Of all the phantom cosmonauts, the most tangible is Vladimir Sergeyevich Ilyushin, the purported first man in orbit. He is a real person; his flight was reported at the time it was said to have occurred; and in his old age he allegedly confirmed the story. But when we examine the evidence, it must be concluded that Ilyushin was never a cosmonaut and never flew in outer space.
Vladimir Ilyushin was born on 31 March, 1927, the eldest son of leading Soviet aircraft designer Sergei Vladimirovich Ilyushin. Ilyushin's father was a favoured member of the Soviet establishment. It may be noted that aircraft designer Tupolev blamed Ilyushin's father for the denunciation that sent Tupolev to a special engineering prison in the Soviet Gulag in 1937. Vladimir's ambition was to be a test pilot of leading-edge, fast aircraft. He fulfilled this in an illustrious career that won him the highest state prizes and military promotions several years ahead of the norm throughout his life. In his spare time he was active in rugby and collecting automobiles (among them a 1966 Chevrolet Bel Air). He was Deputy Chief Designer and Lead Test Pilot for the Sukhoi design bureau until his retirement. Over his life he flew 145 different types of aircraft and made a number of important first and record flights. The following are the known and public highlights of his life:
Ilyushin - First Man in Orbit?
The basic details of the first reports were recounted by space historian Kenneth Gatland in 1967:
As the historic day of the world's first human spaceflight drew nearer the rigid secrecy that had prevailed in the Soviet Union showed signs of breaking down. It began with a rumour from Moscow that a Russian cosmonaut had been launched in secret on Friday, 7 April. A BUP message to London at midnight on 11 April quoted unidentified sources as suggesting that the cosmonaut was still undergoing physical examination by Soviet scientists, but that he was suffering from post-flight effects of a nature more emotional than physical. BUP continued: "It is reported that the astronaut was a professional test pilot and son of a prominent aircraft designer. Russian and foreign journalists are maintaining a round-the-clock vigil, waiting for an official announcement. However, official sources still maintained an absolute silence, neither denying nor confirming the reports. Moscow Radio went off the air just before midnight without mentioning a spaceflight."The originator of the story was Dennis Ogden, Moscow correspondent of the Daily Worker newspaper. He further provided the information that the unidentified cosmonaut had circled the earth three times in his 'Rossiya' spacecraft. Gatland continued:
The story was further embellished from the Soviet Union by a French correspondent (Eduard Brobovsky) who suggested that the mystery cosmonaut was none other than Lieutenant-Colonel Vladimir Ilyushin, son of the famous Soviet aircraft designer. In fact there was no truth in these rumours. Mr Pierre Salinger, then Press Secretary to the White House, said that the US Government had no information whatsoever of a Soviet space launching on the day concerned. As for the young Ilyushin, he was traced to a Chinese health resort in Hangchow where he had arrived some time before. Having received a bad leg injury in a road accident the previous June, he had left the Moscow Traumatology Hospital and remained bedridden at home until the end of January 1961. He was still walking with a stick. The world did not have long to wait for the real story. On the morning of 12 April 1961....came the big announcement....of Gagarin's flight...Gagarin's flight would seem to have put these pre-launch rumours to rest. Yet a month later US News and World Report ran an item (echoing the claims of Brobovsky) saying that Gagarin was a fraud. The allegation was made that he had never made a space flight, but was only the healthy substitute for Ilyushin. It was again maintained that Ilyushin had flown a few days earlier but was incapacitated and not presentable to the public. The official press organs of the Soviet Union completely denied stories of these and other pre-Gagarin flights.
The story had legs and kept recurring over the years. In the 1960's notoriously inventive occult writer Frank Edwards included an elaborate version of the story in his various flying saucer books. The Guinness Book of World Records gave the phantom cosmonauts credence by including Ilyushin's flight in their 1964 edition. After a brief revival at the time of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the story faded and little more was heard until after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In the early 1990s Isztvan Nemeri published Gagarin: a Space Lie in Hungary. He repeated the Ilyushin story and the Gagarin cover-up but then went on to elaborate it further with Moscow urban legends. It was said that the Soviet Union brutally disposed of both men. Ilyushin was said to have been killed in an engineered road accident in 1961. Gagarin's death in an air crash in 1968 was said to have been staged. He actually died in a top secret Soviet psychiatric ward in the spring of 1990.
In 1999 the final chapter came in the Ilyushin saga. Dr. Elliott H. Haimoff of Global Science Productions produced a documentary on Ilyushin's flight with the assistance of Moscow stringer Paul Tsarinsky. They spent five years and $ 500,000 on the film and claimed incontrovertible evidence that the flight had taken place. This documentary was purchased and broadcast by the Public Broadcasting Service in the United States. It was later picked up and broadcast by other networks around the world (including the Discovery Channel, Horizon, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).
The Ilyushin story as synthesised in the documentary is that Ilyushin was launched into space on 7 April, 1961. After three orbits of the earth Ilyushin lost contact with ground control engineers. Ilyushin was unable to eject from his Vostok capsule after re-entry and made a hard landing in China. He survived, but was interred by the Chinese. After a year of captivity and convalescence, he was repatriated to the Soviet Union in a secret deal between the countries. The film makers considered it likely that Gagarin was murdered by the KGB in 1968 because he was becoming uncontrollable and was likely to give the secret away.
What is the Evidence?
Dr. Elliott Haimoff graciously provided a transcript of his documentary. No confirming visual evidence is shown during the 51:10 running time of the documentary. There are no photographs or film showing Ilyushin in cosmonaut training or of his mission. Images of documents proving the case are not shown. While the voice-over describes the alleged mission of Ilyushin, images are shown illustrating what is being said. But they are rather misleading - none of the film is actually of the events being described. It is all just archive film of cosmonaut training and recovery. Some time is spent interviewing prominent Russians (Dr. Roald Sagdeyev, Dr. Sergei Khrushchev) in regard to general aspects of the Soviet system and its space program - but they say not a word about Ilyushin's flight. The only actual evidence in the documentary attesting to Ilyushin's flight is:
Ilyushin does not appear on the film describing his flight or claiming that it occurred. The narrator states merely 'Although Ilyushin promised to reveal his story on camera, upon the producers arrival in Russia, he chose to steadfastly maintain his secrecy'.
So that's it - aside from the same story told by Dennis Ogden in 1960, the only new evidence is that of Feller, who claims to have seen certain documents in a Kremlin library, and Gruschenko, who claims to have filmed the actual event.
'Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence' - here we are faced with a history-changing claim being made on the basis of the word of two men.
Against this is a flood of first-hand accounts released in Russian after the fall of the Soviet Union by those intimately connected with the events of that time. The diaries and memoirs of Soviet managers, cosmonauts, and engineers at the centre of the space program have been published. Personal and official documents, diaries, and contemporary notes from the time have been sold at auction and purchased by Western museums and institutes. The Soviet Union's greatest secrets - the failed moon landing program, the Nedelin disaster, the horrible radiological and biological warheads developed for their missiles - came spilling out. Surely the Ilyushin truth would be included among such enormous revelations. But there was not a whisper of the story from any Russian sources. In the two years since the release of the documentary not a single person has come forward to substantiate it. A good friend of Ilyushin stated that he had 'never heard of such delusions'.
In reply to doubts about the production, the producer provided the following response:
I am just disgusted with all of you doubters and 'James Oberg'-type clones who have just been duped for the last 40 years, and are just expressing their 'sour grapes' over not being able to root out this story first...there obviously is no one who can even hope to claim to be anywhere near as versed in this whole matter as we are. Any person who just pooh-poohs this as a myth or a fraud, is in reality a fraud themselves who can only be considered a puppet to Russian propaganda.....we will let the history books of the future decide who scurries for cover like roaches and holds up 40 year old Russian propaganda as their way of thinking that they know the truth about this issue and not being called an ignorant idiot.I would not describe the producer of the film in such acerbic terms. But consider the depth of the material that exists that refutes the claim that the Ilyushin flight ever occurred. We have the day-by-day diaries of Kamanin, head of the cosmonauts, for the period of Gagarin's launch. We have the memoirs of Vostok spacecraft designers Chertok, Feoktistov, Mishin, and many others who describe in great detail their own activities in relation to the launch. We know who arrived at the space centre for the launch at what time, what formal procedures were underway for crew selection, preparation of the launch vehicle, and so on. More importantly we know how these relate to the same procedures and preparations for later launches. There is nothing substantive to indicate any truth of the Ilyushin story.
There are also hundreds of photographs released of the cosmonauts in training, of preparations for the launch, of the recovery of the capsules. Even during Soviet times censors would make mistakes and release photographs showing unknown cosmonauts or spacecraft. These provided material for Soviet space watchers of the time to penetrate the secrecy around the program. But in all of these hundreds of photographs released before and since the fall of the Soviet Union there is not one to substantiate Ilyushin training as a cosmonaut, let alone his launch.
Against this incredible mass of documentation the supporters of the Ilyushin theory have presented not one document, not one first-hand witness account except the brief statements of Mr Gruschenko, and not a single photograph to document their case.
We are willing to keep an open mind. Historical accounts have been and will be changed if evidence is provided. But in a world where the former head of the Soviet bio-weapons program has admitted that Russian ICBM's were fitted with plague/anthrax hybrid warheads; where the head of the lunar landing program has admitted the Soviets wasted billions trying to beat the Americans to the moon; where the accounts of the death of hundreds of cosmonauts, technicians, and officers in ground training and launch accidents has been admitted - would - could - such a story be still kept secret?