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Profile: Mathias Rust
Mathias Rust was a participant or observer in the following events:
Mathias Rust Landing in Moscow. [Source: sssss]In a quixotic attempt to ease Cold War tensions, a German teenager named Mathias Rust penetrates Soviet air defenses and flies all the way from Helsinki to Moscow, finally landing within yards of the Kremlin. His success in defeating Soviet air security is called “a national shame” by Mikhail Gorbachev, who promptly sacks a number of top military officers.
Entering Soviet Airspace - According to a detailed recounting of Rust’s flight in Air & Space Magazine, his small Cessna is seen on Soviet radar as soon as he enters Soviet air space in what—after the break-up of the Soviet Union—is Estonia and, since he is not on a pre-approved flight, “three missile units were put on alert.” Throughout his flight, Rust takes no special measures to evade radar and simply flies straight toward Moscow at about 1,000 feet above ground. As he flies deeper inland, Soviet controllers continue to monitor his progress; “army units [are] put on high alert and two fighter-interceptors [… are] scrambled to investigate.” One of the interceptors reports seeing a small plane but takes no further action. It is unclear why Rust is not immediately forced to land or simply shot down.
More Fighters Scrambled - About two hours later, as Rust enters another radar sector, the same sequence of events takes place: he is seen on radar, two fighters are scrambled. “A Soviet MIG-23 pull[s] up beside him.” Once again, for reasons that will not be established, the commander on the ground takes no further action: “the fighter pilot’s commander either did not believe the pilot’s report or did not think it was significant, so the information was never passed up the chain of command.” As he continues to Moscow, Rust’s plane is never lost to radar, but controllers fail to realize that he is an unauthorized foreign plane—there are no such things in the Soviet Union—and conclude that he must be a “student” or “a helicopter on a search-and-rescue mission.”
"Ring of Steel" - Although Rust has turned off his transponder, air controllers decide to assign him a “friendly” designation, assuming he is a Soviet pilot who has forgotten to turn it on. As he approaches Moscow, Rust “pass[es] the outermost belt of Moscow’s vaunted ‘Ring of Steel,’ an elaborate network of anti-aircraft defenses that since the 1950s had been built up as a response to the threat of US bombers. The rings of missile placements circle the city […] but were not designed to fend off a single, slow-flying Cessna.” Finally, Rust reaches the outskirts of Moscow. The city’s airspace is restricted, with all overflights prohibited. “At about this time, Soviet investigators would later tell Rust, radar controllers realize[…] something [is] terribly wrong, but it [is] too late for them to act.”
Mass Firings - The Soviet leadership’s reaction to the military’s bungling will be swift. Within days, the defense minister and air defense chief will be sacked and later “hundreds of other officers [will be] fired or replaced […]. It will be the biggest turnover in the Soviet military command since Stalin’s bloody purges of the 1930s.” [New York Times, 6/7/1987; Air & Space Magazine, 6/1/2005; Washington Post, 5/27/2007]
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