Soviet Lt. Viktor Belenko became an instant celebrity when he successfully defected to the West by flying his Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat jet fighter across the Sea of Japan to Hakodate, Japan, on Sep. 6, 1976.
Soviet Lt. Viktor I. Belenko carried two personal items – a knee-pad notebook with flight data and a military identity document – on his dramatic flight to freedom in a MiG-25 Foxbat fighter from the USSR to Japan in 1976.
Born in 1947, Belenko was a fighter pilot with the Soviet Air Defense Forces based at Chuguyevka near the eastern perimeter of the Soviet Union. He became an instant celebrity when he successfully defected to the West by flying his Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat jet fighter across the Sea of Japan to Hakodate, Japan, on Sep. 6, 1976.
As we have already explained, on that day Lt Belenko failed to return from a sortie. His superiors would hardly have been too upset if he had crashed into the Sea of Japan; as it were, the news that Belenko had landed at Hakodate International airport came as a severe shock.
According to BBC Future, to evade both Soviet and Japanese military radar, Belenko had to fly very low – about 100ft (30m) above the sea. When he was far enough into Japanese airspace, he took the MiG up to 20,000ft (6,000m) so it could be picked up by Japanese radar. The surprised Japanese tried to hail this unidentified aircraft, but Belenko’s radio was tuned to the wrong frequencies. Japanese fighters were scrambled, but by then, Belenko had dropped below the thick cloud cover again. He disappeared off the Japanese radar screens.
All this time, the Soviet pilot had been flying by guesswork, on the memory of maps he’d studied before he’d taken off. Belenko had intended to fly his aircraft to Chitose airbase, but with fuel running low, he had to land at the nearest available airport. That, as it turned out, was Hakdodate.
The Soviet government put pressure on Japan, demanding the delivery of the purloined ‘Foxbat’ pronto. Since there were no legal reasons not to, the MiG-25 was returned, in dismantled and crated condition. The Japanese did it on purpose to cover up the ‘surgery’ they and the U.S. intelligence experts had undertaken on the MiG.
Western analysts in fact lacked good information about Foxbat’s capabilities until Belenko’s defection. The US Government debriefed him for five months after his defection, and employed him as a consultant for several years thereafter. Belenko had brought with him the pilot’s manual for the MiG-25, expecting to assist American pilots in evaluating and testing the aircraft.
However the Soviet experts were quick to find out just how much the West actually knew. When the MiG-25 was returned to the USSR it was determined that the Americans had run the engines and measured the aircraft’s infra-red signature and also made a detailed analysis of the systems and avionics, including the radar, and the structural materials. Not knowing how to operate the equipment, the Americans had damaged some of it and had to make hasty repairs (foreign fuses and resistors were discovered in the radar set).
The incident got the world press going wild with stories about the MiG-25 and US Defence Secretary Schlesinger stated that the new Soviet interceptor was a sufficiently potent weapon to bring about drastic changes to the Western weapons systems and strategies.
The MiG-25 was of special importance to the Soviet air defence, since (until the MiG-31 Foxhound entered service) the Russians believed it was the only aircraft capable of intercepting the Lockheed SR-71A strategic reconnaissance aircraft.
In 1980 Belenko co-wrote his autobiography, MiG Pilot: The Final Escape of Lieutenant Belenko, where he states that MiG-25 pilots were forbidden to exceed Mach 2.5, and he maintained that the Foxbat could not safely exceed 2.8. When told that MiG-25s flew at Mach 3.2 in the skies over Israel, he said that the engines had been completely destroyed by these speeds, and that the pilots had been lucky to live through the experience.
In his autobiography Belenko claims that SR-71s flew off the coast of Russia, “taunting and toying with MiG-25s sent up to intercept them, scooting up to altitudes the Soviet planes could not reach, and circling leisurely above them, or dashing off at speeds the Russians could not match.”
Loaded with two R-40 missiles (NATO reporting name AA-6 ‘Acrid’), the Foxbat could reach 78,000 feet, but with its full complement of four missiles, it was limited to 68,900 feet. Given that SR-71’s cruise speed was fast than the top speed of Acrid missiles, there was no chance of a tail-chase interception, and apparently the Foxbat’s radar and fire control system was not sophisticated enough to solve the problems of a head-on intercept at closing speeds that would exceed Mach 5.
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