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Aerial Combat: US Pilots Practiced Against MiGs

File photo: MiG 31 aircraft.
by Staff Writers
Beijing (XNA) Nov 29, 2006
A news conference held Thursday at the National Museum of the United States Air Force revealed a long-kept secret: thousands of U.S. military pilots gained an aerial-combat edge by practicing dogfighting against Soviet-designed MiG fighters.

A secret program code-named Constant Peg after a general's call sign and a commander's wife, enabled about 6,800 pilots to test their skills against the Soviet Union's most famous fighter planes, highly respected for speed and agility. Several other countries have produced their own versions.

The classified air combat training program ran from 1977 to 1988 at the Tonopah Test Range in a remote desert region near Las Vegas and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

"I guess the mouse is out of the pocket," said Gail Peck, who helped start the program and was its first commander. "After 20-some odd years, you have a little bit of a tingling feeling talking about things that were so closely held for so long."

Peck said young pilots were extremely impressed when they went up against MiGs for the first time.

"They would pull up beside you in formation, and you could almost see their eyeballs popping out of their heads," he said. "It was that exciting for them."

John Manclark, the Air Force's director of test and evaluation, said as many as 25 MiGs were used in the U.S. training program -- MiG-17s, MiG-21s and MiG-23s. The MiGs were flown by Air Force, Navy and Marine pilots.

Manclark declined to say where or how the military got the MiGs. He did say accidents involving the MiGs claimed the lives of two pilots. He said there were about 100 accidents for every 100,000 flight hours, far higher than the average of four accidents per 100,000 hours for Air Force fighter jets.

"If you talk to any general officer in the Air Force that is still on active duty and he flew fighters, he flew against the MiGs," Manclark said. "It was that big of a program."

The MiGs were kept in their hangars or put in the air to avoid detection when Soviet satellites were overhead. When U.S. military pilots in other operations made emergency landings at the airfield, they would have to sign secrecy oaths about what they had seen. And the crews that maintained the MiGs dressed in civilian clothing to avoid drawing attention.

Source: Xinhua News Agency

Related Links
National Museum of the United States Air Force

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