Sukhoi Su-7 “Fitter” – Fast and Fiendish

First of the “Fitter” Line 

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Sukhoi Su-7 U trainer seen at Kunovice, Czech Republic in 2016.

The first series of the Su-7 aircraft was put into service with the Soviet air force in 1959 after a lengthy and difficult flight testing phase complicated by a very unreliable engine.The Su-7 was fast; with thin, highly swept wings and was a failure in the role of tactical dogfighter that the Soviets had envisioned for it. It lacked range and the engine was still very problematic. As a result, the first series of the aircraft was limited to 132 units.

The aircraft got a second chance when it was decided to try adapting it to the role of a tactical strike aircraft. The Soviets had been making do in tactical strike with MiG-15s and MiG-17s, but a more specialized type was required. In 1958, the official go ahead was given to develop the aircraft into a ground attack platform; this resulted in the Su-7B which would become the core aircraft for all subsequent Su-7 variants. Full production of the Su-7B commenced in 1960.

The Su-7 would become the base aircraft from which Sukhoi would develop the Su-17, Su-20 and Su-22 strike aircraft which collectively formed the backbone of Warsaw Pact tactical air strike forces for over three decades. Under the NATO code naming system, this family of aircraft would bear the name “Fitter”.

Down and Dirty 

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Sukhoi Su-7 BM seen preserved at Čáslav, Czech Republic in 2015.

In January 1961, the first Su-7B aircraft entered Soviet service but the range of the aircraft was still disappointing. Modifications were made to give the aircraft increased internal fuel space and to carry more external fuel tanks; the adjustments did alleviate the problem somewhat, but poor range would be a problem for the aircraft throughout its service life. The Modified aircraft was given the designation Su-7BM and was the first variant of the type to be exported with the former Czechoslovakia as the first customer in 1964.

The Su-7 received more than its fair share of negative press in its life, with great emphasis put on its various shortcomings. Beyond the aforementioned range issue, which was largely due to the very inefficient engine; the aircraft was very difficult to handle at landing due to the very high landing speed dictated by the highly swept wings, poor visibility from the cockpit was also not helpful in trying to land the aircraft. The Su-7 demanded a very long runway for both take off and landing, this was also due to the high degree of sweep its wings had. Yet another shortcoming of the aircraft was a disproportionately small weapons load in relation to the large size of the aircraft.

This would, quite rightly, leave one wondering exactly what the aircraft could possess to offset such detractors.

The Lyulka AL-7 turbojet; the inefficient, temperamental but extremely powerful heart of the Su-7. Seen at Vyškov in 2015.
The Lyulka AL-7 turbojet; the inefficient, temperamental but extremely powerful heart of the Su-7. Seen at Vyškov in 2015.

The biggest offset was the aircraft’s blistering speed, it was almost untouchable by other fighters of the day. It also had rock solid stability working in its favour which allowed it to place bombs and other weapons with a very high degree of accuracy. A third offset was durability, it was an extremely tough and well built aircraft that could take severe damage and still get the pilot home safely.

From a standpoint of servicing, the aircraft was not complicated to maintain and did not require a great deal of time on the ground to rearm and refuel between missions.

Whatever anyone had to say against it, the Su-7 won the respect of those who maintained and flew it.

In for the Long Haul

A view of the busy Su-7 cockpit at Kunovice in 2014.
A view of the busy Su-7 cockpit at Kunovice in 2014.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Su-7 was its longevity. It entered service in 1959 and ended service when the Czech Republic, Poland and Syria all retired their last ones in the early 1990s.

This is made more remarkable by the fact that the Su-17, which was developed from the Su-7 and intended to eliminate some of the latter’s problems, was in service by 1970. This and the fact that the Su-17 was further developed into the Su-20 and Su-22 by the early 1980s should certainly have precluded the Su-7 from having such staying power as it did.

In it’s service life, the Su-7 was employed by roughly a dozen countries. In combat, they were used by Egypt and Syria in several skirmishes against Israel and used extensively by India in their 1971 war against Pakistan.

Learning More

To learn more about the development history of the Su-7, a trip to the Sukhoi company website is certainly a good place to start:

http://www.sukhoi.org/eng/planes/museum/su7/

A quite enlightening and absorbing read about the aircraft in Indian air force service can be found here:

http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/History/Aircraft/Su-7.html

This link will take you to a gallery of other Sukhoi Su-7 photos I have taken:

http://s1126.photobucket.com/user/Pickled_Wings/slideshow/Aircraft%201950-1959/Sukhoi%20Su-7%20Fitter

2 thoughts on “Sukhoi Su-7 “Fitter” – Fast and Fiendish

  1. David Fullam November 15, 2016 / 22:52

    The SU was very popular with Indian pilots during the war with Pakistan, easy to fly and maintain, they averaged about 6 sorties per day, per pilot. It was here that the rugged nature was really seen. One took a missile to back end, suffered enormous damage, and still got back to base safely! Classic.

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