Red Eagles: America's Secret MiGs (General Aviation)
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When two Navy F-14 Tomcats engaged and shot down two Sukhoi Su-22 jet fighters in 1981, they drew on experience and tactics that they had learned from a previous encounter with MiG jet fighters. The difference between the two encounters was that in the first, the enemy fighters were flown by American pilots assigned to a top secret squadron hidden at a remote airfield in the ultra-secret Tonopah Nuclear Test range, Nevada. In the second, the Sukhoi fighters were flown by Libyan pilots attempting to enforce Colonel Qadaffi's 'Line of Death' over the Gulf of Sidra.
From the mid-1960s until the end of the Cold War, the United States Air Force acquired and flew Russian-made MiG jets, eventually creating a secret squadron dedicated to exposing American fighter pilots to enemy MiGs. Following underperformance in the Vietnam War, the USAF began to study MiGs in order to improve fighter pilot training. This then developed into the "black" Constant Peg program. In this program, MiGs were secretly acquired, and made airworthy, a difficult task without manuals or parts. A secret base was found to operate the planes from; and then ace pilots were found and trained to not only fly the assets, but fly them as they were flown by America's enemies. Finally, a program of exposing American fighter pilots to the MiGs was developed. In all, more than 1,600 American fighter pilots would train against America's secret MiGs between 1974 and 1989.
Uncovering the story of the secret MiGs in America during the Cold War, and specifically Constant Peg and the 4477th Test & Evaluation Squadron, is a challenge because much of the information has been destroyed, or remains classified. To piece together the story of this group of men who provided America's fighter pilots with a level of training that was the stuff of dreams, author Steve Davies has interviewed over thirty of the Red Eagle pilots, along with other members of the squadron. This paperback edition includes new material on HAVE IDEA and other HAVE programs; making the MiGs airworthy in 1977 from the maintainers' perspective; and the intelligence activities of MiG expert at the Foreign Technology Division Mike Coyle. The result is a fascinating glimpse into a "black" program that enabled American fighter pilots to go into combat having already met and defeated their first MiG.
Hardcover edition ISBN: 9781846033780
to pull the plane in half to get the engine in or out. I would walk into a hangar and see up to seven of our ten broken in half, and I would ask myself, how many more times are we going to be able to put them together without someone making a mistake? Luckily, the maintainers put them back together right every time. Keeping the Red Eagles tactics up-to-date continued to require the ongoing support of a number of agencies. “The Systems Command people had an important role,” Manclark pointed out.
Red Hats at Groom Lake, in order to bring back additional MiG-21 expertise to the Red Eagles, but that had been cancelled when news of CONSTANT PEG’s demise had reached Tonopah. Neither man had experienced any major emergencies in their short time on the squadron, but Mahoney had just qualified on the MiG-23 and was not particularly enjoying the experience, and Therrien had put a MiG-21 out of control on one of his earliest exposures: The MiG-21 cockpit was not very user friendly, and since it
had been laying the foundations for CONSTANT PEG.” For Iverson, Mayo, and Muller, the activation of the 4477th TEF was a natural continuation of what they had been doing for years. For these men, it introduced no immediate change in their daily routines; it was as though one day there was no name for what they did, but the next day there was. The only tangible difference to them was that now they owned the MiGs, were looking for an airfield of their own, and the scale of the operation was about
surrounding CONSTANT PEG. (USAF via Earl Henderson) The 64th FWS Aggressors of 1974 photographed in front of a T-38 Talon. Those who went on to be Red Eagles or flew the HAVE IDEA MiGs are: Back row, left to right – Mike Press, Earl Henderson, and (fifth along) Ed Clements; Front row, left to right – (fourth along) DL Smith, Gene Jackson, and (far right) Joe Lee Burns. (USAF via Earl Henderson) 64th FWS Aggressor Maj Ronald Iverson in 1978. This photo was taken at around the same time that
right on the deck. Right on time the Kansas Air National Guard flew over. You couldn’t see them, but you knew that there were three F-4s overhead and with another pulling up into the vertical.” Bucko just wanted to walk up to Linda and hug her, but such a display of emotion would not have been seen as appropriate, and all of the Red Eagles pilots were expected to maintain a professional distance. When Mark had finally been laid to rest, Linda sought comfort from what was left behind at the