How a Soviet plane crossed Europe without a pilot

How a Soviet plane crossed Europe without a pilot - an interesting article that fell into my hands today and was a little surprised, so I decided to share it with you.

On July 4, 1989, during a training flight over Polish territory, a Soviet pilot ejected from a MiG-23 fighter. The unmanned aircraft flew another 900 km until it crashed in Belgium. One person died on earth.

How was that more detailed?

On the morning of July 4, 1989, the 18-year-old son of a Belgian farmer, Wim Delaere, sat peacefully on the veranda of his father's house in the village of Kooichem, until a Soviet MiG-23M fighter jet fell on his head. The arriving police could not understand anything for a long time. Where, 15 kilometers from the Belgian-French border, which is more than 1000 kilometers from the USSR and half of Europe, could an airplane with red stars on its wings come from? And even without a pilot, since no other bodies were found in the wreckage of the fighter, except for the body of the unfortunate Wim de Lara.

And the pilot could not be there - he ejected 900 kilometers from the site of the tragedy, in the area of ​​the Polish city of Kolobrzeg on the shores of the Baltic Sea. On July 4, 1989, a MiG-23M fighter, piloted by 1st class pilot Colonel Nikolai Skuridin, took off from the airfield of one of the air units of the Northern Soviet Group of Forces in the Kolobrzeg area (total flight hours of more than 1700 hours, including on the MiG-23 - 527 hours ). Although this is a good raid, Skuridin was not a combat pilot but the head of the political department of the 239th Fighter Aviation Division (political officers in Soviet aviation also had to fly a certain number of hours to maintain flight qualifications).

“This was my second flight that day, ” the pilot said. - Everything went well up to a height of ninety meters. Then I heard and felt a cotton in the left air intake, the speed immediately dropped from 550 to 350 kilometers per hour, and the engine speed dropped sharply. I conveyed that I had made the decision to eject, since everything spoke of stopping the engine - even there was no noise! From the ground I received the command: "one hundred thirty-second, to ..." - that is, eject. Already in the air, descending by parachute, I saw black smoke behind the turbine of the descending plane. I sat down safely, only injured my hand. Before the ejection, the fighter turned towards the sea. But who knew that he would continue flying ... "

The flight director, after the pilot's report, watched the afterburner flame go out and smoke behind the engine, as well as the aircraft sagging. The development of an emergency situation on takeoff can presumably be explained as follows: the spontaneous shutdown of the afterburner led to a sharp decrease in thrust, speed, altitude and was perceived by the pilot as an engine failure, which forced him to eject.

Everything was going fine up to a certain height, until the pilot heard a pop in the left air intake. Simultaneously with the clap, the aircraft's speed dropped sharply and the noise of the engine disappeared. All this spoke of stopping the engine and the pilot did what the instruction instructed to do in such cases - he turned the fighter towards the sea and ejected.

After the pilot left the plane, the plane stopped descending (due to a change in alignment) and disappeared from the field of view at an extremely low altitude at a distance of 4-6 km. According to the "black box", 6 seconds after the ejection, the engine suddenly began to increase revs and the plane continued its flight with a slight climb in automatic mode.

And then something happened that later the aviators themselves would call a unique phenomenon: 6 seconds after the pilot's ejection, due to a change in centering, the plane stopped descending, and its engine began to increase revs. And the MiG continued its flight, gaining altitude in automatic mode (the autopilot continued to work) strictly at a given course.

The air defense services of the Warsaw Pact countries reacted calmly to the appearance of the mark on the radar screens (many training flights were carried out that day) - until the moment the plane reached the border of the GDR and the FRG.

At 12.20 p.m. the FRG air defense radars registered a violation of the air border by an object flying at an altitude of 12, 000 m; he moved at a speed of 460 km / h. A minute and a half later, two American fighter-interceptors were lifted from the NATO military base.

The lines of the telegraphic messages resembled a war summary. After 15 minutes, the pilots reported that they had made visual contact with the enemy aircraft. Two minutes later, a message arrived on the ground, which astonished military specialists: a combat aircraft of the MiG-23 type with Soviet military identification marks was flying ... without a pilot.

According to a NATO spokesman, the pilots of American aircraft were ordered to accompany the "lost" MiG-23. According to experts, high altitude and low flight speed excluded hostile intentions. In addition, according to visual observations, the unmanned fighter lacked standard armament - surface-to-air missiles (the MiG had only 23-mm rounds of ammunition). Nevertheless, the military alarm kept thousands of people in suspense: the flight took place over densely populated areas of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

Flight route without pilot

Pilots on American interceptors were ordered to shoot down the MiG only as a last resort. Lacking sufficient information, NATO military specialists still hoped that, having used up fuel, the Soviet fighter would fall into the English Channel.

The aircraft, still held in automatic mode, flew until it was completely depleted of fuel and, after stopping the engine, began a smooth descent. Having lost speed, he fell on the territory of Belgium - almost flat - on a residential building in the village of Kooichem, near the city of Kortrijk (Courtray, Kortrijk), 15 km from the Belgian-French border. At the same time, the house of the farmer de Lara was completely destroyed and the owner's son, 19-year-old Wim Delaere, was killed.

Several photos of the incident:

“We narrowly escaped an incomprehensible disaster. It is hard to imagine what could have happened if the plane fell on the industrial districts of Lille, ”Belgian Interior Minister Lewis Tobback sighed with relief.

As Western observers have noted, a restrained and reasonably cautious response to the violation of NATO airspace helped to avoid the worst consequences. It is hard to imagine what would have happened if something like this had happened at the height of the Cold War.

True, a reproach was made against the Soviet Union for the lack of timely information. One of the NATO military officials in a TV interview stated with regret that in this particular case no direct contact was established with the military representatives of the Warsaw Pact and the USSR.

Later, representatives of the West German air defense will claim that they spotted a Soviet plane and led it from its very border. However, the Bundeswehr fighters took to the air and tried to overtake the MiG when it had already crossed the Dutch border. And only a couple of American F-15 fighters, which rose from the Dutch base Susterberg to intercept it, overtook the Soviet plane. Coming close to the red-star car, the American pilots examined it carefully and sent a message to the command post: "There is no one in the cockpit." No one dared to give the order to shoot down a strange car - how the Soviet Union would react to this is unknown (or maybe the USSR really loves this MiG and the war will start?) And besides, the flight has already passed over densely populated areas of the Netherlands and Belgium. And then the NATO members decided not to do anything - maybe the MiG, having used up the fuel, will slowly reach the English Channel and will voluntarily fall into the sea.

But he fell exactly on the head of poor Wim de Lara - unfortunately for him and great happiness for Moscow. The fact is that it was on this day, July 4, 1989, that Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to France took place and if the MiG had reached another 15 kilometers to French territory, the scandal would have turned out to be indescribable!

The Soviet side expressed condolences and paid the family of the deceased 800 thousand US dollars. Pilot N. Skuridin: “If I could have foreseen the consequences, and especially the death of a person, I would never have left the fighter. I would also like to say that I myself, my family and comrades deeply experience the tragedy that has taken place. I wrote to the family of the deceased Belgian youth, but I understand that no apology will reduce the severity of grief ... "

The entire flight from the moment of launch lasted 1 hour and 22 minutes (on NATO radar screens - from 9.21 to 10.37 CET. The plane covered about 900 km.

Western experts expressed bewilderment that the Soviet side itself did not take any measures to stop the flight of an empty plane. One of the top officers of the Danish Air Force said that in case of malfunctions similar to those that occurred with the MiG-23, Danish pilots, according to instructions, are required to adjust the autopilot of the aircraft in such a way as to direct it towards the desert or sea areas before ejecting.

On July 14, Soviet experts were allowed to inspect the remains of the aircraft, and then received consent to send them to the USSR. On July 6, 1989, Belgian Defense Minister Guy Coehm instructed the General Staff to submit to NATO bodies a proposal to establish a joint NATO and Warsaw Pact "crisis center" through which it would be possible to inform about possible incidents around the clock.

Experts from the A. Mikoyan Experimental Design Bureau, which at one time developed this fighter with a variable sweep wing, said that such a case had not yet happened in their practice. The Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende recalled a similar incident 20 years ago with a West German fighter jet, whose pilot lost consciousness during the flight; The uncontrolled car passed over the territory of a number of Warsaw Pact countries, and then, under the influence of air currents, turned towards Scandinavia and crashed in Northern Norway.

The New York Times article Pilotless Soviet Jet Crosses Europe Before Crashing is still available ...

And at that time, the noise was hushed up. The USSR expressed condolences to the family of the deceased Belgian and quietly paid her 800 thousand dollars in compensation. “We narrowly escaped an incomprehensible disaster. It is hard to imagine what could have happened if the plane fell on the industrial districts of Lille, ”Belgian Interior Minister Lewis Tobback sighed with relief and expressed a tacit desire to forget this story. Without exception, all officials of NATO countries tacitly supported this desire.

And they forgot. And about Matthias Rust, who landed his "Sesna" near the walls of the Kremlin on May 28, 1987, almost everyone heard and the Soviet air defense was not scolded for this only by the lazy, but about the flight of the "headless horseman" MiG-23M (tail number 29) on July 4, 1989 few years across Europe remember how almost no one scolds the NATO air defense system in this regard.

But the uncontrolled flight of the MiG clearly showed that the NATO air defense system was then also "not up to par". After all, after crossing the "Iron Curtain" the flight of the MiG took place over West German, American and British groups of forces, their air defense systems and airfields with fighters. However, NATO did not dare to interrupt the flight of the Soviet plane (or could not).

The current location looks like this: