The Cobra Manoeuvre, also known as Pugachev’s Cobra or Pugachev Cobra is a very spectacular, dramatic and demanding aerobatics manoeuvre in which an aircraft flew at a moderate speed suddenly raises its nose to the vertical position – and beyond – before dropping the nose back to horizontal flight. The aircraft reaches 90–120° angle of attack during the Cobra.
The Cobra manoeuvre is named after the Soviet test pilot Viktor Pugachyov, who first performed the Cobra manoeuvre publicly in 1989 at the Paris Le Bourget air show, and shocked the Western spectators who couldn’t believe it. The Soviet Union still existed at this time. However, the Cobra was first executed by Sukhoi test-pilot Igor Volk in a test flight. The classic Cobra was done using only standard aerodynamic controls. Today it is easier to be done with Vector Thrust.
The Cobra requires very potent engines to maintain approximately a constant altitude throughout the Cobra. It has some use in close range aerial combat or dogfight – so the hunted can become a hunter by getting behind the enemy aircraft. The Cobra can be useful when a fighter jet is being pursued closely by an opponent fighter jet. By executing the Cobra manoeuvre, a pursued fighter jet may suddenly slow down to the point where the enemy aircraft may overshoot it. The aircraft is now behind and pursuing and can theoretically fire its weapons. The disadvantage is that the aircraft doing the Cobra loses a lot of speed, which makes it vulnerable.
And it is a very impressive single demonstration flight aerobatics manoeuvre to show pilot’s skills and the aircraft maneuvrability at airshows. If you have ever seen it for example at MAKS airshow in Zhukovsky near Moscow – and the reaction of the spectators – you know how popular it is. It is the perfect manoeuvre to show the pilot’s skills and demonstrate an aircraft’s high angle of attack (AOA) stability, the pitch control authority as well as engine-versus-inlet compatibility.
Nowadays the Cobra can be achieved more easily with the so-called “supermaneuverability” thanks to thrust vectoring in 4.5 and 5th-generation fighter jets.