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Mathias Rust
Rust's Cessna 172, resting in Red Square some time after his landing. Rust is standing on the right in the photo, wearing colored overalls.
Rust's Cessna 172, resting in Red Square some time after his landing. Rust is standing on the right in the photo, wearing colored overalls.
Born 1 June 1968(1968-06-01) (age 54)
Wedel, Schleswig-Holstein, West Germany
Nationality German
Known for Illegally landing a small aircraft on Moscow's Red Square.

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 said he wanted to create an "imaginary bridge" to the East, and he has claimed that his flight was intended to reduce tension and suspicion between the two Cold War sides.[1] Rust's flight through a supposedly impregnable air-defense system had great effect on the Soviet military and led to the dismissal of many senior officers, including Defence Minister Marshal of the Soviet Union Sergei Sokolov and the head of the Soviet Air Defense, former World War II fighter ace pilot Chief Marshal Alexander Koldunov. The incident aided Mikhail Gorbachev in the implementation of his reforms (by removing numerous military officials opposed to him), and reduced the prestige of the Soviet military among the populace, thus helping bring an end to the Cold War.[1]

Flight profile

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.[2]

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.[1][3]

Rust disappeared from the Finnish air traffic control radar near Sipoo.[1] 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€ ($104,803 USD) for this effort.[Clarification needed] 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.[1]

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.[1]

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.[1]

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.[1] 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.[1] 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.[4] A British doctor videotaped Rust circling over Red Square and landing on the bridge.[4] Rust was arrested two hours later.[5]


Rust's trial began in Moscow on September 2, 1987. He was sentenced to four years in a general-regime labor camp for hooliganism, disregard of aviation laws and breaching of the Soviet border.[6] He was never transferred to a labor camp and instead served his time at the high security Lefortovo temporary detention facility in Moscow. Two months later, Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to sign a treaty to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe, and the Supreme Soviet ordered Rust to be released in August 1988 as a goodwill gesture to the West.[1]

Rust's return to Germany on 3 August 1988 was accompanied by huge media attention, but he did not talk to the assembled journalists; his family had sold the exclusive rights to the story to the German magazine Stern for DM 100,000.[4] He reported that he was treated well in the Soviet prison. The journalists described him as "psychologically unstable and unworldly in a dangerous manner".[4]

The D-ECJB at the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin

William E. Odom, former director of the U.S. National Security Agency and author of The Collapse of the Soviet Military, says that Rust’s flight irreparably damaged the reputation of the Soviet military. This enabled Gorbachev to remove many of the strongest opponents to his reforms. The defense minister Sergei Sokolov and the air defense chief Alexander Koldunov were dismissed along with hundreds of other officers. This was the biggest turnover in the Soviet military since Stalin’s purges 50 years earlier.[1][7]

Rust's rented Reims Cessna F172P (serial # F17202087[8]), registered D-ECJB, was sold to Japan where it was exhibited for several years. In 2008 it was returned to Germany and was placed in the Deutsches Technikmuseum, Berlin.[9][10]

Later life

Rust in 2012

While doing his obligatory community service (Zivildienst) in a West German hospital in 1989, Rust stabbed a female co-worker who had rejected him. The victim barely survived. He was convicted of attempted manslaughter, sentenced to two and a half years in prison and released after having served 15 months.[11] Since then he has lived a fragmented life, describing himself as a "bit of an oddball."[12] After being released from court, he converted to Hinduism [13] in 1996 to become engaged to a daughter of an Indian tea merchant. In 2001, he was convicted of stealing a cashmere pullover and ordered to pay a fine of DM 10,000; the fine was later reduced to DM 600.[4][11] A further brush with the law came in 2005, when he was convicted of fraud and had to pay €1,500 for stolen goods.[11] In 2009 Rust described himself as a professional poker player.[14] Most recently, in 2012, he describes himself as an analyst at a Zurich based investment bank.[12]

In popular culture

Because Rust's flight seemed to be a blow to the authority of the Soviet regime, it was the source of numerous jokes and urban legends. For a while after the incident, Red Square was jokingly referred to by Muscovites as Sheremetyevo-3. (Sheremetyevo-1 and -2 were the names of the two terminals at what was then Moscow's main international airport.)[15] At the end of 1987, the police radio code used by law enforcement officers in Moscow was allegedly updated to include a code for an aircraft landing.[16]

Very soon after the incident, SubLogic, the original publishers of the Flight Simulator franchise, issued a scenery disk that expanded the original program's coverage area to include Eastern Bloc. A challenge in the program was to land in Red Square as Rust had just done.[17]

The American band Wampeters included a song on their Hey Judas CD that celebrates Rust as a "hero or a scourge."[18]

The final track of the 2004 album La Increíble Aventura (The Incredible Adventure) by Spanish band Migala is called Lecciones de Vuelo con Mathias Rust ("Flying Lessons With Mathias Rust").[19]

The 2008 Norwegian film The Man Who Loved Yngve features the fictional punk rock Mathias Rust Band, headed by the character Jarle Klepp. The band is actually composed of songwriters John Erik Kaada and Geir Zahl from Kaizers Orchestra, along with the screenwriter and author of the novel the film is based on, Tore Renberg.[20][21]

In the media

Following the 20th anniversary of his flight on 28 May 2007, the international media interviewed Rust about the flight and its aftermath.

The Washington Post and Bild both have online editions of their interviews. The most comprehensive video interview online is produced by The Danish Broadcasting Corporation. In their interview Rust in Red Square, recorded in May 2007, Rust gives a full account of the flight in English.[22]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 LeCompte, Tom (July 2005). "The Notorious Flight of Mathias Rust, Air & Space Magazine". Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  2. "The Notorious Flight of Mathias Rust". 
  3. coptercrazy (undated). "Listing of Production Reims F172". Archived from the original on 2005-03-14. Retrieved 2007-12-23. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "Der lange Irrflug der Friedenstaube" (in German). 12 May 2012. 
  5. "Der Kremlflieger Mathias Rust kehrt zurück" (in German). 26 June 2009. 
  6. Barringer, Felicity (9 December 1987). "German in Red Square Flight Is Denied a Pardon". The New York Times. 
  7. Brown, Archie (2007). "Perestroika and the End of the Cold War". pp. 1–17. Digital object identifier:10.1080/14682740701197631. 
  8. Deutsches Technikmuseum (14 May 2009), Cessna F 172 P „Skyhawk II“, retrieved 18 October 2012
  9. Reims Cessna F172P, D-ECJB, in the Deutsches Technikmuseum, 2009.
  10. Himmelfahrt zum Roten Platz - Deutsches Technikmuseum zeigt Cessna 172, mit der Mathias Rust 1987 in Moskau landete
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 WZ Newsline May 25, 2007.
  12. 12.0 12.1 "German who flew to Red Square during cold war admits it was irresponsible". Retrieved May 14, 2012. 
  13. German daredevil grounded by court Guardian Unlimited - 21 April 2001.
  14. Spiegel Online (June 2009). "KREML-FLIEGER RUST - "750.000 Euro beim Pokern gewonnen" (German Language)".,1518,628964,00.html. Retrieved 2009-06-06. 
  15. "10 фактов о Матиасе Русте ко Дню пограничника" (in Russian). 
  16. "Милицейские байки. 15-й десяток" (in Russian). 
  17. Scenery Disk "Western European Tour" Moby Games article about the Flight Simulator addon disk.
  18. Doyon, Mark (1997). "Mathias Rust". Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  19. Musicbrainz (May 2004). "Migala". Retrieved 2009-02-19. 
  20. (Aug 2009). "Mathias Rust Band". Retrieved 2009-08-02. 
  21. Stavanger Aftenblad (Norwegian) (Aug 2009). "Mathias Rust Band". Retrieved 2009-08-02. 
  22. Interview with Mathias Rust, Danish television

External links

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