Andrii Pilshchykov, a Ukrainian military pilot, was killed along with two fellow airmen in a mid-air collision over Zhytomyr Oblast in northern Ukraine on Friday.

The crash occurred between two L-39 training planes. It has prompted an extensive investigation into whether proper flight preparation procedures were adhered to prior to the collision.

Pilshchykov rose to fame for his manoeuvres and unmatched combat skills during the early stages of Russia’s invasion. He gained prominence for his involvement in intense dogfights in Kyiv. His exceptional piloting abilities and in-depth knowledge of aerial combat tactics earned him the reverence and admiration of both his colleagues and superiors.

President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed the loss of the airmen in the mid-air collision in his nightly address.

Andrii Pilshchykov, known by his call sign Juice, had shared his experiences as a MiG-29 fighter pilot during the autumn months when Russia’s missile and drone attacks on Ukraine intensified. He detailed the immense pressure of intercepting deadly weapons and spoke about the weight of responsibility he felt to safeguard civilian lives in threatened cities. He conveyed the importance of his role in preventing casualties and ensuring the safety of those on the ground.

Pilshchykov’s journey was marked by a determination to pursue his lifelong dream of joining the Ukrainian Air Force. He considered this mission a deeply personal one, motivated by a passion for aviation and a fervent desire to serve his country.

Pilshchykov’s passing is a significant setback for Ukraine, as the nation readies to acquire a fleet of up to 61 F-16 fighter jets from its allies. This strategic move aims to bolster Ukraine’s counter-offensive capabilities and enhance its ability to defend against external threats.

The Pentagon confirmed the commencement of English-language training for Ukrainian personnel in F-16 operations. This training programme, set to begin in September in Texas, will be followed by flight training in October in Arizona. Other Western allies are also slated to initiate training for Ukrainian pilots in the coming months. The comprehensive training process for F-16 operations is projected to span approximately five months.

Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force, highlighted Pilshchykov’s instrumental role in advocating for the Air Force’s requirements. Pilshchykov maintained vital contacts with American officials and pilots, and was a driving force behind the advocacy group that championed the acquisition of F-16s.