A triple Ace in the Korean conflict and Hero of the Soviet Union, Evgeny Georgevich Pepelyaev's natural talent as an aviator was apparent early in his career. He was born 18 March 1918 into the family of a machinist in Bodaybo, Irkutsk, in Eastern Siberia. Following in the footsteps of his elder brother, Konstantin, Pepelyaev attended the 8th Military School for Pilots, graduating in 1938. From the moment in childhood when he first saw a samolyot (aircraft), he yearned to fly. Between 1939 and 1946, he served in the 29th Fighter Air Regiment (FAR) in the Far East as a flight commander. He served in the 300th FAR as deputy squadron commander, squadron commander, and deputy regiment commander.
Throughout the Great Patriotic War, he repeatedly and insistently petitioned the higher command to reassign him to the Western Front, where his brother Konstantin had been killed in 1941. But his own commanders declined permission for the highly gifted aviator to leave their command. Only when temporarily assigned to the 162nd FAR on the Second Belorussian Front for "training" in late 1943 did he approach combat against Germany. However, poor weather relegated his flights to reconnaissance. On one of these missions, his Yak-7 was "bounced" and hit, but Pepelyaev managed to return to base. After the USSR declared war on Japan, Pepelyaev participated in combat as acting commander of the 300th FAR, 10th Air Army of the Far East, and flew 30 combat missions performing reconnaissance and fighter escort.
In 1947, he graduated from the Higher Academy of the Air Force at Lipetsk and married his sweetheart, Maya. After graduation, he was appointed Deputy Commander, 196th FAR. Always interested in new aircraft, he piloted over 30 different types and models during his career. In October 1950, Pepelyaev became Commander, 196th FAR, under the famous General-Major Ivan Kozhedub, a WW II Ace with 52 victories. During his tour in the Korean Theater, his unit flew more than 3,000 missions with over 100 aerial victories, against losses of only 10 aircraft and 4 pilots. Pepelyaev flew over 100 combat missions in Korea in the MiG-15, engaging in 38 dogfights and downing 21 UN aircraft.
He credited two of these victories to his wingman, thus finishing with an official total of 19. After Korea, Pepelyaev continued to serve as Commander, 196th FAR. In 1958, he graduated from the General Staff Academy and became Commander, 133rd Fighter Air Division, Air Defence Forces (PVO Strani). In 1962, he transferred to the Central Staff of PVO, retiring in 1973. His orders and decorations include Hero of the Soviet Union, 2 Orders of Lenin, 3 Orders of the Red Banner, and 20 other medals.
Young Evgeny Pepelyaev was required to fly his first training battle against the Commander of an Order of the Red Banner Squadron of the Red Army. As a novice, he was expected to lose; "how well he lost" would determine his standing. Despite the fact his opponent was a highly experienced pilot and commander of an elite squadron--Pepelyaev prevailed. Thus, from the very outset of his career, Pepelyaev's display of natural talent and nerve presaged his phenomenal success of 19 aerial victories while flying the MiG-15 in Korea.