Fact Check: Did Video Show Russian Jet 'Cobra Landing' on Aircraft Carrier?

The Russia-Ukraine war, among the most closely monitored and thoroughly documented conflicts in history, has generated some of the most terrifying—but also incredibly rare and spectacular—combat footage recorded.

From tank battles to trench warfare and fighter jet or drone dogfights, military-focussed social media channels and communities are filled with striking videos and images from the conflict zone.

But as Newsweek Fact Check reported in the past, the sheer volume of such content, along with the objective difficulties around verifying it, mean that hoaxes, fabrications, and other misleading material often falls through the cracks.

With that in mind, footage of a fighter jet landing in an unorthodox fashion—with its nose pointed vertically upwards—has attracted a lot of attention, leaving many wondering if it was real.

F-18 Hornet Fighter Jet Landing
An F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet landing on the deck of the US Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, during a NATO vigilance activity in eastern Mediterranean Sea on May 23, 2022. A video of a fighter jet carrying out a spectacular "cobra landing" was shared online in March 2023, leading many to question whether it is genuine. ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images

The Claim

Several tweets, posted in different languages in late February, featured a video of what appeared to be a fighter jet landing spectacularly on the runway (technically know as a flight deck) of an aircraft carrier.

"Unbelievable Cobra-style landing by the SU-27," one user wrote, in Russian, on February 27 in a tweet with nearly 157,000 views.

"People claim this video is a computer graphics game. A Russian Su-35 pilot lands on a short runway on an American carrier," another tweet viewed 2.7 million times said, in Indonesia, linking to a Russian Telegram channel post.

The latter linked to a Russian-language Telegram channel, whose author in the caption appeared to celebrate the "beauty" of the maneuver carried out by the "crazy Navy pilots."

These posts, along with others, received ten of thousands of engagements in total and millions of combined views.

The Facts

The "cobra landing" appears to be a variation on the "cobra maneuver," a highly complex and very dramatic craft action in aviation that involves an airplane abruptly lifting the "nose" midflight, putting the craft into a fully vertical position and leading to rapid deceleration.

The move, also known as "Pugachev's cobra" (after the Soviet pilot Viktor Pugachev, who popularized it) demands a high level of skill from the pilots and can only be accomplished on a limited number of aircraft due to its complexity.

While it is occasionally performed at air shows, it has not been verifiably deployed in real combat and its (even hypothetical) usefulness in battle has been widely dismissed by aviation and military experts.

Thought to be invented by Swedish pilots flying the Saab 35 fighter jets in the 1960s as a way to prevent pilots getting killed due to "deep [or super] stalls," an aerial phenomenon that could lead to loss of control over the craft, the move recently returned to the public eye following the release of the Top Gun movie sequel.

In Top Gun: Maverick, Tom Cruise's character performs the move with an F-18 fighter jet, hard braking the craft to let an enemy MiG pass by. In reality, while F-18 is not typically among the listed aircraft capable of carrying out the maneuver, there is some evidence to suggest it is possible with modified models.

The Twitter video shows what appears to be an even more complex twist on the "cobra," which includes the jet landing on a moving aircraft carrier. However, it is not real footage but a CGI-based simulation.

The original clip was first shared on February 12 on Instagram by a Digital Combat Simulator (DCS) artist called MasterArm, who captioned the footage "Su-27 Cobra Landing."

The post, which includes hashtags "dcs" and "simulation," has gathered more than 280,000 likes since publication.

Other accounts shared the video with a clear disclaimer that it is indeed a simulation, with commentators pointing out that it shows a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.

"Russian planes do not land on U.S. ships," a Pentagon press officer told Newsweek in an email.

Notably, there is only one aircraft carrier still in the service of the Russian navy, Admiral Kuznetsov, which is now in its sixth year of a planned four-year refit following a series of fires and accidents on board. It is not expected to be back at sea until at least 2024.

Furthermore, Newsweek has not been able to find any evidence of a "cobra landing" ever being attempted successfully, let alone one where the jet is aiming for a moving target such as an aircraft carrier.

A YouTube video from 2010 is captioned as depicting "an unsuccessful cobra landing attempt" by a Russian MiG on Admiral Kuznetsov. Though Newsweek was unable to immediately verify the claim and context of the footage, users speculated in comments that it instead shows a failed landing attempt or a flyby maneuver.

Newsweek reached out to the U.S. Navy for comment.

The Ruling



The footage of a supposed "cobra landing" of a fighter jet on a moving aircraft carrier is in fact digitally created Digital Combat Simulator footage. Newsweek found no evidence that such a landing has ever been successfully accomplished, or is even possible with the current generation of aircraft.

Update 03/08/2023 6:55 a.m. ET: This article was updated to clarify the language.