A&S Interview: Georgy Mosolov
A top Soviet-era test pilot talks about his favorite MiGs and his friend Yuri Gagarin.
- AirSpaceMag.com, January 22, 2009
Courtesy Rodney O. Rogers
A colonel in the Soviet Air Force, Georgy Mosolov worked as a test pilot at the Mikhoyan Experimental Design Bureau from 1953 to 1962, when a supersonic ejection from a prototype E-8 fighter effectively ended his career. In 1960, he was declared a Hero of the Soviet Union, and in 2007 he was named an honorary member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. Rodney Rogers and Vitaly Guzhva, faculty members at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, interviewed Mosolov in September 2008.
Air & Space: From 1953 to 1962 you flew the first flight in 16 Russian airplanes, including the MiG-19 Farmer and MiG-21 Fishbed. Was one of these airplanes your favorite?
Mosolov: I would have to say that the MiG-21 is the airplane that sticks in my mind above all the others. First, the MiG-21 was my “child.” By that I mean I didn’t just pilot the airplane. I also helped engineers perfect the design of the MiG-21. Second, the MiG-21 was a great performer. The plane set world speed and altitude records. I was lucky enough to be at the controls during these record flights. Finally, I felt greatly rewarded by all the hard work we at Mikoyan and Gurevich put into bringing the MiG-21 to an operational status.
Air & Space: In its time, the MiG-21 was the world’s fastest, most maneuverable fighter. Did you know how good it was at the time you were flight-testing it?
Mosolov: We knew we had a great airplane. However, we also knew the American F-104 was very fast. We learned only later exactly how good the MiG-21 really was.
Air & Space: In 1954 you were flying the MiG-19, the first Soviet supersonic fighter, on just its 7th flight. When you reduced throttle at Mach 1.06 to reduce speed, the MiG’s nose began to pitch violently up and down. The pitching was caused by a transonic control design problem that was later corrected. The airplane entered a steep dive. You lost over 15,000 feet of altitude in 21 second, and recovered the airplane just before it dived into the ground.
Mosolov: The violent forces on the airplane threw me around the cockpit. Negative G forces pushed my head against periscope bolts on the top of the canopy. In those days we didn’t wear crash helmets. The impact with the bolts opened large wounds in my scalp. The violent pitching forces smashed my face into the control stick again and again. These injuries resulted in a lot of blood in the cockpit.
Air & Space: When you regained control of your MiG-19 only 1000 feet above the ground, you narrowly escaped death. But then there was another problem you had to solve very quickly.
Mosolov: During the pitching dive, both engines quit. Before I could recover from the dive and get an engine restarted, the airplane was barely 300 feet above the trees. I was literally one second from death. I started the second engine during climb out.
Air & Space: After you got the engines restarted, you had yet a third pretty serious problem to overcome.
Mosolov: Miraculously, the airplane held together in the pitching dive. But an aileron bell crank had failed. I had very limited roll control. Moreover, blood on the windscreen and canopy obscured my vision. Finally, I wasn’t feeing very chipper. The airplane had given my head a pretty good beating. But I was still able to land the aircraft successfully. Skill will prevail when luck is with you.
Air & Space: In 1959 you flew the MiG-21 to a world speed record of almost 1500 miles per hour.
Mosolov: I reached about Mach 2.3, significantly more than twice the speed of sound. That was very fast for 1959. It’s interesting that the engine was capable of pushing the MiG-21 above Mach 2.3. However, aircraft stability was a problem at a faster airspeed, so we had to limit the top Mach number.
After I completed the required course for the record, I realized the airplane was just about out of fuel. I was at 44,000 feet about 125 miles from my landing field. I decided to shut the engine down and glide toward my destination. I hoped there would be enough fuel left to start the engine for landing. I tried to restart it twice while descending from 6,000 to 3,000 feet. But it wouldn’t start. I realized I would have either have to eject from the airplane or make a power-off landing.
Air & Space: Mikhoyan Design Bureau and military rules call for an ejection if the engine quits?
Mosolov: Yes, an ejection is what the rules call for. But I decided to make a power off landing anyway.
Air & Space: Did the Soviet authorities call you on the carpet for what you did?
Mosolov: Well, there are some things pilots agree not to talk about. We at MiG didn’t publicize the situation, and the authorities apparently agreed to turn the blind eye. After all, we had just set a world speed record, and the rules for world records don’t specify that you have to have fuel to land. You just have to land where you took off. I did that.
Air & Space: Was there in fact any fuel left in the MiG-21 when you landed?
Mosolov: We drained the fuel tanks after I landed. The result was 8 liters of fuel—a little over two gallons.