Rust flew a Cessna plane from Helsinki and landed in Red Square

Rust flew a Cessna plane from Helsinki and landed in Red Square

18 year old German without permission, flew a Cessna plane from Helsinki and landed in Red Square, crossing what was thought to be a completely impenetrable airspace

Mathias Rust (born 1 June 1968) is a German aviator known for his illegal landing near Red Square in Moscow on May 28, 1987. An amateur pilot, he flew from Finland to Moscow, being tracked several times by Soviet air defence and interceptors. The Soviet fighters never received permission to shoot him down, and several times he was mistaken for a friendly aircraft. He landed on Vasilevsky Descent next to Red Square near the Kremlin in the capital of the Soviet Union.

Rust flew a Cessna plane from Helsinki and landed in Red Square

Rust was an inexperienced pilot, aged 18, and with about 50 hours of flying experience at the time of his flight. On May 13, 1987, Rust left Uetersen near Hamburg and his home town Wedel in his rented Reims Cessna F172P D-ECJB, which was modified by removing some of the seats and replacing them with auxiliary fuel tanks. He spent the next two weeks traveling across Northern Europe, visiting the Faroe islands, spending a week in Iceland, and then visiting Bergen on his way back. He was later quoted as saying that he had had the idea of attempting to reach Moscow even before the departure, and he saw the trip to Iceland (where he visited Hofdi House, the site of unsuccessful talks between the United States and the Soviet Union in October 1986) as a way to test his piloting skills.

Flight path

In the morning of May 28, 1987, Rust refueled at Helsinki-Malmi Airport. He told air traffic control that he was going to Stockholm, and took off at 12:21pm. However, right after his final communication with traffic control he turned his plane to the east. Air traffic controllers tried to contact him as he was moving around the busy Helsinki–Moscow route, but Rust turned off all communications equipment aboard.

Rust  flew a Cessna plane from Helsinki and landed in Red Square

Rust disappeared from the Finnish air traffic control radar near Sipoo. Air traffic control presumed an emergency and a rescue effort was organized, including a Finnish Border Guard patrol boat. They found an oil patch near the place where Rust disappeared from radar and performed an underwater search with no results. Rust was later fined about 77,500€ (£62,500/USD100,000) for this effort. The origin of the oil patch remains unknown.

Rust crossed the Baltic coastline in Estonia and turned towards Moscow. At 14:29 he appeared on air defense radar and, after failure to reply to an IFF signal, was assigned combat number 8255. Three SAM divisions tracked him for some time, but failed to obtain permission to launch at him. All air defenses were brought to readiness and two interceptors were sent to investigate. At 14:48 near the city of Gdov one of the pilots observed a white sport plane similar to a Yakovlev Yak-12 and asked for permission to engage, but was denied.

The fighters lost contact with Rust soon after this. While they were directed back to him he disappeared from radar near Staraya Russa. The then-West German magazine Bunte speculated that he might have landed there for some time, citing that he changed his clothes somewhere during his flight, and that he took too much time to fly to Moscow considering his plane’s speed and the weather conditions.

Air defense re-established contact with Rust’s plane several times but confusion followed all of these events. The PVO system had shortly before been divided into several districts, which simplified management but created additional overhead for tracking officers at the districts’ borders. The local air regiment near Pskov was on maneuvers and, due to inexperienced pilots’ tendency to forget correct IFF designator settings, local control officers assigned all traffic in the area friendly status, including Rust.

Near Torzhok there was a similar situation, as increased air traffic was created by a rescue effort for an air crash the previous day. Rust, flying a slow propeller-driven aircraft, was confused with one of the helicopters taking part in the rescue. He was spotted several more times and given false friendly recognition twice. Rust was considered as a domestic training plane defying regulations, and was issued least priority.

Around 7:00 p.m. Rust appeared above Moscow’s center. He had initially intended to land in the Kremlin, but changed his mind: he reasoned that landing inside, hidden by the Kremlin walls, would have allowed the KGB to simply arrest him and deny the incident. Therefore, he changed his landing spot to Red Square. Heavy pedestrian traffic did not allow him to land there either, so after circling about the square one more time, he was able to land on a bridge by St. Basil’s Cathedral. A later inquiry found that trolly wires normally strung over the bridge—which would have incidentally prevented his landing there—had been removed for maintenance that very morning, and were replaced the day after. After taxiing past the cathedral he stopped about 100 meters from the square, where he was greeted by curious passersby and was asked for autographs. A British doctor videotaped Rust circling over Red Square and landing on the bridge. Rust was arrested two hours later.