Two people aboard a MiG-23 fighter were slightly injured when they ejected from the Cold War fighter at an airshow in Michigan Sunday. The swing-wing jet was part of the finale of the Thunder Over Michigan at Willow Run Airport when the two punched out during a moderate turn over Belleville Lake. They ended up in the water and were rescued quickly. The aircraft crashed on the grounds of an apartment building in Belleville. Authorities said the plane wiped out some unoccupied cars in the parking lot but there were no injuries on the ground. The plane was owned by former Navy pilot Dan Filer and was based in Longview, Texas. Filer operates a museum and collects Soviet-era aircraft. He was listed as the pilot at the airshow.

Wayne County Airport Authority released the following statement: “Shortly after 4:00 p.m. Sunday, a MiG-23 demonstration plane performing at the Yankee Air Museum’s Thunder over Michigan air show crashed into the parking lot at the Waverly on the Lake Apartments in Belleville. The pilot and backseater successfully ejected from the aircraft before the crash. While it did not appear they sustained any significant injuries, first responders transported the pair to a nearby hospital as a precaution. The aircraft struck unoccupied vehicles in the apartment complex’s parking lot. No one at the apartment complex nor the air show was injured. The FAA is investigating the crash.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Whole different story if anyone on the ground had been injured.

    I was part of a CAP group given a talk by a guy with an L-39 several years ago, and got to look the plane over (and see him fly it locally a few times), and I remember something about the FAA(?) wouldn’t let him keep the ejection seat(s) functional. Can’t remember the whys or wherefores of that. Like, if there were some other hoops to jump through and he could have kept it.

    • Eh….a VERY sorry excuse for an F-111 copy. The MiG-23 wouldn’t have lasted 2 minutes against ANY other airplane, except maybe a US F-84. Sorry turning, even sorry-er acceleration. F-111 also didn’t have dogfight-turning ability, but at least could out-accelerate and outrun most anything.

    • FYI the MiG-23 what what our US Navy famously shot down in 1989 with F-14s when Libyan aggressors tried intercepting them. The video and audio from the HUD is still available on YT. I remember Johnny Carson making a joke about that. Something to the effect of American fighter pilots are really cool…so cool that they can take out their camcorders and record a dogfight, lol!

      But it was hardly a copy attempt of the F-111. It may have looked like it, but it was about 2/3 the size and the MTOW was about 40% of what the Ardvark was capable of. It also had just a single 28,000lb full burner engine.

  2. In the early 90s, the owner/pilot of an S.211 told me that the FAA didn’t allow working ejection seats but he said most jet warbird owners had them because it was “better to survive and ask for forgiveness than to die after being denied permission”. I believe the rules were changed at some point and that working seats became legal, but I don’t know when it changed.

    Actually being able to obtain the cartridges and import them is a different question.

  3. Glad they survived and no one was hurt on the ground when the MiG crashed. I know eventually the reason for the ejection will be determined. As a civilian parachute rigger, seal symbol NWS, I sure hope the pilot gives the rigger and seat tech EACH a bottle of their favorite liquor which was an old time thank you and in my rigging career I got a couple myself.

  4. Reading this it would seem like an everyday occurrence. It certainly isn’t. It will be interesting to see how the FAA handles this “incident”. Also the lawyers and insurance company.

  5. I wouldn’t blame Belleville, Ypsy, and surrounding cities for suing to shut the air show down. Punching out at low altitude to save yourself without regard to surrounding communities is the height of egotistic irresponsibility.

    • Giving the benefit of the doubt, I’m assuming the two didn’t do that. Either a) the ejection system was triggered accidentally or b) although it’s not evident from the video, they had already lost control of the airplane and didn’t have any control over where it was going.

    • For all we know, they may have been along for the ride so it may not have mattered if they punched out or not.

  6. These old jets shouldn’t be allowed to overfly ANY populated areas during airshows. They are just an accident waiting to happen. It’s a miracle no one was killed or injured on the ground.

      • A bit premature. No idea how far away from the airport the plane landed. The fact that the pilots ended up in the water, probably the Huron River, means they punched out 2-3 miles from the runway.

        KYIP is a small regional airport with, looking on ForeFlight, a substantial crash zone of light industrial businesses on all sides.

        • Edit: Bellevue lake, mentioned in the article, is across the interstate south of the airport about 2.5 miles. That’s hardly crowding the airport.

  7. As an FBO, I check this website every day–this is the first civilian ejection I’ve seen here–HARDLY a reason to call for either de-activating the seats or banning “these old jets.” I’d have to think that “these old jets” seem to have a better safety record than airshow performers. In 52 years in the FBO business, I’ve seen a lot more accidents with would-be airshow performers than I have in old airplanes.

    In calling for the ban on old jets–where do you draw the line? Should “old” civil airplanes be banned as well? Where do you draw the line? 1950? 1969? 1970? Everyone seems to think that “History started on their birthday”–anything older than that is “old.”

    Calling for banning airplanes “of a certain age” reminds me of the old admonition “sacrificing others in the vain attempt to save yourself ignores the fact that “the tiger always eats last.”

  8. I have friends at the YIP FSDO. Just guessing that their office is abuzz this morning trying to sort it all out. And…yes thankfully no one was hurt on the ground. RIP Vodka burner…….

    The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds are not without their problems too. They have dumped more than a few into the ground in front of the crowds. I often wonder if the extreme performances really benefit the majority of the audiences. Is the risk-reward in balance? All it would take is one ambling buzzard (State bird in Michigan) in the wrong place, at the wrong time, to bring down a high speed jet.

  9. To Mike H. – Not at all a copy of the F-111. The Mig-23 is a “tiny” jet by today’s standards. Amazingly small when you stand next to one.

  10. Already some are saying the pilot should have done this or that to point the jet into the lake. An obvious observation is that the plane was in a steady state turn to the left that didn’t change even after the ejection. It sure looks like a hydraulic issue in the flight control system, and they were both passengers at the time of ejection. Very, very lucky. It will be interesting to hear what the statements will be from the crew.

    • Wait… You mean wait until we actually know what happened before blaming everyone in sight?

      Novel concept. Sure hope it catches on!

    • I came here to post just that after finally seeing this video. They punched out for good reason if that indeed was a loss of roll control as it appears to be. Once past 90 degrees roll, they’d have been fired downward toward the water. So they had mere seconds to make a decision IF it was a flight control failure.

  11. Looks more like a THUD with swing wings. Ironically that is also the sound it makes when it hits the ground.

  12. What I want to know, why was there two people in the jet during an airshow? I heard the GIB was an FAA employee. That’s the answer I’m waiting to hear.