Polish MiG-29 Crashed, Pilots Flee The Scene

The MiG-29 disaster near Pasłęk - Photo courtesy Tomasz Waszczuk / PAP

Key Points

  • The event, according to Onet’s sources, took place on May 14. During the exercises in Nadarzyce, one of the pilots of the MiG-29 fighter shot a second fighter with a 30 mm cannon, making holes in its hull and damaging the structure
  • The Ministry of National Defense confirmed that the State Aviation Accident Investigation Commission is investigating such an aviation incident. However, it refused to answer questions about his circumstances
  • The pilots we interviewed feel that a failing training system is to blame. – Certainly, there was a problem with the training of the crews and the application of safety rules by them – assesses Gen. Tomasz Drewniak, a former inspector of the Polish Air Force
  • It is not known whether the MiG-29 under fire will return to service. According to our sources, Wojskowe Zakłady Lotnicze No. 2 from Bydgoszcz want to undertake its renovation. However, there were concerns as to whether, after the renovation, its technical condition would allow for safe flying.

The Polish Armed Forces General Command (Dowództwo Generalne Rodzajów Sił Zbrojnych or DGRSZ) said today that a MiG-29 jet was involved in an accident last month, but denied media claims that it shot another fighter jet.

On May 14, at the training ground in Nadarzyce in the Greater Poland Voivodeship, an incident occurred in which one of the MiG-29 fighter pilots shot at another fighter, making holes in its hull and damaging the structure – we found out from two independent sources. Both machines come from the 22nd Tactical Air Base in Malbork.

“During training at Nadarzyce in mid-May this year, the MiG-29 aircraft was not shelled. Flights were being carried out by the crews of the 22nd Tactical Air Base in Malbork when an air incident occurred, but it was not a situation where one plane fired at another. After landing, a technician found damage to the lower part of the MiG-29’s fuselage. The damage is being investigated by the State Aviation Accident Investigation Commission,” the joint command of the Polish Armed Forces, responsible for the combat training and readiness, supply, personnel and technical complement of military units of the armed forces during peace and crisis, said in a statement today.

Earlier, a report by Onet.pl claimed that one of the MiG-29 pilots shot at another fighter from its 30mm gun “accidentally” during routine exercises. It quoted another pilot saying that if a bullet of this caliber hit the cockpit fairing, it would break the pilot’s head.

The Ministry of National Defense confirmed that “The State Aviation Accident Investigation Commission is investigating an air incident involving damage to the shell of the MiG-29 22BLT aircraft during exercises at the training ground in Nadarzyce”. The Ministry of Defense, however, refused to answer questions about the circumstances of this incident.

From what we have learned from the pilots, one of the post-Soviet fighters fired at the other with a 30 mm cannon. – It is a powerful blow, the pilot must have felt it. If a bullet of this caliber hit the cockpit fairing, it would break the pilot’s head – explains one of the pilots.

The pilots we interviewed said that the cases of one fighter being shot by another paired with it are extremely rare. They believe that the failure of the training system is to blame for this situation.

– We do not know what the weather was like or the conditions, but there was certainly a problem with the training of the crews and the application of safety rules by them – assesses Gen. Tomasz Drewniak, a former air force inspector. – I do not remember a situation where one fighter would hit another. Most likely, one of the pilots in the pair made the manoeuvre wrong and stayed behind. In this situation, adhering to the safety rules, he should not shoot. During the training, mistakes are allowed and new skills are acquired on their basis. However, we must not allow the pilot’s error to deepen and lead to a critical situation, as in this case.

– The profession of a pilot, especially a combat one, requires constant training. If they maintain their habits, train and have the required raid, such situations should not arise. It is worth noting, however, that when storming ground targets with steam, firing at the neighboring machine is practically impossible. I do not know of such cases where the pilot fired on the second cannon – says Lt. Col. Tomasz Łyżwa, former Su-22 and F-16 fighter pilot.

Fortunately, the pilot of the MIG under fire landed safely. Only technicians on the ground found the fighter’s damage.

According to our information, not only the plating is damaged, but also the frame. These are elements of the aircraft skeleton that strengthen and stiffen the fuselage inside. – Damage to the frame is a breach of the structure of the aircraft, which means that it is no longer usable – explains the pilot.

– There are power frames and those that do not carry any loads. If the former was damaged, then this plane will be a big problem, it may never return to flying – believes General Drewniak.

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Risky renovations

According to our information, the aircraft would be repaired by Wojskowe Zakłady Lotnicze No. 2 (WZL-2) in Bydgoszcz. We asked WZL-2 about it, but the spokeswoman of the plant, Magdalena Gołembiewska, replied that the plant “are not authorized to comment on air incidents that occurred during the performance of tasks by the Polish Air Force.”

Our interlocutors claim that a possible attempt to repair the plane with a damaged frame could lead to a similar tragedy that happened near Pasłęk on July 6, 2018.

In the article “Death chair. Why did Captain Sobański die” we described the circumstances of that catastrophe. Less than a 33-year-old pilot, Lieutenant Krzysztof Sobański (who was posthumously promoted to captain), began to rapidly lose fuel when he realized that the failure would prevent him from returning. to the base, and his fighter will soon fall to the ground due to lack of fuel, he led him outside Pasłęk so as not to cause casualties, and then he catapulted in a deserted area. .

In the above-mentioned article, Onet was the first to inform that the tragedy was caused by errors caused by WZL-2 technicians. The plant has had no contact with the Russian producer of RSK MiG fighters since the 1990s. This is the result of the deteriorating relations between Poland and Russia. Therefore, WZL-2 are doomed to import original parts from other machines, and in some cases to duplicate them with home-made methods.

This is what happened with the so-called with a retaining ring in the firing mechanism of the chair on which Lieutenant Sobański catapulted. The plant’s technicians made a ring that was too strong, which blocked the opening of the parachute at the time of the attempt.

After the publication of the article, the plants issued a statement in which they accused Onet journalists of making unconfirmed theses and speculating.

Eight months later, Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa admitted the mistake of technicians from its plants, and over a year later the first charges were brought. However, the management of the plant so far has not suffered any consequences.

– WZL-2 live off the repairs of these fighters. We are afraid that they will take the hoe to the sun again and another tragedy will happen – the pilot tells us.

Planes crash, pilots flee

The terrible technical condition of the MiG-29 flying in the Polish air force is increasingly threatening the lives of the pilots. In March 2019, four minutes after taking off from the 23rd Tactical Air Base in Mińsk Mazowiecki, the MiG-29 pilot heard a roar and lost control of the machine . He catapulted over the forest near Węgrów. The machine was completely destroyed. Unofficially, we found out that the cause of the accident was mechanical wear of the engine.

After that accident, post-Soviet fighters were grounded for eight months. After the flights resumed, the pilots told us that the planes were in such a bad condition that it was only a matter of time before the next failure. They claimed that they were struggling, among others, by with malfunctions of the cabins, delamination of fairings and cracking elements of the undercarriage.

In December 2019, just a month after the resumption of flights, the MiG-29 fighter pilot was returning to the base in emergency due to a broken generator . In an interview with us, the former air force inspector, Gen. Tomasz Drewniak called the generator failure “one of the worst cases that can happen to a pilot”: – If the generator fails, the pilot simply has no energy in the machine. The current from the battery is enough for him for 5-10 minutes, and then everything turns off. In such cases, the instruction clearly states: “Immediately stop the task and land at the nearest airport.” Landing without electricity is possible, but extremely difficult – he said.

Another dangerous incident occurred in January 2020. The MiG-29 from the 22nd Tactical Aviation Base in Malbork lost its braking parachute during its flight over civilian areas. A 50 cm long tube, weighing approximately 20 kg, is used to brake the machine after landing.

– As if something like that hits someone, it’s a chapel. In addition, when hitting a house, the car is like a missile – one of the pilots explained to us then.

As we found out, the terrible condition of the machines, as well as the failure to report many incidents for fear of another grounding of fighters, are the main reasons why pilots are retiring early or changing their qualifications to civil planes.

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