The Story of Alexander Zuyev, the Soviet Pilot who defected to Turkey flying a MiG-29 Fulcrum

The Story of the Soviet Pilot who defected to Turkey flying a MiG-29 Fulcrum

By Dario Leone
Feb 3 2024
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The Soviet Pilot who defected to Turkey flying a MiG-29 Fulcrum

The interesting clip in this post tells the story of Capt. Alexander Zuyev.

Zuyev defected to Turkey in 1989 flying a MiG-29 Fulcrum.  

Zuyev, a MiG-29 pilot with the Baku PVO regiment at Gudauta, a Soviet Air Base in northeast coast of the Black Sea,  flew to Turkey where he requested political asylum in the United States after a shoot-out at Gudauta.

“Take me to hospital,” Zuyev then 28, was quoted as saying upon landing at the airfield at the Black Sea port of Trabzon in northeastern Turkey after a 110-mile flight from Tskhakaya air base near Batumi, in Soviet Georgia.

As then reported by Los Angeles Times, he was treated for a gunshot wound in the right arm at Trabzon University Hospital.

In reporting the defection, Tass then described the defector as “a military pilot who had been discharged from flying duties for health reasons.” It said he attacked a “sentry who was guarding the parking area of combat aircraft and wounded him with firearms.”

The pilot then “hijacked a fighter plane from Tskhakaya airfield to Trabzon air field in Turkey . . . .”

Tass added: “The U.S.S.R. Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested that the Turkish government extradite the criminal offender and return the plane.”

Diplomatic sources said the pilot suffered the gunshot wound in the shoot-out with guards but managed to get the aircraft off the ground and out of Soviet airspace before landing in Trabzon.

Permission to land in Turkey

Zuyev asked for permission to land after entering Turkish airspace. The Trabzon control tower told him to turn back but he insisted on landing.

The MiG-29, then one of the Soviet Union’s most advanced fighters, landed with a cloth cover hanging from parts of its fuselage and damage to the left wing, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Inal Batu said. The plane was fully armed and a pistol was found in the cockpit, Turkey’s semiofficial Anatolian news agency said.

The Story of the Soviet Pilot who defected to Turkey flying a MiG-29 Fulcrum
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The Soviet Foreign Ministry summoned Turkish ambassador Vocan Vural in Moscow and demanded the immediate return of the aircraft and pilot.

Moscow dispatched a plane and a crew to recover the jet, but Turkish authorities refused to permit it to land.

However, the next afternoon, the Soviets were allowed to depart with the airplane, escorted out of Turkish airspace by Turkish Air Force jets.

Finally, I – am American!

A Turkish diplomat said in fact the Ankara government immediately consented to the Soviet request to return the aircraft. “The Turkish government wants to maintain good ties with the Soviet Union,” the diplomat said. “Our governments have agreed that a team of Soviet airmen will go to Trabzon and bring the aircraft back to the Soviet Union.”

Zuyev’s first words at the Turkish airfield were: “Finally, I – am American!” He underwent surgery for his wounds. He was allowed to immigrate to the United States where he settled in San Diego, California, and opened a consulting firm. Zuyev wrote a book titled Fulcrum: A Top Gun Pilot’s Escape from the Soviet Empire. Originally, Zuyev faced criminal charges such as hijacking in the Turkish courts, but the charges were dismissed for political reasons

Zuyev was killed on Jun. 10, 2001 along with Mike Warren when their YAK-52 entered a flat spin and crashed.

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.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

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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