In a bid to outperform the Soviet Union (now Russia) if a World War ever broke out, the US carried out a secret mission to acquire Soviet fighter jets to familiarise the US Air Force pilots about their adversary.
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Under the “Constant Peg” program, 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron “Red Eagles” were designated to fly the Soviet MiG fighter jets acquired through Central Investigation Agency’s (CIA’s) clandestine efforts.
The Central Intelligence Agency purchased or leased Soviet fighter jets from a number of countries, often acquired through pilot defections, captures, or even from the Soviet Union itself, noted Popular Mechanics.
The warplanes were then handed over to the US Air Force whose best pilots flew these unfamiliar aircraft. The fighters included MiG-19 “Farmer,” MiG-21 “Fishbed,” and MiG-23 “Flogger” from countries such as Israel, China, Egypt, and Indonesia.
— Chris Bolton (@CcibChris) May 5, 2020
The flight testing took place at the US airbase at Groom Lake, Nevada which is dubbed by the modern-day conspiracy theorists as ‘Area 51’.
One such pilot, Paul Woodford, a former Air Force F-15 pilot, detailed his experience in a blog.
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“My Constant Peg flight consisted of me, a wingman, and two Red Eagle pilots — one flew the MiG-21, the other the MiG-23. We briefed at Nellis, three to four hours before our scheduled takeoff time.
That allowed time for the MiG pilots to hop on their transport aircraft, a Mitsubishi MU-2, and fly uprange to the Tonopah Test Range airfield where the MiGs were based,” he wrote in his blog.
Woodford in his blog recalled the dogfighting the “Fishbed” viz-a-viz Mig 21 saying that it was “surprisingly nimble and tight turning, hard to see due to its small size, and hard to get a gun-tracking shot on.”
“The Fishbed, if it uses afterburner (as ours did the entire time we fought with it) has enough gas to fly for about 20 minutes. It was a busy 20 minutes for both of us,” Woodford explained.
He also got the opportunity to fly the “Flogger” viz-a-viz the MiG-23 which he described saying that it flies as poorly as it fights. “Difficult to control and unstable, especially with the wings swept aft.”
However, the Mig-23 pilot showed him what it could do well. It could “make a high speed, high-angle attack and then run.”
“It accelerated away from us like nothing I’ve seen before or since, driving home the point that if you have a missile shot at a no-shit fast mover you’d better take it right now, because in a second it’ll accelerate right out of the firing envelope, and I guess that was the object of the lesson,” he wrote.
Woodford’s experience demonstrates the importance of knowing the adversary’s capabilities beforehand. However, he was later told not to talk about his experience as the cold war ended and the Constant Peg program was curtailed.
“The F-15 has the top speed advantage, but there isn’t enough fuel in the world to catch up with a Flogger determined to get out of Dod,” Woodford concluded comparing the American and the Soviet warplanes.