At the beginning of 1976, an international scandal broke out: A Soviet Air Force pilot, Viktor Belenko, escaped the USSR together with the newest MiG-25 jet. He landed in Japan first and then asked for asylum in the USA. In the Soviet country he left a wife and four kids. He never saw them again.
During training flights, when a top Soviet general arrived at Vladivostok, he decided to escape. He disappeared from radars instantly. It looked like his plane had plunged and was going straight down into the sea, and he was dead. Emergency rescue teams went in search. However it came out later that he cheated the radars. He dove down but didn’t crash – he flew away at a very low altitude and flew in the shadow of a huge nearby mountain.
This photo above was taken right after he landed on a civil air field in Japan.
The Japanese air force was urgently called in to intercept him. However, as soon as they began tracking his plane, it disappeared from their radars. He plunged again and now landed at a civil airport. After the jet landed the pilot quickly exited the jet and demanded that the hide him from everyone. Then he asked for a asylum in the USA.
This was his jet, hidden under a temporary hangar.
Soviet officials didn’t want to believe that their pilot escaped. They thought he just got lost and had to land in Japan due to some emergency, and after he landed, the Japanese took him hostage and were now giving him some drug to make him speak.
However, later another Soviet pilot was asked to repeat all of the maneuvers Dmitry made, and they could see that it was not an accident but rather a well thought out scheme to escape the Soviet radars. So they started to believe he escaped voluntarily.
This is his plane and his photo above.
The same year, the Soviet government made a press release that the Soviet jet landed in Japan by emergency. They brought the pilot’s wife and mother onto the TV and asked them to refute any rumors that their son and husband has escaped. He was just 29 years old at the time. He had a very good reputation, however he did ask to be transferred to the Pacific Air Force Unit just a few months before his escape. Here is a photo of him greeting American pilots.
His plane was wanted by all of the intelligence agency around the world. It was a rare and unique plane, it could achieve record speeds and altitudes. It was the most modern and most top secret Soviet Air Force jet at the time. All Soviet airfields that had these planes were subsequently secured by special Spetsnaz forces.
The USSR demanded Japan immediately return the pilot and the jet. While international talks were taking place, the jet was disassembled, put into containers and sent to the USA. There it was meticulously studied and sent back to Japan. Japan returned the jet to the USSR two years after the incident. The Soviet Union said their losses were over 2 billion rubles. Japan paid them retribution of just 7 million rubles.
Belenko was a top class pilot, however everyone who knew him said he was too ambitious. He thought his merits were highly underestimated in USSR. Some thought he was hired by the US intelligence services some time before his defection, and he had to land at a US air base in Japan but he became afraid he would be shot down before he got there, so he landed at the nearest airport.
His behavior was also strange. He went on vacations only to one small town at the Soviet Pacific, even before he started serving there, then after coming back home he didn’t tell anyone what he was doing there. He was studying the English language, and wanted to be transferred to the Pacific. This is his military ID in the picture.
After his escape all Soviet jets doing training were fueled up with only enough fuel for one exercise so they couldn’t make it much further. After Belenko got to the USA he became popular among journalists. He went on to teach in one of the USA’s Military Academies. He was also traveling and telling stories about harsh Soviet realities. He received his American citizenship for “contributing to national security”. He also married an American woman and lived with her for fifteen years.
It’s not very clear if he is still alive, or what he does in the USA now, if he is.