Skip to comments.Syrian pilot's defection in MiG-21 stirs Cold War memories
Posted on 07/02/2012 9:25:40 PM PDT by sukhoi-30mki
Syrian pilot's defection in MiG-21 stirs Cold War memories
Did you hear about the Syrian air force pilot who defected last week to Jordan in his MiG-21 fighter jet?
Probably not. The defection was but a dim and fleeting blip on the international news radar. The world does not much care about an obscure Syrian pilot or a Russian-made jet designed more than 50 years ago.
There was a time, however, when pilot defections were a big, hairy deal. Among the biggest and hairiest was in 1966, at the height of the Cold War, when the MiG-21 was the Soviet Bloc's most advanced jet fighter. The Soviets then had just started delivering MiG-21s to Egypt, Syria and Iraq, Soviet client states openly hostile to Israel. With storm clouds gathering over the Middle East, the Soviets wanted to see how their jets performed in combat.
The Israelis had their own reasons to be curious about the MiG-21. Learning its strengths and weaknesses would give their outnumbered pilots an edge when the shooting started. To that end, Mossad, the famously audacious Israeli intelligence agency, launched Operation Diamond, a secret plan to capture a MiG 21 intact.
Among the proposals was a commando raid on an Egyptian airbase. The commandos would capture and hold the base just long enough for an Israeli pilot to take off in a MiG. Another idea was for an Israeli agent posing as a South African defence official to hijack a Polish MiG while purporting to inspect it. Finally approved was a plan to find and recruit a disgruntled enemy fighter pilot and bribe him to fly a MiG to Israel. The offer would be $1 million.
The first attempt ended in bloody failure when an Egyptian pilot turned in the Mossad agents who had targeted him. Three were hanged and three more sentenced to long prison terms. Their sacrifice was a measure of Israel's determination.
A second attempt, this time in Iraq, also failed, with Mossad agents fleeing the country after Iraqi pilots exposed them.
The third attempt began with a tip from a Mossad contact working for a wealthy Iraqi family in Baghdad. The family had a daughter whose husband was an Iraqi fighter pilot named Munir Redfa. Redfa was unhappy with his situation. He didn't like dropping napalm on dissident Iraqi Kurds and he felt disrespected as a Christian in an Islamic country. It didn't hurt that he admired the Israelis, so few against so many enemies.
Redfa was persuaded by a female Mossad agent - beautiful, of course - to defect in a MiG-21, but only if his family's safety could be guaranteed. Mossad arranged for his wife and two children to be vacationing in Paris when Redfa made his move. Other family members were smuggled overland out of the country with help from Kurdish guides.
To prevent exactly this kind of defection, Russian supervisors had imposed strict limits on the amount of fuel carried on MiG-21 training flights. The fuelling crews were Iraqi, however, and Redfa convinced them to fill his tanks to the top. He wanted a nice long flight, he told them. The distance to Israel was 900 kilometres, the very limit of his jet's range. When he turned for the border, ignoring orders over the radio to turn around, Iraqi air controllers threatened to have him shot down. Redfa's response was to turn off his radio. His jet was fast enough to preclude interception. He was tracked again by radar over Jordan, but the Jordanians imagined he must be on a secret operation against Israel and wished him well.
Redfa landed his MiG-21 at an Israeli airbase with what he said was his last drop of fuel. Along with his million dollars he was granted Israeli citizenship and a job, probably with the defence establishment. He thereafter kept a low profile until his death in 1998.
Redfa's precious MiG-21 was exhaustively tested by the Israelis and then turned over to the Americans, who rewarded Israel with the latest American fighter jets. The MiG was found to be fast, rugged and manoeuvrable, but with a huge blind spot to the rear and sharply restricted speed below 15,000 feet. It was vulnerable to opponents who kept their speed and their altitude down.
Just eight months after the heist came April 1967 and the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Most of the Arab air forces were destroyed on the ground by pre-emptive Israeli air strikes on the war's first day. The six Syrian MiG-21s that managed to take off and engage were all shot down, with no Israeli losses.
It was not by chance that Israel prevailed in six days.
Read more: http://www.thestarphoenix.com/life/Syrian+pilot+defection+stirs+Cold+memories/6865801/story.html#ixzz1zWwmiivu
No one said shit when the Libyan pilots defected to Malta either.
Quibble - the Six Day war was in June 1967 not April.
What Mig did Lt. Belenko fly to Japan?
There’s a big war brewing now.
His plane was examined by our intelligence people before it was returned to Soviets.
What they found out was that the majority of the on-board avionics were using vacuum-tube technology.
And Egypt will be a “mess”, for years to come, unfortunately. Israel’s troubles have increased, because of the election results in Egypt.
That was a MiG-25.
Excellent story. Thanks for posting it.
The Foxbat was designed to intercept the B-70 Valkrie, I believe.
Soviets were given a tour of England’s jet engine manufacturing post WWII. The story is they picked up metal shaving in soft shoes to steal metallurgical technology in order to make the engine for the Mig-15.
I have picked many metal shavings out of my shoes working as a design engineer in manufacturing companies, but I’m no aerospace expert.
I had a USAF officer tell me the Mig-25 was far behind the west in using titanium in the airframe. Can anyone out there enlighten us on this?
I have read that vacuum tube circuitry is resistant to EMP.
Russia may be the only source today for replacement vacuum tubes. I have some in my 1947 Westinghouse.
The story of Lt. Belenko & his MiG-25 is a thriller to this day. The Soviets later got their MiG back in several crates, dismantled to the last bolt.
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