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Faceoff: America’s SR-71 Spy Plane vs. Russia’s MiG-21 (Who Wins?)

As we have spelled out in a former short article, retired Soviet MiG-31 pilot Important Mikhail Myagkiy took aspect in a number of intercept makes an attempt on SR-71 Blackbirds collaborating in Peacetime Aerial Reconnaissance Operations Strategy (PAROP) missions to the Barents Sea region.

According to his logbook Myagkiy has carried out 14 thriving SR-71 intercepts:

21 August 1984

14 March 1985

18 March 1985

15 April 1985

17 July 1985

19 December 1985

20 January 1986

31 January 1986

21 February 1986

28 February 1986

1 April 1986

six Oct 1986

23 December 1986

eight January 1987

Of these intercepts, two have been getting accomplished on an SR-71 flown by Ed Yeilding. Yeilding talks about the Oct. six, 1986 intercept in Paul F Crickmore’s book Lockheed Blackbird: Outside of the Solution Missions (Revised Version).

As Yeilding remembers a individual of his “Barents missions was particularly unforgettable primarily due to the fact we had an expertise with a Soviet MiG-31. Due to the fact most elements of Blackbird flights had been categorized at that time, I made no notes about the encounter, so I basically can’t confirm the day of the come across. I am confident that RSO Curt Osterheld was with me at the time. Curt and I had only two excursions jointly at Mildenhall, so the face was amongst 25 Aug 1986 and eight Oct 1986, or amongst 14 Apr 1987 and 7 May possibly possibly 1987. (I do not maintain in thoughts why that subsequent tour was only a handful of weeks.) I believe the expertise could possibly have been the pretty final flight of our 1st tour. My flight information show we had a four.1-hour mission with Blackbird tail ‘980 on six Oct 1986.

“On that unforgettable MiG-31 expertise mission, I was satisfied to be flying with Curt, an amazing RSO admired by all, and, by the way, just a single of the most properly-liked Habus. There we had been, 71,000ft, beginning up our Mach three. reconnaissance maintain track of, heading east just outdoors the territorial waters of Russia’s Murmansk place coastline. I understood Curt was definitely speedy paced in the rear cockpit with his quite a few obligations checking and handling cameras, sensors, and navigation. I held a continuous crosscheck of the very a handful of indicators and controls in the front cockpit, observing completely for prospective process failures, and sustaining steady airspeed and the most efficient altitude for our weight.

“After Curt and I completed our to commence with go flying south-east parallel to the Russian border, collecting imagery and digital intelligence, our mission observe turned us nonetheless left about 90° and northwards, straight away from Russia in excess of the Barents Sea. Following the convert and possibly a single additional moment in that northerly course, we turned 180°, and flew instantaneously in path of and perpendicular to the Russian coast.

“Our altitude then was possibly about 75,000ft. At that altitude, we could see the horizon 335 miles away and see the slight, but clear, curvature of the earth. The view was grand. Ahead have been miles of Barents Sea and snow-coated Russia beyond. In the length considerably in advance, at possibly 100 miles, I could see a pretty extended, shiny white Russian contrail flying appropriate towards us, but at a significantly lower altitude. I understood it will have to be a Soviet fighter, almost certainly a MiG-31, then the most current Soviet supersonic interceptor. I lifted my periscope and observed that we way as well have been leaving a lengthy contrail. I knew the fighter could see our contrail as effortlessly as I could see his. Due to the fact we have been traveling a plan reconnaissance monitor that the Soviets seasoned located lots of situations, I understood the fighter knew specifically wherever we would commence off our 90° appropriate flip to parallel the coastline in a westerly path.

“I imagined the Soviet fighter pilot was a lot like me, with a appreciate of aviation and attempting tough to be a individual of the very pretty greatest. I also assumed he had orders to fireplace his missiles if I was late with my modify and slipped more than Soviet territorial waters to inside 12nm of Soviet land, and I assumed the pilot would like totally practically nothing greater than an prospect to fire his missiles at an SR-71 Blackbird. Just three years prior, on 1 September 1983, a Soviet fighter shot down a Korean Air Strains 747 that unintentionally crossed into Russian airspace north of Japan, killing all 269 aboard. Surely, the SR-71 Blackbird would be a prized aim.

“I believed the Soviet fighter would not fire his missiles as extended as we stayed on our common track, but I also understood he or his floor controllers could error our spot as obtaining closer than we definitely ended up. In the 1980s, we ended up not as well worried about missiles as extended as we maintained our greater altitude and higher velocity. From my previous years of flying intercepts in the F-4 fighter, I realized the newer MiG-31 would even now have issue manoeuvring to the necessary launch envelope even if he realized our actual flight route. Also, in the considerable altitude slim air, we believed that missile manoeuvrability, variety, and proximity fuses have been getting not ample to present down the Mach three Blackbird. For radar-guided missiles, our low radar reflectivity more lowered missile ‘probability of kill’, and we seasoned a jamming capacity for additional assurance. I realized our contrail could help him visually spot his piper on us for a heat-hunting for missile lock-on’. We seasoned no defences like flares in opposition to warmth-searching for missiles, but once more, we believed that missile ‘probability of kill’ was quite lowered thanks to our substantial speed and altitude. I was determined to fly the maintain track of as ready and get the photographs.

“Flying straight toward every single person other in our supersonic jets, I was reminded of two gallant medieval knights galloping total speed towards just about each other, only I did not have a weapon. For survival, Curt and I depended on precise navigation to hold us just outdoors Soviet territorial waters to safeguard against a commence, and we depended on our best-excellent velocity and altitude in case missiles have been released.

“The fighter’s contrail was holding constant altitude and was heading straight toward us, but far beneath, possibly altitude 40,000ft I guessed. I imagined he may possibly be accelerating for a feasible steep climb toward our altitude. I watched our length indicator rely down to our switch point, decreasing a mile every single two seconds. As often, I was ready, if crucial, to commence out the switch manually with the autopilot roll wheel or with the flight management adhere, but at our convert level, the autopilot routinely initiated our 90° convert to the suitable.

“Our 90° convert toward the west was programmed for 32° of bank. In the flip, I held close appear at on my instrument panel as generally, prepared to tackle any malfunction. Through my instrument crosscheck, I turned my head generally to verify out the fighter’s contrail and observed that he was in a very steep climbing flip toward us. Possibly a moment into my transform, even although turning my tension suit helmet with my arms so that I could see guiding, I noticed the gray metallic of the fighter, tiny at my left 7:30 spot, at the top of his steeply climbing contrail. We had been nonetheless in our appropriate 32° banked flip, but I could see him, barely substantially bigger than a dot. I could not discern any figuring out functions like twin tails or distinctive kind. From my F-four encounter with intercepts and visual acuity, my finest guess is that eight miles was his closest tactic. He appeared to operate out of airspeed at the main of his contrail, at maybe 65,000ft or about 10,000ft underneath us. I observed his nose drop underneath the horizon and drop away. Curt and I stayed on coaching course and obtained the pics.

“During my a handful of yrs of traveling overseas reconnaissance missions, I generally noticed contrails far underneath of maybe hostile fighters, but that day, earlier talked about the Arctic Circle more than the Barents Sea, was the only time I saw a Soviet fighter get close additional than adequate that I could essentially see metal, although hardly bigger sized than a dot and only for the purpose that our schedule track was predictable. Back once more at Mildenhall, all through our debriefing, our intelligence officer informed us, with in close proximity to certainty, that the interceptor was a MiG-31, the leading Soviet supersonic interceptor at that time.”

In the back seat with Ed on Oct. six, 1986 intercept was Maj Curt Osterheld. He remembers:

“Ed’s description of operations in the Barents Sea is excellent. We understood that the mission was strategically crucial in retaining an eye on the Soviet ballistic missile submarine fleet. But we ended up also mindful that if a factor went mistaken with the plane, the crew did not have quite a few alternatives. Offered that we had been operating below the principles of the Peacetime Aerial Reconnaissance Programme (PARPRO), our path was predictable and the Soviets applied us for ‘training’ … each of these for region to air missiles and fighter intercepts. I do have a quite distinct memory of turning westbound absent from Novaya Zemlya (a.k.a. Banana Island). On the lookout out the appropriate window and with the support of the mirrors, I could see we have been getting pulling a fats contrail at 75,000ft. Searching for down I could see a pair of circular contrails, which, I assumed, have been Soviet fighters putting up for a ‘practice’ intercept. We regarded as that the only probability an interceptor (MiG-31) would have at a decent shot was a ‘beak-to-beak’ pass. I regarded as, like Ed, the velocity of closure and geometry of the required manoeuvre gave a very minimal PK (Probability of Do away with) to this shot.”

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