Safety investigators in the USA say the pilot of a privately-owned Soviet fighter jet that crashed during a recent air show flight made the decision to eject after feeling a loss of power aboard the craft.
The Cold War-era Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23UB was believed to be the only flight-capable example of the type in the USA. The variable geometry fighter had recently appeared at the EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and was flying in the Thunder Over Michigan air show west of Detroit on 13 August when the crash occurred.
Now, investigators with the USA’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) say the pilot noticed a loss of power before making the decision to eject.
“They declared an emergency,” NTSB investigator John Brannen said on 14 August. “They had some loss of power issues and were not able to correct that and elected to eject from the airplane.”
After impact, the wreckage of the MiG travelled approximately 150m (500ft) before coming to a stop, the safety agency says.
“Being a military aircraft, and on top of that a Russian military aircraft, is going to make things a little bit more difficult,” says Brannen of the effort to determine a cause of the crash.
Multiple videos and photographs emerged on social media showing the single-engined jet flying low over several pleasure boats with its variable wings in the forward position. The pilot and back seat crewmember suddenly eject in quick succession from the tandem cockpit, marked by the flash and smoke of two small explosions.
The derelict airframe banks to left as two orange and white parachutes deploy amid a shower of debris. Several seconds later a plume of thick black smoke is seen rising above the tree line where the doomed jet impacted the ground.
Both flight crew were recovered, with unspecified non-life threatening injuries. No serious injuries have been reported on the ground, although the MiG narrowly missed an apartment complex near the impact site.
Retired US Navy pilot Dan Filer flew the MiG-23, according to the Thunder Over Michigan website. In earlier media appearances, Filer described the craft as the only privately-operated MiG-23 in the world.
Known to NATO air forces as the “Flogger”, the Soviet Union designed the MiG-23 to replace the widely fielded MiG-21, according to the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
The MiG-23MS variant was “designed for foreign export and was less capable than domestic Soviet versions”, according to the museum. The jet that crashed in Michigan was a two-seat MiG-23UB training variant.
The type was first delivered in 1973, with more than 5,000 being produced in total.
The variable geometry design is described by the US Air Force (USAF) as being similar to the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark. The pilot-adjustable wings could be set for low-speed take-off or supersonic flight.
Throughout several decades of the Cold War, the USAF covertly acquired Soviet MiG-17, MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighters to conduct secret flight testing and adversary air training under a secret programme designated Constant Peg.
The service acquired a MiG-23 in 1980, according to the USAF, which is now on display at the air force museum.