The Cold War was a scary time. Yeah, we know, we didn't actually need to remind anyone of that. But part of the reason it was so terrifying is because of stuff like the Soviet Union's MiG-25. While it was a high-speed interceptor, it was less than useless in a dogfight and didn't have enough range to make much difference. But the West didn't know that.
After a series of encounters that at one point showed a mysterious fighter screaming over the Mediterranean at a reported speed of Mach 3.2 while flying at 63,000 feet, the US believed the Soviets had built some kind of monstrous super fighter. Until a Soviet pilot defected 40 years ago, yesterday. The BBC has the story of Flight Lieutenant Viktor Ivanovich Belenko and the mysterious MiG-25.
Belenko, a disillusioned Soviet fighter pilot, snuck off with the MiG-25 during a training exercise off Russia's east coast, flying the high-speed jet at extremely low altitudes some 400 miles to the Japanese airbase at Hakodate (shown above). After months in Japan, where western governments dissected the jet to figure out its capabilities, it was partially reassembled and shipped back to Russia. And yes, Japan charged the Soviets for the transportation.
You'll want to give this lengthy piece a read – it's a detailed look not only at a Cold War drama, but it gives a sense of the extreme paranoia that existed between the West and the Soviet Union during the depths of the Cold War.