Matthias Rust’s Daring Flight

Throughout the most of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was deemed to have been surrounded by an impenetrable airspace. There was that U2 incident in 1960, and in 1983, a civilian airliner was shot down for failing to respond to Soviet interceptors. But on May 28, 1987, this myth of Soviet might would be challenged by a West German teenager.

Matthais Rust spent his allowances to take 50 hours worth of flying lessons before embarking on an unauthorized flight from Helsinki to the heart of Moscow. Rust was picked up by radar. A Soviet fighter jet was in pursuit, but it could only communicate on military frequencies that Rust’s Cessna couldn’t receive. The Soviets assumed that he was either on a search-and-rescue mission or a student pilot. Six hours later, he made it to Moscow, and decided to land just outside the Kremlin walls. (He worried that if he had landed inside, the Soviets would arrest him and deny the whole thing). He landed by St. Basil’s Cathedral and taxied into the Red Square. Although he mingled with the people there–who thought he was part of an airshow–the KGB was also on spot to arrest him.

For violation of the Soviet airspace and oddly enough, hooliganism, Rust was put on trial. He served 432 days of his four-year sentence. The boy whom the media called “the new Red Baron” or “Don Quixote of the skies” never flew again. Inside the Kremlin walls, Mikhail Gorbechev would use the incident to shake up the Soviet military industrial complex and sack his top-brass. Looking back on it, Rust’s escapade was historic. His landing in Red Square was an unignorable symbol, the writing on the wall, a sign that the all-powerful Soviet Union was no longer fully in control. At the time, however, no one recognized its significance.

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0 thoughts on “Matthias Rust’s Daring Flight

  1. Mark,
    Very interesting your post…
    do you know the exact place were Rust landed for refueling and the exact path of his plane over the Russian territory on his course to Moscow.
    with Google Earth it would be interesting to see its path

  2. Small correction:
    Jets were scrambled many times along the way to Moscow but they have never actually saw Rust’s Cessna. They never did communicate with him except for one person.
    Rust crossed the USSR border in the somewhere between Kohtla-Jarve and Narva and went all the way to Narva where he flew side-by-side with AN-2 of local jumpers club. I spoke personally with the pilot who saw Rust’s Cessna. His story was: “I was trying radio but he did not respond, then we used hand jestures and he showed me that he turns South from here-on”. And that was the end of it.
    Half way down to Moscow Rust landed to refuel and to put a sticker on a side of his plane. He was observed by local farmers.
    Soviet Anti-aircraft divisions were upside-down all this time and I personally was interrogated by KGB. THey have asked how did I know someone would land on a Red Square. We were flying that day and KGB grounded us 5 times to count all gliders. On their fifths visit I told them to catch the plane on Red Square (that was my bad joke that turned-out to become a reality).

    After the incident all over USSR AN-2s were flying without flight plans with KGB permits checking the air defense. As far as I know no AN-2 was ever found in the air by any division of defense.

    Whatever military tells us – they are not capable of detecting a small Cessna flying above the highway at 100MpH.

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