Out of the Dark

The Air Force yesterday declassified one of its oldest “open secrets”—that it acquired, tested, and flew Soviet-designed fighters during the Cold War. The service said its 4477th Test and Evaluation squadron—the Red Eagles—based at Tonopah Test Range, Nev., flew the aircraft from 1977-88 both to understand their capabilities and to refine the tactics being developed by Air Force fighter pilots. The program, code-named “Constant Peg,” enhanced the development of aggressor-type air combat exercises, such as those flown in the Air Force’s Red Flag and the Navy’s Top Gun. The Air Force admitted to having MiG-17, MiG-21, and MiG-23 aircraft but declined to say how it acquired them. Officials did say the aircraft were “Communist-built.”