Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Jackson Slaybaugh, USAF (ret.) “has had a varied
career as newspaperman, magazine editor, safety investigator and pilot. He is a Lt. Col., now retired, from the United States
Air Force.” He is the author of Mojave and Night Flight to
According to the book description of
Night Flight to Freedom, “In the mid-80’s, at the height of the Cold War, Herl Vladosk,
a Russian military pilot, struggling under the pressure of Communism and fearing the future for his wife and children, made
the decision to defect. Motivation he had, but no opportunity. A possible escape means became available when he was given
an extra duty assignment evaluating a highly classified, test-bed aircraft. He began to develop a plan. Somehow, someway,
if he could get his family on board and get enough lead-time, he would fly across the Bering Sea to Alaska.
He made a flight plan, committing every detail to memory. He was ready. Still, no opportunity. He continued to fly
the test missions from his base in east Russia. His squadron commander, not privy to the classified flights, continued to
make life more miserable each day. The copilot who had been sent to fly with him, he was convinced, was also an undercover
agent, probably of the secret KGB. Pressure continued to build on Vladosk and his family.
The break came when a typhoon
hit a northeastern Russia town causing catastrophic damage. Vladosk was directed to make emergency flights to the town. On
a second supply run, in the dark of night, Vladosk ws able to get is family aboard. (He had left his copilot at the devastated
town to assist the mayor.) This time, with his family hidden during offloading of the supplies, he simulated a crash at sea
after takeoff and made his break. Flying at low level through the remnants of the typhoon, his defection was undetected until
too late for interception by Russian aircraft.
Finally, picked up as a faint radar
return by an Aleutian Island Air Defense Command observer, U.S. F-15 interceptors were launched. The Russian high command,
determined that this aircraft not fall into American hands, advised it was being flown by a deranged pilot intent on bombing
Anchorage. They insisted that it be shot down before reaching landfall. First radar, then visual sighting was confirmed by
the interceptor pilots. The fact hat Vladosk had his wife and children wave to the USAF interceptor pilots caused considerable
doubt as to the threat.
Thanks to heavy cloud cover at the Alaskan coast, and aided by the stealth characteristics
of the test-bed aircraft, Vladosk was able to escape the interceptors. He made a successful crash landing near an isolated
frozen river. From this point on intrigue continues to build as U.S. officials investigate this incident and Russian officials
try to insure the aircraft and its pilot have not fallen into American hands.”