At AIR/SPACE America 88, the designer of the deadly Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter rubbed shoulders with the makers of the Stinger surface-to-air missile, the General Dynamics product that helped force the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. International trade, like politics, makes strange bedfellows.
But, at Brown Field last week, the Soviets had to sleep alone most of the time.
For 11 days in May, the air show was host to what promoters described as the largest Soviet trade delegation ever to visit the United States. The group of about 60 Soviet civilian and military department heads, businessmen, engineers, flight and ground crews and other functionaries was led by A. N. Gerashchenko, first deputy minister of the aviation industry of the U.S.S.R.
The second-ranking member was Pyotr V. Balabuev, general designer of the Antonov transport aircraft design bureau, which engineered the world's largest plane, the An-124 Ruslan.
No. 3 was Marat N. Tishchenko, general designer of the Mil helicopter and creator of the Hind gunship. Balabuev was here to show off Ruslan and Tishchenko to show off the prototype of Mi-34, a new sport helicopter.
The Soviets said they came to the show to meet American aviation experts and engineers and to see the latest aircraft as well as to show off their technical achievements.
But, the wry Tishchenko said, "I came to meet my colleagues from America, but have had no interesting discussions and have not seen any helicopter people."
Balabuev voiced a common refrain among his compatriots. "We wanted to see more modern companies--Lockheed, Douglas, Boeing, also GE and other engine companies. We ask, 'Why did they not participate?' The people who arranged the show should have done better. They lacked show expertise."
Tishchenko bemoaned the absence of U.S. helicopter manufacturers Bell and Sikorsky.
Anatoli G. Bulanenko, deputy chief designer at Antonov, has taken Ruslan not only to the Paris and Farnsborough air shows, but to Abbotsford, B.C., and Singapore. He commented, "This is a small show. Smaller than Abbotsford. Smaller than Singapore. Here are only amateur things (private planes) and Air Force. We are disappointed, particularly with lack of U.S. companies, but also Europeans. Our people see a lot of shows. We look at this as beginning in organization and experience."
A. M. Bathov, a department head at the Ministry of Aviation Industry, recalled that "the program had much more airplanes in beginning. We would have been glad to see Boeing's prototype airliner 7J7 here. It was promised earlier."
The Soviets agreed to attend AIR/SPACE America 88 before its organizers' hopes for a long row of corporate chalets were buried under an avalanche of regrets from firms unable to make it. So the Russians' disappointment is not unreasonable.
Important to Make Start
Asked if he felt cheated, Bathov said, "\o7 Nyet\f7 . We look at things in reality. Advertising is advertising. We appreciate your inner difficulties. Maybe you need to make \o7 perestroika\f7 , too."
He chuckled and turned charitable. "We know that hosts and press are disappointed too with level of airplanes. It is very important to (make a) start. If our participation can make show bigger later on, then we will be happy."
International trade shows serve several purposes for the Soviets that are less important or non-existent for the United States. Russian engineers don't often get to meet foreign colleagues. Espionage, both industrial and military, remains relatively more important for Soviet than for Western exhibitors. The Soviets' emphasis at air shows until recently was more on displaying technical achievements for prestige purposes than on wheeling and dealing for dollars and other hard currencies.
U.S. for-profit companies have found international aviation trade shows less useful than have state-owned Russian enterprises or, for that matter, semi-private European firms. Some major American aerospace corporations don't attend the prestigious Paris and Farnborough shows, so it is not too surprising they sat out this new, smaller affair. But, although Lockheed and Northrop stay home from Paris, McDonnell Douglas and Boeing do go there.
Trade Follows Flag
Prestige, personal contacts and collecting information are strong motives for the Russians. They probably would have attended AIR/SPACE America even had they known that many major U.S. airframe and engine manufacturers wouldn't be there. But, these days, Russians come to shows ready to play Let's Make a Deal. Bulanenko summed up the new attitude: "We are here to show and to get sales or contracts for cargo."