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Bill Sweetman at Aviation Leak-
Earlier this week I met someone in person that I had first detected on an AltaVista search, so you know that this is going to be about history.
John Manclark was the commander of the 4477th Test & Evaluation Squadron from 1985-87. At the time, a few of us who took an unhealthy interest in such matters knew a bit about what 4477TES was, to wit: It flew Soviet aircraft, and it was secret. (Later, early internet searches started to reveal odd details of biographies, such as Manclark’s claim to have flown the YF-110 and YF-113.)
Some details of the program were declassified in 2006. It was codenamed Constant Peg, Constant after the callsign of Maj Gen Hoyt Vandenberg Jr and Peg being the wife of Col Gail Peck, another of its founders.
It was not the same as the highly classified codenamed programs (mostly prefixed with “Have”) that evaluated foreign aircraft for the intelligence community. Constant Peg was intended to give USAF combat pilots direct experience of flying against (then) Soviet aircraft.
Constant Peg had more aircraft than the Have programs, of fewer types, and many more people were exposed to it. MiG-29s and Sukhoi types occasionally seen in the Nevada skies in the 1980s and 1990s belonged to (cough discreetly) other organizations.
Recently retired as the USAF’s director of test and evaluation, Manclark gave an hour-long extempore talk at the Air Force Association this week. (“The computer puked on my slides.”) From beginning to end you could have heard a pin drop in the audience. Here are a few of his comments:
“In 1985 we had 26 MiGs — MiG-21s and MiG-23s. We had had MiG-17s originally but phased them out early, and by the end of the program we still had more MiG-21s than anything else.
When the US originally acquired MiG-17s and MiG-21s in the 1960s, the highly classified programs Have Drill, Have Donut, and Have Ferry put US test pilots in the cockpit. But those were technical evaluations to determine just what the planes could do.
Constant Peg, however, was an operational training program. The benefit wasn’t to the pilots flying the MiGs. The goal was to expose operational fighter pilots out in the tactical squadrons to the likely opponents and let them experience what it was really like to tangle with a MiG. And by most accounts, it was quite successful.
Virtually all the large scale US training environments for the last 30 years have tried to flatten the learning curve of troops and units. Typically, fighter pilot losses were far higher for their first 1o missions. If they survived those deadly first 10 missions, they had an excellent chance of completing their 100 mission tour. Red Flag was an attempt to create a realistic environment that would put units and individuals through the equivalent of those 10 missions. Similarly, the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin was designed to put Army brigades through their first few battles.
The effectiveness of this intense training was vividly shown in Desert Storm and in 2003 by the stunning rapidity with which Iraq was invaded. And when the fighting in Iraq shifted from a large scale battle to insurgency, NTC and other training bases quickly shifted their emphasis to model the battlefield troops would fight on.
It is usually uneconomic for the services to actually operate Soviet or other foreign equipment in order to fully model a likely adversary. Accordingly, most training has to make do with vehicles or aircraft standing in for threat vehicles.
Still, it must have been fun tangling with a MiG.