Cobra Turn

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The Cobra Turn is a fighter aircraft maneuver. It is a variation on the Pugachev's Cobra where the aircraft performs the pull-up, but instead of returning to level flight applies rudder or thrust vectoring and turns downward. John Turner of BAE considers[citation needed] the Pugachev's Cobra to have little use in air combat maneuvering (It could, however, also be argued that the combat effect is likely to be similar to the Vectoring In Forward Flight" or VIFFing maneuver. In theory VIFFing allows the aircraft to effectively slow down or stop while the enemy overshoots, leaving the aircraft in a favorable position to attack the enemy[1]).

Unlike VIFFing, however, the fully developed Cobra maneuver leaves the aircraft in a precarious and non-offensive attitude, with no energy, with weapons pointing toward empty sky and with the pilot having lost sight of the enemy. Similar conditions made the Immelmann turn useless during World War I aerial combat (in fact, if the pilot exits the Cobra by using rudder, this is a very slow version of the Immelmann). At the same time, the aircraft is defenseless, unable to maneuver, nearly stationary, offers the largest lateral visual and radar target and is creating a massive plume of hot exhaust, making it an easy target for any type of weapon and attack which an enemy might choose. The transition from Cobra maneuver to effective and controlled flight takes several seconds, and airspeed sufficient for defensive maneuvering is not recovered for more than ten seconds. While entering the Cobra is effective as a "speed brake" maneuver, usefulness in combat is limited at best, and then only if exited while sufficient energy remains to bring the weapons to bear before the opponent can break into an evasive maneuver—or, worse, loop back and attack. One simple defense-into-attack maneuver is for the opponent to Split-S, pass under the Cobra aircraft, then half-loop again to bring the Cobra aircraft into the cone of fire. The primary danger for the opponent becomes the possibility of a mid-air collision with the slowly moving target.

The Cobra Turn first gained widespread attention after it was performed by the Sukhoi Su-27, Su-35 and Su-37 at various European airshows. The Su-37 was also the first aircraft to demonstrate the "Super-cobra". Since then the F-22A Raptor has also demonstrated the capability to perform the Cobra Turn (from level flight) due to its thrust vectoring capability. Aside from these aircraft, the Su-30MKI is also capable of performing the cobra.


  1. ^ "That Magnificent Flying Machine". Time. 1982-06-07. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 

Gordon, Y. Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker: Air Superiority Fighter. Airlife Publishing. ISBN 1-84037-029-7.