November 01, 2005

Target 8255: The Strangely Lucky Flight of Mathias Rust

In Mathias Rust’s neat, two-bedroom apartment outside Berlin there are no mementos, no photographs, no framed newspaper headlines — nothing to indicate that, for a few short weeks 18 years ago, he was the most famous pilot in the world. On May 28, 1987, Rust took off in a small Cessna from Helsinki, Finland, turned southeast toward the border of the then-Soviet Union, and flew 450 miles into the center of Moscow, landing next to the Kremlin Wall.

Rust’s stunt was an international sensation. Newspapers all over the world splashed photos of his plane sitting under the distinctive onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral. Dubbed “the new Red Baron” and the “Don Quixote of the Skies,” Rust’s name was mentioned in the same breath as Charles Lindbergh and Chuck Yeager.

The political backdrop made his exploit even more sensational. No one knew it yet, but the Cold War was winding down. Gorbachev was pushing glasnost and perestroika. He and U.S. President Ronald Reagan were in the middle of delicate arms negotiations.

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