The Su-7, also known as the Fitter, entered service in 1959. A total of about 1,847 were built between 1957 and 1972.
The arms race of the Cold War was a period of brilliant development for military aircraft. The Soviet Union and the West pushed each other to go beyond the limits to produce the best war machines in a variety of roles. In 1955 Sukhoi debuted the Su-7, originally developed as a fighter bomber, and then rapidly becoming a major Soviet ground attack aircraft in the 1960s.
The Su-7 was rugged in its simplicity, but its Lyulka AL-7 engine had such high fuel consumption that it seriously limited the aircraft’s payload, as even short-range missions required that at least two hardpoints be used to carry drop tanks rather than ordnance. There were some limitations that really affected its operating life. It was possibly the worst ground attack aircraft the Soviet Union built.
The Su-7, also known as the Fitter, entered service in 1959. A total of about 1,847 were built between 1957 and 1972. The aircraft would become the first Soviet aircraft to utilize the all-moving tailplane and a translating centerbody, as well as a movable inlet cone in the air-intake. The aircraft featured an open nose assembly for which to feed the engine and air intake was controlled through a variable-position nose cone mounted within the intake itself.
The cockpit was positioned in the forward portion of the fuselage and offered up adequate-to-poor visibility forward, upwards and to the sides. Rear vision was more-or-less blocked by the raised rear portion of the cockpit canopy and fuselage spine. The canopy was of a two piece design with featured framing. The pilot was afforded a Sukhoi-designed ejection seat. The cylindrical fuselage was relatively featureless and concluded in a conventional empennage sporting a large vertical swept tail fin with a clipped tapered edge. The horizontal tailplanes were affixed to either side of the jet exhaust ring and were extremely swept.
In terms of armament, the Su-7’s standard armament is a pair of powerful 30mm Nudel’man-Rikhter NR-30 series cannons, one mounted in each wing root leading edge. Optional armament could be spread out amongst the six available hard points, and could include a combination of conventional drop bombs, nuclear bombs, rocket pods, and AA-2 “Atoll” short-range air-to-air missiles.
Its simple design meant maintenance wasn’t too difficult, and it proved to be a rugged aircraft thanks to that simplicity. However, the AL-7 engine was still unreliable in service, but the biggest issue with it wasn’t that. The AL-7 engine had a disgusting habit of drinking so much fuel, that it would just limit the range of the aircraft, so it could only do bare-minimum short-range missions, but also the aircrafts payload. Two hardpoints on the wings were dedicated just for extra fuel drop-tanks, not even weapons.
While the Soviet Union was involved in some minor conflicts throughout the Cold War, the Su-7 never entered a combat zone in Soviet Union service. Poland would also go on to use the Su-7, up until 1990. However, it did enter service in combat with the likes of Egypt and India. But not to great success.
In July 1967, during the Six-Day War, 12 Su-7s were tasked with attacking Israeli forces opposite the Suze Canal. Egyptian pilot Tahsin Zaki was in that formation. The Su-7s were loaded with four 500 kg bombs each, but the aircraft suffered so much drag that they could not accelerate beyond 372 mph or around 600 km/h. The weight and drag also made the Su-7s horrible to control. Its dismal range meant that the aircraft, if they did reach a target, would have to drop its payload as fast as possible and get out of there. Needless to say, the Su-7 was an utterly horrible aircraft in combat.
The Indian Air Force would also suffer issues with the Su-7, with 14 of them lost during the 1971 war with Pakistan. They did at least find out though that thanks to its ruggedness, it could survive a lot of punishment and still make it home. But ultimately, the Su-7 was a dismal failure. The last Su-7 clung on to Soviet service until 1986, with the much more capable Su-17 and the truly fearsome MiG-27 taking over in its role.