63-Year-Old Retired Russian Fighter Pilot Shot Down In Su-25 Over Ukraine
Like Top Gun’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, retired Russian Maj. Gen. Kanamat Botashev was a hot dog who broke the rules.
In a real-life spin on Top Gun: Maverick’s Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, a 63-year-old retired Russian major general was shot out of the sky by a Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile while flying an Su-25 over Ukraine, the BBC reports.
The BBC's Russian Service said it had confirmed the report of Kanamat Botashev’s death with three of his former subordinates.
But one thing is certain. Botashev, like the fictional Maverick, has a hot dog history of his own.
His storied Russian military aviation career ended in June 2012, the BBC reported, after being accused of crashing a Su-27 fighter near Petrozavodsk.
Botashev was actually twice dinged for his antics. He was suspended from flying in 2011 for a similar violation, according to Russian state-run media outlet TASS.
Then, on June 28, 2012, Botashev ran tactical flight exercises at the Besovets Air Base in Karelia. He decided, without undergoing proper training and pre-flight medical checks, "to fly a two-seat Su-27UB fighter jet.” Not only that, but he also “decided to participate in performing aerial weather reconnaissance.”
During that flight, Botashev “ordered the pilot of the aircraft, the commander of the Besovetskaya air group, Colonel Yevgeny Oleinik, to transfer control of the machine to him and began to perform aerobatics not provided for by the flight task,” according to TASS.
Things didn’t turn out too well.
“When performing the ‘bell’ figure, due to errors in piloting, the fighter entered the ‘inverted corkscrew’ position, and it was not possible to correct it. Both pilots ejected at an altitude of about 500 m [~1,640 feet],” TASS reported.
Last week, Ukraine officials reported they shot down an Su-25, which apparently was the one piloted by Botashev.
It is unknown at the moment whether Botashev was flying with or without the approval of Russian military aviation officials, or whether he was flying on behalf of the Wagner Group or any other private military contractor.
"Botashev is/was an interesting character," Dave Winslow, a retired Army intelligence Chief Warrant Officer who has tracked the Wagner Group tells The War Zone. "It’s certainly possible that he was hired by Wagner, or another PMC, after his retirement."
At least one unconfirmed video has emerged from the battle over Donbas that hints at Wagner pilots fighting for Russia.
If Botashev were a member of Wagner, it might not be the first time someone from that conglomerate of private contractors working for the Russian military crashed a Russian warplane.
In 2020, a video of a Wagner pilot potentially emerging from a crashed Russian fighter jet. U.S. Africa Command has said that Wagner pilots have flown Su-24 Fencers as well as MiG-29 Fulcrums. You can read more about that here.
But regardless of who Botashev was flying for, another thing is clear.
Under most circumstances, a 63-year-old has no business flying a combat mission in a jet like the Frogfoot.
"A 62/63 year old retired pilot is nowhere near the peak physical performance demands required to operate a modern fighter aircraft in a high threat combat environment," said Winslow.
Jeff Cathey, a retired Navy captain who flew F/A-18 combat missions over Afghanistan, concurred.
"He's too old," Cathey told The War Zone.
Cathey should know.
In 2004, he was a 51-year-old pilot commanding USS Enterprise's air wing.
“I was one of the older guys,” Cathey said. “You are looking for all the automatic systems to work and delivering smart weapons pretty much straight and level.”
That’s nothing like flying low and fast over contested airspace like Ukraine in a jet that requires a lot more work to fly, Cathey said.
“The Frogfoot light attack bomber is of a generation where you still have to point your nose at the ground to do the math and get the right piece of sky and roll in and keep your knots up and turn on the electronic warfare gear and defenses,” he said.
And that doesn’t even take into account whether Botashev was flying alone, or in formation, which would only add complexity to his mission.
Either way, a pilot of Botashev’s age should be nowhere near combat, Cathey said.
“Eyesight is one thing, mental acuity another,” he said, ticking off a few reasons why.
Top Gun: Maverick, a sequel to the 1986 original, once again stars Tom Cruise, who turns 60 next month. It hits the theaters Friday. Rotten Tomatoes describe it thusly:
"After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him."
In the U.S. military, some general and flag officers (who are the fictional Maverick’s age) do occasionally fly fourth- and fifth-generation fighter aircraft, Cathey said, but not into combat like Botashev.
“You will see in the U.S. Navy, an admiral fly a fourth- or fifth-generation jet like an F/A-18 to maintain currency in the airplane,” said Cathey. “But they only do it during the day and they do not go into combat. It’s more for their own personal morale and leadership thing than anything else.”
Whether it was an old dog trying new tricks, a mercenary flying for the rubles, or just a Russian patriot serving his country, we may never know what drove Botashev to hop in a Frogfoot and take off for Ukraine.
But we know one thing. Not everyone can fly at that age like Pete "Maverick" Mitchell can.
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