Watch: Declassified Video Shows Su-27s Buzzing MQ-9 Before Crash

U.S. European Command (EUCOM) released declassified video footage showing a Russian Su-27 fighter making two very close passes on an MQ-9A, dumping fuel near the uncrewed aircraft system (UAS) on both fly-bys and appearing to damage the Reaper’s propeller.

EUCOM officials released the video from the MQ-9A’s belly-mounted MTS-B sensor on March 16 after Russian military officials denied that the intercept by two Su-27s over the Black Sea led to a collision. U.S. military officials said on March 14 that the damage to the propeller forced them to bring the MQ-9A down in the Black Sea. 

The Russian military also claimed that the MQ-9A violated a temporary airspace boundary over the Black Sea, but U.S. military officials have rejected the idea that such a restriction existed or was legitimate even if it had been announced. The MQ-9A was operating in international airspace, and the Su-27 pilots behaved unprofessionally and recklessly, U.S. military officials say. 

The 42-sec. video clip starts with a scene showing an Su-27 approaching from behind and to the right of the MQ-9A. At the 5-sec. mark, the Su-27 appears to start releasing fuel in a possible attempt to damage the MQ-9A as it is overtaken by the supersonic fighter. 

The clip reveals a clear view of the right wing and belly of the MQ-9A. For this mission the Reaper was equipped with no pylons or weapons mounted on the right wing. A flat, vertical antenna is mounted on an aft belly station, suggesting the MQ-9A was performing a signals intelligence mission, collecting communications or electronic signals in the area around the Black Sea.

The video shows an Su-27 making a second pass on the MQ-9A at the 29-sec. mark. After releasing fuel in the same manner, the Russian fighter appears to mis-time its pull-out maneuver, coming within collision distance of the MQ-9A. The moment of the apparent collision is not shown as the video dropped-out for 60 sec., according to EUCOM. When the video resumes at the 39-sec. mark, one of the four propellers is damaged and the attitude of the UAS is canted relative to the horizon.

The in-flight damage to the MQ-9A follows a string of complaints by U.S. and UK officials about unprofessional conduct by Russian pilots while intercepting aircraft over the Black and Mediterranean seas, including an apparently inadvertent missile release by a Su-27 near a British RC-135 Rivet Joint in October and a Su-27 maneuvering unsafely near the cockpit of a U.S. Navy P-8A.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.


1 Comment
Good grief. The press can call a propeller blade a propeller, the USAF apparently also, but Aviation Week -- say it ain't so. And say it is a propeller BLADE.
Bernard Biales