On a late summer day, 1976, an aircraft appeared on the radar off the coast of Hokkaido in northern Japan. It was flying just 100 feet above the water to avoid detection. It suddenly climbed to 20,000 feet. Clearly, the flight crew wanted to make a statement.
The aircraft flew towards the port city Hakodate in the southwest. The aircraft circled the airport two times, before preparing to land. It was a Soviet fighter plane that nearly hit a 727 as it touched ground. It drove past the end the tarmac. It blew out the front wheel. And it came to a halt not far away from a busy road.
As ground crews rushed toward it, the plane’s canopy opened. A blond, sturdy man with a gun appeared and fired two shots to warn offlookers. When the authorities arrived he went down to meet them.
Viktor Belenko was his name. He said he was there with his supersonic interceptor, the MiG-25, to defect. For years, the plane was a source of fear for Western militaries. Thanks to Lieutenant Belenko’s work, they now had a clean specimen to study. George Bush, who was then the Director of Central Intelligence Agency at the time, described the incident as an “unfortunate accident”. “intelligence bonanza.”
Lieutenant Belenko, an American who settled in Rosebud in Southern Illinois, died at a senior-living center on the 24th of September. He was 76. Paul Schmidt, his son, said that the death of his father, which wasn’t widely reported, was due to a short illness.
Viktor Belenko is the flower for communist youth. Born into proletarian poverty, he had worked himself up through the career and party ranks to become a member of the country’s elite Air Defense Forces, a separate branch from the Soviet Air Force that was charged with defending the motherland from attack.
He became disillusioned by the Soviet system along the way. He was promised material reward for his hard work, but he felt, despite being an elite, that he had been treated like a cog in a creaking machine.
He kept his doubts to himself — so much so that in the early 1970s he received the choicest of assignments: to train on the MiG-25, one of the Soviets’ newest weapons.
Through the 1950s and ’60s, the United States and the Soviet Union had fought a high-altitude arms race, building bigger, faster bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States won the high-altitude arms race with the Soviet Union. They built bigger, faster bombers and reconnaissance aircraft.
Then in the early 70s, American intelligence agencies detected a brand new aircraft in the Soviet inventory: an enormous jet fighter that was capable of flying at speeds several times higher than sound and for miles above Earth.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization refers to the MiG-25 as the aircraft. “Foxbat,” It also had wide wings that suggested it was highly maneuverable. The West feared this weapon for years, thinking it could take down supersonic jets and bombers that were flying through Soviet airspace without any fear.
Now Lieutenant Belenko would give them one of these as a present.
He plotted his escape months in advance, waiting for his squadron to go on a non-armed training mission above the Sea of Japan. His colleagues were unable to stop his escape.
After landing, Japanese officials turned Lieutenant Belenko over to the Americans. After a few days, the plane was dissected, analyzed, and returned to the Soviets in pieces. Lieutenant Belenko, after obtaining asylum in the United States, flew there to be interviewed.
The MiG-25 ended up being a paper bird. Its large wingspan was not to increase maneuverability but rather to lift the plane with its 15 tons fuel off the earth. It couldn’t even do its job: Though it flew fast, it was no match for the American aircraft it was meant to take down.
What Lieutenant Belenko told Americans about the morale and conditions of the Soviet army was very valuable.
American officials have long thought that Soviet military personnel are chiseled, supermen. Lieutenant Belenko revealed they were often starved to death, beaten up and confined in small living quarters.
He was amazed to discover that sailors could eat unlimited quantities of food for free on an aircraft carrier in the United States. He bought a can in an grocery store without realizing it was pet food. When it was pointed out to him, he shrugged it off and said that the food tasted just as good as the food available for humans in Soviet Union.
And he was astounded to learn about the inadequacies of his aircraft’s inner workings, which, despite his elite status, he had never been allowed to see.
“If my regiment could see five minutes of what I saw today,” He told a friend. “there would be a revolution.”
Viktor Ivanovich Belenko is a Russian born in Nalchik at the foothills Caucasus Mountains.
His father worked at a factory and his mother was a farmer. They had little money, even by Soviet standards. Viktor was dedicated to his studies as well as his Communist Party involvement. He joined the Young Pioneers youth group, which trains future party members.
He had no idea what life was like in America. His only thought was that it must be better than the Soviet Union.
“I have been longing for freedom in the United States,” According to the Japanese Police, he said. “Life in the Soviet Union has not changed from that existing in the days of Czarist Russia, where there had been no freedom.”
Congress passed In 1980, a law was passed to grant Mr. Belenko the right to citizenship. He took the name Schmidt to avoid attention and moved frequently, mostly in small towns throughout the Midwest. He was a consultant for aerospace companies and government agencies.
Coral Garaas, his wife, divorced him. Tom Schmidt and four grandchildren also survive Mr. Belenko, along with his son Paul Schmidt. Mr. Belenko said that despite some reports claiming he left behind a wife, child and other family members in the Soviet Union – this was false and a result of Soviet propaganda.
He began making occasional appearances in air shows after the Cold War and returned to his original name, Viktor Belenko. But he did not try to cash in on his international fame.
“He lived the most private life,” Paul’s son said. “He flew under the radar, literally and figuratively.”