Fallen Ukrainian pilot paid for English courses with own money to be first to fly F-16s

A Ukrainian fighter pilot who was killed on a combat mission had been intensively learning English in the hope that he would be one of the first pilots to fly American F16s. 

Major Danylo Murashko, 24, spent time between sorties preparing for the possible arrival of NATO-standard aircraft before being downed over the eastern Donetsk region.  

His commander said his last words were ‘I turned!’ as he veered away to prevent his aircraft from crashing into a residential area, preventing him from being able to eject. 

The pilot, who quickly gained his unit’s respect despite having little experience, has posthumously been awarded the title Hero of Ukraine after perishing on January 27, 2023. 

Taking on combat missions two days after the full-scale invasion began, the senior officer with the 299th Tactical Aviation Brigade flew 141 sorties. 

His commander, named as Rostislav, described how Danylo actively volunteered for perilous missions and was disappointed not to fly. 

His tribute shows the willingness of Ukraine’s pilots to rapidly adapt to new technologies and training as the UK and other Western allies contemplate whether to equip Ukraine with the latest fighter jets.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy used a rousing speech in Westminster Hall yesterday to call on the UK to send aircraft, saying ‘in Britain, the King is an air force pilot and in Ukraine today every air force pilot is a king’. 

The wartime leader said pilots were ‘so few, so precious’ and appealed to the West to provide ‘wings for freedom’. 

Those tasked with crewing the new jets, if they are provided, will join a class who have performed one of the most remarkable feats of the war by continuing to fly combat missions despite Russia’s numerical and technological superiority in the skies.   

The air force university graduate was described as having ‘minimal experience’ before being regarded as an ace by his unit within the space of a few months. Despite possessing the least experience among his cadre, his aptitude led him to be picked for the most difficult missions and he was posthumously awarded the rank of Major.

‘I dreamed that Danylo would be one of the first to relearn the F-16,’ Rostislav said. ‘He clearly saw the future of Ukraine and Ukrainian aviation.

‘I was convinced that Danylo would be one of the first to fly the F-16, because he is an incredible person both in the sense of combat experience and as a comrade, he had the qualities of a commander, let alone a talented pilot.’  

The commander, speaking to Ukraine’s ArmyInform military information agency, told his comrade to learn English — a key requirement for the training element of flying advanced Western jets — and he would ‘take care of the rest’.  

He said: ‘Since then, he purchased courses with his own money, spoke, drilled, listened… In a short time, I realized that his level of English was higher than mine… And Danylo fought in non-stop mode and at the same time learned so intensively, like no one else.’  

Rostislav, who at 28 is the oldest and most senior of the group, described how Danylo had been flying behind him near the city of Kramatorsk when a missile from an enemy fighter plane hit his comrade’s aircraft. 

The aviator veered his jet away from the populated area, shouting ‘I turned!’ but did not have enough altitude to deploy his parachute, the officer said.

Rostislav told how Danylo had volunteered to join the dangerous mission, and he had accepted the request after finding the young pilot saddened at not being scheduled to fly that day. 

‘This is not a military unit, it is a friendly family, but there are still people you trust a little less in combat terms, and some more,’ he said.

‘For difficult tasks I take the strongest. Danylo, from the least trained pilot, quickly grew to be the strongest.’ 

Rostislav described how the former air cadet was a ‘very young officer with minimal experience’ at the start of 2022.

After watching a news report about atrocities in Bucha, Danylo said he wanted to ‘destroy them as much as I can’ in order to save Ukrainian lives on the ground, according to the commander.

Rostislav described the pilot, who is survived by his wife, as ‘an exceptionally dedicated person’ and said ‘our entire combat family loved him very much’. A picture of Danylo released by the military shows him in front of a Sukhoi Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’ ground attack aircraft.

In a separate tribute, the 299th Tactical Aviation Brigade said that Danylo had ‘diligently and bravely carried out all combat tasks’ while encountering Russian air defence systems and fighter planes.

The Brigade stated in a Facebook post that he had destroyed 70 armoured vehicles, more than 80 normal vehicles, around 30 fuel tanker trucks and around 600 enemy personnel. 

On his final flight, Danylo had tried to divert his plane away from residential buildings ‘until the last second’, according to the tribute.

The Brigade said: ‘Due to this, he lost altitude, was unable to safely bail out and died a hero’s death.’  

During his speech, Zelenskyy presented a helmet from a Ukrainian pilot bearing the words ‘we have freedom, give us wings to protect it’. The president called on the world to provide ‘wings for freedom’.  

Ukraine’s air force consists predominantly of Sukhoi jets, which date back to the Soviet era and are considered by military experts to be technologically inferior to Russia’s updated version of the aircraft. 

Rishi Sunak has responded to Zelenskyy’s appeal by saying that ‘nothing is off the table’ in terms of sending military aid to Ukraine and combat aircraft are ‘part of the conversation’.  

The prime minister has asked defence secretary Ben Wallace to see if Typhoon fighters can be allocated.

The government has already announced that it is extending military training to Ukrainian fighter jet pilots so they can fly sophisticated NATO-standard aircraft ‘in the future’.  

The US has so far ruled out sending F-16s but Joe Biden may have a change of mind, with a source in Washington telling the i newspaper that the ‘mood is certainly shifting’. 

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