Su-57’s vertical stabilizers give it an advantage over the F-22

Let’s fly into the world of stealth jets, where bigger isn’t always better. In the heated debate of the Su-57 vs the F-22, one feature often gets overlooked – the vertical stabilizers. “Why are those of the Su-57 smaller than those of the F-22?” you may ask. Brace yourself as we dive into the science and strategy behind these design decisions.

Su-57's AESA isn't dangerous to F-35, but the passive sensors are
Photo credit: Getty Images

Before that, however, we need to clarify some details. Like the Su-57, the F-22 has two engines that propel the stealth in the air. We already wrote that the F-22 has small advantages over the Russian fighter. For example, the maximum speed of the American stealth is greater than the Russian one, which, especially in combat aviation engineering, rarely happens. But this is a fact, the F-22 can reach 2,414 km/h, while the Su-57 is limited to only 2,130 km/h.

Another advantage of the “American” over the “Russian” should not be overlooked – the flat nozzles of the engines. They play an essential role in stealth technology. The F-22 has had it for years, while we only recently reported that the Su-57 was beginning operations and tests of similar design configurations on its two engines.

US sends F-22s to Crete for joint missions with Greek Air Force
Photo credit: Pixabay

Despite this, however, the Su-57 is considered more maneuverable. Why? The answer may lie in the vertical stabilizers at the rear of both aircraft. Let’s dig deeper to find out how the Su-57 wins in the maneuverability category.

What are vertical stabilizers?

The vertical stabilizers of stealth fighters, such as the Su-57 and F-22, are an important component of the aircraft’s overall design. They are the vertical fins located at the tail of the aircraft and are responsible for providing stability and control during flight.

The vertical stabilizers work in conjunction with the horizontal stabilizers to keep the aircraft stable in all three axes of flight: pitch, roll, and yaw. They also help prevent the aircraft from spinning out of control.

Su-57's vertical stabilizers give it an advantage over the F-22
Photo credit: Reddit

By adjusting the angle of the stabilizers, the pilot can control the amount of lift and drag on the tail of the aircraft, which can affect the aircraft’s turning ability and overall maneuverability.

The Su-57 has smaller vertical stabilizers

If you compare the two fighters and look at them side by side you will find that the vertical stabilizers of the Su-57 are smaller than those of the F-22. It is the smaller size of the vertical stabilizers of the Su-57 that are an advantage over the F-22, which gives them better maneuverability than their American competitor. This is how:

The physics behind smaller Su-57 stabilizers being better lies in the concept of aerodynamics. The vertical stabilizers of an aircraft are responsible for providing stability and control during flight. They work by creating a force called the side force, which helps the aircraft maintain its desired direction of flight. The size of the vertical stabilizers affects the magnitude of this force.

Smaller vertical stabilizers on the Su-57 create less drag, which allows the aircraft to achieve higher speeds and greater maneuverability. This is because drag is a force that opposes motion through a fluid, such as air. By reducing drag, the aircraft can move through the air more efficiently, which translates into better performance.

Su-57's vertical stabilizers give it an advantage over the F-22
Photo credit: Reddit

Additionally, smaller vertical stabilizers can create a phenomenon called vortex shedding, which can further enhance the aircraft’s stability and control. Vortex shedding occurs when air flows around a surface and creates vortices or swirling patterns of air. These vortices can help stabilize an aircraft by creating a force that opposes any unwanted movements.

It’s not always like that

Su-57's vertical stabilizers give it an advantage over the F-22 - F-35
Photo credit: USAF

We should note that smaller vertical stabilizers are not always an advantage in maneuverability. In this specific case, it is, but if we compare the F-22 against the F-35 we will find that the F-22 has larger vertical stabilizers than the F-35, but is more maneuverable. Why is that?

Firstly, the F-22 has a higher thrust-to-weight ratio than the F-35, meaning it has more power to weigh, allowing it to accelerate faster and maneuver more quickly. Secondly, the F-22 has a larger wing area and a higher aspect ratio than the F-35, which allows it to generate more lift and fly at higher angles of attack, making it more maneuverable.

Thirdly, the F-22 has thrust vectoring, which allows the pilot to control the direction of the engine’s exhaust, providing additional control and maneuverability. Finally, the F-22 has a more advanced avionics system and fly-by-wire controls, which allow for more precise and responsive control of the aircraft, making it more maneuverable in combat situations.

Vertical stabilizers on non-stealth fighters

So posed, the question cannot help but ask the following: are the vertical stabilizers of the non-stealth Russian fighters the reason they are more maneuverable than the American stealth fighters. Well, the short answer is no.

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Photo credit: AP

The size of the vertical stabilizers is just one of many factors that contribute to an aircraft’s maneuverability. While smaller stabilizers can provide greater agility, they also reduce stability, which can be a disadvantage in certain flight regimes. Therefore, it is unlikely that the size of the vertical stabilizers on non-stealth Russian fighters is the sole reason for their greater maneuverability compared to American stealth fighters.

It is also important to note that stealth fighters like the F-22 and F-35 are not designed to prioritize maneuverability over stealth. These aircraft are optimized for low observability and advanced avionics, which can provide a significant advantage in modern air combat scenarios.

Su-27 Flanker fighter jet
Photo credit: Creative Commons

The greater maneuverability of non-stealth Russian fighters compared to American stealth fighters is likely due to a combination of factors, including differences in design philosophy, technology, and training.


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