That Time Air Force Fighter Jets Scrambled To Intercept An Unmanned Russian Fighter Jet

F15C

The peaceful July 4, 1989, morning at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands was broken by the sound of alarm bells screaming, calling the U.S. Air Force’s 32d Tactical Fighter Squadron into action.

Scramble Mission

Capts. J.D. Martin and Bill “Turf” Murphy quickly got into their armed F-15 Eagles and were launched. Their order was to intercept a fighter plane that looked like it was coming out of Soviet airspace and heading straight into Western Europe.

There was a lot of mistrust between the U.S. and the Soviets, especially since the Cold War was not too far in the rearview mirror. Airbases were on the lookout for any unmarked aircraft and knew to intercept immediately.

J.D. and Turf saw that the plane was a Soviet MiG-23 Flogger supersonic fighter. Ground control tried to communicate with the jet but received radio silence. So they could only assume that the pilot meant to harm.

Shocking Discovery

But as the two pilots reached the Flogger, ready to shoot it down, they saw that it had no missiles or bombs in its pylons. As they cruised along at 400 mph at 39,000 feet in Dutch airspace, they saw that the plane did not have a pilot.

The MiG was chugging along on autopilot. The two pilots relayed this new information to ground control, who gave them the go-ahead to shoot it down, preferably over the North Sea.

Unfortunately, the weather was terrible, and the pilots were concerned that debris would fly into the nearby towns. So the two decided to let it run out of fuel, eventually crashing into the English Channel.

It was a good plan, but it was not what happened. Instead, the plane kept going into Belgium before running out of fuel and crashing into a farmhouse.

The teen inside died as a result of the plane crash. The F-15s went back to their base, and local authorities investigated the crash, trying to figure out what had happened.

Crash Details

Colonel Nikolai Skurdin was flying the MiG on a scheduled training flight out of the Bagicz Airbase. A minute into the mission, he bailed due to what he thought was engine failure.

He was at an altitude of 500 ft., and the engine was losing power. So he assumed that after he bailed, the plane would crash.

However, the plane flew on, going 625 miles before crashing.

Sources: 1, 2

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