The history of aviation is full of curious and even strange facts. One of them occurred on July 4, 1989 in the skies over Europe.
In the USSR it was the times of "Perestroika". Communist dictatorships were collapsing and it seemed that the Cold War was coming to an end. On that day, Colonel Nikolai Skuridin of the Force boarded his Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23M fighter, an aircraft with variable geometry wings that first entered service in 1970. Colonel Skuridin took off at 9:14 in the morning on a training flight from Bagicz Air Base, near Kołobrzeg, in northern Poland. His plane was only armed with his 23mm cannons. He surely did not imagine that this flight was going to cause a serious international incident.
With only 29 seconds after takeoff, at an altitude of 100 meters, the pilot turned on the afterburner of the MiG-23's only engine, but it failed and the plane lost power. Colonel Skuridin thought the plane would crash and 10 seconds after it started to fall, he ejected. The plane was then flying at 345 km/h. Before leaving the plane, the Soviet pilot directed his plane towards the Baltic Sea to crash into the sea. However, after the ejection, the afterburner restarted and the aircraft continued its flight on autopilot heading west towards NATO airspace, climbing to 12,300 meters and increasing its speed. up to 700 km/h.
At Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands, American airmen from the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron were celebrating US Independence Day with a barbecue. At that time, an Alpha Scramble Alert was issued, ordering an all-out mission. interception against an incursion into NATO airspace. The enemy aircraft had entered West German airspace near Dannenberg. Two USAF pilots immediately took off in their F-15C Eagle fighters.
When the American pilots approached the MiG-23, they verified that it did not respond to their radio warnings. They approached the Soviet fighter and then reported to the base that the plane was flying autonomously, without a pilot or cockpit. It was what in aeronautical terms is known as a "ghost plane." At the allied base they must not have believed what they were hearing, because they asked for confirmation and received the same response from the F-15Cs.
When 69 minutes had passed since takeoff, the MiG-23 ran out of fuel and began to descend. The situation was complicated. If the F-15Cs blew up the MiG-23 in the air, its pieces would spread over a wide area, potentially injuring someone. If they caused it to crash, they would have to crash over an unpopulated area. Finally, they calculated that the plane would crash on a clearing and the F-15Cs gave up the pursuit shortly before the MiG-23 crashed. However, the MiG crashed on a farm in the Belgian town of Kortrijk. Its fall caused the death of an 18-year-old boy. The plane had flown more than 900 kilometers without a pilot.
After what happened, the governments of West Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium - whose territories the ghost plane had flown over - addressed a protest to the Soviet government . In addition, the Belgian government criticized the lack of information it had on the weapons carried by the MiG-23, which complicated the rescue tasks. On July 6, Colonel Skuridin and the last Soviet dictator, Mikhail Gorbachev, appeared at a press conference in Moscow to apologize to the victims. The USSR agreed to pay compensation to Belgium for the damage caused.
The YouTube channel Dark Footage has published an interesting report about this event, which includes the recording of the communication of one of the F-15C pilots to his base reporting on the MiG-23:
Main photo: Departamento de Defensa de EEUU / Wikimedia. A Soviet MiG-23 photographed by US fighters in May 1989, two months before the downed ghost fighter incident in Belgium.
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