Losses and Aviation Safety

The Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets that collided at RAF Fairford 30 years ago during IAT ‘93

The MiG-29 Fulcrum

The MiG-29 was designed in response to a new generation of American fighters, which included the F-15 and F-16. Designed as an air defense fighter, this dual-purpose aircraft also possessed a ground attack capability. The task of producing a “frontal” or tactical fighter for the Frontal Aviation Regiments of the Soviet Air Force went to the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau (MiG OKB). Employing all the technical data available about the most advanced Western aircraft, the MiG designers started working on the MiG-29 in the early 1970s, and the first prototype made its first flight on Oct. 6, 1977. U.S. reconnaissance satellites detected the new fighter in November 1977, and NATO gave it the designation “Fulcrum.”

Production started in 1982, and deliveries to Frontal Aviation units started in 1983. By comparison, the USAF’s first operational F-15As arrived seven years earlier in 1976, and its F-16As entered operational service four years earlier in 1979.

The Russian MiG-29 Fulcrums that collided at RAF Fairford

Filmed on Jul. 24, 1993 the famous video in this post shows MiG-29s belonging to Russian Flight Research Institute (named after Mikhail M. Gromov (LII)) display team (sponsored by the Aviatika Production  Association affiliated with MAPO) colliding during their performance at the International Air Tattoo ’93 (IAT ’93) airshow at RAF Fairford.

The story behind this incident is quite interesting.

As told by Yefim Gordon and Dmitriy Komissarov in their book Mikoyan MiG-29 & MiG-35, the blue/yellow/black MiG-29s (code ‘526 Black’ and ‘925 Black’ and flown by test pilots Sergey N. Tresvyatskiy and Aleksandr G. Beschastnov) had arrived on Jul. 21 from Prague where they had performed at the Czech Air Force’s 75th anniversary show. For the next two days the pilots were busy practicing. However, the ‘real thing’ – the display on Jul. 24 -culminated in a spectacular collision at 200-250m (660-820 ft) in which Beschastnov’s aircraft (‘925 Black’) was virtually cut in two aft of the cockpit, bursting into flames. Incredibly, both pilots escaped without a scratch, even though one of them had to eject from an inverted position; a BBC announcer said that the pilots had ‘jumped out from under the coffin’s lid’.

The accident information message

The accident information message released by the RAF Inspectorate of Flight Safety (IFS) went as follows:

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  • ‘On 24 Jul 93 at 1527 hrs (local), a pair of MiG-29s of Flight Research Institute took off in close formation to commence their display at the RAF Fairford International Air Tattoo (IAT). The cloud was scattered at 3,000 ft [914m], visibility excellent and surface wind down runway at 8 kts [4 m/sec]. The display was normal until the final manoeuvre which was simultaneous loops commenced from long line astern, prior to a break to land. The leader, who pulled up first, carried out a normal loop. The aircraft entered cloud at the top. The Number 2 commenced his loop with some lead on the first aircraft, executed a slightly tighter loop and experienced difficulties with the cloud. At some stage during the manoeuvre, both pilots lost visual contact with each other and called it. As a result of the Number 2’s tighter loop, the leader was lower as far in front of the Number 2 as he expected. Although still unsighted, the lead pilot decided to carry out his break to downwind, believing it would take him out of the flight path of the other aircraft. Shortly after commencing his break, the left wing of the lead aircraft impacted the fuselage of the number 2 aircraft. Both aircraft immediately became uncontrollable. Both pilots ejected successfully and were uninjured. The aircraft impacted to the NE of the airfield 700 m [2,300 ft] from the crowd line. One aircraft crashed on the perimeter fence and the other about 600 m [1,970 ft] beyond. Remarkably, only one person on the ground received minor injuries. A Belgian C-130, an Italian Air Force [Aeritalia] G222 and a French Air Force Alpha Jet were slightly damaged.
  • An RAF BOI (board of investigation – Auth.) was convened to investigate the circumstances of the accident. Preliminary assessment is that the cause of the collision involved the following factors: flight into cloud, the tighter loop by the Number 2, and the leader’s break without visual contact with his Number 2. Both pilots stated that the aircraft were serviceable prior to the impact.
  • Service and IAT orders and instructions appear valid. It is not clear whether the Russian Research Institute MiG-29s were civilian or military.
  • There are no recommendations at this stage.’

The British reaction to the crash was something like ‘don’tworry too much; you’re not the first, you’re not the last.’ The RAF accepted the costs of recultivating the soil at the crash site while the Russian party paid for the damage to the parked aircraft. The pilots returned to active duty on  Aug. 2, 1993.

The following video features the full display up until the crash.

Mikoyan MiG-29 & MiG-35 is published by Crecy and is available to order here.

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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