Soviet jet experts faced a serious problem: despite the use of grain alcohol, an old but effective deicer, the windshields of MIG-25 Foxbat interceptors were icing up. What had gone wrong? The answer, according to Lieut. Viktor Ivanovich Belenko: Soviet crew chiefs on the ground were drinking the grain alcohol to relieve Siberian boredom and surreptitiously replacing the liquid with water.
That is only one of the fascinating tidbits about the Soviet air force that U.S. intelligence debriefers have gleaned from Belenko since the 29-year-old defecting pilot flew his Foxbat to northern Japan's Hakodate airport last month (TIME, Sept. 20). Meanwhile, as the Soviets fume, American aeronautical experts have been examining the MIG-25 inch by eager inch, learning everything they always wanted to know about the one plane in the world that can outclimb and outfly the hottest U.S. fighters.
Belenko told his American interrogators that at 80,000 ft. his jet could fly safely at only Mach 2.8 (1,850 m.p.h.), rather than the Mach 3.2 of prototype MIG-25s. Even at Mach 2.8, he complained, his engines overheated and the four air-to-air missiles slung under the wings vibrated dangerously. U.S. technicians have discovered that Soviet technology is surprisingly old-fashioned in many ways: the MIG-25's wrinkled wings were welded by hand rather than by machine, and rivets were not ground flush to reduce drag. Beyond that, the plane is so heavy (64,200 lbs.) that Soviet designers apparently had to eliminate a pilot-ejection apparatus. Despite these shortcomings, one expert admitted to TIME Correspondent Joseph Kane last week that the MIG-25 is a "fantastic" airplane. Its engines burn with less soot than American planes and produce 27,000 lbs. of thrust rather than the 24,500 lbs. that U.S. experts had estimated.
Aerial Ambition. Belenko is proving to be almost as interesting as his plane. Foul-mouthed and boastful, the flamboyant fighter pilot has lamented that he never achieved his greatest aerial ambitionto shoot down an SR-71 Blackbird, the high-flying supersonic American spy plane.
His wife Lyudmila and his mother appeared on Soviet television last week, pleading with their defector to come home. Moscow promised there would be no reprisals. In Washington, a Soviet diplomat was allowed a 50-minute interview with Belenko, who was brought from his debriefing at Airlie House, a conference center in the Virginia foothills. The pilot refused entreaties to return home, and his U.S. hosts happily resumed their debriefing. The longer the revealing conversations continue, the safer it would seem for the blabbing Belenko to stay in the West.