Pilot Viktor Belenko, who hijacked a Soviet MiG-25 interceptor fighter to Japan and sought political asylum in the United States, died in the US. He was 76.
The pilot, who literally brought USSR's advanced technology to Western specialists, died on September 24. A routine notice of his death appeared in the obituaries section of The Washington Post two weeks later. The New York Times published an article about Viktor Belenko's life in November.
Belenko's sons Tom and Paul were staying with their father at the time of his death. The pilot got married in the USA, but later divorced. He is survived by two children and four grandchildren. They decided not to hold a memorial service.
On September 6, 1976, Belenko took off from Sokolovka airfield in Russia's Far East to perform a flight exercise. An hour later he crossed the Soviet-Japanese border. A Japanese radio station later reported that the MiG-25P aircraft with tail number 31 landed on the island of Hokkaido.
On September 9, the pilot was flown to the United States. On September 28, Soviet state-run news agency TASS published a press release from the USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The agency said that the airplane was forced to land in Japan, and the pilot was taken to the United States against his will.
The agency clarified the same day that Belenko's landing in Hokkaido occurred under unclear circumstances.
A large-scale investigation that was carried out in the USSR revealed that the pilot was not recruited by US special services nor did he have any selfish motives. Belenko later said that he committed his act for political reasons.
In 1980, Congress granted American citizenship to the Soviet pilot. Belenko took a different surname — Schmidt — and started moving from one small town to another in the Midwest.
After the end of the Cold War, the pilot came to the public attention and started calling himself Viktor Belenko again. He worked part-time consulting US authorities on Soviet aviation issues. He also read lectures at American military educational institutions, and acted as an expert in mass media and on television.
On September 28, 1976, the pilot's wife Lyudmila Belenko and his stepmother came to a press conference in Moscow. The family asked him to return to his homeland, but received no response.
In 2006, Lyudmila Belenko said in an interview that her husband had never contacted her in 30 years. One day she was told that Viktor Belenko applied to the consulate in San Francisco with a request to return him to the USSR. He allegedly wanted to tell the truth about his act.
The hijacked MiG-25 plane was disassembled and studied in detail by Japanese and American specialists. It was returned to the USSR in 1976.
The National Interest wrote that defector pilots provided significant assistance in uncovering Soviet military secrets.
Popular Mechanics reported that the fighter jet amazed its contemporaries with altitude and speed records. The MiG-25 became an example of effective aviation technology. After the Soviet pilot flew the MiG-25 to Japan, experts were surprised to find out that the airframe was made of steel, not titanium. They earlier assumed that the Soviet airplane would be made similarly to the American strategic supersonic reconnaissance aircraft SR-71 Blackbird. Having studied the aircraft, US specialists could evaluate its limited capabilities of radar detection of targets in the lower hemisphere.
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