MiGs for Ukraine

The Polish government made a half-serious offer to lend their MiG-29 fighter jets to the embattled Ukrainians.  They intended to do the deal at an American airbase in Germany, which might have isolated them from Russia's wrath to a small degree, but the U.S. balked. 

The U.S. faced a similar problem just prior to the American involvement in WWII.  The Neutrality Act of 1935 was enacted to prevent the U.S. from becoming involved in future wars.  No war-related hardware could be exported to a country at war, including friendly countries such as Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Canada.  These countries had U.S.-manufactured aircraft on order, but because of the Neutrality Act, there was no way to legally deliver them.  An ingenious subterfuge was crafted: find a pair of suitable landing fields closely straddling the Canadian-U.S. border.  A pair of customs brokers, one Canadian and one American, worked out the "rules of the game," while pilots from each side selected the landing sites.  Delivery pilots from the California aircraft factories landed, then taxied the aircraft just short of the border.  Civilians on both sides used tractors and even horses to tow the aircraft across the border, where Canadian military pilots then ferried them off to training bases and across the North Atlantic.

A similar subterfuge would work today in Central Europe.  It's not uncommon among NATO members to conduct exercises using highways as landing strips, and positioning fuel and ordnance trucks at service stations to fuel and arm aircraft.  Highway E40 runs east from Rzeszow, Poland to the Ukraine border about 80 km away.  Polish pilots would simply land the MiGS on the straight stretch of E40 just adjacent to the border.  They would taxi the aircraft up to but short of the border, set the parking brake, leave the engines turning and climb out.  The Ukraine pilots then walk across the border, climb in, taxi the aircraft across the border, and take off along a straight stretch of highway less than a kilometer away.

"Honest, Colonel, we just stopped in here at the Last Chance Pub for a pint of Zywiec and those sly Ukrainians jumped across the border and took our MiGs."

Image: Srđan Popović.

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