A Ukrainian fighter pilot who has already flown an F-16 said he and his comrades are ready to switch to modern jets.
Yuriy, nicknamed ‘Skywalker’ in the UK, told Metro.co.uk that it’s an ‘honor’ to fly knowing that ‘every day could be your last’ due to the numbers and technology Superiority of Russia in the sky.
He described the feeling of flying combat missions as multiplying the stress of everyday life by “100 or 1,000”, but sees it as his duty to fight for the freedom of his family and other Ukrainians.
The veteran pilot echoed calls by the nation’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the West to supply modern aircraft, saying NATO-standard aircraft would allow him and his comrades to fight at greater distances from the enemy and save them from “sacrificing life”.
In one of the war’s most notable feats, the Sukhoi Su-27 pilot and his comrades continue to fly sorties against what were initially deemed overwhelming.
Describing the sensations of flying combat missions over Ukraine, he told Metro.co.uk: “Every single person experiences the stress of conflict situations in life. Try to remember that feeling, then multiply it by 100 or 1,000.
“Then you will only get a glimpse of what it feels like to be a Ukrainian soldier or pilot, knowing that each day could be your last and tomorrow can begin without you.”
Yuriy and Ukrainian top gun Oleksandr Oksanchenko, who was his mentor, were given the nicknames Skywalker and Obi-Wan respectively after flying in the Royal International Air Tattoo held annually at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. Oksanchenko, a world-famous aerobatic pilot, was shot down over Kiev on February 25, 2022.
The aviator was posthumously named Hero of Ukraine by Mr. Zelenskyy.
“This war brought many deaths,” said Yuriy.
“Almost everyone here has lost friends. I lost my colleague, my teacher and my friend. He was a model pilot and a model person.
“When we presented Ukraine at the UK airshow, people called us Obi-Wan and Skywalker.
“But he died standing against several enemies.
“In the morning of that day there was an air raid on Kiev, and Russian planes, Su-34 and Su-30 jets, came to bomb the capital. In an unequal struggle, he was ahead of their plans and their mission, but lost his life.
“His fighter jet was shot up into the sky and he had no chance of survival.
“The same day after my flight, I tried to call him and ask how things were going, but inside I felt something was wrong. I lost my boyfriend…”
The Ukrainian pilots’ commitment was also demonstrated by Major Danylo Murashko, who spent time between sorties learning English in preparation for the possible arrival of F-16s.
The 24-year-old became another of Ukraine’s fallen pilots on January 27 this year when he crashed over the eastern Donetsk region.
He was also posthumously named a Hero of Ukraine.
Yuriy, whose call sign is “Cat,” said every pilot appreciates that each flight could be his last, but the prospect of a Russian occupation and the horrors of Bucha and Irpin are his most important thoughts.
He spoke in support of #buymeafighterjet Campaign, a pilot-backed charity initiative aimed at upgrading Ukraine’s Air Force with international donations and low-cost aircraft.
“It’s an honor to defend my country and do my utmost for something I like,” Yuriy said.
“I’ve loved flying for years. My main motivation is the freedom of my family and the entire Ukrainian people on the ground below.
“Every pilot understands that your next mission or your last flight may be your last.
“But we had sad experiences with the ‘Russian world’, a local idiom, and we don’t want to see that again.
“Anyone who has not experienced this can google Bucha, Irpin and other places and find out about the terrible actions of the Russian army.
“I’m sure everyone would defend their own home, family and freedom if the enemy came to their door.”
The Ukrainian Air Force predominantly flies Sukhoi jets, which are Soviet-era and considered by military experts to be technologically inferior to Russia’s updated version of the aircraft.
Yuriy said they are vulnerable to the Kremlin’s more advanced models, which can fire missiles at longer ranges.
The training and logistical support that would be required for advanced aircraft such as the F-16 or F-35 was one of the reasons cited by western military analysts as a complication preventing the jets from being handed over immediately.
However, Yuriy’s comments suggest such a transition could be much quicker than some Western military analysts believe.
“I was lucky enough to fly an F-16 during joint training ahead of UEFA EURO 2012, when pilots from different countries shared their experiences,” he said. “We are ready for the upgrade. To achieve victory, we need modern weapons and equipment.”
Mr. Zelenskyy used a stirring speech at Westminster Hall last month to urge the UK to send advanced aircraft, saying: “In Britain the king is an air force pilot and in Ukraine today every air force pilot is a king”.
The war leader said pilots were “so few, so valuable” and appealed to the West to create “wings for freedom”.
However, the UK, US and other allies have so far not relented to the request, despite providing other types of air support.
Aircraft that could be delivered included F-16s and F-35s from the US and Typhoons from the UK.
US President Joe Biden has repeatedly said F-16s will not be deployed, while Rishi Sunak has so far not responded to positive noise following Zelenskyy’s appeal, saying fighter jets are “part of the conversation”.
Yuriy told Metro.co.uk that Ukraine’s Air Force has been ready for a build-up since joining in February 2014 at the start of the Donbass War and Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
“If we get modern jets and equipment, we can fight the invaders from afar, stay in a safe area and not sacrifice our pilots’ lives,” he said. “We are ready to use modern equipment and war machines from our partners.
“We have demonstrated our level of training, but each time there have been problems with domestic politics or international politics. Some might have thought that Ukraine would cease to exist in April 2022, but we are still standing.
“We have been ready to use modern jets and equipment since 2014. If the jets don’t arrive, you can ask pilots from other countries who will also ask our allies to provide the jets.’
Two Ukrainian pilots are currently in the United States where their skills will be assessed and evaluated, including their ability to fly jets like the F-16.
They’re using simulators at a military base in Tucson, Arizona, in what the US calls a “familiarization event.” A training program that would be required prior to a handover of the “fourth generation” aircraft would take 18 months, according to the US military.
British Armed Forces Secretary James Heapey said on Wednesday there were no immediate plans to supply Ukraine with Typhoons but the government was trying to train pilots with “significant combat experience”. Mr Heapey told the House of Commons Defense Committee that factors such as training and logistics meant there was an “enema” in the “gifting” of planes.
The #buymeafighterjet appeal aims to buy jets that are not currently used for military purposes if owners are willing to sell them at lower prices.
The initiative is supported by the pilots but operates through a charity set up to support the Air Force “in wartime and after our victory”.
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https://metro.co.uk/2023/03/10/ukrainian-pilot-nicknamed-skywalker-says-modern-jets-will-save-lives-18420730/ Ukrainian pilot nicknamed "Skywalker" says modern jets will save lives