Bulgaria grounds SU-25s after crash

Bulgaria has grounded its SU-25s after a September 28 crash that saw the pilot eject safely although the fighter-bomber he was flying was destroyed by fire on hitting the ground near the Bezmer air base.

Bulgaria’s caretaker Defence Minister Dimitar Stoyanov said that the decision by the pilot, Colonel Peyo Donchev – described in a Defence Ministry statement as an experienced Bulgarian Air Force pilot with more than 750 flying hours – had been the “most correct decision in such a situation”.

Stoyanov said that he had spoken with Donchev, who had been evacuated to the Military Medical Academy in Sofia after the crash, and said that Donchev was in “a good state of health”.

“(Donchev) ejected successfully, chute fully opened, landed, ejector systems worked perfectly. The pilot acted extremely correctly,” Stoyanov was quoted in a Defence Ministry statement as saying.

“It is too early to talk about a theory of the reasons for the accident,” Stoyanov said.

“Whatever theory is expressed at this moment will be speculation,” he said.

Stoyanov said that he had ordered the Military Police to investigate the causes of the accident.

“A faulty aircraft in aviation is not allowed to fly. This is a rule that is followed,” he said.

All aircraft at the Bezmer air base are grounded, the Defence Ministry said. Until the causes of the accident are clarified, flights will not be performed by the flight crew, the ministry said.

The Soviet-made SU-25 was one of the Bulgarian Air Force’s eight that had been overhauled in Belarus at a cost of more than 42 million euro between 2019 and 2020. The eight SU-25s that Bulgaria paid to Belarus to keep them capable of flying are all based at Bezmer.

Bulgaria, a Nato member since 2004, continues to operate ageing Soviet-made military aircraft, including its handful of MiG-29s and the SU-25s.

Bulgaria has paid for eight US-made F-16 fighter jets, delivery of which is due to begin in 2025. The caretaker government has taken the first step towards ordering a further eight F-16s, pending approval by Parliament, although Bulgaria has no sitting legislature, pending the outcome of the country’s October 2 2022 early parliamentary elections.

The country has relied on Nato allies to assist in policing its air space, and is in talks with other countries to acquire further assistance, pending the point it can make up a squadron of modern, Nato-standard, fighter aircraft.

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