Operation Constant Peg: Why The U.S. Military Made A Business Out Of Buying Russian Fighter Jets

David Axe

Key point: "It's one thing to fight an airplane, but one that you've never seen and don't know its capabilities is a whole different story," Lyon said.

From 1978 to 1988, a secret U.S. Air Force unit flew captured Russian MiG fighters in a dangerous effort to teach American pilots how to defeat the planes in combat.

The 4477th Test & Evaluation Squadron, also known by its code name "Constant Peg," flew 15,000 sorties and trained 6,000 U.S. pilots, according to a new Air Force documentary.

Similar efforts continue today under different auspices.

"Constant Peg was intended to train U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines pilots how to fly and fight against a real Soviet aircraft," Earl Henderson, a retired lieutenant colonel and Constant Peg commander in 1979 and 1980, said in the documentary.

"It all kind of got started back during the Vietnam War," Henderson explained. "The U.S. came into possession of some real Russian MiGs. We exploited them, found out how they worked and what all the engineering details were. And the test pilots went and flew them. Found out how fast they would go, how high they would go, how tight they would turn."

Hoyt Vandenberg, Jr., a general at Air Force headquarters, came up with the idea of organizing the MiGs in a squadron rather than assigning them to test programs. Gail Peck, a retired colonel who was the Constant Peg commander in 1978 and 1979, gave the squadron its code name, combining Vandenberg's call sign "Constant" with his wife's first name.

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