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)

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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.

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