Aviation History

The German teenager who humiliated the Soviet War Machine by landing his Cessna 172 in Moscow’s Red Square: the story of Mathias Rust

Mathias Rust

On May 28, 1987, West German Private Pilot Mathias Rust managed to make international headlines by flying his Reims Cessna 172P from Helsinki Finland to a spectacular landing in Moscow’s Red Square. His flight was both an amazing achievement, and an immense humiliation to the Soviet War Machine. Indeed, Gorbachev would attempt to use the fallout from this event to purge anti Glasnost and Perestroika elements from the Soviet Military. His success may be gauged by the Anti-Glasnost Coup of August 1991, which in its own way was a last-ditch effort by the Old Guard of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to maintain the old order.

Rust decided to make a statement with only 50 flying hours under his belt, to pull off what had seemed unthinkable.

A friendly aircraft

When you see the footage, it’s insane how low he flew with all the air defenses you would think would be there, and especially for how he was passed by a MiG jet fighter.

“”It passed me on my left side so close that I could see the two pilots sitting in the cockpit and I saw of course the red star of the wing of the aircraft.”

Rust was terrified, but instead of attacking him, the jet passed by and disappeared into the clouds.

According to BBC, a combination of unbelievable luck and human error had led to Rust’s plane being mistaken for a friendly aircraft.

Mathias Rust’s Cessna preparing to land in Red Square.

A plane crash the previous day, and an ongoing rescue operation, along with training for new pilots had led to confusion in the air and in control centres.

Hundreds of miles across Soviet airspace

Somehow Rust managed to make it hundreds of miles across Soviet airspace to the capital without any further contact from USSR defence forces.

He had wanted to bring down the plane in the middle of Red Square in order to make a big statement but the landmark was packed full of people.

The area he landed at also usually would’ve been impossible to land at as there usually are cables put up for a bridge nearby that would have been in the way, but by chance they were down for maintenance. He was going to land in the middle where all the parades are, but there were too many people so he landed nearby.

You would think the military would go crazy and arrest him in a few seconds, and they got to him of course. But they, and a lot of civilians gathered around him and the plane as well, and laughed about it, applauding his bravery.

Mathias Rust, the pilot of the incident, went through a hard labor camp for 14 months after his peace making actions. In 2012 , 25 years after the incident, he worked as a financial analyst and also a yoga instructor and he still had no regrets.

Photo credit: Udo Grimberg, Lizenz, Andrey Belenko from Moscow, Russia and U.S. Air Force

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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