In the late 1960’s a secret program was undertaken by the US Air Force and Navy to evaluate flight characteristics of soviet built aircraft. The US acquired aircraft, radar systems, missiles as well as other hardware from friendly nations (Israel,Egypt,etc.) or aircraft used by their pilots to defect. The program continued until the early 1990’s, when the fall of the Soviet Union led to the end of the Cold War.
Knowing the potential of enemy aircraft when involved in a conflict is a major asset as it was proven time and again during WWII. Both sides lost the advantage when pilots became disoriented and landed at enemy airfields or when they simply defected. On June 23, 1942, Oberleutnant Arnim Faber mistakenly landed his Focke-Wulf 190A-3 at RAF Pembrey, near Swansea in Wales. The aircraft was delivered on July 13 to the Air Fighting Development Unit at Duxford, where it was flown in trials against the new Spitfire Mk.IX, giving the RAF concrete ideas on the best way to fight the Fw 190A with their new fighter, which redressed the balance of power. During WWII both the Allies and the Axis received such “presents” from defecting pilots, crashed aircraft, captured aircraft and so on.
After WWII, a new war was to begin, a war of ideology, the Cold War. Marked by decades of conflict, the Cold War was a time of tension and competition between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies. Throughout this period several crisis threatened to escalate into an all out war. Both sides were engaged in a massive arms race, trying to develop technology that would tilt the balance in their favor.
With the start of the Korean War on June 25 1950 two formidable opponents were to meet in the skies of North Korea in an area that was given the name “MiG Alley”: the F-86 Sabre and the MiG-15 Fagot.US pilots found out that the MiG-15 climbed and dived faster, and was every bit as maneuverable. They needed a combat ready MiG-15 to evaluate performance against the F-86 Sabre in a controlled environment to give an edge to American pilots in dogfights.Operation Moolah was launched, the Korean War effort to entice a Communist pilot to fly a MiG-15 fighter to an allied airfield for a reward of $100,000. The result? In 1953 North Korean lieutenant No Kum-Sok defected to South Korea. He flew his MiG-15 to the Kimpo airbase, received 100,000 $ and later became an US citizen. This was the first MiG-15 Fagot received by the US. Chuck Yeager flight tested this aircraft and started a trend that was to last almost 40 years.
Lieutenant No Kum-Sok defected on September 21 1953 and his MiG became the first of many owned by the US. Western countries had a look at the MiG-15 earlier that year. On March 5 1953 Polish Lt. Franciszek Jarecki flew from Slupsk (Polish Air Force Base) to Ronne Airport on Bornholm Island in a MiG-15bis. Western air specialists checked the aircraft and several days later, the MiG returned to People’s Republic of Poland by ship. Jarecki, however, went to the United States, where he provided much important information about modern Soviet aircraft and air tactics. On May 20, 1953 Lt. Zdzislaw Jazwinski from 28th Fighter Squadron in Slupsk ( same squadron as Lt. Franciszek Jarecki) defected with MiG-15bis to Ronne Airport on Bornholm Island. On Novmeber 7 1955 Lt. Kozuchowski from 31st Fighter Squadron in Lask defected with his MiG-15 and crash-landed near Halland in Sweden and on September 25, 1956 Lt. Zygmunt Gosciniak from Zegrze Pomorskie defected with MiG-15bis and landed without using landing gear at Ronne Airport on Bornholm Island. By this time however the MiG-15 was considered an absolete design, having been replaced by the superior MiG-17.
During the Vietnam War North Korean MiG-17s and MiG-21s reached a kill rate of 9:1 against US air assets. In the early 60’s the US had its biggest break. In 1961, a disappointed Soviet pilot flew his Sukhoi Su-9 interceptor to Abadan, Iran. Only very sketchy details about this incident are known even today, but the plane and the pilot were picked up by officers of the Foreign Technology Division (FTD) of the DoD. After being disassembled within 24 hours the Su-9 was transported to the USA, while the pilot followed shortly after. In 1966, Iraqi Captain Munir Redfa flew his MiG-21F-13 to Israel. Two years later, Israel gave his MiG-21F-13 and two MiG-17F to the United States for evaluation.
In January 1968 project HAVE DOUGHNUT, a joint USAF/Navy technical and tactical evaluation of the MiG-21F-13 began at a top secret facility in Nevada known as Groom Lake, also known as Area-51. In February 1968 the first test flight of HAVE DOUGHNUT MiG-21F-13 occurred and by March same year the project was completed. In January 1969project HAVE DRILL/HAVE FERRY evaluation of two MiG-17F airplanes (seen in the picture) began at Area 51 with delivery of first airplane. In February the first MiG-17 test flight was completed and in March the second MiG-17 was delivered to the now famous Area-51.In May 1969 project HAVE DRILL/HAVE FERRY was completed. In addition to tracking the dog fights staged between the various MiG models against virtually every fighter in US service, and against SAC’s B-52 Stratofortress and B-58 Hustlers to judge the ability of the bombers countermeasures systems, they performed radar cross-section and propulsion tests that contributed greatly to improvements in US aerial performance in Vietnam.
What was learned during these projects at Area 51 prompted the US Navy to commence Top Gun exercises first at Miramar, California and then Fallon, Nevada. Shortly thereafter the US Air Force commenced its Red Flag exercises at Nellis AFB, Nevada. The programs continued. In May 1973 a new project was initiated. Project HAVE IDEA was initiated to evaluate foreign aircraft at Area 51 and elsewhere. The test aircraft initially included MiG-21 and MiG-17 variants. Project HAVE IDEA was initiated to take over from HAVE DOUGHNUT and HAVE DRILL/HAVE FERRY projects.
As a result of the HAVE IDEA project in July 1973 the 4477th TEF known as “Red Eagles” was activated at Nellis Air Force Base to support evaluation of foreign aircraft. In December 1977 6513th Test Squadron “Red Hats” was activated at Edwards Air Force Base, also to support in the evaluation of foreign aircraft. As of May 1980 the 4477th TEF “Red Eagles” was upgraded to squadron status as the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron. Following this upgrade, the program was again renamed and it continued as CONSTANT PEG with realistic combat training operations featuring adversary tactics, dissimilar air combat training, and electronic warfare.
Over the years more and more aircraft were added to the collection. On September 6, 1976, Lieutenant Viktor Belenko defected with his MiG-25 to Hakodate, Japan. The US interrogated and debriefed him for 5 months after his defection, and employed him as a consultant for several years thereafter. The MiG was disassembled, examined, and returned to the USSR in thirty crates. Belenko brought with him the pilot’s manual for the Foxbat, expecting to assist American pilots in evaluating and testing the aircraft. However, the Japanese government only allowed the US to examine the plane and do ground tests of the radar and engines. In July 1988, two Syrian pilots defected with their MiG-29s to Turkey followed by another Syrian pilot in April same year who landed his MiG-23ML in Turkey. In October 1989 Syrian pilot Abdel Bassem landed his MiG-23ML in Israel.
These aircraft were given US designations and fake serial numbers so that they may be identified in DoD standard flight logs. It is rumored that more than two dozen MiGs and Sukhois were used during these programs. Here is a list of some of the designations used for the aircraft.
YF-110B MiG-21F-13 “Fishbed-C”
YF-110C A MiG-21 “Fishbed” variant
YF-110D A MiG-21 “Fishbed” variant
YF-113A MiG-17F “Fresco-C” used in HAVE DRILL program
YF-113B MiG-23BN “Flogger-F”
YF-113C MiG-17F (actually a Chinese-built J-5) “Fresco-C” used in HAVE PRIVILEGE program
YF-113E MiG-23MS “Flogger-E”
YF-114C MiG-17F “Fresco-C” (the one used in the HAVE FERRY program)
YF-114D MiG-17PF “Fresco-D
The pilots of these squadrons were faced with flying aircraft they did not have knowledge of, lacked manuals and spare parts. Aircraft components were often reverse engineered by ground crews and manufactured on the spot. Here is an example of how things were done to keep the airplanes in the air: one day, the Constant Peg maintenance shop noticed it was running out of MiG-21 brakes. With no place to buy any off the shelf, they sent out some worn brakes for duplication. Six weeks and untold dollars later they got back a brand new set of worn-out brakes. The new parts had been made to look exactly like the old. In these conditions it is not surprising that accidents did occur, some of them fatal. In April 1984 Lt. Gen. Robert M. Bond made two orientation flights in a Russian-built MiG-23 jet fighter. While making a high-speed run during his second flight, Bond lost control and crashed in Area 25 of the Nevada Test Site. He was killed while ejecting.
Facing great dangers pilots from the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron “Red Eagles” and 6513th Test Squadron “Red Hats” provided extremely valuable information regarding flight characteristics of Warsaw Pact aircraft, information that was to prove useful for pilots engaged in combat in Lybia, Iraq, Angola and so on. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron “Red Eagles” was deactivated. In October 1992 the 6513th Test Squadron “Red Hats” was inactivated. It was reactivated immediately as the 413th Flight Test Squadron, providing test and evaluation capability for electronic warfare (EW) systems. In May 2004 the 413th Flight Test Squadron was inactivated as part of a consolidation and realignment of EW assets.
The only military unit in the US still flying Soviet/Russian built equipment is OPTEC in the Army, flying a small number of Mi-24 Hinds, Mi-8/17 Hips, An-2 Colts and one Mi-2 Hoplite and Ka-32 Helix each.
Declassified video of the HAVE DOUGHNUT MiG-21 evaluation flights