TEHRAN – In a stunning development Iran’s newest stealth fighter, the Qaher-313, has been stolen directly from the flight line during tests.”We had just fueled up and were getting ready to spin up the engine,” said an incredulous Hadya Harari, chief technician for the Qaher’s flight control systems. “That’s when Mustapha ran past everyone, grabbed the airplane, and took off with it! Allah save me, I told them to keep Mustapha away because something like this would happen one day. Nobody listened.” Harari was overcome with emotion and wasn’t available for further comment.
We checked our information and found no information about a pilot named, “Mustapha.” Fortunately, Flight line Director Gadiel Bashour was present to offer an explanation. We asked if “Mustapha” was one of the regular pilots for the advanced fighter plane. “No, not that I know of. He just hangs around. He’s pretty cute and cuddly, so he’s become a favorite for the staff around here,” explained Bashour. While this was an unusual description of a highly trained combat pilot, we elected to pursue that angle at another time. Asked what steps Iran was taking to retrieve the multi-million dollar aircraft, Bashour said, “We’ve placed some open cans of tuna near the woods where he disappeared. He can’t resist the smell of the stuff. It gets him every time.”
This seemed like an unusual approach to us. A pilot flying at 20,000 feet could hardly smell a can of tuna, much less with the oxygen mask that pilots are required to wear. The question still remained regarding Mustapha’s motive for stealing the aircraft in the first place. Is he defecting? What were his plans for the plane? Bashour was non-plussed when we asked about this.”Well how should I know? I hope he’s not chewing on it. Cats do that sometimes.”
“Well yes,” explained Bashour. “Mustapha is our squadron cat. Everybody likes him. He can be tricky sometimes so really, we should have seen this coming.”
In late January, Iran triumphantly launched a monkey into space. Apparently, a trained astronaut being unavailable. Following up with feline pilots seemed like a plausible follow on. Iran may likely be the world leader in animals with piloting skills. Although this begs the question, where are Iran’s human pilots and why aren’t they more involved in Iran’s aerospace program? We asked Bashour about Mustapha’s “pedigree” in regards to piloting advanced fighter aircraft. “I don’t know that he can fly. I’m not sure that I have the clearance for that information,” said Bashour. “All I know is that he picked the plane up and dragged it off to the woods.”
That seemed quite implausible. We checked in with Marc Caulder, Senior Analyst at the Defense Research Unit, Maryland (DRUM) to ask about the anticipated weight of the Qaher-313. “While the Qaher is surprisingly puny for a combat aircraft it still must weigh several tons at the very least,” said Caulder. “The American F-5E Tiger II is one of the lightest fighter planes in the world. It’s ‘dry weight’ is about 9,700 lbs. Almost 5 tons. The Qaher-313 must weigh about the same amount judging from the pictures released by Iran.”