The Cold War was a time when maneuvering and swiftness of response was absolutely key. The period of time between the 1950s and early 1990s drove worldwide militarization as a method of ensuring that military technology didn’t need to be used. Nations were making sure that their own technology was more than a match for that of other nations that were perceived as potential threats.
The United States’ F-15A, which debuted early in the 1970s, was just such a potential threat to the Soviet Union. The latter required a star jet fighter of its own, which was how the Su-27 project began in 1969.
Toppling the Eagle, of course, was a formidable challenge, and the Su-27 project was anything but a smooth ride. It wasn’t until 1985 that it entered service. In fact, Smithsonian Magazine quotes project lead Mikhail Simonov as saying that “just the tires and the pilot’s seat” remained, when almost a decade’s work on the aircraft was deemed unworthy and left on the aviation cutting room floor. After rebooting development in 1977, all the toil was more than worth it, as the resulting aircraft was a powerhouse indeed.
The Su-27 as we know it today is a fighter that deftly balances firepower and versatility with maneuverability and speed — a formidable package that is perfectly summarized in its NATO designation: “Flanker.”