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Wed, Aug 16, 2023

NTSB Discloses Details of YIP MiG-23 Mishap

Initial Reports Only Partially Accurate

On 13 August 2023, a MiG-23 went down while taking part in the Thunder Over Michigan air-show. Held yearly at Ypsilanti, Michigan’s Willow Run Airport (YIP), Thunder Over Michigan is among the U.S.’s premier air-shows, drawing aircraft from around the wide world.

The accident aircraft, a MiG-23UB built in 1981 and imported from the Czech Republic, had been largely restored by, belonged to, and was flown by Dan “Files” Filer, a U.S. Navy combat veteran who flew A-6 Intruders in the Gulf War.

A number of years ago, Mr. Filer happened upon a MiG-23 up for sale and pursued purchase of such. While seeking out parts for the jet, he discovered 17 additional MiG-23s (in various states of disrepair) for sale, and purchased every one, donating the single-seaters to various air museums.

The Sunday, 13 August mishap saw Mr. Filer and a second, as-of-yet-unidentified aviator eject from the MiG-23 as it traversed the airspace over Ypsilanti, Michigan’s Willow Run Airport (YIP). The unpiloted jet came almost immediately to ground, impacting a number of unoccupied vehicles in the parking lot of Van Buren Township’s Waverly on the Lake Apartments. By dint of extraordinary good fortune, no ground injuries were reported and Mr. Filer and his companion were rescued from Bellville Lake.

Filer and the individual occupying the accident-aircraft’s aft station—known in official military parlance as a Combat Systems Officer (CSO) and colloquially as a backseater—both ejected successfully from the aircraft.

Michigan’s Wayne County Airport Authority set forth: “While it did not appear they [the Mig-23’s occupants] sustained any significant injuries, first-responders transported the pair to a nearby hospital as a precaution.”

The Airport Authority’s statement proved inaccurate. Filer and his backseater, after being fished from Bellville Lake, were conveyed to Superior Township’s St. Joseph’s Hospital where they were treated for serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator John Brannen reported on Monday, 14 August that the accident-aircraft had experienced "engine loss of power issues."

Brannen set forth: "The airplane had made one pass down the runway. ... There were going to be three passes total, culminating in a landing. They were circling around for the second pass when they experienced the difficulty. Right now, all the information is preliminary and we can't draw any conclusions. The fact that both pilots survived and there were no ground injuries is a very good outcome."

Brannen stated, also, that personnel of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are on site in Ypsilanti for purpose of addressing possible fuel contamination resultant of the accident.

Brannen conceded the accident-aircraft’s Russian origin could complicate his agency’s investigation.

"The fact that it is a Russian military airplane and there's no what we call a 'flight certificate' that civilian airplanes have with details of the manufacturers that you can go to for assistance in this, which will make this more difficult," Brannen asserted.

The MiG23, while lumbering and technologically remedial by Western standards, is looked upon by historians as one of the Soviet Union’s more enduring combat aircraft.

Conceived of and built by the alternately famed and infamous—depending on one’s political bent— Mikoyan-Gurevich design bureau, the MiG-23 (NATO designation Flogger) is a third-generation, variable-geometry fighter aircraft powered by a single, 18,000-lbf Khatchaturov R-35-300 afterburning turbojet engine fitted with variable-geometry exhaust nozzles. First flown in 1967 and fielded in 1970, the MiG-23 remained in service with Eastern Bloc nations well into the 1990s. Over its 18-year (1967-1985) production-run, over five-thousand specimens of the MiG-23 were built, thereby distinguishing the machine as history’s most-produced variable-geometry aircraft.

After the fashion of Soviet fighters and interceptors of its day, the MiG-23 was at once blindingly-fast and eminently hazardous to the health of its pilots.

American pilots afforded opportunity to fly the Mig-23 noted with consistency that the jet’s airframe was easily overstressed, that it was unstable in yaw as it passed Mach 1.0, and again when approaching Mach 2.0; and that the narrow placement of the aircraft’s main landing-gear was wont to slip and slide in adverse weather conditions. The MiG-23, broadly speaking, was unpopular with American pilots, who found the machine unacceptably dangerous to operate and bestowed upon it a host of derogatory monikers the likes of Looping Hog—on account of it flew like a pig and one of the few basic fighter maneuvers (BFM) it could reliably perform in a dogfight was a massive inside loop.

Despite the large numbers in which it was produced, airworthy Mig-23s are a rarity in the West. Ergo, attendees of EAA AirVenture 2023 were delighted in late-July by the appearance of Mr. Filer’s Flogger—North America’s (then) only flying Mig-23.

Speaking to the subject of the Flogger’s less-than-stellar reputation among fighter aircraft, Mr. Filer asserted at the time: “It didn’t have a great reputation with the U.S. pilots that flew it because they flew the base model. … Soviet guys that I’ve talked to, they love the airplane. And I like the airplane. Would I want to dogfight in it? No.”

During an AirVenture 2023 interview, Mr. Filer stated public reaction to his MiG-23 has consisted of excitement and confusion in equal parts.

“Nobody’s seen it,” Flier averred. “They say, ‘We didn’t know any of these existed.”

Mr. Filer added: “I’ve been flying around my hometown, Longview, Texas, and it was time to display it. They’re just like, ‘We didn’t know there were any of these.’ So we’re excited. It’s been positive. Anybody from the Eastern bloc countries, they all come over. This guy just got a big tattoo of one 30 years ago. And then I have a bunch of Polish ones. This one came from the Czech Republic. I got Polish ones, Bulgarian ones. … They’re so excited that I have this up and flying.”

While the loss of North America’s only flying MiG-23 is unfortunate, the whole of the aviation community, to include the staff of Aero-News Network, is grateful Mr. Flier and his backseater survived the incident, and wish both pilots speedy and thorough recoveries.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov

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