A Top Soviet-Era Test Pilot

Georgy Mosolov talks about his favorite MiGs and his friend Yuri Gagarin

George Mosolov toured the National Air and Space Museum in 2007. (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.

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