Posted On: Saturday - May 27th 2023 6:40PM MST
In Topics:   General Stupidity  The Russians  History
This happened 36 years ago tomorrow - we hardly ever post on Sundays, though.
Well, it's not a very round numbered anniversary, but we didn't think about it last year and who knows what we'll be blogging about 4 years from now?
Peak Stupidity has a thing for these wild men and their daring deeds in their flying machines or exits therefrom. We celebrated DB Cooper's jump out of the back of a Boeing 727 at night through the clouds in Washington State just north of Portland, Oregon 50 years later, to the minute! Then, we blogged about Larry Walters and his flight up to 16,000 ft. over the Los Angeles basin in a lawn chair held aloft by weather balloons, 40 years after the day.
It's time for another anniversary of the exploits of a another somewhat nutty young man. 18 y/o German Mathias Rust flew a rented Reims* P-model Cessna 172 and landed it in Red Square in the heart of downtown Moscow on the Thursday May 28th of 1987. Red Square, in a simlar fashion as Tienanmen Square (also a "red square" in a couple of ways) in the heart of Peking China, was near the Kremlin, Command Central of Mother Russia. Well, it was the USSR still, as the Cold War was still ongoing in 1987. (This is why I used the term "West German" in the post title. There was a big difference then!)
He could have been shot out of the sky but for a number of factors, confusion - his small primary-radar echo was thought to have possibly just been a flight of geese, some hesitation and perhaps mercy - a request for permission to engage by interceptors was denied - and then a loss of radar coverage by the Soviets.
Per the Aviation Geek website, with a nice retrospective on the event - The story of Mathias Rust, the German teenager who humiliated the Soviet War Machine by landing his Cessna 172 in Moscow’s Red Square - things would have gone a lot worse for young Mr. Rust had this been the "deepest, darkest" days of the Cold War. It'd call them the 1950's through 60's, but that is arguable. (That's what the comment section is all about, people.)
This was a crazy stunt, but it's not why I think Mathias Rust was a nut, like Lawnchair Larry and, more so, D.B. Cooper. He was young and very inexperienced (50 hours under his belt), so he could be a bold pilot. Experienced or not, the nuttiness is that Mr. Rust, before this Moscow flight, had spent a lot of time flying over cold, cold water and large stretches of it in a single piston-engined plane. He'd flown over the North Sea to Scotland, the Faroe Islands, and even Iceland. He'd flown from Keflavik, Iceland to Bergen, Norway in one leg, of which 600-odd nautical miles were over water. He had ferry tanks placed where the back seat normally is, as some of his routes (including his famed one) surely required it. That one stretch, at at 110 knots airpeed, would have been 4-6 hours, depending on the winds aloft. (That engine burns ~ 7 gallons/hour when leaned out at altitude. The normal tanks hold 38 G useable, so at 4 hours, one should be on the way down to an airport.)
One should keep in mind that GPS was not available to aircraft in 1987, with light aircraft being lucky to have them by the mid-1990s. This matters a lot for the overwater flying for 2 reasons:
1) One must have good ded reckoning skills or he will be Dead, Reckoning.
2) Were one going down into the water after an engine failure or fuel starvation, even if miraculously ditching succesfully and not succumbing to drowning and/or hypothermia, and he got off a MayDay all, he'd be doing well to report an position accurate to 50 miles. That's a HUGE area to be searched. It scare me just thinking about it.
Anyway, that May 28th in '87, Mr. Mathias took off from Helsinki's Malmi field just after Noontime, telling the tower and/or departure controllers he was heading west to Stockholm. Instead he turned east after a short while, quit talking on the radio, and was then out of radar contact by Espoo, Finland, on the northern shore of the fairly narrow Bay of Finland. He crossed the Estonian coastline, flying
One can read elsewhere about the story of the Soviet defenses and such. Mathias Rust made his landing at Red Square about 7P local time. Moscow is in the same time-zone as Helsinki, so that was a nearly 7 hour flight.
The Aviation Geek article describes the Soviet take on the matter this way:
The fact a Western Sport pilot could sneak into the Soviet Union and land in front of the Kremlin at the very heart of the Soviet Empire resonated far beyond Soviet Borders. All the Billions of Rubles spent on Soviet Air Defenses, and the very existence of the Soviet Air Defense Forces (PVO) appeared to be a gigantic waste of money. After all, how could the Soviet Military defend the Rodina (Motherland) from Western Air Attack if they couldn’t even stop a 50-hour Private Pilot in the world’s most common light aircraft? However, the events of that flight showed both a liberalizing trend within the Soviet System, and a mishmash of command-and-control miss-coordination which resulted in Rust’s Cessna being allowed to continue flying all the way to the heart of the Soviet Empire.Hmmm, I detect shades of the Chinese "weather balloon" story.
Mr. Rust was arrested and put on trial 4 months later, in September of '87 (much better treatment for him than for our own Political Prisoners, I'd say). He was sentenced to 4 years in a labor camp for hooliganism - "hooliganism", what CAN'T that cover?! - and for disregard of aviation laws, and for breaching the Soviet border. He wasn't put in a labor camp, just a normal prison that I'm sure was safer than a modern American one, and then he got out in just under a year, as a goodwill gesture by the USSR after the signing of the latest nuclear missle treaty by Reagan and Gorbachev.
Per his Wiki bio Mr. Mathias' later life had some serious problems, just as with Mr. Walters, and, well, forget Mr. Cooper, as it's doubful he had a later life.
While doing his obligatory community service (Zivildienst) in a West German hospital in 1989, Rust stabbed a female co-worker who had rejected him. The victim barely survived. He was convicted of injuring her and sentenced to two and a half years in prison, but was released after 15 months. Since then he has lived a fragmented life, describing himself as a "bit of an oddball". After being released from court, he converted to Hinduism in 1996 to become engaged to a daughter of an Indian tea merchant. In 2001, he was convicted of stealing a cashmere pullover and ordered to pay a fine of 10,000 DM, which was later reduced to 600 DM. A further brush with the law came in 2005, when he was convicted of fraud and had to pay a €1,500 fine. In 2009 Rust described himself as a professional poker player. Most recently, in 2012, he described himself as an analyst at a Zurich-based investment bank.It takes an oddball to do these sorts of stunts, but the world appreciates a few oddballs. Peak Stupidity sure does, anyway.
Aviation Geek relates this homor out of the Soviet people after the political embarrassment of Mathias Rust's flight of diplomacy to Moscow.
After Mathias Rust’s landing in Red Square, Muscovites joked the place was now Sheremetyevo 3, as Sheremetyevo 1 and 2 Airports are still Moscow’s primary international airports.Nice flying, Mathias Rust!
* Reims is the variant that was built in France, under liscense from Cessna Aircraft (of Wichita, Kansas).
[UPDATED 05/29:] Corrected direction of Keflavik to Bergen flight and associated winds aloft time enroute or over water.