THE UKRAINIAN ACE
In fighter pilot language, an ‘Ace’ is a pilot that manages to down at least five enemy aircraft over the course of a war, or during a tour of duty. It is a rare occurrence.
But now, a Ukrainian fighter pilot dubbed ‘The Ghost of Kyiv,’ reportedly shot down at least six Russian fighter jets within the space of 30 hours. But this number could be as high as 10 in just a matter of days, according to some reports.
This would make The Ghost of Kyiv the first combat pilot Ace of the 21st century, if true.
THE GHOST OF KYIV TIMELINE
23rd February 2022; the invasion of Ukraine is in its infancy and the outlook is grim, with the Russian war machine grinding through the borders from Belarus. Whilst not unhindered and certainly not unopposed – it moves at a rapid pace.
In desperate need of supplies, the Ukrainian people call for arms, ammunition, volunteers, medical supplies, and food, all provided for by NATO nations over land and sea. Huddling around fires and queuing for food and medical attention, the Ukrainians also keep a wary eye on the skies for Russian MiG-29 fighter jets.
But soon the Ukrainian people would be witness to a spectacular feat of piloting.
24th February 2022; two Russian Su-24 ‘Frogfoot’ ground attack aircraft screeched low and fast over the skies surrounding Makariv, west of Kyiv, searching for targets of opportunity.
Confident the skies around them were clear of danger and air superiority had been declared by the Russian Air Force, one of the two Su-24 aircraft suddenly exploded from a missile hit from above, sending the aircraft flat-spinning into the ground.
The second Su-24 pulled hard left and high. Confused, the pilot suddenly jolted from its confident swagger over the city. It pulled high into the cloud cover and disappeared, its fate unknown.
These are the first reported targets of the Ghost of Kyiv.
By the afternoon of the 24th, the Ghost of Kyiv’s alleged kill count was: Two Russian SU-35 ‘Flanker-E’ Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft, one Russian SU-27 ‘Flanker’ Air superiority fighter, one Russian MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’ Fighter and two Russian SU-25 ‘Frogfoot’ Ground attack aircraft.
POTENTIAL U.S. INVOLVEMENT
On the 25th at 4.30 am Kyiv time, there was a clear explosion in the sky with debris falling over the city. There is evidence that the Ghost may have had a bit of help.
Below is a screenshot of a flight plan of a United States Air Force E3-A Sentry AWACS aircraft, in-flight over Romania on the night of the 24th.
Such an aircraft carries a powerful radar, is easily capable of reaching over the border into Ukraine and is designed to detect, track and guide other friendly fighters onto vectors of enemy aircraft.
This would take out a lot of guesswork, allowing for a large element of surprise, as reported by eyewitnesses.
The amount of military assistance the U.S. has been providing to the Ukrainians is – of course – shrouded in secrecy. But from the open-source intelligence that can be gathered and analysed, electronic intelligence (ELINT) is being provided.
This information would be coming in the form of satellite imagery, target locations, enemy formations and their movements and aircraft sorties and their estimated targets.
We can draw these conclusions because the Ukrainians do not possess the assets to perform such tasks on this scale.
Prior to the invasion on February 9th, the United States Air Force and RAF were busy providing around the clock battlespace surveillance. No doubt passing on Russian numbers and formations to Ukraine in preparation for the invasion.
So it would be safe to assume such activities continue at a greater pace, but information on the matter is scarce.
The sheer amount of abandoned Russian armour strewn about the battlefield in Ukraine suggests the Ukrainians are being told where Russian fuel trucks are being loaded and when they are leaving depots.
Perhaps this was a tongue in cheek jibe by the Pentagon at Russian forces, but who knows.
However, extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence. And a lot of what people describe is taken from eyewitness accounts, which by their very nature, are unreliable. Especially in the thick fog of war.
THE GHOST OF KYIV THEORIES
To break down the logistics of what would make such a feat possible:
A MiG-29 can carry a maximum of six air-to-air missiles. All types are known to NATO forces, since the treachery of Adolf Tolkachev of 1979-1985, these missiles are not cutting edge by any means.
These missiles are also in service with the Russian air force which, no doubt, have developed effective countermeasures. Most air to air footage over Ukraine shows prolific use of flares as a defence. Which are highly effective at combating IR seeking missiles, greatly decreasing chances of an air-air kill.
For the Ghost of Kyiv to achieve this, he would have required multiple landings, refuelling, rearming and skill, combined with pilot fatigue after six to 10 kills within 30 hours. So as much as Ukraine needs a hero, perhaps the Ghost of Kyiv is not a possibility.
One has to wonder whether this is a propaganda effort by the Ukrainians in an effort to bolster morale to a besieged population and in desperate need of heroes. Or a pilot of exceptional bravery and skill.
Perhaps the Ghost of Kyiv is a combination of pilots, or just a Ukrainian air force propaganda effort. However, it is no secret the Russians are sustaining heavy unexpected losses in this war.
It is more likely that the Russian aircraft are being shot down by a land-based surface to air missile system (SAMS), instead of a legendary Ukrainian fighter pilot. Perhaps by old Soviet systems acquired by the US decades ago for examination purposes and now supplied to the Ukrainians, as reported by the WSJ.
Until more information becomes available, it will be difficult to conclude anything with confidence. But if what eyewitnesses say is true, The Ghost of Kyiv could go down in history as one of the greatest fighter pilots ever.