RAMSTEIN, Germany - In the 60 years of NATO Air Policing over Germany there were several incidents involving Allied fighter aircraft and Russian military planes during Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) sorties.
Pilots of NATO fighter intercepting Soviet long-range "Bear Bombers" often reported that the rear gunner waved his hands at them as if greeting well-known friends
"Pilots of NATO fighter intercepting Soviet long-range "Bear Bombers" often reported that the rear gunner waved his hands at them as if greeting well-known friends," said retired German Air Force Lieutenant General Friedrich Ploeger, a former Deputy Command of NATO Allied Air Command.
"One incident during the last phase of the Cold war showed the predicament comparable to the dilemma of decision-makers in a "Renegade" situation, which describes situations in which an aircraft is used as a weapon," said Lieutenant General Ploeger. In 1989, a pilotless Soviet MiG-23 Flogger crashed into a house near Kortrijk in Belgium killing an 18-year-old boy on the ground. This tragic incident actually began when the pilot of the Flogger ejected over northwestern Poland in an emergency, but his aircraft stabilized itself after ejection and continued to fly more than 900 kilometers on a westerly track. When the MiG-23 entered German airspace, NATO QRA were launched to intercept and shadow it. "Shooting it down, however, was not an option because it constantly flew over populated territory and the potential consequences were too uncertain," explained Ploeger. "In the end, the MiG-23 ran out of fuel and crashed into the house in Belgium," he added.
German Air Force F-4Fs from Wittmund Airbase, a mainstay of the German contribution to the NATO Air Policing system that held QRA ready to be scrambled by the CRCs. Photo courtesy of the German Air Force
The wreckage of a pilotless Soviet MiG-23 Flogger that crashed into a house near Kortrijk in Belgium killing an 18-year-old boy on the ground. Photo courtesy of Belgium Defence Forces
Another rather unusual incident in NATO Air Policing over Germany took place at a southern German Control Reporting Centre (CRC) in the early 70s: In the late afternoon of a sunny day in August, a track appeared on the border between Czechoslovakia and Germany in the area of the Bavarian Forest. It was a slow track – on a southwesterly course, speed 80 to 100 knots – assessed to be a small aircraft. Its elevation could not be determined. The Sector Controller called for a scramble and launched the QRA – two F-4 E Phantoms from Erding Air Base. The fighters quickly joined the track – at least on the radar scope. When the pilots, however, transmitted "no joy, no contact", they were ordered to further descend at slowest speed possible and to continue to "check for low targets". After a few minutes of following the ground track, the pilots reported "still no joy, no target; the only thing we can see is a train!" "Super-refraction had deflected the surveillance radar's beam downwards and it had picked up a ground track about 100 nautical miles northeast of the site," explained Ploeger. " It was actually the express train from Prague to Regensburg. After this incident, the train schedule for southeastern Bavaria became a mandatory equipment item at the CRC," he added.