The first aerobatic display team was created as early as May 1989, when Su-27 destroyers entered the service of the 1st air squadron of the Centre for Display of Aviation Equipment.
Experienced pilots soon mastered the new equipment and started performing practice flights with two, three and later with four aircrafts in a diamond formation. The size and weight of the aircraft, its inertia and, strangely enough, its aerodynamic properties, were the main sources of difficulties of simultaneous piloting in the sky. It is only thanks to great desire and persistence of Russian pilots that the difficulties were overcome.
The birthday of the “Russian Knights” was April, 5, 1991.
And already on the 24th of August, only four and a half months later, the name of “Russian Knights” was first heard abroad – at the first Polish air show in Poznan. In autumn, 1991, the Russian Knights appeared in the sky above England. Six newly-painted Su-27 aircrafts formatted above the Queen-mother’s palace in Scotland. The visit to England was continued by the team’s performance at the air shows in Leukers and Finningly, where the “Knights” flew together with British aerobatic team Red Arrows.
The same autumn in Prague, the Russian Knights were represented by Vladimir Gryzlov and Igor Tkachenko, who performed in dual cockpit aircraft Su-27UB with a solo aerobatic program. The performance produced such a great impression that American pilots in their F-15 denied to perform for fear of looking anonymous compared with the Russians.
A month after their return to Russia, the team was invited to participate in LIMA’91 air show in Malaysia.
They spent the whole winter in training, and in June, 1992, two dual cockpit aircrafts of the “Knights” were sent to the Rose Festival air show in Portland, USA. And only a month later they visited the USA again, (Bradley airport, Alaska).
The Autumn of 1992 was action-packed for the team. Early in September, the Blue Angels aerobatic team of USA Air Force arrived at the air base in Kubinka. Together with the guests, the pilots performed above their airfield, and then presented a picturesque show in honor of the City Day in the sky above Tushino, Moscow. A week later, the “Knights” performed at the 50th anniversary of the famous Normandie-Niemen Regiment in Reims, France, where simultaneous piloting of two groups of four aircrafts took place.
It was also then the Russian pilots met the French aerobatic team Patrouille de France. At the airfield of Salon-de-Provence, the Russian Knights with Su-27 performed simultaneous piloting with small and light Alpha-Jet aircrafts.
In April, 1993, the aerobats were invited to Holland, where the team performed at the Dutch Royal Air Force air show at Leeuwarden air base.
In the august of the same year, the exhibition performance if the Russian Knights at Abbotsford air base in Canada ended up with a funny incident: Canadian pilots betted with the Knights that Su-27 as a destroyer is inferior to their CF-18 Hornet aircraft. The dispute was resolved in the full view of two hundred thousand spectators: in the sparring match the Russian Knight clearly prevailed over the much-vaunted Hornet and proved the unsurpassed qualities of their fighting machines.
In September, the team performed at the first MAKS-1993 international airspace show. Even low cloud cover did not prevent them from demonstrating their skill, as they were piloting at low altitudes.
In December, the Knights embarked for a remote tropical island of Langkawi for participation in LIMA’93 air show. The flyway lay through Tashkent, Deli, Kalkutta and Yangon.
The demonstration flights season of 1994 was opened by the aerobatic team in May. The Russian Knights embarked for Bratislava in order to participate in SIAD-94 air show. Capitan Igor Tkachenko, a pilot of the team, who performed above the Slovakian capital with a solo aerobatic program, won the first place in his class.
In June, the audience at the Gardermoen airport at the national air show applauded the Russian aerobats. A month later the Knights flew to Ostend, Belgium, in a group of six. Upon the air show, two dual cockpit aircrafts left for the neighboring Luxemburg for a while, where they participated in Journidelle Air air show.
On the 3rd of September, when Moscow was celebrating the City Day, the Russian Knights were performing most difficult air stunts in the sky above Poklonnaya Hill. An area covering about 3 km to the West of the memorial was allotted to piloting.
On the 24th of October the same year the Russian Knights participated in an air pageant above Ashkhabad as Turkmenistan was celebrating its third independence anniversary.
In October, the pilots of the team rekindled the old tradition of Kubinka – escorting VIP-guests’ aircrafts. This time they escorted the liner of their good friend, Queen Elizabeth II of England. The performances of the Russian Knight were publicly applauded and admired worldwide. That was the case at the air show in Malaysia, 1995. However, not all of them were destined to return to Kubanka…
On the 12th of December, three Russian Knights destroyers dashed against a mountain clouded with impenetrable fog. It happened during the landing approach to Cam Ranh airfield for refueling. Four pilots of the Russian Knights were killed – Guards Colonel Boris Grigoryev, Guards Lieutenant Colonels Alexandr Syrovoy, Nikolay Grechanov and Nikolay Kordyukov. Hard times came for the pilots. The moral trauma was the worst.
The pilots of Red Arrows aerobatic team supported their colleagues by inviting them to their base.
A newly arranged diamond of four Su-27 with a new bright coloring publicly presented a group aerobatic program for the first time in the September of the same year at Gelendzhik-96 hydro air show. And at last, in 1997, a group of six aircrafts performed. In June, the Knights demonstrated their skills abroad for the first time after a year and a half break. First in Zeltweg, Austria, and then in Slovakian capital Bratislava.
In 1997, the team paid a friendly visit to France, where they participated in celebrating the 55th anniversary of Normandie-Niemen Regiment. A bit later, the pilots with their aircrafts escorted the liner of French President Jacques Chirac who was paying an official visit to Russia. When celebrating the 850th anniversary of Moscow, the Russian Knights with four destroyers with landing gear extended and lights on appeared in the evening sky above Sparrow Hills where Jean Michel Jarre was giving his laser show. The effect was fabulous – Moscow had not seen such a show over its whole history.
In November 1998, the team participated in Zhuhai-98 air show in the People’s Republic of China. The Knights performed with five aircrafts. In 1999 – 2000, the Russian Knights participated in numerous displays in Russian towns. In late 2000, they visited China once more. On the 12th of June, 2003, on the Independence Day of Russia a group of ten aircrafts flew above the Red Square. At MAKS-2003, the Russian Knights aerobatic team performed again with six aircrafts.
In 2004, a simultaneous flight of the Russian Knights and the Swifts aerobatic teams was included in the set of displays, 9 aircrafts total (5 Su-27 and 4 MiG-29) in a diamond formation, with a whole set of air stunts. The fact itself set a world record in the history of aviation. Late that year, the group successfully performed at a number of airshows, including the Aerobatic Teams Festival in Zhukovskoye, at the World War II Stunt Pilots air show in Monino, and for the third time at the hydro air show in Gelendzhik.
In January 2005, the group visited Arabia for the first time, to participate in Al Ain 2005 air show in the United Arab Emirates.
On the 9th of May, 2005, to commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, the Russian Knights together with the Swifts aerobatic team performed a historical flight above the Red Square with nine aircrafts. A few days later, the team redeployed at the town of Dudinka on the Taymyr Peninsula, where it performed an air display beyond the Arctic Circle for the first time. In the summer of the same year, the team demonstrated their piloting in Saint-Petersburg and Kazan; and in Cherepovets and Vologda they performed shows at a distance of 800 km from the home air field without landing. In august, the Knights participated in the World War II Stunt Pilots air show and traditionally performed at the MAKS-2005 air show.
In autumn, the team embarked for the town of Salekhard on the Yamal Peninsula in the Polar Region. After that, they performed in Akhtubinsk in honor of the 85th anniversary of State Proving Flying Centre 929, where the skills of the Russian Knights were evaluated by true professionals – test pilots. Early in 2006, they visited the United Arab Emirates, where in the sky above the Arabian Desert the Knights won the first place in the group aerobatic class with jets, as they triumphantly displayed their piloting skills and the supreme qualities of Su-27. The team performed with a new program including a group barbecue spin in a V-formation, a double hook turn and a barrel roll. The pilots were rewarded with FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) golden medals. In the March and August of the same year they visited the People’s Republic of China, where the Russian Knights opened the Year of Russia in China and participated in Zhuhai-2006 International Space Air Show.
On the 5th of April, 2006, the Russian Knights Aviation Display Team celebrated its 15th anniversary with a superb air show at their native air field. To maintain the glorious traditions of air pageants above the Red square, a simultaneous flight with the Swifts aerobatic team was performed on the 9th of May, 2007, with nine aircrafts. A remarkable event in the history of the aerobatic team was MAKS-2007. That August, for the first time in history, a horizontal barrel roll was performed by a group of nine aircrafts, called a “Kubinka Diamond” for its outline and unique qualities.
On the 20th of June, 2008, the Knights performed in Kauhava, Finland, at the Midnight Sun air show. The flights took place in twilight, in white night condition. Two days were left until the MAKS opening when the group of four “Knights” started a training flight above the display point in Zhokovsky. It was at that training that an irreparable happened. The commander of 237 AESC, the leading pilot of the Russian Knights Igor Tkachenko came to a tragic end. The group participation in the air show was then limited by a diamond flight on the MAKS final day, the 23rd of August. In dead silence, the diamond appeared above the Zhukovski airfield and performed a memorial flight in honor of the deceased Igor Tkachenko. The exclamations expressing admiration with the courage of the pilots and applause in commemoration of Guards Colonel Tkachenko drowned out even the roar of the four Su-27.
By decree No. 966 of the President of Russia dated the 22nd of August, 2009, Guards Colonel Igor Valentinovich Tkacheno was posthumously titled the Hero of the Russian Federation.
On the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory on the 9th of May, 2010, the Kubinka group of nine aircrafts led by Igor Shpak appeared in the sky above Moscow again. Five days after the Air Pageant above the Red Square, on the 14th of May, 2010, the pilots of the Russian Knights and the Swifts aerobatic teams presented a superb display in the sky above Kubinka air base in honor of the 90th anniversary of Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub. 2011 was a remarkable year for the team.
On the 5th of April, it celebrated its 20th anniversary. Year after year its staff was changing, new people appeared, and the weather and attitudes were changing as well. But the one thing remained unchanged – the legendary skill of the pilots. That skill they demonstrated in the sky above the native air field thus celebrating their jubilee with their admirers. Their triumphant return to the sky above Zhukovski near Moscow inaugurated MAKS-2011 International Air Show which lasted from the 16th to 22nd of August.
The spectators saw piloting of groups of six and four aircrafts, as well as pair and solo piloting. The pilots marked the beginning of 2012 by a performance at BIAS-2012 International Air Show which took place from 19th to 21st of January in Bahrain capital Manama. The King of Bahrain Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa personally invited the pilots to participate in the air show.
The longstanding experience of the aerobatic team in performances at international stage has many times confirmed the highest skills of the staff. At present, the RUSSIAN KNIGHTS continue perform group aerobatic flights with ten aircrafts together with the Swifts team. Independently, the group performs aerobatic flights with six aircrafts, head-on aerobatic flights and solo aerobatic flights at the limiting conditions of their fighting machines, sparing no effort, for they are the pilots of the legendary group, for this is the only way here, for the sky is their element.