Russian Pilot Who Defected To US Passes At 76

Historical reports show that a young fighter pilot landed his Mikoyan MiG-25, the then-Soviet Union’s most sophisticated combat aircraft, in Hokkaido, Japan, on September 6, 1976.
He planned to defect and provide the jet to the US, making him and the aircraft an intelligence prize of a generation.

Lt. Viktor Ivanovich Belenko had been plotting his escape from the Soviet Union for months. The primary issue was the excessive fuel consumption of his two Tumansky turbojet-powered aircraft. He had to wait until a day when his training mission needed his jet to carry the most fuel.

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union used MiG-17s; in the 1970s, they invested in 36 MiG-25P “Foxbats.” The MiG-31 replaced them in the 1990s.

A full fuel load was adequate to make it to Japan, the closest U.S. ally, but only if flown low enough to dodge Soviet coastal radar. His plane was slightly above the ocean waves as he raced to the closest Japanese island.

The MiG-25 reached speeds higher than Mach 3, according to intelligence reports and data obtained from radar intercepts. However, flying the plane at such speeds was too hot for the engines, which meant the burned-out components had to be replaced.

The MiG-25’s radar system was tough to jam, but American analysts found the Soviets used outdated vacuum tube technology.

The situation at his airfield was much more illuminating. There were five distinct branches of the Soviet military. The traditional air force (VVS) and the air defense force (PVO) were part of the branches.

The PVO, Belenko’s unit, was responsible for protecting Soviet airspace. They picked the top pilots, had better facilities, and had more sophisticated interceptor model aircraft, so everyone thought it was an elite unit. But Belenko’s home and workplace, the Chuguyevka Airbase, was an almost uninhabitable rudimentary military outpost.

According to his debriefings, Belenko ‘s family moved into brand-new pilots’ accommodations that were falling apart.

Despite his elite rank, he felt like a cog in a military machine. He observed daily blatant corruption.

Belenko’s son told the media that his father died at a Rosebud, Illinois, nursing facility on September 24 following a short illness.