A bit of context first, this question is inspired by the famous North Korean pilot No Kum-sok, and his defection to the United States during the Korean war. A quick summary, he breaks formation, flies to a South Korean air-force base, and lands successfully, despite landing at the wrong end and nearly colliding with an F-86 in the process. No Kum-sok successfully defects, but it seems as if he ended up just getting lucky, as the base radar happened to be down on his approach.

So at this point the question becomes, what would happen if in a similar situation, the details were more dire, and what could he do to improve his odds of survival?

A Federation pilot grows tired of how things are going and decides to defect to the Empire. He is flying a state of the art air superiority fighter jet (2018). Less than an hour before, his squadron was engaged in a dogfight where in a strange fluke his radio was destroyed but left his aircraft completely sound functionally. He manages to break formation and contact with all other aircraft. At this point he is committed, and his only option is to head south to the Imperial AFB using his on-board navigation systems. A few details to hammer out:

  • The plane still has more than half of it's fuel remaining, so he can afford to loiter or use his AB's if necessary.
  • The plane also has most of its armament remaining in both bullets and missiles, as well as countermeasures.
  • Due to the damage, the plane is entirely incapable of communicating in the normal sense of radio/phone.
  • The Imperial base is not far, but is well defended and patrolled, with dozens of active and passive missile systems that can strike from tens of miles away, as well as missile equipped fighters.
  • The Imperials would happily welcome a defector, especially one with the air-frame he's piloting, but do not even remotely find it likely that this will happen.
  • The Defector only knows the most basic words in the Imperial's language: "Yes, No, Ok"
  • The ejection seat has also jammed, making a bail out impossible

What strategy(s) could the Defector employ that would keep him alive long enough so that he could even attempt to convince them of his intentions?

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    $\begingroup$ I have the impression this is story based. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jul 17, 2018 at 7:46
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    $\begingroup$ How critical is the airframe to his defection scheme? I have a feeling his best bet is to punch out over a wilderness area, make his way to a town on foot, and go to a civilian government official and ask for asylum. Fewer air-to-air missiles that way. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Jul 17, 2018 at 7:47
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    $\begingroup$ There are international standards on how pilots should communicate in the event of loss of radiotelephony communications. There's a dedicated transponder code for "loss of radio". On up to mid-sized airports, pilots operating under VFR (visual flight rules) will be monitoring for other traffic, and large airports typically have specific published loss-of-communications protocols for approaches to fly and how to communicate intentions. If one makes it as far as to within visual range of the tower or an aircraft, I imagine signalling SOS by flashing the landing lights could draw some attention. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jul 17, 2018 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ There was an original Battlestar Galactica episode in which Starbuck and Apollo use a Cylon Raider to sneak on to a Basestar. They had a transponder they could use to prevent them from being shot down on their return to the Galactica. They lost the transponder but had luckily joked about "waggling" their wings, so were correctly identified and not blasted. $\endgroup$ Jul 17, 2018 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ It's amusing that more or less the opposite scenario actually happened at the height of the cold war. A state of the art Western jet developed serious engine trouble and the pilot ejected over West Germany. The plane's engine then recovered and the plane was maintaining altitude and heading for East Germany! Cue a frantic panic to shoot it down before it gave the USSR an intelligence gift or started WW3. ISTR it crashed a few tens of miles short of the border and would otherwise have crossed it, $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Jul 18, 2018 at 16:29

8 Answers 8


Land and wait

Don't go anywhere near a place that has the capability of bringing you down. You'll be detected flying in their airspace soon enough, you don't need to go to their military base.

Simply land your airplane on an empty highway or similar location where you'll be able to land without causing major damage, get out, wave a white flag around and hold your hands up when the police arrives.

The military and a translator will be called in soon enough when the police wants to figure out what to do with a warplane and an enemy pilot who seems to have surrendered without a fight.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm starting to think this is the most viable option, depending on the terrain setup of course. A high speed, low altitude run to a major highway is his best bet. It avoids most of the triple A bubble of the imperials, and will get him wheels down ASAP. The reason for the high speed is I suspect if an Imperial squadron gets within missile range before he lands he's cooked. $\endgroup$
    – Razmode
    Jul 17, 2018 at 16:56
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    $\begingroup$ Any civilian airport with a long-enough runway should also do. $\endgroup$ Jul 17, 2018 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ @RBarryYoung Flying directly at a civilian airport seems like a way to get shot down much sooner than flying toward a relatively empty section of highway. $\endgroup$ Jul 17, 2018 at 20:36
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    $\begingroup$ @AzorAhai Civilian airports typically do not have anti-aircraft weapons. But they do have paved runways without obstructions. $\endgroup$ Jul 17, 2018 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ @RBarryYoung Well, yes, but they're also near population centers which means the military would be much more likely to fear an incoming enemy craft over one approaching the badlands. Especially during an active war. $\endgroup$ Jul 17, 2018 at 20:42

Cross into hostile airspace, but don't go towards anything. Keep on a level course, away from anything that could be construed as a strategic target. Set the transponder to whatever the most visible setting is; if it's a modern Mode 3, set its ident to 7600 ("distress - lost communications"), or to an equivalent military code. Disarm the craft as completely as possible; anything that can be done in terms of jettisoning munitions, deactivating ECW, etc. should all be done, preferably where it can be seen by the enemy, but not close enough to be interpreted as an attack.

The low threat (one plane, in a region devoid of any obvious targets) should keep you not-shot-down for the longest possible time. Your best-case scenario is that a fighter (or more likely several) is dispatched to intercept - in the general aviation sense, not the military sense - the anomalous plane. At this point there are standard protocols that the two pilots can use to communicate visually using just the movements of their plane, which would be sufficient for the hostile plane to guide you down to a landing zone, and for you to signal your intent to follow those instructions. My guess is that you'd get sent down to a civil airfield of some description (just in case it is a trap) and there'd be plenty of police on hand.

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    $\begingroup$ Given a transponder, I think this is a viable option. However, I'm on the fence on whether it is operational in the first place. Without it I suspect this move would be suicidal as he is likely to receive several BVR missile launches from the squadron coming to intercept him, and considering his aircraft originated from an active dogfight, it's reasonable that they would shoot first and ask questions later, and I don't favor his chances of fending off an entire squadrons worth of AIM-9's. $\endgroup$
    – Razmode
    Jul 17, 2018 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ You don't just want to be going "nowhere in particular" when you cross the border, you also want to be highly visible while doing so. Modern combat aircraft tend to fly as low as possible to avoid radar, so you want to cross the border while flying high. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Jul 17, 2018 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark It would help to come from a country with a history of not having suicide missions, lest they feel you're a distraction from a real threat. I think in any event there's a serious chance of not making out alive. $\endgroup$
    – corsiKa
    Jul 20, 2018 at 4:35


The defector knows that the flight pattern of one wanting to attack is going to be evasive and attempt to avoid retaliation. The defector also doesn't want to be mistaken for a kamikaze. To communicate that his intentions are not to attack or self-destruct, he deliberately slows down the plane to minimum flying speed and directly towards an anti-air cannon. It is a desperate move, but if he doesn't open fire or speed up, the cannon could easily blast it out of the sky, putting the control entirely in the hands of the Imperials.

Assume the position

He puts down his landing gear right away. Fighters don't do this during combat because it creates drag, but again, the purpose is to defect, not to attack.


His wing lights can be turned on and off and can be used as a crude form of communication. The actual message is not too important, just the intent to communicate should imply that the intent is not to attack.

Should it be feasible, the lights could express Morse code communicating the intention to defect directly.


Would the Imperials blast a single fighter out of the sky which deliberately puts itself in harms way, lowering landing gear, and with light signals? Maybe. It is a risky endeavor to be sure. However, the ball is left to the Imperials to decide if it is worthwhile to take the risk. There is always the possibility of a bomb on board, and a kamikaze fighter might employ such tactics to get close enough to inflict true damage.

Perhaps they don't believe a defection is likely, though after seeing these signs, they have to at least have doubts in their mind about it being an attack.

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    $\begingroup$ You rely completely on how trigger-happy is the commander of the base. Iran Air 655 was downed by a then state-of-the-art radar system which mistook an Airbus A300 for an F-14 (like mistaking a Ferrari Testarrosa for a 18-wheeler truck) and that was a warship of a third country not directly involved in the war. So go figure. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_Air_Flight_655 $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Jul 17, 2018 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ I'd probably use the landing lights (which are directed forward) rather than the navigation lights on the wings (which are mainly directed off to the sides), but the idea of using lights to communicate (even simple messages like just "SOS" repeatedly) is not a bad one. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jul 17, 2018 at 9:30
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    $\begingroup$ Assuming the Imperials somehow stumble upon him and can actually see his aircraft I think this would work. The only issue that @Rekesoft stated was the idea that they'd just shoot at him in BVR and he would die before they even had a clue something was up. $\endgroup$
    – Razmode
    Jul 17, 2018 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ I like this answer aside from the part about flying directly towards an anti-air cannon. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Jul 17, 2018 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft Lets not forget the Russians downing passenger planes over Ukraine and, well, the other times they've done the same... $\endgroup$
    – Krupip
    Jul 17, 2018 at 20:42

1) Fuel permitting, put the gear down. That's a clear indication of non-hostile intent and in general will disable the aircraft's weaponry. If you don't have the fuel to reach the intended target keep it up until intercepted.

2) Unlike what some other posters say, do not jettison ordinance. Having your external stores gone says nothing, but if you jettison once enemy fighters show up that's the equivalent of dropping your gun--a sign of surrender.

3) Head for the smallest civilian airport with an adequate runway, stay well away from anything important while doing so.

4) Pilots have hand signals for radio-out conditions. Exactly obey whatever the intercepting pilots direct you to do unless that is impossible.


Before i start... This is all guess work, i'm not a qualified pilot... let alone a fighter pilot.

Fly close enough that he doesn't get shot down, but enough that the imperial forces would send a squadron of fighters out to investigate. often a single aircraft is a sign of something odd, (i'm assuming he's not being chased by the federation)

Imperial squadron would fly out, perhaps engage perhaps not. if the pilot was within visual range of the Imperial fighters, he could do many things to show he was no threat. activating his landing lights etc he could get there attention, flashing them on and off or attempting morse code. even flashing code for now constantly could be enough

he could release all his bombs and missiles without firing them, they would fall to the ground (hopefully not in a crowded area) the imperial fighters would be able to see he can't attack them.

Another common friendly signal is to wave his wings, all of these are signs that the plane in question is not normal, and any experienced pilot would not see this and think, "Thats odd... oh well, better kill him and get back for breakfast" they'd be reporting it back to base and their officer would probably suggests having it follow an imperial aircraft into landing, while the other imperials would flank it ready to shoot as soon as the pilot did something aggressive.


I think it would be very difficult to defect in this manner in an active warzone, after engaging in a dogfight.

No Kum-suk was defecting after a ceasefire had been declared but your pilot will be doing so when combat is still ongoing, his travelling towards the Imperial AFB will look a lot like an intruder mission.

Without the capability of radio communication and due to the language barrier they will be unable to persuade the Imperial forces of their intention to defect it's likely they will engage the pilot as a hostile before they can get too close to the airbase. Given missle defenses they can engage at range without observing the aircraft so attempts to visually give clues to the intent to defect will be of limited success.

Even with a radio to communicate his intention to defect they would treat it with suspicion sending up escort aircraft, asking him to jettison munitions etc.


This is actually easier then it seems. Contrary to popular media military bodies don't fire the guns and send out missiles at every little thing. Keep in mind that, minus a device like a transponder radar can only see something not rather that something is friendly or not.

So what you would do is.

  • Fly slowly, and at a decent radar height, say 10,000.
  • If you can manage to drop your landing gear, lower flaps, whatever. Now you may not be able to, (if you're going to fast for example) but with gear and flaps down, you're not going far and you're certainly not attacking anything.
  • Wobble your wings left and right. That's the pretty much "everyone" signal for I see you (search and rescue).
  • Don't fly in a straight line, but in S turns. If you see an airport do a "2-minute turn" holding pattern. Again massively common. Both the S turns and the holding pattern is very common before landing and should make it clear.
  • When you get told to do something via lights or hand signals or plane movements, then do it.
  • If you can manage, keep your speed below 250 KIAS, not great, but most airspace in many countries (though far from universal) one of the main things you have to do is stay below 250KIAS when below 10,000 feet. Doing this is a clear indication you mean to go down and not up.
  • Finally, if your transponder has a mode-c, doink with your altimeter so that your "altitude" goes down. The normal altimeter may not be able to fake all the way down to 0, but it can do an impressive range, and that gets sent with the transponder signal. So the radar watcher will see an altitude that goes from 10,000 feet to 0 feet, even if your plane doesn't move like that.
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    $\begingroup$ Contrary to popular media military bodies don't fire the guns and send out missiles at every little thing. Quite a few incidents would disagree, from the US shooting down civilian planes to Israeli military personnel shooting unarmed children because they wondered a few feet into a military zone. $\endgroup$
    – forest
    Jul 20, 2018 at 5:59

I suggest you start learning how to say "I defect", "I surrender", "here's a gift for you" and "please don't shoot". If you can only say yes and no, if you can't communicate your defection in their language, you might as well stay at home that day.

This is a time of war, and you are an enemy aricraft approaching a major strategic location in a war zone. You will get shot down from across the horizon.

So firstly avoid AAA coverage. Your briefing should have included intelligence on that. They wouldn't send you to your death without intel, planes are too expensive to be gambled like that.

Your second consideration is that a plane loaded with fuel and missiles causes collateral damages when crashing. They might take the risk shooting you down above an air base, they might not. Depends on the base commander's mood really. They will shoot you above a desert or an empty field. However, if you flew above a population center, it would make the decision to shoot you down a bit more difficult.

In any case, they'll scramble fighters to intercept (because remember, you aren't within AAA range). You won't have much time to make contact, so you better do it quick. Assuming you have no radio or other wireless comm options, you still have good old visual communication. You might fliddle with your jet's lights, or use a flashlight from your cockpit. The latter would make it really obvious that it is an attempt at communication rather than a technical issue with your plane's electrics. Use Morse code to send a single, short, unequivocal message: SOS. Your next messages might be "defection", "no kill" or "I follow you". Keep it short, keep it to the point.

To increase your chances, you'll need to make yourself less threatening. Drop your missiles in a lake or an empty field. Shut down all your weapon systems and countermeasures. Pull the landing gear down. Flap your wings. Anything that makes it look like you aren't interested in combat.

From that point on, you are a POW. You might get preferential treatment if you are willing to give up information which they can't interrogate you for (at least, according to Geneva Conventions), but don't expect champagne and caviar. You are still an enemy combattant.

I would suggest you strike a deal on paper and ask for a legal representation. Make it clear you want to cooperate but you also want guarantees they won't throw you in a dungeon once you've outlived your usefulness, or worst send you back in a prisoner exchange.

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    $\begingroup$ Your radio is out, you won't be able to talk nor you'll be able to hear what they say to you, knowing how to speak the language is irrelevant; by the time you can talk to them, you'll be on land with guns pointing at you. Use of morse code would be a bad or suboptimal idea, not only you need time to communicate a message, but you are relying on the intercepting party to figure out you're using morse to begin with. $\endgroup$
    – Inferry
    Jul 20, 2018 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Inferry Hence why you open with SOS. You don't need encyclopedic knowledge to know and recognise ... --- ... Also hence why you'd use a flashlight too, which is highly unusual and shouldn't be mistaken with anything but light signals. $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2018 at 5:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Inferry I will also add that in my scenario, it is possible they would deploy a translator in the welcoming party. In other scenarios, say parking your Su-35 on the PCH unannounced, how well would you rate your chances against some Oregonian schmuck with a rifle if you only speak Russian? When you have guns pointed at you is exactly when knowing the language is relevant. $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2018 at 7:23
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    $\begingroup$ This is assuming the person knows about international standards and has not been living in a closed-off country, where precautions for defecting might be in use like not teaching your pilots international protocols, and even then SOS in morse still takes more time than to just rock your wings, which is actual protocol that you had been taught if you know international standards. Once on ground, if you face someone with a gun, talking is unlikely to increase your chances, as with the plane, the best is to show no treat, open hands up or forwards is your best approach. $\endgroup$
    – Inferry
    Jul 23, 2018 at 19:48

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