Don’t Go Below The Hard Deck

We all find high-speed, low, altitude flying exhilarating to watch (if the box office that Top Gun: Maverick is doing is any indication). Still, the reality of the situation is that it is hazardous. The ground can be pretty unforgiving when traveling near Mach speeds.

Oh, and for the uninitiated, the “hard deck” is the altitude used during a training exercise to represent the ground. In combat, the hard deck is the ground.

A Polish Air Force MiG-29 fighter with the 1st Tactical Aviation Wing is pictured during an airspace patrol training mission on March 4, 2022. Image Credit: Polish Air Force via airforcemag.com

In recent weeks the Russian Air Force has lost two Su-25 “Grach” or “Frogfoot” aircraft (and one pilot) in low-altitude crashes on their way to or from combat missions in Ukraine. The Sukhoi Su-25 Grach is a single-seat, twin-engine jet aircraft developed by the Soviet Union almost 50 years ago. It first took flight in 1975. They were designed to provide close air support for Soviet ground forces and have a top speed of 590 mph.

Losses of both fixed-wing and rotary-winged aircraft (helicopters) have been heavy over Ukraine in the first four months of the war. Both sides have lost about a fifth of their fixed-wing assets. Military analysts tell us that Ukraine has lost 39 human-crewed aircraft while Russia has lost 81. It’s hard to get an explicit confirmation on how many pilots have died, but most crashes likely involved at least one fatality.