Check Out This Rare Footage Of Red Eagle MiGs At Tonopah Test Range Airport

The rare piece of footage is from the 1980s when the U.S. was flying MiGs against its own jets out of a remote and secretive air base in Nevada.

byTyler Rogoway|
U.S. Homeland photo


Maybe the most prominent program to emerge from America's shadowy foreign materiel exploitation (FME) ecosystem was Constant Peg. During the late 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. was flying captured, found, and otherwise reconstituted Russian tactical jets against its own in extreme secrecy. The program also gave birth to the enigmatic Tonopah Test Range Airport as we know it today, which eventually would also house the F-117 Nighthawk force while it remained cloaked in secrecy. The base continues to host the F-117 today in its semi-retired state and a large number of other programs that are shrouded under deep classification. The video below gives us a very rare look not only at a U.S. operated MiG-23 Flogger preparing for a mission, but also into one of the original hangars built on the base for Constant Peg that still stand today. It is one of three hangars that are the largest on the base, with 160-foot wide hangar doors. 

Note that in the video, the base's highly unique fenced apron is clearly visible. The contents of the facility were so sensitive in the 1980s that double-rowed security fencing was installed along with floodlights and other security measures more common at a maximum-security prison than an airfield. The arrangement was used to separate the runway from the rest of the base. Sliding gates open to let approved aircraft through. So, even if an uncleared plane were to land of the strip, the occupants couldn't make it any farther than the runway. 

The video is having issues embedding, this link will take you directly to it on Youtube.

You can read more about this historic program and watch a great mini-documentary about it in this piece of ours

A budding Tonopah Test Range Airport in 1982. , DoD
Tonopah Test Range Airport today. , Google Earth

Although the original Constant Peg program was shuttered in 1990, follow-on programs in which foreign tactical aircraft, such as Su-27 and MiG-29s, are flown by American pilots and against American assets continue on in secret to this very day. Even the 4477th Test and Evaluation "Red Eagles" Squadron that conducted Constant Peg over 30 years ago lives on at least in the lore and iconography of the units that still conduct similar missions the Air Force's clandestine flight test center near Groom Lake, better known as Area 51. 

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