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The Day I Met a Communist Defector

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Flight suit worn by Lt. Franciszek Jarecki when he defected from the Polish Air Force in a MiG-15s. Flight suit is on display at the National Air and Space Museums Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Flight suit worn by Lt. Franciszek Jarecki when he defected from the Polish Air Force in a MiG-15s. The flight suit is on display at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, steps away from a MiG-15bis (visible in background).

When you are visiting the Udvar-Hazy Center, you will come across a display case that holds the flightsuit of a former MiG pilot named Frank Jarecki. It is located just in front of the Museum’s MiG in the Cold War Aviation area. Jarecki is not exactly a household name, I know, but someone with a unique and interesting background nevertheless.

A while ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Jarecki when he was at the Center taping a Polish TV documentary about his life.

Jarecki was a pilot in the Polish Air Force when, on March 5, 1953, he defected to the West in his MiG-15 by flying to Bornholm, Denmark. It was the first intact MiG-15 to reach the West. Not only did it allow Western aviation experts to take apart and examine a Soviet fighter jet, but also Jarecki was able to provide first-hand information about Soviet aircraft and air tactics.

Jarecki told me that before his defection, he did not think carefully about what he was doing.  He said he was “ignorant,” actually.  He did not think about what might happen to his mother, who was arrested and imprisoned for a while.

The U.S. government interrogated him a lot when he came to the United States, he told me, trying to figure out if he was truly a defector or a spy.  But, he pointed out, “Why would the Poles let him come here in a MiG?  It was a brand new one, the latest model.”

Once it was determined he was not a spy, Jarecki began a new life in the United States and became somewhat of a media celebrity. He settled in Erie, Pennsylvania and eventually established his own company, Jarecki Industries. He married and had five children.

During our brief meeting, Jarecki was very congenial and told stories about his life in communist Poland and his adjustment in the United States. He particularly enjoyed telling me about all the movie stars he has met. I greatly enjoyed my first, and probably last, encounter with a genuine, history-making figure from the Cold War.

Kathleen Hanser is a Writer-Editor in the Office of Communications at the National Air and Space Museum.

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5 thoughts on “The Day I Met a Communist Defector

  1. “Why would the Poles let me come here in a MIG?” … blank stares across the interrogators faces. “Hm… good point Jarecki.”

    Great story! I love learning tidbits like this about history.

  2. Was there another Polish defector who flew a MIG-15 into Paris after Lt. Jarecki, settled on te East Coast and was employed at a U.S. Tech center for many years?

  3. That’s a good question! I will have to ask one of our curators and get back to you on that. Thanks for writing.

  4. Sorry for the late reply.

    We don’t know of anyone flying a MiG to Paris, but maybe you mean Viktor Belenko. He escaped to Japan in a MiG-25 in 1976. To the alarm of the Soviet Air Force, he had delivered to the United States a complete and operational version of one of the Soviet Union’s most advanced military aircraft. Belenko gained great notoriety. He settled in the United States after being granted immunity. You can read more about him by googling his name. Also, there is a book about him by John Barron called, “MiG Pilot: The Final Escape of Lieutenant Belenko.”

    I hope this answers your question.

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