Russian Su-34 NVO wings seem to overheat when launching a missile

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There is a possibility that the wings of the latest modification Su-34M or Su-34 NVO will overheat or burn up when launching a missile. This information has not been confirmed, but the latest improvements suggest so. The modification was revealed almost immediately after the Russian Aerospace Forces [VKS or RuAF] received the latest Su-34 delivery yesterday, which BulgarianMilitary.com already reported on

Photo credit: The National Interest

“Another design feature of the advanced Su-34 modifications is a heat-resistant sheet with a titanium coating, which is designed to protect the wing from burning and overheating during missile launches,” said a Zvezda TV report on the latest delivery. 

The information was published in Russian sources, and they also shared that before delivery to the customer, the test pilots of the plant always conduct a series of test flights to ensure the reliability of the equipment in the sky and in practice. “When a plane comes out of the assembly shop, it is not yet an airplane. When it rises into the air, the flight is the crown of all the work of a team of thousands,” says a Su-34NVO test pilot in the TV Zvezda video.

Photo credit: Telegram

Possible reasons

If the wings of the Su-34 overheat significantly, or more than is permissible to require additional titanium sheet coating, the reason for this remains unclear. However, this phenomenon can be attributed to several factors related to the aircraft’s design and operational conditions. 

Firstly, the Su-34’s wings are equipped with various electronic systems and components, including radar and missile guidance systems. These electronic components generate heat during operation, and the additional thermal load from launching missiles can exacerbate the situation, leading to overheating. 

Photo credit: Telegram

Secondly, aerodynamic heating plays a significant role. At high speeds, the friction between the aircraft’s surface and the air generates substantial heat. When the Su-34 launches missiles, it often operates at high speeds and altitudes, which can increase the temperature of the wings due to aerodynamic heating.

Another contributing factor is the thermal energy released by the missile’s propulsion system. When a missile is launched, its rocket motor generates a significant amount of heat. This heat can be transferred to the aircraft’s wings, especially if the missile is mounted on wing pylons. The proximity of the missile’s exhaust to the wing surface can cause localized heating. 

Additionally, the materials used in the construction of the Su-34’s wings may have limitations in their thermal tolerance. While modern aircraft materials are designed to withstand high temperatures, the combined effects of electronic heat, aerodynamic heating, and missile exhaust can push these materials to their limits, resulting in overheating. 

Photo credit: Russian MoD

Lastly, the operational environment and mission profile of the Su-34 can influence the extent of wing overheating. For instance, prolonged high-speed flight, frequent missile launches, and combat maneuvers can increase the thermal stress on the wings. Maintenance practices and the condition of the aircraft also play a role in managing and mitigating overheating issues.

Why titanium?

It is a fact that the Su-34 is the most used combat aircraft in the war in Ukraine by the Russian Army. Therefore, it is logical to assume that such intensive use implies that the wings are indeed overheating. But why did the Russians integrate a titanium coating? The answer is simple. 

Photo by Alex Beltyukov

The titanium coating on the wings of the Su-34 plays a crucial role in thermal management, particularly during missile launches. Titanium is known for its high melting point and excellent thermal conductivity, which helps to dissipate heat efficiently. This ensures that the wings do not overheat, which could compromise the structural integrity of the aircraft. 

During a missile launch, the exhaust gases can reach extremely high temperatures. The titanium coating acts as a thermal barrier, reflecting much of this heat away from the aircraft’s wings. This reflective property is essential in preventing the accumulation of heat that could otherwise lead to warping or weakening of the wing structure.

Oxidation at high temperatures

Photo credit: Military Watch Magazine

Another advantage of titanium is its resistance to oxidation at high temperatures. Unlike other metals that might corrode or degrade when exposed to intense heat, titanium maintains its structural properties. This durability is particularly important for the Su-34, which may need to perform multiple missile launches in quick succession. 

The lightweight nature of titanium also contributes to the overall performance of the Su-34. While providing robust thermal protection, it does not add significant weight to the aircraft. This balance between protection and weight is critical for maintaining the agility and speed of the Su-34 during combat operations. 

Finally, it turns out that the last batch of Su-34s delivered to the Russian Air Force was delivered with yet another modification. Russian sources report that engineers have integrated an additional fuel tank, developed and tested by them, into the wing. This means that Moscow is trying to increase the range of the Su-34 without aerial refueling, which perhaps speaks to striking deeper into Ukraine’s rear.

Photo credit: Pan.bg

“At the aircraft factory Chkalov, we follow a meticulous procedure to ensure fuel quality,” explained the workshop head in an interview with TV Zvezda. “First, the fuel tanks are filled directly with pressurized kerosene. After holding them at a specific pressure, we thoroughly clean the tanks. The fuel is then sent to the laboratory to meet the required cleanliness standards.”

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