Three air forces scrambled as unidentified aircraft tours Balkans
An unidentified Beechcraft with its transponder and radio turned off flew in the airspaces of Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria on June 8, 2022.
According to a press release issued by the Romanian Ministry of National Defense, the aircraft is thought to have taken off in the region of Debrecen, Hungary at approximately 16:30 CET (2:30 pm GMT) with two people onboard.
Eight minutes later the aircraft was intercepted by a pair Hungarian Air Force Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets. According to the release, the aircraft did not respond to attempts to establish radio communication and ignored all visual signals.
At 17.49 the aircraft entered Romanian airspace in the vicinity of Oradea. As per a cross-border agreement between Romania and Hungary, the Hungarian jets continued to accompany the Beechcraft.
Several minutes later, the aircraft was intercepted by two patrolling US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons from 86th Feteşti Air Base. Six USAF F-16s were deployed in Romania in early May 2022 as part of an air policing mission. Upon interception, the Hungarian JAS 39s returned to base.
At 18:36 the mission of following the Beechcraft was taken over by two Romanian Air Force F-16s. While being followed, the aircraft entered Serbian airspace for two minutes in an area between Drobeta-Turnu Severin and Korbovo.
At 19:09 the Beechcraft entered Bulgarian airspace, and the Romanian aircraft returned to base.
The aircraft in question “did not show hostile or dangerous behavior”, according to the Romanian Ministry of National Defense.
The Ministry of Defence of Bulgaria issued a statement stating that the Beechcraft entered the country’s airspace “under complex hydro-meteorological conditions”. While the Bulgarian Air Force has been put on alert, no fighter jets have been scrambled.
The aircraft landed in Bulgaria a short while later. The country’s authorities say they have located the landing site and are investigating the case.
“At no time the plane was a threat to civilian or military infrastructure of Bulgaria. It was flying at low altitude, difficult to catch by fighters, but we monitored it at all times. We located where it landed and are working to establish the circumstances,” Bulgarian Minister of Defense Dragomir Zakov told Bulgarian news website, 24chasa.bg.
The swift interceptions and cross-border communications are a stark contrast to a case in early March 2022 when a military drone, possibly from Ukraine, passed over Hungary and crashed near Zahreb, the capital of Croatia.
In mid-March, a Russian-made Orlan-10 drone was found in Romania after flying 80 kilometers into the country’s airspace without being intercepted.
UPDATE 06-10-2022, 16:00 (UTC +3): According to the information revealed by Lithuanian and Hungarian media on June 10, 2022, the aircraft in question is actually a Lithuania-registered Piper PA-23–250-Aztec. For the continuation of the story, please read:
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