How a Soviet MiG-23 flew through half of Europe without a pilot in the cockpit
How a Soviet MiG-23 flew through half of Europe without a pilot in the cockpit

In 1987, the story of the "hooligan pilot" Matthias Rust, who landed right in the middle of Moscow, shocked the whole world. However, this incident was not the only unusual episode in Soviet aviation. A couple of years later, a fighter "escaped" from the USSR. Moreover, it was the plane that turned out to be a fugitive, because it flew more than 900 kilometers … without a pilot in the cockpit.

On July 4, 1989, Aviation Colonel Nikolai Skuridin, who had just returned from vacation, began his working day on board a MiG-23M aircraft. The test flight at the Polish airfield Kolobrzeg went well - after all, the fighter was piloted by a military pilot of the 1st class with a total flight time of 1700 hours, 527 of which were on this type of aircraft.

Aviation Colonel Nikolay Skuridin

The next one was to be a planned training flight, which was not difficult for Skuridin. The plane was even unarmed, except for shells in the onboard cannon. According to, the takeoff went well, but after forty seconds everything went wrong.

Fighter MiG-23M

The devices recorded a sharp drop in thrust and loss of altitude. The colonel realized that things were bad and reported the engine failure to the dispatcher. The flight director gave permission to leave the plane. Skuridin ejected, injuring his arm during landing. According to the pilot's calculations, the MiG was supposed to collapse approximately in the vicinity of the airfield.

The cockpit of the MiG-23M

Only the plane had other plans. 6 seconds after the pilot's ejection, instead of falling, he suddenly leveled off, began to gain altitude and continued flying along the course set during takeoff. Having risen to the maximum possible for him 12,000 meters, at a speed of 740 km / h, the fighter left Poland, and soon crossed the airspace of the GDR.

The escape route of the fighter

Interesting fact:About an hour after the takeoff of the MiG-23M, Major General Ognev, at that time acting commander of the aviation of the Northern Group of Forces, reported to the command that the plane had fallen into the sea, no damage was done, no casualties. Although this was completely untrue.

Reconstruction of the MiG-23M F-15 escort

Even when the "fugitive" flew over the GDR, NATO radars took him to escort. Meanwhile, the plane crossed the borders of Germany and headed for the Netherlands. Two F-15 fighters took to the air to intercept. Having flown up to the MiG, the pilots reported to their command that there was no one in the cockpit. The pilots were forbidden to shoot down the plane, which was at that moment over densely populated areas.

MiG-23 interception plan

NATO fighters continued to accompany the Soviet "defector" who had already entered Belgian airspace and was approaching the French city of Lille. The American pilots decided to shoot down the plane, but they did not have to do it. The MiG ran out of all available fuel and began to rapidly lose altitude.

Ultimately, the plane crashed in Belgium in the village of Bellegem, 80 km from the French border. Unfortunately, the crash of the drone fighter was not without casualties: it fell directly on 19-year-old Belgian Wim Delare.

Panorama of the crash site of the "fugitive plane"

American F-15s circled over the scene and, having run out of almost all the fuel, turned back to the airbase. The incident itself did not have serious political consequences: in 1989, relations between the Warsaw Pact countries and NATO warmed noticeably, and the situation was resolved safely.

At the crash site of the MiG-23M

Soviet experts were allowed to the crash site, and the wreckage of the plane was delivered to the Union.Colonel Nikolai Skuridin expressed condolences to the family of the deceased Belgian, and the government of the USSR paid Belgium about 700 thousand dollars in compensation.

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