Tag Archives: Viktor Belenko

SR-71 Blackbird was so fast it outran every missile, Mig fighter jet encountered over enemy territory

Even if the development of the hypersonic strike aircraft dubbed SR-72 has been recently announced, its predecessor, the iconic Mach 3 SR-71 Blackbird, remains one of the fastest planes ever flown operationally.

When the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft was built, its designer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson already knew that it would have become vulnerable to enemy defenses.

So, to gather intelligence in the skies of foreign countries, in 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that the Lockheed Advance Development Projects, also known as the Skunk Works, built another strategic reconnaissance aircraft, so fast that no other airplane could reach it: the SR-71 Blackbird.

When the SR-71 entered the active service with the U.S. Air Force, its flight characteristics were incredible: it was able to fly at more than three and a half times the speed of sounds at 88,000 feet, over sixteen miles up.

To give an idea of such altitude, the Blackbird took photos from three times the height of Everest and its pilots dressed full pressure suits like astronauts.

During its career, which ceased on Oct. 9 1999 with its last flight, no SR-71 was lost due to hostile actions.

In fact, neither enemy fighters nor enemy surface to air missiles (SAM) were ever able to shoot down or to damage a SR-71.

But the aircraft was never shot down also because it was hardly detected by enemy radars, being the first aircraft featuring stealth technology. Indeed, for the first time a special paint was used for Blackbird’s wings, tail and fuselage: since it contained iron ferrites, this paint absorbed radar energy instead of returning it to the sender.

With an RCS (Radar Cross Section) of a small light aircraft, when the SR-71 was found on radar it was too late for a SAM computer to estimate its direction for a successful kill.

The range and the bearing of the SR-71 was also denied to the enemy by jamming its devices with the use of the sophisticated electronic countermeasures (ECM) transported by the Blackbird.

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Not only SAMs failed to catch the Blackbird: even the the fastest Soviet fighter jets lacked the necessary speed to reach the SR-71.

Soviet pilot Viktor Belenko, who defected to Japan in a MiG-25 on Dec. 6, 1976, confirmed it in its “MiG Pilot” book.

“American reconnaissance planes, SR-71s, were prowling off the coast, staying outside Soviet airspace by photographing terrain hundreds of miles inland with side – angle cameras. They taunted and toyed with the 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,” Belenko explained.

However, according to the Mig pilot, Russians tried to intercept and shoot down a Blackbrid, but they always failed this task: “[The Soviets] had a master plan to intercept an SR-71 by positioning a MiG-25 in front of it and one below it, and when the SR-71 passed they would fire missiles. But it never occurred. Soviet computers were very primitive, and there is no way that mission can be accomplished.”

“First of all, the SR-71 flies too high and too fast. The MiG-25 cannot reach it or catch it. Secondly…the missiles are useless above 27,000 meters [88,000 feet], and as you know, the SR-71 cruises much higher. But even if we could reach it, our missiles lack the velocity to overtake the SR-71 if they are fired in a tail chase. And if they are fired head-on, the guidance systems cannot adjust quickly enough to the high closing speed”.

Moreover, as recently told by the former Blackbird pilot Col. Richard H. Graham in his book “SR-71 The Complete Illustrated History of THE BLACKBIRD The World’s Highest , Fastest Plane”, Belenko’s missiles would have not worked because “Most air- to-air missiles are optimized to maneuver in the thicker air below around 30,000 feet in order to shoot down an enemy plane. Firing at the SR-71, cruising at 75,000 feet, the air is so thin that any maneuvering capability of the missile is practically nonexistent.”

Speed is the new stealth is Lockheed Martin’s new slogan. But has worked well for the last 60 years….

David Cenciotti contributed to this story.

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Image credit: U.S. Air Force via SR-71 FB page

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Mig-25 defection: How a Soviet Pilot Brought a Secret Warplane To The West

The story of Viktor Belenko, a Mig-25 pilot who defected to the United States via Japan on Sept. 6, 1976.

The then Lieutenant Belenko was a pilot with the 513th Fighter Regiment, 11th Air Army, based in Chuguyevka, Primorsky Krai, in the east of the country.  When he brought his Mig-25 “Foxbat” to Hakodate he gave the Western intelligence officers the opportunity to give a first close look at one of the most secret airplanes of those years: a supersonic interceptor featuring a powerful radar, four air-to-air missiles and a top speed above Mach 3.

In order to assist the American experts in evaluating the aircraft, Belenko brought with him the pilot’s manual for the MiG-25 “Foxbat”, expecting to assist American pilots in evaluating and testing the aircraft.

Even if the Japanese government didn’t originally give full access to the plane, the Americans were later invited to examine the aircraft extensively: the Mig was dismantled for such purpose and later returned to the Soviet Union.

In his “Mig pilot” book (1983) John Barron claims that Viktor Belenko’s defection was completely voluntary and was the result of Belenko’s distrust on communist regime.

The MiG was delivered to Japan without the missiles, which were to be introduced in the Belenko’s training later on.

The mission was launched earlier than initially planned, because the KGB was about to stop Viktor Ivanovich Belenko from defection.

Although pilot defections during the Cold War were not a rarity, what made Belenko’s defection unique was the fact that the MiG-25 was completely unknown in the West.

This is the main point to bear in mind when thinking about Belenko and, unfortunately, this fact is often forgotten.

The ideological background for the events which took place in 1976 is deeply rooted in the beginnings of the post-war period.

As the Cold War was in progress there were many incidents and crises which closely led to a confrontation of the two superpowers.

One of these events was Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spy flight on of May 1, 1960.

Power’s U-2 took off from USAF Peshawar Air Base in Pakistan for a GRAND SLAM mission, to investigate the Soviet missile and plutonium production plants.

Targets were Sverdlovsk, Plesetsk (ICBM sites) and Mayak – a plutonium plant.

The U-2 was a plane designed to fly well above the Soviet air defense Surface to Air Missile systems.

Its operational ceiling was out of the range of the Soviet interceptors and missiles but Powers’ flight was expected, all of the units and surface-to-air defenses were put on alert.

The MiGs pilots were ordered to ram the aircraft if necessary. The U-2 was eventually shot down by an S-75 Dvina missile near Degtayrsk in the Ural region.  Because of high g-force Powers had no chance of reaching the airplane’s self-destruction button and had to eject.

What is interesting is the fact that SAM crews did not know that the plane had already been shot down because MiG’s’ IFF transponders were not updated (May 1st is a national holiday), therefore several MiG’s were also shot down by S-75 rockets.

The political consequences of the spyflight were severe.

Shortly after the incident the Americans created a cover up story for Powers’ failure. NASA had announced in a very specific press release that the pilot, having lost consciousness due to the problems with the oxygen equipment, had strayed into the Soviet territory with his autopilot engaged while doing a weather flight.

On May 7, Khrushchev announced that Powers has survived the crash and, nine days later, on May 16, 1960, during a Four Powers Paris Summit meeting with Harald MacMillan, Charles de Gaulle and Dwight Eisenhower  he called the U-2 incident an act of a “deliberate aggression.”

Eisenhower refused to apologize for the incident, claiming that the U-2 flight was not of aggressive nature, having only a purpose of ensuring US safety. The meeting collapsed.

At the time, Eisenhower was a proponent of so-called Open-Sky Policy, according to which both sides would allow for reciprocal reconnaissance flights over their territories. Khrushchev did not agree. Powers was sentenced to 7 years of hard labor in a Gulag, but he was exchanged for a Russian spy Rudolf Abel on the famous Glinecke Bridge in Potsdam, connecting West and East Germany.

Gary Powers incident sparked the development of the American Oxcart programme, with the goal to design the SR-71 spy plane, which in addition to flying high, also flew very fast, out of the range of the Soviet missiles’ operational envelope.

What is more, a D-21 drone reconnaissance system was created, to be carried by SR-71 as a parasite. The drone would be dropped, fly over the Soviet Union, return over the Pacific and drop the reconnaissance materials on a parachute.

Both these designs led to the development of a Soviet countermeasure – the MiG-25, known in NATO code as the Foxbat.

To be continued…

Image credit: Leonid Faerberg (transport-photo.com)

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