May 23, 2013:
A Russian court-martial recently convicted an Air Force general of violating flying rules and causing the loss of a Su-27UB jet fighter. Both the general and his instructor managed to eject safely after the general, who was learning how to operate the Su-27, had tried to perform an acrobatic maneuver he did not know how to handle in an Su-27. Disobeying the instructor, the general went ahead, the aircraft went out of control, and both he and his instructor had to eject before the aircraft crashed. The prosecutor wanted to send the general to prison for five years and fine him $3.2 million (the cost of the aircraft). The general had a spotless record up till then, so he got four years’ probation and an $800 fine (to cover court costs).
While this might sound like very unusual behavior for a senior air force officer, it isn’t that unusual in the Russian Air Force. During the Cold War there were many documented examples of this sort of behavior. That’s because NATO intelligence units regularly monitored radio activity in East Germany and captured a number of these air disasters, or at least the final radio transmissions from the misbehaving Russian generals. For example, one such recording was of a Russian Air Force general flying a MiG-23 and was heard carrying on a heated conversation as his aircraft attempted to land in bad weather. The MiG began to have mechanical problems and the general began getting angry. As he came in lower, the cockpit warning system began to announce, in a taped feminine voice, that various systems were broken and suggested alternative procedures. The general was really pissed off at this point and, as he crashed, his last words were, "Shut up you whore, don't try and tell me how to fly an airplane."
When the Cold War ended in 1991, many of these catastrophes got into circulation within the NATO air forces, even though those recordings were technically still classified. The one thing that has changed is that the Russian courts-martial of officers that survive, and the accident reports of those who don’t, are no longer kept secret. That policy appears to have persuaded many Russian air force generals to be more circumspect while in the cockpit. Better training procedures and safer (to operate) aircraft have also helped.