Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 207

A Ukrainian air force MiG-29 disappeared last Thursday while on a flight from an airbase on the Crimean peninsula to one near Kiev. Unless the wreckage of the plane can be found and recovered, the cause of this accident may never be determined. One plausible explanation is that there was something wrong with the pilot’s oxygen system and he lost consciousness, since he was at an altitude of more than 10,000 meters (35,000 feet.) In dismissing suggestions that the pilot might have defected with the jet fighter, Ukrainian authorities released some amplifying information about the pilot and plane: he was a 39-year-old major named Oleg Kulik with 500 flying hours, while the MiG was built in 1989 and had less than 400 hours in the air. Although an aide to the Defense Ministry suggested that the pilot’s "training standard [and] the technical state of the aircraft" had ensured a safe flight, the statistics in fact speak volumes about the sorry state of the Ukrainian air force and, by inference, those of the other successor states of the Soviet Union.

Kulik’s 500 flight hours are little more than a military pilot in the West would receive during his flight training alone. Since he was a relatively senior officer — probably approaching 18 or 20 years service — the figures would also suggest that he was able to get into the cockpit no more than once or twice a month on the average. That is certainly not enough to stay proficient in a modern high-performance jet. Planes, like pilots, also need to be used to remain in top shape. On average, Kulik’s MiG-29 flew less than 60 hours during each year of its 7-year life — about one month’s utilization for most Western fighters.

Armenian Prime Minister Replaced.