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.