, developed in partnership with India, comes as a relief to Russian government officials. A series of failures on high-profile weapons projects has blighted Russia’s attempts to modernize its rusting arsenals.
But observers said it was early to celebrate.
Alexander Golts, an independent military analyst, said the T-50 is running on old engines, and the only major technological breakthrough was designing the airframe making the jet more difficult for radars to spot, in keeping with its U.S. counterpart.
The specifications and design of Russia’s new fighter have keep secret, and Friday’s statement offered few details.
Aviation officials have said the new craft will meet the fifth-generation requirements, including a supersonic cruising speed.
Sukhoi said in a statement that the plane has advanced stealth capabilities.
“This allows a significant increase in military effectiveness,” the company’s statement said. Advanced control systems help fly the aircraft and “allow the pilot to concentrate on tactical tasks,” it added.
Russian news agencies reported the highly maneuverable plane has a 5,500-kilometer (3,400-mile) range. The Raptor has a range of about 2,960 kilometers (1,850 miles), according to official U.S. data.