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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Air & Space: Weren’t you a little afraid of risking a power-off landing in a swept-wing jet, especially when the rules provide for an ejection?

Mosolov: Well, test pilots have emotions like anyone else, though they don’t always admit it. I know I had confidence in my ability to get the MiG-21 home safely. Previously I had made 23 engine-out landings in various Russian airplanes. So I figured I could make one more.

Air & Space: On 11 September 2002 you made a supersonic ejection from an E8 prototype MiG fighter.

Mosolov: Well, I had no choice. At Mach 2.15 I experienced a massive engine compressor failure. Parts of the engine tore through the fuselage, and the airplane started coming apart. It didn’t respond to flight controls and entered a steep dive. I knew things weren’t going to get any better, so I stepped out. Instrumentation later showed that the airplane was going Mach 1.78 when I ejected.

Before I ejected, pieces of the fuselage flying in the cockpit broke my left arm in three places. During the parachute descent, the shroud lines were wrapped around my right leg, and I was descending toward the ground head first. I realized my right arm was also broken. In addition, I had a compound fracture on one leg. As I understood later, I also had very serious head injuries.

Air & Space: What happened after you landed?

Mosolov: Since I did not have time to broadcast a mayday message before I ejected, no one knew where I was. I was bleeding quite badly from my leg wound, and after three hours alone I was feeling very dizzy and began to worry about bleeding to death.

Periodically I called out to alert anyone who might be in the area. After three hours, a farmer came to aid me. He had observed the parachute descending and begun a search for the pilot.

I asked him to summon help. But first I told him the details of what had happened and made him memorize them. In case I died before help arrived, I wanted my colleagues at MiG to know what had happened to cause the accident. Quite a few of my fellow Russian test pilots had been killed in the past, and I wasn’t quite sure at this point whether or not I was going to be the next to die.

I recuperated for a year, much of it in a hospital. Holes were been opened in my skull to relieve pressure on my brain. When I returned to MiG, I quickly realized that I was not the same pilot I had been before the crash. I did fly again, but I wasn’t quite up to test-flying high performance jets. Forty-six years later, I still have limited use of my arms, and I limp slightly. But considering the beating I took from the E8, I’m still remarkably fit.

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