Just four months after the fighter’s unveiling in July, the General Director of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) Yuri Slyusar has announced that the first flight prototypes of the Checkmate next generation single engine fighter are currently under construction. “I would like to hint that the plant at Komsomolsk has started to build a few prototypes for the starting batch,” he stated on November 14th. The announcement was made as the fighter was making its foreign debut at the Dubai Airshow, with the United Arab Emirates reported to already be a partner in the program and expected to be a significant client. While it was confirmed that multiple prototypes are under construction, all at UAC’s Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Plant, it is uncertain how many are being built. A non-flight prototype was seen with black coverings in July, and it is expected that the first flight prototype will be seen before mid-2023. This will be in line with the fighter program’s ambitious schedule to be ready for serial production by 2024 and begin deliveries by 2026.
The Checkmate is expected to be marketed as a successor to the fourth generation medium weight MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter which first flew in 1977, advanced variants of which are still in production today. The new stealth aircraft is expected to have have significantly lower operational costs and maintenance requirements than heavyweight fighters such as the Su-30 and Su-57 which occupy most Russian production lines, and the only MiG-29 clients which can be ruled out as potential Checkmate operators are Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia due to their membership of NATO and Ukraine for political reasons. This leaves 20 other countries where the MiG-29 is currently in service where the Checkmate could be a successor. The fighter was funded privately without Russian government support, and is expected to be the world’s first single engine stealth jet with thrust vectoring engines and a supercruise capability. It will also be the first single engine fighter serially produced in Russia in almost 40 years.