Military Aviation

That Time two Su-27 Fighters Forced to Land an Irish-Flown Estonian-Registered L-29 Trainer Flying an Alleged Spy Mission over Russia

On receiving orders to force the intruder down at Neevenskoye AB Pilot 1st Class Capt. Andrey N. Oleynik rocked his wings, giving the ‘follow me’ signal. The L-29 pilot, however, started reducing speed in the hope that the fighter would overshoot…

At 1438 hrs Moscow time on Jan. 15, 1998 a Baltic Fleet/Kaliningrad Air Defence District radar detected an aircraft travelling along an international airway over Lake Wysztyniecko in Poland. Soon afterwards target 1962 (military radar operators refer to any aircraft showing up on their radarscopes as a ‘target’) left the airway and proceeded along the Russian border.

As told by Yefim Gordon and Dmitriy Komissarov in their book Sukhoi Su-27 & 30/33/34/35, an incursion seemed increasingly likely, so PVO Officer of the Day Col. V. Mironenko called the force on maximum alert. At 1450 hrs the unidentified aircraft indeed entered Russian airspace, travelling at 1,500 m (4,920 ft) and 210 km/h (130 mph). Seven minutes later a Baltic Fleet/689th OIAP Su-27P on QRA duty (’04 Red’, c/n 36911029209) flown by Pilot 1st Class Capt. Andrey N. Oleynik scrambled from Neevenskoye AB to intercept the intruder — or possibly assist an aircraft in distress. The mission was controlled by RAdm. A. Rimashevskiy (Baltic Fleet) and Col. A. Anokhin (Kaliningrad Air Defence District).

L-29 ES-YLE

At 1502 hrs Oleynik spotted the intruder, identifying it as a Czechoslovak-built Aero L-29 Delfin (Dolphin, NATO reporting name Maya) advanced trainer painted black overall and registered ES-YLE. The Estonian-registered warbird (c/n 294872) was staging from Tallinn to Cambridge via Kaunas and Gdansk, piloted by two Irish nationals, Mark Jeffries and Clive Davison. At the time of intercept, the jet was 20 km (12.4 miles) inside Russian territory.

On receiving orders to force the intruder down at Neevenskoye AB Oleynik rocked his wings, giving the ‘follow me’ signal. The other pilot, however, started reducing speed in the hope that the fighter would overshoot; then the L-29 dived into clouds and headed due north, attempting to escape Russian airspace. At 1504 hrs the crew sent a ‘Mayday’ call. To stop the intruder from getting away, Su-27UB ’61 Red’ flown by Sniper Pilot Lt.-Col. Valeriy B. Shekoorov and Lt.-Col. Sergey V. Nesynov, which was due to fly a weather reconnaissance sortie, was diverted to intercept. At 1514 hrs the crew of the L-29 contacted Russian ATC; six minutes later, closely followed by its pursuers, the trainer landed at Kaliningrad-Khrabrovo airport.

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The crew was arrested and questioned by counter-intelligence and immigration officers. The pilots claimed that strong headwinds and snow reducing visibility had necessitated a diversion. However, this was disputed by the Russian Air Defence’s weather service. Examination of the L-29 showed it was not fitted with any reconnaissance equipment, and eventually the aircraft and crew were released. In best Cold War style, both sides rode hard on the incident; the Russian media intimated that the L-29’s pilots had a military back-ground and the jet was on a premeditated spy mission, while Jeffries and Davison expounded on the ‘aggressive actions’ of the Russian fighters in their press interviews. Anyway, the fighter pilots were highly commended by the Baltic Fleet’s Command for this intercept.

Sukhoi Su-27 & 30/33/34/35 is published by Crecy and is available to order here.

Photo credit: Fedor Leukhin, Aleksandr Markin via Wikipedia and Unknown

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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