On August 3, 1988, Soviet authorities free Mathias Rust, the daring young West German pilot who landed a rented Cessna on Moscow’s Red Square in 1987. Rust was serving a four-year sentence at a labor camp when the Soviets approved his extradition as a goodwill gesture to the West.
On May 28, 1987, Rust, a 19-year-old with less than 40 hours of flying time, flew the light plane from Helsinki, Finland, to Red Square, the site of the Kremlin, Lenin’s Tomb, and frequent Soviet patriotic demonstrations. He had not been detected once during the 500-mile flight. Rust said his flight was in the interest of world peace, and he signed autographs in Red Square until he was arrested. His seemingly effortless penetration of Soviet air space raised serious questions about the USSR’s ability to defend itself from air attack.