Mathias Rust and the Red Square

Rust shortly after landing

How It Happened

The event took place on 28 May 1987. West German teenager Mathias Rust, an inexperienced pilot of 18 years old, with only 50 hours of flight time under his belt. He rented a Reims Cessna F172P light aircraft and removed the seats from the plane. Installing extra fuel tanks. On 13 May 1987, he left Hamburg and flew North-West.

He visited the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and then flew back to Bergen. From there he flew to Helsinki. on the morning of 28 May at midday, he took off, and then suddenly turned East, switching off his communication equipment. He disappeared from the radar and a search mission was organized.

Image of the plane descending onto the bridge.

At around 14h29 he crossed the Baltic and turned towards Moscow, and Soviet air defenses picked him up. From here the Soviets tracked and lost contact with him on and off. Air force fighters were dispatched but on one occasion he was spotted and the pilot mistook Rust’s plane as a Yaolev Yak-12 sport plane. The Soviet confusion continued and they eventually lost track of him completely.

The Landing

Rust appeared over Moscow at around 19h00, and his initial plan was to land the aircraft in the Kremlin but decided against it. Fearing his efforts would go unseen. Then he opted for the Red Square and circled it. There were too many people around so he managed to land on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, close to St. Basil’s Cathedral. He taxied the plane to 100 meters from the square and got out. With curious onlookers approaching and asking where he is from. All were amazed to hear he was West German. Two hours later he was arrested.

On 2 September 1987 Rust appeared in court and was sentenced to four years in prison. However, Gorbachev pardoned him in 1988 as a goodwill gesture to the West. He returned to Germany on 3 August 1988. The event did great damage to the Soviet’s defensive image and gave Gorbachev a free hand to get rid of some military and political opponents.

Mathias Rust, a west german teenager landed a Cessna sports plane in the red square on May 28, 1987, on trial for invading Soviet air space. (Photo by Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)
Mathias Rust

The plane of Mathias Rust on display

The plane is currently on display in the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin.

In the museum today

The documentary