The MiG-25 in the USSR was filled with pure alcohol. The brainchild of Artem Mikoyan helped some to get rich, and others to drink too much...

931.OGRAP Les hangars de Werneuchen au SO. © O.Kozlov.

The Werneuchen hangars on the SW side of the airfield. © O.Kozlov.
Soviet Reconnaissance aircraft MiG-25R were unique - including because they filled them with the purest alcohol. As a result, a whole subculture developed around these winged machines based in the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, and the 60° liquid replaced the usual currency. The author of these lines felt the "alcohol flair" of the military aviation of the USSR. A general from the 16th Air Army Political Department looked at my documents and said favorably: "So, you graduated from the school with honors. That's nice. Well, then you will go to serve in our leading aviation regiment." So I, a lieutenant, a graduate of the aviation political school, got to serve in the most famous aviation garrison of the Air Forces of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany - in Werneuchen. At that time, I had no idea what it was famous for in the GSFG. A Guards Separate Reconnaissance Aviation Regiment was based at that airfield, which was located about 30 kilometers from East Berlin. Its pilots often received military awards in peacetime. For example, for the fact that photographs taken during a sortie helped to reveal the base of US submarines or new positions of American missiles. It was possible to do this, thanks to the unique MiG-25R reconnaissance aircraft that climbed into the stratosphere and could, flying along the border with Germany or over neutral waters, view almost the entire territory of West Germany. Well, almost all. At the same time, the aircraft sometimes accelerated to Mach 2, twice the speed of sound. However, the fame the GSFG aviation town of Werneuchen acquired, of course, was not heroic flights of pilots, which, by the way, were not particularly distributed. The matter is in the features of the MiG-25R aircraft equipment. Before flights to exorbitant altitudes at supersonic speed, in addition to kerosene, 60 liters of pure medical alcohol and another 350 liters of 60? water-alcohol mixture were added in each aircraft [Some give respectively the figures of 50 and 250 liters or 150 to 180 liters of mixture according to the missions flown by the MiG-25RB and BM]. Diluted ethanol was necessary for the de-icing and cooling systems, and pure alcohol for radar sights and electronics.

931.OGRAP Un officiel est-allemand descend d'un MiG-25RBCh du 931.OGRAP de bonne humeur. Aurait-il déjà goûté au "Massandra" ? © DR.

An East German official gets off a MiG-25RBSh of the 931.OGRAP in a good mood. Has he already tasted some "Massandra"? © DR.
Naturally, after the sortie, dozens of liters of unspent valuable liquid were drained from each aircraft, packaged in a variety of containers, and immediately turned into a universal currency. As a rule, it was enough for everyone. Pilots usually got fractional distillation, and engineers and technicians diluted alcohol, with a slight smell of rubber sealants. The Chief of the Fuel and Lubricants Service of the Separate Airfield Technical Support Battalion enjoyed a special honor. Tons of alcohol were stored in his warehouse. His was a captain's position. But in status, he was probably equal to some ordinary lieutenant colonel. Although he took a lot of risks. How no one ever managed to get caught for the overspending on fuel and lubricants is a big secret that can only be guessed. Probably, that same currency helped out in communication with the inspectors. The 60° liquid received the beautiful name of the Crimean wine "Massandra." In military folklore, the name was turned into an abbreviation, which was deciphered as follows: "Mikoyan Artem the Glorious Son of the Armenian People Gives Joy to Aviators." Other options are known. For example, "Mikoyan Aviation Heartily Supplied with Alcohol - People Are Satisfied with the Work of the Aircraft Designer." One can only guess at the volume of circulation of the alcohol wealth in the town of Werneuchen. For example, when a neighbor in the dormitory, a warrant officer from the Engineering and Aviation Service, removed the padlock and opened a huge cabinet that reached the ceiling, you could see endless rows of three-liter bottles containing muddy "Massandra" and a formation of ten-liter metal canisters. It was said that one guy did not have enough containers at home, so he used a bathtub to store the valuable liquid for some time. The most popular topic for discussion among officers and warrant officers was the recipes for removing the extraneous taste of the "Massandra" aircraft fluid. Activated charcoal, chokeberry, walnut chunks, and other odor-fighting ingredients were used. Especially appreciated was the 60° "Massandra" without the extraneous taste, which did not visit the tanks and pipelines of the de-icing system. This is when the correct amount was allocated for the sortie and the plane was underfilled, leaving a "surplus." But it was a very risky move. If the de-icing or cooling systems failed in flight in the stratosphere, it was possible to lose both the aircraft and the pilot. In this case, engineers and technicians were threatened with a trial. To get clean "Massandra," they sometimes resorted to this trick: prior to departure, they poured the solution drained from a returned aircraft and "privatized" the allocated norm. But this also was a big risk. Since the substandard or spent mixture could fail at an altitude where the temperature is -60 degrees or when switching to supersonic, when the surface of the aircraft was heated above 1000 degrees [this figure seems to be grossly overestimated. The bombs carried during a flight at Mach 2.35 could withstand a temperature of 300 °]. Werneuchen alcoholic hard currency was in demand not only in the GSFG aviation units but also among the tankers and motorized riflemen. There was a lot to receive in exchange for it. The alcohol was for sale including to the GDR residents who for some reason appreciated it. Perhaps because of the relative cheapness? It was said that the resourceful technicians could after several years save enough from the alcohol sales to be able to buy a "Zhiguli."

931.OGRAP La ligne de vol de Werneuchen. © O.Kozlov.

The Werneuchen flightline. © O.Kozlov.
Oddly enough, the sea of free alcohol did not lead to drunkenness. No, of course, to drank, they drank, but in moderation, during holidays. There were exceptions, but they were very rare. The fact is that the service in the GSFG was not only honorable, but also well paid. In addition to the monetary allowance in rubles, which were regularly transferred every month to an account opened in the Union in the state bank, officers and warrant officers received good sums in GDR marks, with which it was possible to buy, for example, sets or carpets scarce in the USSR. So they continued to serve and refrained from drinking. And then the one who destroyed "honor and dignity" could easily be reassigned from the GSFG, for example, to the Transbaykal. And political workers together with party and Komsomol organizations did not sleep. Nor did the special services. Many tales about Artem Mikoyan and his brainchild circulated widely. According to one of them, when the Air Forces Command learned that almost half a ton of alcohol was poured into the plane, the generals called out: the pilots would get drunk. To this, the designer allegedly answered them something like this: if necessary for flight characteristics, I will refuel the aircraft with cognac, and the moral character of the pilots is your concern. In the history of our aviation, the MiG-25R is not the only "drunken" aircraft. Approximately 400 liters of pure and diluted alcohol were poured into the early versions of the Tu-22 long-range bomber. But in subsequent modifications, the military demanded that the Tupolev Design Bureau replace the system. They say it was due to the fact that the Tu-22 regiments too often began to write off officers with a diagnosis of "alcoholism." In modern Tu-22M3, they only pour five liters of alcohol (1). The topic of the value of free alcohol seems to be a thing of the past. It was very relevant during the total Soviet deficit, when a half-liter bottle of vodka cost 3 rubles 62 kopecks with an average salary in the country being 100 rubles. At the same time, a loaf of white bread cost 20 kopecks, a trip on the subway 5 kopecks, and by tram 3 kopecks. Today, a bottle of cheap vodka equates to five trips on the subway or six loaves of bread. Inexpensive. And besides, vodka is not sold using coupons anymore.

Adapted from the article by Sergey Savelyev published on January 27, 2021 in the newspaper "Moskovskiy Komsomolets."


(1) Many other aircraft used alcohol to keep different systems working. This was the case, for example, with the Su-24MR which required 80 liters of pure alcohol to cool the electronic components of the Chpil'-2M laser reconnaissance container. Four liters were used to cool the avionics and alcohol was handy for cleaning the optics of the cameras...

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