Pilots Provide Fascinating Commentary On Video Of America’s Secret Red Eagles MiG Squadron

The presentation provides firsthand insights into the Red Eagles’ activities during the twilight of the Cold War.

byJamie Hunter|
MiG-29 photo


It’s no secret that America flew an assortment of captured and acquired Russian fighter jets under extreme secrecy as part of a program dubbed Constant Peg in the late 1970s and 1980s. The 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron "Red Eagles" that conducted these highly classified missions, operated from the secluded Tonopah Test Range (TTR) airfield in a corner of the Nevada Test and Training Range in order to provide exposure to frontline U.S. fighter pilots of these valuable “assets.”

The War Zone has previously reported on a video clip that showed extremely rare footage of a “Red Eagles” MiG-23 in action at Tonopah during the era of Constant Peg, a program founded and commanded by Colonel Gail Peck. Now, a much longer version of this footage has been published by Red Eagles book author Steve Davies, on his YouTube channel 10 Percent True. The film not only provides new insight into the operations of the “Red Eagles” during this period, but it also includes candid reactions and commentary from two of the pilots that flew these aircraft.

The video gives incredible insight into the day-to-day operations of the “Red Eagles,” which operated at an extremely high level of classification. Russian MiG-21s, MiG-23s, and Chinese Chengdu F7s, are shown conducting missions from Tonopah, as they depart and recover from their sorties that were flown against U.S. military frontline fighter pilots. The missions were designed to give these aviators a taste of what it was like to meet real enemy aircraft in combat.

You can watch the video and a follow-up Q&A here:

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The footage gives some indication of the scale of the Red Eagles' activities at the height of Constant Peg, with one sequence showing no less than seven MiG-21s/F7s, on the flightline for a mass launch and another of a hangar packed with over a dozen "Fishbeds." Another departure sequence shows another mass launch of MiG-23s and MiG-21s, possibly to take part in a mission in support of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

A MiG-23 Flogger on the flightline at Tonopah., YouTube Screencap

The video also includes never before publicly seen footage of Red Eagles operations around the original hangars built at Tonopah for Constant Peg, and these still stand today. Three of these Red Eagles hangars are the largest on the base, with 160-foot wide hangar doors.

The Red Eagles were part of America's shadowy foreign materiel exploitation (FME) program, and dedicated towards training. The unit’s existence gave rise to the Tonopah Test Range Airport, which eventually also housed the 4450th Tactical Group’s F-117A Nighthawks, again in total secrecy. The FME program also included the 6513th Flight Test Squadron “Red Hats,” which was a unit dedicated towards the testing and evaluation of these captured assets from nearby Groom Lake, better known as Area 51.

Members of the "Red Eagles" woth one of the unit's MiG-21s., USAF

Although the original 4477th TES and Constant Peg program was shut down in 1988, the Red Eagles continued on, with more advanced types, such as Su-27s and MiG-29s, flown by American pilots. Reports continue regarding the unit's activities, indicating secretive operations to this very day at the Air Force's clandestine flight test center at Groom Lake.

Meanwhile, Tonopah continues to host the F-117s in its semi-retired state, as well as a number of other programs that are cloaked in secrecy. It is also where a significant amount of FME “assets” are stored, including everything from ballistic missile launchers to enemy radar systems.

Video like this of Tonopah during its formative years and the activities of the clandestine Red Eagles remains extremely rare. It provides a fascinating insight into the lengths the U.S. military will go to in order to provide accurate, threat representative training, to its forces.

Contact the editor: Tyler@thedrive.com