"King of the taran"
|Born||25 October 1920|
Alupka, Crimean Peninsula, South Russia
|Died||1 February 1971 (aged 50)|
Moscow, Soviet Union
|Place of Burial|
|Service/||Soviet Air Force|
|Unit||9th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Hero of the Soviet Union (twice)|
Order of Lenin (three times)
Order of the Red Banner (four times)
Honoured Test Pilot of the USSR
|Spouse(s)||Faina Maksimova Danilchenko|
|Relations||Stanislav Amet-khan (eldest son)|
Arslan Amet-khan (youngest son)
Veronika Amet-khan (grandaughter)
Amet-Khan Sultan (Crimean Tatar: Amet-Han Sultan, Russian: Амет-Хан Султан; 25 October 1920 – 1 February 1971) was a highly decorated Crimean Tatar flying ace and double recipient of the honorary title Hero of the Soviet Union. Amet-khan was able to avoid deportation to Uzbekistan when the entire Crimean Tatar nation was repressed in 1944 due to his father's Lak ancestry even though he refused to change his passport nationality listing to Lak instead of Crimean Tatar, an act that took considerable courage after watching the deportation of his nation while on vacation in Alupka. After the end of the war, he worked in Moscow as a test pilot and lived to master piloting 96 different aircraft types before he was killed in a crash while testing a new engine on a modified Tupolev Tu-16 bomber. Amet-khan remains memorialized throughout Ukraine and Russia, with airports named after him and a museum dedicated to his memory.
Amet-Khan Sultan was born on 25 October 1920 to a Crimean Tatar mother and a Lak father in Alupka, Crimea, then part of the short-lived state of South Russia during the Russian Civil War. In 1937 he graduated from secondary school and later studied at the railworker's school in Simferopol as well as at the aeroclub based at Zavodskoe Airport, where he graduated from flight training in 1938 while he was employed as a fitter at a local railway depot. In February 1939 he joined the Red Army and was sent for further training at the Kacha Higher Military Aviation School of Pilots, which he graduated from in 1940 with the rank of junior lieutenant. Amet-khan's name would occasionally attract mockery from his peers, but he himself would often poke fun at his name, joking that "I myself am both the Khan and the Sultan." Most of his friends and family would refer to him as Amet-khan, not Sultan.
In World War II
When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Amet-khan was a pilot in the 4th Fighter Aviation Regiment and immediately deployed to the front lines to carry out defensive sorties on the obsolete Polikarpov I-153 over Rostov-on-Don. In winter 1942 after suffering high casualties the regiment was retrained and taught to fly the newer Hawker Hurricane. In March 1942 the regiment was deployed to defend the city of Yaroslavl, during which Amet-khan scored his first aerial victory on 31 May 1942 by ramming a Junkers-88 bomber with his fighter after running out of ammunition; Amet-khan had rammed the Ju 88 in an unusual way, striking it on the left wing head-on while flying upwards, a dangerous maneuver. Despite making the ramming almost head-on and slicing off the wing of the bomber, which was very dangerous, he managed to jump out of his burning plane and parachute to the ground, injured after having slammed his head into the dashboard of the cockpit. He landed on a farm where a worker pointed a pitchfork at him because he was worried Amet-khan was the Luftwaffe pilot, but after folding over his pilot's coat and showing the farmer his Order of the Red Star they showed him respect and inspected the site where the planes fell. The two pilots of the Ju 88 were identified by villagers while Amet-khan rested. Amet-khan stayed on that farm for a night to recover and was visited by the regiment commissar who woke him up and congratulated him for the successful attack. He soon returned to his regiment to fly again after a brief stay in the hospital, where he came to be teased by several of his fellow pilots for ramming his plane upwards instead of ramming downward and smashing only the landing gear of the plane against the Ju 88, which might have enabled him to make a belly-landing and walk away without a scratch. The bomber turned out to have been on a reconnaissance mission in addition to being armed, making the sacrifice of his plane in the attack less of a loss to the Soviet Air Force. For the victory he was presented with an engraved watch in the Yaroslavl city square and later awarded the Order of Lenin.
In the summer of 1942 Amet-khan scored nine more aerial victories, most of which while flying in groups over Voronezh in a Hawker Hurricane before he was reassigned in August to Stalingrad, where he piloted a Yak-7 and was praised by his commanders for being one of the first in the regiment to engage an enemy fighter at night. He briefly piloted a Yak-1 but did not score any aerial victories on it and soon switched to the Yak-7B. In the Battle of Stalingrad he quickly earn the title of ace and was reassigned in October to the prestigious 9th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment, which had been reorganized to be composed entirely of flying aces to counter German air offensives in the area. The regiment included Mikhail Baranov, who was the most successful Soviet ace at the time, and Lydia "Lily" Litvak, the first female flying ace. Over Stalingrad in August 1942 Amet-khan had to parachute out of his plane for a second time after his Yak-7B was shot down. From October 1942 until the end of the war he remained the commander of the third squadron of the 9th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment. For his excellence in the Battle of Stalingrad that earned him the nickname "the eagle" commander of the 8th Air Army Timofey Khryukin permitted him to paint an eagle on the side of his fighter, even though this was usually not allowed.
After retraining to fly a Bell P-39 Airacobra in 1943 he fought over Rostov-on-Don and saw heavy aerial combat over the Kuban area as part of the campaign to retake control of Taganrog, Melitopol, and the Crimean Peninsula. On 24 August 1943 he was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union for his success in contributing to aerial defense on the Southern, Bryansk, and Stalingrad fronts as well as over Moldova, Southern Ukraine, and Yaroslavl. Although not recorded in official Soviet documents, British historians Mellinger and Stanaway attributed a second aerial ramming of a Ju 88 to Amet-khan, being in the Battle of Stalingrad in winter of 1943. Only seventeen Soviet pilots are known to have executed two aerial rammings; two Soviet pilots executed three rammings, and one pilot, Boris Kovzan, who committed four, holds the record for committing the most aerial rammings of any one person.
In January 1944 Amet-khan and his wingman Ivan Borisov pursued a German Fieseler Fi 156 and managed to force it to land at a Soviet-controlled airport. The pilot of the Fi 156 was taken captive and interrogated while Amet-khan briefly inspected the cockpit of the unfamiliar aircraft before making a solo flight on it, having no previous experience or training in flying the Fi 156.
From 18–20 May 1944 he was permitted to take a three-day vacation from combat to visit his family in Alupka, not long after the Soviets retook control of Crimea. During the visit, he witnessed the Surgun and the arrest of his brother Imran by the NKVD. While he had been risking life and limb to expel German invaders from Crimea, Imran had joined the Schutzmannschaft. Even though they were born and raised in Crimea they were not deported to Uzbekistan as collective punishment after it became known that their father was an ethnic Lak, hence making the family considered to be of Lak nationality in the eyes of the NKVD. After Soviets retook Crimea Imran was tried and sentenced by a military tribunal for his activities as a guard at a concentration camp. Leaflets describing the feats of Amet-khan Sultan against the Germans had been airdropped over Crimea while it was occupied by the Germans, resulting in the Gestapo finding the leaflets and tracking down his parents for execution. The only thing that saved his parents from being murdered by the Gestapo was Imran's presence in the Schutzmannschaft. An NKVD officer who entered the household attempted to force Amet-khan and his parents to leave Crimea but they fought and a struggle ensued; but after Amet-khan identified himself as a Hero of the Soviet Union to the NKVD officer who had just punched him in the face, and his status as a war hero was confirmed by two other soldiers traveling with him, (one of whom was another Hero of the Soviet Union, Pavel Golovachev), the NKVD officer stepped back embarrassed to have physically attacked a war hero and treated him as if he was traitor. The order to deport all ethnic Crimea Tatars was carried out, and his mother, who was a Tatar, was sent to a transportation point, but after other members of the Air Force who were friends of Amet-khan made it clear to the NKVD that she and the rest of her immediate family were exempt from deportation because she was married to a Lak and hence no longer considered a Crimean Tatar in the eyes of the law, she and her husband were not sent to Uzbekistan; Imran would be punished for his actions but his family would not be subject to the collective punishment of the deportation in its entirety. They still had to leave Crimea for the remainder of the war, but they were given more time to pack and drove to Dagestan instead of Uzbekistan and Imran would be put on trial.
After witnessing the violence of the deportation, Amet-khan returned to his regiment and continued to distinguish himself in battle. He flew a Lavochkin La-7 in the later parts of the war in campaigns over Königsberg, Berlin, and East Prussia. In the Battle of Königsberg he and his regiment flew with a group of French pilots from a regiment nicknamed "Normandy". Amet-khan saved the life of one of his comrades over Königsberg when Chubukov was surrounded by four German fighters, after Chubukov and Khvostov engaged with a group of originally six fighters; two German fighters went down while taking out Khvostov, and Chubukov was surrounded by the remaining four when Amet-khan rushed toward the fighters and saved Chubukov from being shot down. His thirtieth solo and last aerial victory occurred near Berlin Tempelhof Airport when he took out a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 on 29 April 1945. For his excellence shown after his first Hero of the Soviet Union award in 1943 over various campaigns, he was awarded a second Hero of the Soviet Union medal on 29 June 1945. In total he scored 30 solo victories, 19 team victories, flew 603 combat sorties and flew in 150 aerial battles during the war.
Career as a test pilot
Initially after the war he studied at the Air Force Academy in Monino, as an order by the Supreme Commander of the Soviet Armed Forced required all flying aces that survived the war to attend. However, due to his minimal secondary education, he found the courses difficult and eventually requested permission to drop out of the school and was allowed to leave in April 1946. After abandoning aviation for a while he fell into a depression as he could not see himself as a civil airline pilot. Eventually one of his friends from the war who was also a fighter pilot, three-times Hero of the Soviet Union Alexander Pokryshkin, encouraged him to become a test pilot at the Zhukovsky Flight Research Institute, which he did in February 1947. Amet-khan quickly rose through the ranks at the institute, reaching the rank of test pilot first class in 1952.
In June 1949, he and Igor Shelest carried out the first fully automatic mid-air refueling in the Soviet Union, doing so in a Tupolev Tu-2. Later that same year Amet-khan and Yakov Vernikov conducted the first flight of the two-seater Mikoyan-Gurevich I-320 fighter. From 1951 to 1953, he along with Sergei Anokhin, Fyodor Burtesev, and Vasily Pavlov flew manned tests of the KS-1 Komet, an anti-ship air-to-surface missile. During the testing process, Amet-khan was the first pilot to make a flight of the Komet from the ground, (doing so on 4 January 1951); the first pilot to start Komet from an aircraft carrier (doing so in May 1951). During one test flight, after uncoupling the KS-1, the engine of did not start, but instead of immediately parachuting out he repeated attempts to restart the engine, finally managing to do so not far from hitting the ground, saving the prototype. For his actions in testing the KS-1 he was awarded the Stalin prize second class, but several other members of the team were awarded the gold star. When Amet-khan's nomination for a third gold star reached the desk of Stalin, who had approved the deportation of the Crimean Tatar nation, Stalin went into a fit of rage that a Crimean Tatar was allowed to become a test pilot. When it was pointed out that Amet-khan nearly died while testing the KS-1 to save the prototype, it was decided that he would be awarded the Order of the Red Banner and Stalin Prize second class instead, since awarding a Crimean Tatar a third gold star was unthinkable to the internal ranks of the Soviet Union, regardless of merit.
Many of the flights Amet-khan carried out in his career were for tests of the bailout systems for military aircraft, a risky procedure. While flying a MiG-15 so the parachuter Valery Golovin could test the ejection seat designed for the Sukhoi Su-7 and Su-9 aircraft on 12 November 1958, the ejection mechanism fired prematurely, resulting in an explosion that ruptured the fuel tank. The explosion resulted in Amet-khan being sprayed with kerosene and the ejection seat clamping down on Golovin. The cockpit filled with smoke and gas, and the kerosene had worsened Amet-khan's sight. With the threat of an uncontrollable fire imminent and Golovin unable to parachute out, he managed to make an emergency landing of the stricken fighter while almost blinded, refusing to abandon his comrade even after Golovin and their commander ordered him to evacuate the aircraft and save himself. For his work as a test pilot on 23 September 1961 Amet-khan was awarded the title "Honoured Test Pilot of the USSR". In his career he mastered 96 aircraft types and accumulated an excess of 4,237 flight hours.
Amet-khan died on 1 February 1971 at the age of 50 while piloting a modified Tu-16. The interior of the cabin was modified to function as a flying laboratory and the flight was conducted to test a new jet engine. The cause of the crash remains disputed, with some sources attributing the crash to an explosive uncontained engine failure that immediately tore the plane apart, which would explain why the plane disappeared from the radar screen as soon as the radio operator informed air traffic control that the test was about the start; other sources attribute the crash to malfunction of the flaps while starting acceleration after flying at a low altitude, causing the plane to break apart in the air. All five airmen aboard the plane were killed in the crash. A memorial to the pilots killed in the crash was constructed and Amet-khan was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery with full honors.
In the summer of 1944 while in Moscow training to fly the new La-7 fighter he met a woman by the name of Faina Maksimovna Danilchenko, and they soon married. The couple had two children - Stanislav and Arslan, both of whom grew up to serve in the military. Both children's surnames were written down as Amet-khan. Faina was against her husband working as a test pilot due to the dangerous aspects of the job, but he refused to quit his job even after suggestions that he retire on his 50th birthday.
Involvement in politics
Amet-khan was one of the first people in the Soviet Union to publicly request the rehabilitation of the Crimean Tatars. With several other members of the Communist Party that had lived in Crimea he signed a petition to Central Committee of the Communist Party, but the request was rejected even though Khrushchev had condemned the deportations, and Amet-khan never lived to see the return of the Crimean Tatars that occurred in the Perestroika era. He was frequently told to change the nationality listing on his passport because of his father's Lak origins, but despite constant pressure from Chekists he refused to dissociate himself from his Crimean origin.
Memorials and commemorations
In 2010 a monument to Amet-khan's aerial ramming over Yaroslavl was installed on the ground below the site where he rammed the Ju 88. That same year, a bust in his likeness was added to the Walk of Glory in Kiev. Statues in his likeness are present throughout Ukraine and Russia in towns including Alupka, Makhachkala, and the small village of Tsovkra in Dagestan. The city square of Simferopol bears his name in addition to streets in Alupka, Sudak, Volgograd, Zhukovsky, Kaspiysk, Sakah, and Makhachkala. The aeroclub where he studied, a minor planet, an airport, several schools, and a peak in Dagestan were all named in his honor. The Makhachkala Airport in Dagestan is named in his honor, despite repeated petitions that an airport in his birthplace be named after him instead.
Awards and honors
- Twice Hero of the Soviet Union
- Honoured Test Pilot of the USSR
- Stalin prize 2nd class
- Three Orders of Lenin
- Four Orders of the Red Banner
- Order of Alexander Nevsky
- Order of the Patriotic War 1st class
- Order of the Red Star
- Order of the Badge of Honour
- Honorary citizen of Yaroslavl
- Campaign and jubilee medals
- Honoured Test Pilot of the USSR
- Flying ace
- Aerial ramming
- Deportation of the Crimean Tatars
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