Thursday, 29 March 2012

Landung auf dem Rotem Platz - Cessna to Red Square, the notorious flight of Mathias Rust

German Mathias Rust made headlines in May 1987 as a 19-year-old when he flew a Cessna 172 all the way to Moscow via Iceland and Helsinki, a flight that appears on at least one listing of the Top Ten most remarkable flights in the history of aviation. Although he was shadowed for part of the trip by a Russia MiG 23, since the shootdown of the Korean B747 the Soviet air defences required high level authorisations to intercept civilian 'intruders' and the assumption must be that this incursion was not felt to warrant such measures - until it was too late. Rust was sentenced to four years in a Soviet labour camp and served 432 days before returning to Hamburg in 1988. Rust described his motives for undertaking the flight in a later interview with the Guardian newspaper;

".. I was 19 and very political. I was interested in relations between East and West, particularly the Reykjavik meeting between Gorbachev and Reagan. I realised that the aircraft was the key to peace. I could use it to build an imaginary bridge between East and West. I didn't tell anybody about my plan because I was convinced my family or friends would stop me. I didn't think much about what would happen afterwards. My main focus was on my mission to get there and land. I believed that something would work out..."

" For Rust, the flight was going flawlessly. He had no problem identifying the landmarks he had chosen as waypoints, and he was confident that his goal was within reach. “I had a sense of peace,” he says. “Everything was calm and in order.” He passed the outermost belt of Moscow’s vaunted “Ring of Steel,” an elaborate network of anti-aircraft defenses that since the 1950s had been built up as a response to the threat of U.S. bombers. The rings of missile placements circled the city at distances of about 10, 25, and 45 nautical miles, but were not designed to fend off a single, slow-flying Cessna. At just after 6 p.m., Rust reached the outskirts of Moscow. The city’s airspace was restricted, with all overflights—both military and civilian—prohibited. At about this time, Soviet investigators would later tell Rust, radar controllers realized something was terribly wrong, but it was too late for them to act..."   (Tom Lecompte - The notorious flight of Mathias Rust)

“At first, I thought maybe I should land inside the Kremlin wall, but then I realized that although there was plenty of space, I wasn’t sure what the KGB might do with me,” he remembers. “If I landed inside the wall, only a few people would see me, and they could just take me away and deny the whole thing. But if I landed in the square, plenty of people would see me, and the KGB couldn’t just arrest me and lie about it. So it was for my own security that I dropped that idea.”.

Rust flew a few cicuits around  Red Square before putting down on a wide bridge.

"..As he circled, Rust noticed that between the Kremlin wall and the Hotel Russia, a bridge with a road crossed the Moscow River and led into Red Square. The bridge was about six lanes wide and traffic was light. The only obstacles were wires strung over each end of the bridge and at its middle. Rust figured there was enough space to come in over the first set of wires, drop down, land, and then taxi under the other wires and into the square. Rust came in steeply, with full flaps, his engine idling. As planned, he came in over the first set of wires, dropped down, and flared for landing. As he rolled out under the middle set of wires, Rust noticed an old Volga automobile in front of him. “I moved to the left to pass him,” Rust says, “and as I did I looked and saw this old man with this look on his face like he could not believe what he was seeing. I just hoped he wouldn’t panic and lose control of the car and hit me.”  (Tom Lecompte - The notorious flight of Mathias Rust)

Rust in his red flying overalls handed out autographs and chatted to passers-by in Red Square - before being arrested !

Der Kreml-Flug von Mathias Rust sorgte weltweit für Schlagzeilen   - Mathias Rust's Kremlin flight  resulted in headlines worldwide (screen grab from NDR Fernsehen Tageschau of 29 May 1987)

Rust returned to Hamburg the following summer having been pardoned by the Russians and released on 3 August 1988, a benevolent action hailed by the then West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Rust's aircraft had been flown back to Germany as early as October 1987 having been bought by a businessman for DM160,000. Cessna D-ECJB is currently on display at the Deutches Technik Museum in Berlin. (photo credit Skyhawk)

The best account of Rust's flight that I have read was written by Tom Lecompte and published on the Air & Space Smithsonian web site

Disclaimer - images used on this private non-commercial blog are reproduced here solely for the purposes of depicting an historic event, the incursion of Mathias Rust's airplane into Soviet restricted airspace and his landing in Red Square, and as such may fall into the category of fair-use under copyright law. If such is deemed necessary, they can be removed by simple request.

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