4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron

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This article is about the USAF squadron. For other uses, see Red Eagle.
4477th Test & Evaluation Squadron
4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron MiG-21 Red 85.jpg
Members of the 4477th Test & Evaluation Squadron in front of a MiG-21F-13 Fishbed C/E, "85 Red", USAF serial 014. This airframe is now displayed at the Air Force Armament Museum, Eglin AFB, Florida.
Active 1 May 1980–15 July 1990
Country  United States
Branch  United States Air Force
Type Flight/Squadron
Role Foreign Technology Evaluation
Garrison/HQ Air Force Flight Test Center (Detachment 3), Nevada
Tonopah Test Range Airport, Nevada
Nickname Red Eagles
Disbanded Last sorties on 4 March 1988.
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Gaillard Peck, George Gennin
Insignia
Emblem of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron (Officer) 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron - Officers Patch.jpg
Emblem of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron (Enlisted) 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron - Enlisted Patch.jpg
Aircraft flown
Fighter Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17, MiG-21 and MiG-23.
Trainer Northrop T-38 Talon
Transport Cessna 404, Mitsubishi MU-2

The 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron (4477 TES) was a squadron in the United States Air Force under the claimancy of the Tactical Air Command (TAC). It is currently inactive.[1] The product of Project Constant Peg, the unit was created to expose the tactical air forces to the flight characteristics of fighter aircraft used by Soviet Union during the Cold War.[1] The declassified history of the squadron shows that it operated MiG-17s, MiG-21s and MiG-23s between 1977 and 1988, but it was not formally disbanded until July 1990.[1]

The mission of Constant Peg was to train Air Force, United States Navy and United States Marine Corps pilots and weapon systems officers, in air combat tactics against these foreign aircraft and was instrumental in the re-development of Dissimilar air combat training (DACT) methods developed after the end of the Vietnam War. Today's USAF Aggressor training squadrons can symbolically trace their histories back to the 4477th, as well as the paint motifs on their aircraft, which were used by the aircraft of the squadron in the 1970s and 1980s.

History[edit]

The longest continuing United States classified military airplane program is the testing and evaluation of Foreign Aircraft Technology. During the Cold War, secret test flying of Mikoyan-and-Gurevich Design Bureau (MiG) and other Soviet aircraft was an ongoing mission dating back to the acquisition of the first Soviet-built Yakovlev Yak-23 in 1953. This effort has continued to the present day. Unlike the other "black" airplane programs, such as the Have Blue, Lockheed U-2, or SR-71 Blackbird, Foreign Aircraft Technology operations still remain classified. Despite the declassification of the Constant Peg program in 2006, the evaluation of foreign aircraft likely continues.[1]

It is not known exactly the actual number or types of aircraft involved, where they came from, or the complete history of the program. It is known that the activities of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron brought about a fundamental change in United States Air Force and United States Navy / United States Marine Corps air combat tactics. They revitalized the art of dogfighting at a time when, seemingly, it had nearly been forgotten. The knowledge gained from testing the aircraft the squadron flew was reflected in the success of United States air operations during the Vietnam War, as well as the founding of the Air Force's Red Flag program and the United States Navy's TOPGUN school.

Origins[edit]

Further information: Area 51

In the late 1950s, a new generation of United States fighters was being developed. As a result of the development of air-to-air missiles, fighter aircraft, such as the U.S. Navy's F4H Phantom II, were developed. Later redesignated the F-4 in 1962, the aircraft was the first fighter designed from the start with only air-to-air missiles, carrying both radar-guided AIM-7 Sparrow III and the shorter-range AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-guided missiles. With the new missiles came the new attitude that dog-fighting was obsolete. The air-to-air training given to new Navy and Marine Corps F-4 crews was extremely limited. It involved about ten flights and provided little useful information. By 1964, few in the Navy and Marine Corps were left to carry on the tradition of classic dogfighting.[2]

Then came the Vietnam War. The early years of the air war over North Vietnam showed the faith placed in missiles was terribly in error. Between 1965 and the bombing halt in 1968, the USAF had a 2.15 to 1 kill ratio. The U.S. Navy was doing slightly better with a 2.75 to 1 rate. For roughly every two North Vietnamese MiG-17 Frescos or MiG-21 Fishbeds shot down, an American F-4 Phantom II, F-105 Thunderchief, or F-8 Crusader would be lost. This was far worse than the 10-plus to 1 kill rate during the Korean War. More serious, the percentage of United States fighters being lost in air-to-air combat was growing. During 1966, only 3 percent of U.S. aircraft losses were due to MiGs. This rose to 8 percent in 1967, then climbed to 22 percent for the first three months of 1968.[2]

The emphasis on air-to-air missile interception meant the fighter combat crews had only the sketchiest knowledge of dogfighting. Originally conceived as a naval fleet air defense aircraft, and later adapted as an Air Force fighter-bomber, the design of the F-4 made it ill-suited for a tight-turning dogfight. In contrast to the lighter MiG-17, the F-4 was large and heavy. When a tight turn was made, the F-4 would lose energy and airspeed. The MiG-17's superior turning capability then allowed it to close to gun range. All too often, hits from the MiG-17's "outmoded" cannons would then destroy the F-4.[2]

Under the HAVE DOUGHNUT and HAVE DRILL programs, the first MiGs flown in the United States, were used to evaluate the aircraft in performance and technical capabilities, as well as in operational capability, pitting the types against U.S. fighters.[1]

The data from the Have Doughnut and Have Drill tests were provided to the newly formed United States Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) at NAS Miramar, California. During the remainder of the Vietnam War, the Navy kill ratio climbed to 8.33 to 1. In contrast, the Air Force rate improved only slightly to 2.83 to 1. The reason for this difference was TOPGUN. The Navy (to include the Marine Corps) had revitalized its air combat training, while the Air Force had stayed stagnant. Most of the Navy MiG kills were by TOPGUN graduates.[1]

By 1970, the Have Drill program was expanded; a few selected fleet F-4 crews were given the chance to fight the MiGs. The most important result of Project Have Drill is that no Navy pilot who flew in the project defeated the MiG-17 Fresco in the first engagement. The Have Drill dogfights were by invitation only. The other pilots based at Nellis Air Force Base were not to know about the U.S.-operated MiGs. To prevent any sightings, the airspace above the Groom Lake portion of the Nellis Range was closed. On aeronautical maps, the exercise area was marked in red ink. The forbidden zone became known as "Red Square".[2]

The idea of a more realistic training program for the Air Force was devised by USAF Colonel Gail Peck, a Vietnam veteran F-4 pilot, who was dissatisfied with his service's fighter pilot training. After the war, he worked at the Department of Defense, where he heard about the HAVE DRILL and HAVE DOUGHNUT programs. He won the support of USAF General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Jr. and launched "Constant Peg," named after Vandenberg's callsign, "Constant," and Peck's wife, Peg.[1]

MiGs[edit]

Two USAF F-5Es flanking a MiG-17 and MiG-21 of the 4477th Tactical Evaluation Squadron

Tactical Air Command established the 4477th Test and Evaluation Flight as the formal USAF testing unit on 1 April 1977. It began with three MiGs: two MiG-17Fs and a MiG-21 loaned by Israel, who had captured them from the Syrian Air Force and Iraqi Air Force. Later, it added MiG-21s from the Indonesian Air Force.[1]

By the late 1970s, United States MiG operations were undergoing another change. In the late 1960s, the MiG-17 and MiG-21F were still frontline aircraft. A decade later, they had been superseded by later-model MiG-21s and new aircraft, such as the MiG-23. Fortunately, a new source of supply of Soviet aircraft became available, Egypt. In the mid-1970s, relations between Egypt and the Soviet Union had become strained, and Soviet advisers were ordered out. The Soviets had provided the Egyptian air force with MiGs since the mid-1950s. Now, with their traditional source out of the picture, the Egyptians began looking west. They turned to United States companies for parts to support their late-model MiG-21s and MiG-23s. Very soon, a deal was made. According to one account, two MiG-23 fighter bombers were given to the United States by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. The planes were disassembled and shipped from Egypt to Edwards Air Force Base. They were then transferred initially to Groom Lake for reassembly and study.[2]

In 1987, the U.S. Air Force bought 12 new Shenyang F-7Bs from China for use in the Constant Peg program. At the same time, it retired the remaining MiG-21F-13 Fishbeds acquired from Indonesia.[citation needed][3]

"Red 49" MiG-23 on the Tonopah ramp, 1988

The United States operated MiGs received special designations. There was the practical problem of what to call the aircraft. This was solved by giving them numbers in the Century Series. The MiG-21s and Shenyang F-7Bs were called the "YF-110" (the original designation for the USAF F-4C), while the MiG-23s were called the "YF-113".[1][2]

The focus of Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) limited the use of the MiGs as tools with which to understand the performance, capabilities and qualities of the enemy. By contrast, Tactical Air Command was interested in training the front line tactical fighter pilots.[1] Air Force Systems Command recruited its MiG pilots from the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, who were usually graduates from either the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards or the Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. Tactical Air Command selected its MiG pilots primarily from the ranks of the Weapons School and Aggressors at Nellis AFB. Similarly, the US Navy and US Marine Corps pilots were recruited from the graduates of the Naval Fighter Weapons School, better known as Top Gun.[1]

The aircraft were collected at the Department of Energy's Tonopah Test Range, where they were flown by the squadron. The squadron operated MiG-17s until 1982, but mostly MiG-21s and MiG-23s.[1]

Aggressor training[edit]

The lackluster performance of USAF fighter pilots against North Vietnamese Air Force MiG pilots over the skies of Vietnam was studied by the United States Air Force Fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nevada during the early 1970s. The combat reports showed that training in flying basic fighter maneuvers was a major cause of the low air-to-air kill rate, as well some technical limitations in the F-4 Phantom II, the primary fighter in use by the Air Force over the skies of Vietnam. The 414th Fighter Weapons Squadron, part of the Fighter Weapons School had flown its F-4s against the HAVE FERRY MiG-17F, which was fundamentally different than flying against the F-105 Thunderchief and other United States fighters. It was believed that by developing a squadron dedicated to Dissimilar air combat training (DACT) against pilots trained in Soviet fighter tactics and to equip it with an aircraft with flight characteristics similar to the MiGs they would face in combat. Combat training would change from one pilot in an F-4 flying against another F-4 to flying against another pilot who, in a fundamentally different aircraft, would think and fly like a Soviet pilot.[4]

The 64th Fighter Weapons Squadron, equipped with Northrop T-38 Talons was activated in October 1972 as the USAF's first "Aggressor" squadron. Its pilots were trained against the Soviet MiGs at Groom Lake, and would use the T-38s to fly against Tactical Air Command pilots, employing known Soviet fighter tactics against them in air-to-air combat training. They were also trained to fly against acquired Soviet air defense systems similar to those that US pilots had faced in North Vietnam. The pilots of the 64th were also well-seasoned combat veterans of the Vietnam War, many with Distinguished Flying Crosses and over 100 combat missions over North Vietnam. Beginning in the spring of 1973, the squadron began deploying to TAC bases in the United States to perform DACT training against F-4 pilots.[4]

The training program was successful, and beginning in November 1975, a large-scale exercise "Red Flag 1" was held at Nellis AFB where training was held on a large scale. The acquired Soviet air defense radar was installed at several locations on the Nellis range, and simulated Soviet integrated missile and antiaircraft artillery batteries, similar to that what was faced in Vietnam and by Israeli pilots during the 1973 Yom Kippur War were set up. Selected TAC pilots were taken to Groom Lake to train against the HAVE FERRY MiG-17. In the summer of 1975, the 65th Fighter Weapons Squadron was established as the second "Aggressor" squadron.[4]

With the fall of Saigon, the United States had some 70 F-5E Tiger II fighter aircraft in storage, which were paid for by Congress to send to the South Vietnamese Air Force. The T-38s used by the Aggressor squadrons were trainers and similar to the F-5, but were not combat aircraft and were not ideal in the role of simulating the performance of the Soviet MiG, however the higher-performance F-5E was. When South Vietnam collapsed, the T-38s were replaced by the F-5Es as the "Aggressor" aircraft. The circumstances also made the creation of two more Aggressor Squadrons in 1975/1976, the 26th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron at Clark Air Base, Philippines, to train PACAF pilots and the 527th Tactical Fighter Training Aggressor Squadron at RAF Alconbury, England to train USAFE pilots.[4]

Establishment of the 4477th[edit]

During the 1970s, the number of acquired Soviet aircraft increased to include MiG-21s and MiG-23s. The number of aircraft and the expanded use of the facility at Groom Lake to train new Aggressor pilots was becoming more and more awkward. It was decided to move the Aggressor training program to a less secure, remote facility. The Tonopah Test Range Airport was only 70 miles to the northwest of Groom Lake and was on the controlled AEC Tonopah Test Range fitted the need for a new home. The AEC airport had the potential for improvement and expansion, with the only public land overlooking the base miles away. Although not as hidden as Groom Lake, the airport would be remote enough to operate the Soviet aircraft. In fact, the security surrounding the Tonopah Test Range was so effective that the new base was not publicly reported as an Air Force military airfield until 1985. On 1 April 1977 Tactual Air Command established the 4477th Test and Evaluation Flight, which assumed the personnel and equipment of the un-designated testing unit at Groom Lake and moved the program to Tonopah TRA. The unit was officially assigned to Nellis AFB under the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing.[4]

"Red 84" MiG-21F-13 taxiing past the control tower, 1986

Two pilots of the 4477th died flying the Soviet planes. The pilots had no manuals for the aircraft, although some tried to write one, nor was there a consistent supply of spare parts, which had to be refurbished or manufactured at high cost.

On 23 August 1979, a pilot lost control of the squadron's MiG-17F, USAF serial 002. U.S. Navy Lieutenant M. Hugh Brown, 31, of the U.S. Navy's Test and Evaluation Squadron FOUR (VX-4), "Bandit 12", originally of Roanoke, Virginia, entered a spin while dogfighting a U.S. Navy F-5. Brown recovered, but entered a second irrecoverable spin too low to eject. The plane hit the ground at a steep angle near the Tonopah Test Range airfield boundary, killing the pilot instantly.[1]

On 21 October 1982, USAF Captain Mark Postai crashed with a MiG-23.[1]

On 26 April 1984, USAF Lieutenant General Robert M. "Bobby" Bond, then vice commander of Air Force Systems Command, died attempting to eject after losing control of his MiG-23 while supersonic. A few hours after the crash, Headquarters, Air Force Systems Command, at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland issued a brief statement: "Lt. Gen. Robert M. Bond, vice commander, Air Force Systems Command, was killed today in an accident while flying in an Air Force specially modified test aircraft". Three-star generals do not generally fly test missions, so Bond's death attracted press interest. The fact that the Air Force also refused to identify the type of plane also raised questions. Early reports claimed he had been flying "a super-secret Stealth fighter prototype." The death of a three-star general led the Air Force to reveal that it was flying Soviet aircraft.[2][5][6] A boulevard cut-off between Eglin Air Force Base (main base) and Hurlburt Field in Florida is named in his honor.

End of operations[edit]

Squadron members with one of the F-5E Trainers/DACT aircraft

Near the end of the Cold War the program was ostensibly abandoned and the squadron was disbanded. Flight operations at Tonopah closed down in March 1988, although the 4477th was not inactivated until July 1990, according to one official Air Force history. In the interim, a handful of pilots flew 'continuation training (CT)' sorties at Groom Lake.[1] The decision to shut down operations may have had something to do with the fact that a new generation of Soviet Aircraft was entering service and also the inevitable round of budget cuts from Washington.[1]

The assets of the squadron could not go to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB, and the fate of them remains in some cases, still classified. Several of the F-110s (MiG-21) were sent to museums or now are on static display. Some of the airplanes may have been broken up, and its rumored that some were buried in the Nevada desert. Also a few were used for target practice on Air Force weapons ranges.[1]

Ongoing Foreign Technology Evaluation[edit]

After the 4477 TES was inactivated, the remaining assets were reconstituted as a detachment of the 57th Fighter Wing at Nellis AFB, now known as Detachment 3, 53rd Test and Evaluation Group.

Anecdotal evidence[1] suggests that exploitation of foreign aircraft today has returned to the original hierarchy seen in the 1960s and 1970s when HAVE IDEA became the umbrella program for exploiting foreign tactical fighters: the 'assets' are exploited first for performance, materials and qualities by Air Force Materiel Command (the successor to AFSC), before Air Force Combat Command (the successor to TAC) is then given access to the aircraft for tactical exploitation.[1]

There have been multiple sightings of foreign aircraft over Nevada since the end of Constant Peg and the inactivation of the 4477th TES: In a March 1994 article on Groom Lake in Popular Science, a photo was published of an Su-22 Fitter in flight. The plane was painted in a green and tan finish. The Su-22 is a swing-wing, light-attack aircraft. It was in frontline Russian Air Force service at the time and was exported widely to Eastern European and Third-World countries during the 1970s and 1980s.[2]

Also in 1993, the United States and Germany trained with former East German MiG-23s and two Su-22s which were sent to the United States. With East and West Germany now unified, there was an ample supply of both Soviet-built planes and the spare parts needed to support them.[2] In October 1994, Aerospace Daily reported that "reliable observers" had sighted an Su-27 Flanker on two occasions. The Su-27 is a Russian first-line advanced interceptor. It is in operation with both the Russian and Communist Chinese air forces.[2]

In 2014, it is believed that Air Force Combat Command (ACC) shares access to MiG-29 Fulcrums and Sukhoi Su-27 aircraft somewhere in Nevada (most likely Groom Lake) flying against Fighter Weapons School instructors, 422d Test and Evaluation Squadron aircrews and F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon "Aggressor" aircraft flying from Nellis AFB.[1]

Lineage[edit]

  • Established by Tactical Air Command as 4477th Test and Evaluation Flight and activated, 1 April 1977
Status changed to Squadron and re-designated: 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron, 1 May 1980
Inactivated on 15 July 1990[7]

Assignments[edit]

  • 57th Tactical Training Wing, 1 April 1977
Re-designated: 57th Fighter Weapons Wing, 1 March 1980-15 July 1990[7]

Stations[edit]

Operationally located at: Tonopah Test Range Airport, Nevada entire period[7]

Aircraft[edit]

As an OPSEC measure, the Soviet aircraft had their own US aircraft designations in order to avoid using the actual Soviet designations.[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Davies, Steve (2008), Red Eagles, Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey, p. 352, ISBN 978-1-84603-378-0 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Peebles, Curtis, (1999), Dark Eagles, Presidio Press; Revised edition, ISBN 978-0-89141-696-8
  3. ^ "We didn’t know what 90 percent of the switches did" | Ares Archived January 16, 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b c d e Davis, Chapter 2, A Genesis for the Red Eagles, 1972-1977
  5. ^ F-117A: The crash of General Robert M Bond Archived March 23, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Biographies : Lieutenant General Robert M. Bond Archived August 2, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ a b c Email from Daniel L. Haulman, PhD, Air Force Historical Research Agency 19 June 2004

America's Secret MiG Squadron by Col. Gaillard R. Peck Jr.

External links[edit]