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MIG Pilot

JOHN BARRON

PUBLISHERS OF BARD, CAMELOT, DISCUS AND FLARE BOOKS

Editorial from the Los Angeles Times: Copyright © 1976
Los Angeles Times. Reprinted by permission.

AVON BOOKS
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The Hearst Corporation
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Copyright © 1980 by the Reader's Digest Association, Inc.
Published by arrangement with McGraw-Hill Book Company
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 79-20611
ISBN: 0-380-53868-7

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McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York,
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The McGraw-Hill edition contains the following Library of
Congress Cataloging in Publication Data:

Barron, John, 1930 - MiG pilot
1. Belenko, Viktor
2. Fighter pilots Russia - Biography
3. Defectors - Russia - Biography
4. MiG-25 (Jet fighter plane)
1. Title
 

First Avon Printing: April 1981

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CHAPTER I

Into the Unknown

As he had done every day except Sunday during the past four weeks, Lieutenant Viktor Ivanovich Belenko awakened himself early to watch what the dawn might reveal. The first light was promising, and upon seeing the fiery, blinding sun rise, he knew: almost certainly this would be the day. Above the vast forests of pine, cedar, birch, and poplar stretching along the Pacific shores of the Soviet Far East, the sky was azure and cloudless. The magnificent weather meant that barring mistakes, malfunctions, or some other vagary, in all likelihood he would fly as scheduled. Probably he finally could attempt the supreme mission which rain, fuel shortages, or bureaucratic caprice repeatedly had forestalled. If the weather held, his chances of reaching the objective would be as good as he ever could expect.

Belenko estimated it all should be over within the next six hours. At age twenty-nine, he would be either dead or reborn into a new world. He felt tension in the muscles of the arms, legs, and stomach, but the stress derived more from the complexity of the mental tasks ahead than from fear of dying. During his training as a MiG (Named for its designers, Mikoyan and Gurevich) pilot he had lived on the edge of death so long and seen sudden, violent death so often that he had given up contemplating it. He had come to regard it simply as an unfathomable phenomenon to be avoided as long as possible, but not at any price. Neither did he dwell on the infinite uncertainties and unknowns that awaited him should he succeed and survive. He had assessed them as best he could before making his decision, and there was no profit in considering them further now. The awareness that he was looking for the last time at his pretty wife and three-year-old son, both sleeping within his reach near the window, evoked no emotion either. She had adamantly demanded a divorce and had announced her intent to take their child back to her parents in Magadan, some 1,250 miles away. The many failed attempts at reconciliation had sapped all emotion from the marriage, and there was nothing more to say. He was tempted to pick up and hold his son. No! Don't! He might cry. You wouldn't ordinarily pick him up at this hour. Don't do one thing that you wouldn't ordinarily do.

Belenko put on his shirt, trousers, and boots quickly, trying not to awaken his family or the family occupying the other room of the apartment. From between the pages of a tattered Russian-English dictionary he removed a slip of paper on which he had written a three-sentence message succinctly explaining his mission. Preparation of the message the month before and its retention ever since had been dangerous. Yet it was necessary that he deliver a written message instantly if all went well, so he folded the paper into a tight square and buried it in his pocket.

In the small yard outside the frame apartment house reserved for officers, he exercised for fifteen minutes, doing push-ups on soggy ground and chinning himself from the limb of a tree. Then he commenced jogging through the muddy streets of Chuguyevka, a village situated in the taiga 120 miles northeast of Vladivostok, toward the bus stop about a mile away. Running and jumping puddles, Belenko looked like a prototype of the New Communist Man the Party spoke endlessly of creating. He stood just over five feet eight inches and had an athletic physique, with broad, slightly sloping shoulders powerfully developed by years of boxing, arm wrestling, and calisthenics. A Soviet [9] television program once pictured him yellow hair, fair complexion, and large blue eyes widely set in a handsome, boyish face as the very model of a young pilot. Women, particularly older women, were beguiled by his smile, which they found simultaneously shy and rakish.

At about seven that morning, September 6, 1976, Belenko arrived in a decrepit bus, built before World War II, at the headquarters compound of the 513th Fighter Regiment of the Soviet Air Defense Command. Outside the smallest of the red-and-white-brick buildings he hesitated. No, you have to eat. You would be missed. Besides, you will need the strength. Go on!

In the officers' mess, fresh white cloths covered the tables, each set for four pilots, and still-life paintings of fruit and vegetables adorned the walls. The waitresses, girls in the late teens or early twenties, all employed because they were pretty, enhanced the ambience. A physician was tasting the breakfast of goulash, rice, fruit compote, white bread, buttermilk, and tea to make sure it was fit for fliers. After he approved the food, everyone sat down in white plastic chairs and began.

Because Belenko was acting deputy commander of the 3rd Squadron, he customarily dined with the squadron commander, Yevgeny Petrovich Pankovsky. More often than not, by breakfast time Pankovsky's day had already started unhappily. The regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Yevgeny Ivanovich Shevsov, rose early to survey the wreckage visited upon his domain during the night, and by six-thirty he had the squadron commanders before him to berate and degrade them for the most recent transgressions of their underlings.

Shevsov was a sorely troubled officer. This was his first command, and the difficulties besetting the regiment would have taxed the capacities of the wisest and most experienced leader. He did not quite know how to cope, but he tried mightily, shouting, threatening, and often ridiculing officers in front of one another and the men. Other pilots dubbed him the Monster, but to Belenko he looked more like a toothless boxer dog: short, husky, with receding red hair, a protruding jaw, and a face that seemed in perpetual motion, as if he were chewing or growling.

[10] Belenko greeted his squadron commander as always. "Good morning, Yevgeny Petrovich."

"You think it's a good morning? Do you know that already I got reamed? Did you know that our soldiers refused to eat breakfast this morning? They threw their food at the cooks, and one of them hit a cook."

"Would you eat that food from their mess hall?"

"No."

"I wouldn't eat that food either. I think if we would take a pig from a good kolkhoz and put that pig in the mess hall, that pig would faint."

"Well, I agree. But what can I do about it?"

At eight the regiment assembled on the asphalt parade ground before the staff headquarters buildings. Pilots stood at attention in the first rank; flight engineers, their assistants, and the enlisted men in succeeding ranks behind.

"Comrade Soldiers, Sergeants, and Officers!" Shevsov shouted. "Today we fly. Our mission is a vital mission, for we will fire rockets. The results of this important mission will depend on everybody, from soldiers to officers, working together. In spite of all our troubles here, we each must do our best today.

"We must remember that the Americans are not sleeping. We must remember that the Chinese are only a day's march away. We must remember that aircraft, fuel, and rockets are expensive and that our government which supplies them is not a milk cow. We cannot afford soon to repeat this mission, so we must do it properly today.

"Now, next weekend we will give the Party a Communist Weekend. Everybody will work, officers and soldiers; everybody. Each squadron must gather sod and plant it over the aircraft bunkers so that from the sky they will appear to the Americans to be no more than green, grassy fields.

"I have one other announcement, a very serious announcement. Do you know that our regiment has a great lover? Do you know whom he loves? Not his faithful wife who waits far away, anxious to join him here as soon as quarters are ready; no, he loves a whore in the village, a common whore." While the officers winced and the enlisted men snickered, Shevsov read aloud a telegram from [11] the wife of a flight engineer, beseeching him to compel her husband to cease a dalliance of which she suspected him. "Here we have a big example of degenerate capitalist morality. Let this be a warning to all. Henceforth in our regiment we will abide by and tolerate only communist morality.

"All squadron commanders report to my office. For today that is all. Dismissed."

In the locker room Belenko changed into the dark-blue cotton flight suit issued him nineteen months before. It would be five more months before he was due to receive another, and he had tried to keep this one serviceable by neatly sewing patches on the knees and elbows. A duty officer unlocked the safe and handed him an automatic pistol and two clips of seven rounds each, for which he signed a receipt.

Sometime back a pilot had parachuted from a disabled plane into a remote wilderness, where he eventually died of privation and hunger. Hunters who came upon the skeleton many months later found a diary in which the pilot recorded his suffering and complained about the lack of any equipment that might have enabled him to survive in the wilderness. The last entry read, "Thank you, Party, for taking such good care of Soviet pilots." Soon combat pilots were issued pistols, and their aircraft equipped with survival kits containing food, water, medicine, fishing gear, flares, matches, a mirror, and shark repellent. Newly armed, a pilot came home, found his wife in bed with a friend, and killed them both. Thereupon, in the interest of domestic tranquillity, the Party ordered the pistols recalled and kept locked up until just before flights.

During the next couple of hours briefing officers meticulously reviewed the flight plans. Planes from the squadron designated to fire missiles were to fly almost due eastward over the sea, where Navy ships would launch the target drones at which they would shoot. Belenko's squadron would proceed to other exercise areas, practice intercept approaches, and then, relying solely on instruments, return to the base, and land. Because of the fine weather, many MiG-23s from adjacent bases probably would be in the air and perhaps also firing. Thus, it would be dangerous [12] for any pilot to stray out of the zone to which Ground Control directed him.

Belenko sat motionless, maintaining a pose of respectful attentiveness while he contemplated his personal flight plan. His mind raced far away, computing times, distance, speed, fuel consumption, courses, points of probable intercept, evasive maneuvers, deceptions, and all exigencies he could imagine.

The fliers returned at eleven for a second breakfast of sausage, boiled eggs, white bread, butter, tea, and a chunk of chocolate, all again first tasted by a physician. Then a military truck hauled them over a bumpy, unpaved road to the Sakharovka Air Base two miles from squadron headquarters. Belenko presented himself in the hangar dispensary to the regimental physician for physical examination. The doctor protected the pilots as much as he could. They were forbidden to drink five days prior to flying; but everyone drank some, and many drank heavily. He ignored minor traces of alcohol, and if he judged the condition of a pilot hazardous in consequence of imbibing, he disqualified him for the day on other grounds nasal congestion, slight ear infection, temperature; something that would soon pass.

He took Belenko's temperature, pulse, and blood pressure, then examined his eyes, ears, and throat.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

"Excellent."

"What kind of flight do you have today?"

"Routine exercise."

The physician stopped talking and studied him carefully skeptically, Belenko thought.

"Tell me, Lieutenant, have you drunk any alcohol in the past twenty-four hours?"

"No, not in the last five days," Belenko answered truthfully.

"Do you think you are ready to fly your mission?"

"I am certain."

"Well, your blood pressure is somewhat high. Nothing to be alarmed about, but for you, rather high. Is something troubling you?"

"Not at all." Anticipating that the body might betray [13] his tensions, Belenko had readied an explanation. "Comrade Doctor, if I don't exercise, I feel like lumpy potatoes, and I've been cooped up for almost a week. This morning, when I saw the sun, I went out and ran like a deer, more than six kilometers. I'm probably still a little winded."

The doctor nodded. "That could account for it. Good luck on your flight, Comrade Lieutenant."

Belenko joined other pilots, who, pending the latest report from the meteorological officer, were standing around the hangar, joking about the forthcoming Communist Weekend. It was preposterous to cover the bunkers with sod. Obviously the Americans long ago had located and targeted the airfield. How could anyone think they would believe it suddenly was not there anymore? Someone said, "Besides, I heard that the cameras in their satellites can photograph a soldier's boots from three hundred kilometers up."

The conversation ceased, and the pilots edged off in different directions at the sight of Vladimir Stepanovich Volodin, the young KGB lieutenant assigned to the regiment. "Good morning, Viktor Ivanovich, how are you?"

"Very well."

"And Ludmilla and Dmitri. How are they?"

"They are well also."

"What's new? What do you hear?"

"Well, the men rebelled again this morning, refused to eat breakfast."

"Yes, I heard. What do you think the problem is?"

Answer him just as you regularly would.

"Vladimir Stepanovich, you know what the problem is as well as I do. Everybody knows."

"I still would like to talk to you. Stop by this afternoon after your flight. Let's talk."

There was nothing at all unusual about this. The KGB officer naturally slinked around, asking, "What's new? What do you hear?" Yet for a moment Belenko worried. Why did he come to me just now? Why did he ask me that? Well, so what? The bastard won't be seeing me this afternoon, that's for sure.

The meterological officers reported that to the east, where Belenko's squadron would fly, the skies were fair [14] and should remain so throughout the afternoon. However, to the southeast, where his actual objective lay, some cloud formations were gathering. A front might be moving in from Japan, but it was nothing to worry about this afternoon.

No! The forecast was clear everywhere. Idiots! How thick is it? Think of a reason to ask him. No, don't. There is no reason. Careful. Show no concern. You'll just have to take the chance.

From the supply room Belenko drew his flight helmet, oxygen mask, and gloves. "Comrade Lieutenant, you forgot your life preserver," a sergeant called. Don't take it. Fool them.

"Thanks. I won't be over water today."

Striding from the hangar, he saw the aircraft twenty MiG-25s poised wing to wing on the runway some 200 yards away. Weighing twenty-two tons, with twin tail fins, cantilevered tail planes, thick, short, swept-back wings, two enormous engines, and a long rocketlike nose ending with a radar needle, the MiG-25 reminded Belenko of a great steel bird of prey, dark gray and angry. Few weapons in the Soviet arsenal were more closely guarded from foreign observation, and even among themselves the Russians in official terminology simply referred to the MiG-25 as Product No. 84. A stripped-down model in 1967 set a world record by achieving a speed of 1,852 miles an hour, and another in 1973 eclipsed altitude records by soaring to 118,898 feet. Aging American F-4 Phantoms, though equipped with excellent missiles and flown by skilled pilots, had been unable to intercept or shoot down MiG-25s which occasionally streaked over the Mediterranean and the Middle East, taking photographs. No Westerner ever had been close to a MiG-25, and much about it was unknown. Nevertheless, the MiG-25 in the autumn of 1976 was the one plane most feared in the West. In 1973, U.S. Air Force Secretary Robert C. Seamans, a scientist with impressive aeronautical credentials, had characterized it as "probably the best interceptor in production in the world today." While Defense Secretary, James R. Schlesinger had warned that the MiG-25 was so formidable that its widespread development and deployment would force fundamental [15] changes in Western strategy and weaponry. More than 400 of the interceptors had already been deployed. They embodied the most advanced aeronautical technology and, in a sense, the national pride of the Soviet Union. The comparatively few young men chosen, trained, and entrusted to fly them represented an acknowledged and honored elite in the Soviet armed forces.

Swarms of men were making the planes ready. Tracks filled each with fourteen tons of jet fuel and half a ton of coolant alcohol and pumped oxygen into life-support systems. From smaller trucks bearing electronic test equipment, technicians checked the missiles, fire control, and electronic systems. Others stepped under and around the planes, physically inspecting the exterior surfaces and controls.

Belenko climbed a fourteen-foot metal ladder, followed by his flight engineer, who helped him settle into the green cockpit, green because Soviet researchers believed it the most soothing color. The cushioned seat was the most comfortable in which he ever had sat. The various dials, gauges, buttons, and levers were well arranged and easily accessible. Conspicuous among them was a red button labeled "Danger." Pilots were instructed that should they be forced down or have to eject themselves from the aircraft outside the Soviet Union, they must press the button before leaving the cockpit. Supposedly it activated a timing device which a few minutes later would detonate explosives to destroy the most secret components of the plane. Some fliers wondered, however, whether a press of the button might not instantly blow up the entire aircraft, pilot included. He also dared not touch the radar switch because the impulses from the MiG-25 radar were so powerful they could kill a rabbit at a thousand meters. Hence, it was a crime to activate the radar on the ground.

Turning on his radio, Belenko spoke to the control tower. "This is Number Oh-six-eight. Request permission to start engines."

The tower answered quickly. "Number Oh-six-eight, you have permission to start engines."

"Understood. I am executing," Belenko said, waving to his flight engineer, who backed down the ladder, ordered [16] the ground crew to remove the engine covers, and signaled that the hydraulic systems were functioning. As Belenko flicked switches and pushed buttons, the engines produced a soft whine that soon swelled into a roar. "This is Oh-six-eight," Belenko radioed the tower. "I request permission to taxi."

"Oh-six-eight, you have permission."

"Understood. I am executing."

Belenko taxied the MiG-25 to the end of the taxi ramp about half a mile away. Four MiGs were ahead of him, and he had to wait until a green light authorized him to turn onto the runway. "This is Oh-six-eight. Request permission to take off."

"Oh-six-eight, you have permission."

"Understood. I am executing."

He hesitated a few seconds to look once more at the surrounding forests. Above all else in his homeland, he loved the rugged, open expanses and the forests where he had wandered since boyhood. There he could explore and discover and meditate, be alone with a girl or with himself. Only there and in the cockpit had he ever felt free. Under brilliant sunshine, the leaves were turning copper, gold, and ruby, and he thought that the forest never had appeared more majestic, never more impervious and antithetical to human squalor.

With ignition of the afterburner, the aircraft vibrated, bucked, and strained forward. "Oh-six-eight, you have afterburn," the tower confirmed. "We wish you all good." Belenko released the brakes at exactly 12:50 P.M., and the MiG surged down the runway and within fifteen seconds into the air. While still perilously low, he shut the afterburner prematurely to conserve fuel, which was precious, so precious that he gladly would have exchanged some of his own blood for extra fuel. Also to conserve, he ascended more slowly than usual to 24,000 feet and took five minutes instead of the normal four to enter Training Zone No. 2 on a course of 090 degrees. Beginning the wide 360-degree turn which ground controllers were expecting of him, he saw numerous other MiG-25s in the area, fully armed and fueled. The needle, rotating swiftly around the compass dial with his continuous change in heading, [17] showed that he rapidly was approaching the point of no return. For upon completion of the circle, he would have to proceed either with the programmed flight or with his own.

You can still go back, and nobody will know. If you go, it's forever. I'm going.

Now he began his own secret flight plan.

Back on a course of 090, he let the plane glide downward, hoping the descent would be so gradual the radar controllers would not at once notice. At 19,000 feet, Belenko suddenly jammed the stick forward and to the left and plunged the MiG into a power dive toward the floor of a valley ahead, shrieking and hurtling straight down so that the whole earth seemed to be jumping right into his face until he managed to level off at 100 feet. Never had he attempted such a dive, nor had he ever tried to fly a MiG-25 so low, for below even 1,000 feet it was clumsy and difficult to control. Yet from study of American tactics in Vietnam, he knew that at 100 feet he would be safe from the thickets of SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) and antiaircraft batteries emplaced on the peaks of the valley and that these bristling peaks would hide him from radar.

Applying power, he thundered through the valley and in two minutes shot out over the Sea of Japan. He pushed an emergency button which started broadcasting a continuous signal indicating his plane was on the verge of crashing. After about forty seconds he turned off the signal to persuade all listening on the distress frequency that it had crashed. Simultaneously he shut down his radar and all other equipment whose electronic emissions might be tracked. Lastly, he switched off his radio, even though it gave off no emissions. He did not want to be affected or distracted by what they might be saying, what they might be doing, how they might be pursuing. He needed now to concentrate purely and intently on the equations of fuel, speed, altitude, time, and distance, which he calculated mainly in his head, aided by only a pencil and tablet. Perhaps use of the cockpit computer would have been more practical and efficient. But he was resolved, as he had done in all crises of his life, to rely on, to trust only himself.

[18] To evade detection by the long-range radars back on land and the missile-carrying Soviet ships patrolling offshore, Belenko flew so low that twice he had to swerve to avoid hitting fishing vessels. Only when he perceived that the waves were rising so high that he might smash into one did he go to a slightly safer altitude of 150 feet.

Along with mounting waves, he encountered darkening skies and rainsqualls which buffeted the plane and portended worsening weather ahead. His mental computations portended much worse. At sea level the MiG was devouring fuel at a fatally gluttonous rate, far exceeding preflight estimates. Rapid recalculations yielded the same grim results. Unless he drastically reduced fuel consumption at once by assuming an altitude of at least 20,000 feet, he never would make landfall. Yet he had not flown far enough to go up safely to that height. He still would be within reach of Soviet radars and SAMs. He also might be picked up on the radars of other Soviet aircraft hunting to rescue him, had he survived a crash at sea, or to kill him, were he still aloft.

Better possible death than certain death, Belenko reasoned, pulling up into the clouds, which quickly encased him in darkness. He had flown on a southeasterly course, dead reckoning his way toward Hokkaido, the northernmost of the Japanese islands and the one closest to his base. At approximately 1:20 P.M. just thirty minutes after takeoff he figured he was nearing Japanese airspace and interception by Phantom fighters of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force. To signify lack of hostile intent and facilitate interception, he throttled back the engines and glided down toward Japan, scarcely sustaining airspeed. Each moment he hoped to break free of the clouds and into the clear, where the Phantoms could see him.

For years he had been taught to fear and fight these planes created by the Americans. Now he awaited them as saving angels. His whole flight plan was predicated upon confidence that the Japanese would scramble fighters to force him down as soon as he intruded over their territory. He knew that the Russians were under orders to fire SAMs at any foreign aircraft violating Soviet territory, and [19] he feared the Japanese would do the same unless he were met and escorted by their own interceptors. More important, he counted on the Japanese interceptors to lead him to a safe landing field. On an old map of Hokkaido he had discerned only one field, the military base at Chitose, which seemed large enough to accommodate a MiG-25. Perhaps the Japanese would lead him to a closer field unknown to him. Regardless, he probably had enough fuel to reach Chitose if they escorted him there promptly and directly. But they would have to find him on their own because his radio frequency band was so narrow he could communicate only with other MiGs.

Thrice during the descent the MiG sliced through thin layers of blue only to be engulfed anew in swirling dirty gray clouds, and not until it had dropped to 1,800 feet did Belenko find himself in clear sky. He circled, attempting to take visual bearings and locate Japanese interceptors. Nowhere could he see an aircraft of any type. Where are the Phantoms? Where are the damned Phantoms?

Both Phantoms and MiGs at that moment were all around, desperately searching for him. His plane first appeared on Japanese radar screens as an unidentified blip at 1:11 P.M. when he rose from the sea to 20,000 feet. Nine minutes later, with the blip moving toward the center of the screens, the commander of the Chitose base ordered Phantoms to take off for interception. Simultaneously the Japanese vainly tried to warn him away through broadcasts in both Russian and English. At 1:22, about the time he himself figured, Belenko breached Japanese airspace, and the Phantoms, vectored from the ground, closed upon him. However, at 1:26, as Belenko started to drift down in quest of clear sky, his MiG disappeared from the radarscopes, which, because of worsening atmospheric conditions, were already cluttered with confusing reflections from land and sea surfaces. Without any more guidance from the ground, the Phantoms flew about futilely in the overcast. Almost certainly, Soviet monitors heard the Japanese broadcasts and concluded that the plane being warned was Belenko's, for unidentified aircraft, presumably Russian, streaked toward Japan.

[20] Ignorant of both the Japanese and the Soviet actions, Belenko had no time to conjecture about what might be happening. Neither did he have time for fear.

The Japanese aren't going to find you. At least, you can't count on them anymore. You'll have to take a chance. You have to decide, right now.

From the configuration of the coastline, initially visible to him about 1:30, he deduced that he was approaching Hokkaido's southwestern peninsula. Chitose lay to the northeast, roughly toward the middle of the island, behind a range of mountains still shrouded in clouds. The gauge indicated he had sufficient fuel for another sixteen to eighteen minutes of flight, maybe enough to carry him to Chitose if he immediately headed there. If he went back up into the clouds and over the unfamiliar mountains, however, he would forfeit all control of his fate. Only by sheer luck might he discover a hole in the clouds that would enable him both to descend safely and to sight the military field before exhausting his fuel. Without such good luck, the probabilities were that he would crash into some invisible peak or have to attempt a forced landing on impossible terrain. Had his purposes been different, he might have considered probing for a safe passage downward until his fuel was gone, then bailing out. But to Belenko, preservation of the MiG-25 was more important than preservation of his own life, and he was determined to land the plane intact if there was any chance, even one in a thousand.

Hence, he decided to stay beneath the clouds, fly eastward past the southern end of the mountain range, then turn north toward Chitose. He appreciated that he did not have enough fuel to follow this circuitous course all the way to the air base. But so long as he could see, there was a possibility of finding some place, a stretch of flat land, a highway perhaps, to try to land.

A red warning light flashed in the cockpit at 1:42, and an instant afterward a panel lit up, illuminating the words "You Have Six Minutes of Fuel Left." Belenko reached out and turned off the warning lights. Why be bothered? He was over water again, having crossed the peninsula above Volcano Bay, so he banked into a ninety-degree turn [21] northward toward land, still flying at 1,800 feet. Straight ahead he saw another mass of clouds, but he elected to maintain altitude and plunge into them. They might form just an isolated patch, and the lower he went, the more rapidly the MiG would consume fuel, and the less his glide range would be.

Suddenly a dulcet female voice startled him. Emanating from a recording he did not know existed, the voice was as calm as it was sweet: "Caution, Oh-six-eight! Your fuel supply has dropped to an emergency level. You are in an emergency situation."

Belenko replied aloud, "Woman, wherever you are, tell me something I don't know. Tell me where is that aerodrome."

The fuel gauge stood at empty, and Belenko guessed he had, at most, two minutes left. The clouds had not dissipated, and there was nothing else to do. So he pointed the MiG-25 down toward land and the unknown.

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