4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron

4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron
4477th Test & Evaluation Squadron
Members of the 4477th Test & Evaluation Squadron in front of a MiG-21F-13 Fishbed C/E, "85 Red", USAF serial 014. This airframe is now at the Air Force Armament Museum, Eglin AFB, Florida.
Founded 1 May 1980–1990
Country  United States
Branch United States United States Air Force
Type Tactical evaluation squadron
Role Testing of MiG fighters.
Garrison/HQ Tonopah Test Range and Nellis AFB, Nevada
Disbanded Last sorties on 4 March 1988.
Gaillard Peck, George Gennin
Aircraft flown
Fighter Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17, MiG-21 and MiG-23.
Trainer Northrop T-38 Talon
Transport Cessna 404, Mitsubishi MU-2
Two USAF F-5Es flanking a MiG-17 and MiG-21 of the 4477th Tactical Evaluation Squadron
"Red 49" MiG-23 on the Tonopah ramp, 1988
"Red 84" MiG-21F-13 taxiing past the control tower, 1986
Squadron patch for the officers.[1]

The 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron (4477th TES) was a squadron in the United States Air Force under the command of the Tactical Air Command.[1] The product of Project Constant Peg, the unit was created to train USAF pilots and weapon systems officers, and USN and USMC naval aviators to better fight the aircraft of the Soviet Union.[1] Some 69 pilots, nicknamed Bandits, served in the squadron between 1979 and 1988, flying MiG-17s, MiG-21s and MiG-23s.[1]



The longest continuing United States classified airplane program is the testing and evaluation of Foreign Aircraft Technology. During the Cold War, secret test flying of Mikoyan-and-Gurevich Design Bureau (MiG) and other Soviet aircraft was an ongoing mission dating back to the acquisition of the first Soviet-built Yakovlev Yak-23 in 1953. This effort has continued to the present day. Unlike the other Black airplane programs, such as the Have Blue, Lockheed U-2, or SR-71 Blackbird, Foreign Aircraft Technology operations still remain classified. Despite the declassification of the Constant Peg program in the early 2000s, the evaluation of Foreign aircraft likely continues.

It is not known exactly the actual number or types of aircraft involved, where they came from, or the complete history of the program. It is known that the activities of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron brought about a fundamental change in United States Air Force and Navy Aviation air-combat tactics. They revitalized the art of dogfighting at a time when, seemingly, it had nearly been forgotten. The knowledge gained from testing the aircraft the squadron flew was reflected in the success of United States air operations during the Vietnam War, as well as the founding of the Air Force Red Flag program and the United States Navy Top Gun school.


In the late 1950s, a new generation of United States fighters was being developed. As a result of the development of air-to-air missiles, fighter aircraft, such as the Navy F4H Phantom II, was developed. The F-4 was the first fighter designed from the start with only air-to-air missiles. The radar-guided Sparrow and the shorter-range Sidewinder infra-red-guided missile. With the new missiles came the new attitude that dog-fighting was obsolete. The air-to-air training given to new Navy F-4 crews was extremely limited. It involved about ten flights and provided little useful information. By 1964, few in the Navy were left to carry on the tradition of classic dogfighting.[2]

Then came the Vietnam War. The early years of the air war over North Vietnam showed the faith placed in missiles was terribly in error. Between 1965 and the bombing halt in 1968, the USAF had a 2.15 to 1 kill ratio. The Navy was doing slightly better with a 2.75 to 1 rate. For roughly every two North Vietnamese MiG-17 Frescos or MiG-21 Fishbeds shot down, an American F-4 Phantom II, F-105 Thunderchief, or F-8 Crusader would be lost. This was far worse than the 10-plus to 1 kill rate during the Korean War. More serious, the percentage of United States fighters being lost in air-to-air combat was growing. During 1966, only 3 percent of U.S. aircraft losses were due to MiGs. This rose to 8 percent in 1967, then climbed to 22 percent for the first three months of 1968.[2]

The emphasis on air-to-air missile interception meant the fighter combat crews had only the sketchiest knowledge of dogfighting. The design of the F-4 made it Ill-suited for a tight-turning dogfight. In contrast to the MiG-17, the F-4 was large and heavy. When a tight turn was made, the F-4 would lose speed. The MiG-17's superior turning capability then allowed it to close to gun range. All too often, hits from the MiG-17's "outmoded" cannons would then destroy the F-4.[2]

Under the HAVE DOUGHNUT and HAVE DRILL programs, the first MiGs flown in the United States, were used to evaluate the aircraft in performance and technical capabilities, as well as in operational capability, pitting the types against U.S. fighters.[1]

The data from the Have Doughnut and Have Drill tests were provided to the newly formed Top Gun school at NAS Miramar. During the remainder of the Vietnam War, the Navy kill ratio climbed to 8.33 to 1. In contrast, the Air Force rate improved only slightly to 2.83 to 1. The reason for this difference was Top Gun. The navy had revitalized its air combat training, while the Air Force had stayed stagnant. Most of the Navy MiG kills were by Top Gun graduates. [1]

By 1970, the Have Drill program was expanded; a few selected fleet F-4 crews were given the chance to fight the MiGs. The most important result of Project Have Drill is that no Navy pilot who flew in the project defeated the MiG-17 Fresco in the first engagement The Have Drill dogfights were by invitation only. The other pilots based at Nellis Air Force Base were not to know about the U.S.-operated MiGs. To prevent any sightings, the airspace above the Groom Lake range was closed. On aeronautical maps, the exercise area was marked in red ink. The forbidden zone became known as "Red Square".[2]

The idea of a more realistic training program for the Air Force was devised by USAF Colonel Gail Peck, a Vietnam veteran F-4 pilot, who was dissatisfied with his service's fighter pilot training. After the war, he worked at the Department of Defense, where he heard about the HAVE DRILL and HAVE DOUGHNUT programs. He won the support of USAF General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Jr. and launched "Constant Peg," named after Vandenberg's callsign, "Constant," and Peck's wife, Peg.[1]


In May 1973, Project Have Idea was formed which took over from the older Have Donut and Have Drill projects and the project was transferred from the Area 51 facility to the Tonopah Test Range Airport, Nevada. At Tonopah testing of foreign technology aircraft continued and expanded throughout the 1970s and 1980s.[2]

By the late 1970s, United States MiG operations were undergoing another change. In the late 1960s, the MiG-17 and MiG-21F were still frontline aircraft. A decade later, they had been superseded by later-model MiG-21s and new aircraft, such as the MiG-23. Fortunately, a new source of supply of Soviet aircraft became available, Egypt. In the mid-1970s, relations between Egypt and the Soviet Union had become strained, and Soviet advisers were ordered out. The Soviets had provided the Egyptian air force with MiGs since the mid-1950s. Now, with their traditional source out of the picture, the Egyptians began looking west. They turned to United States companies for parts to support their late-model MiG-21s and MiG-23s. Very soon, a deal was made. According to one account, two MiG-23 fighter bombers were given to the United States by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. The planes were disassembled and shipped from Egypt to Edwards Air Force Base. They were then transferred initially to Groom Lake for reassembly and study.[2]

The United States operated MiGs received special designations. There was the practical problem of what to call the aircraft. This was solved by giving them numbers in the century series. The MiG-21s were called the "YF-110" (the original designation for the air force F-4C), while the MiG-23s were called the "YF-113".[2]

The focus of Air Force Systems Command limited the use of the fighter as a tool with which to train the front line tactical fighter pilots.[1] Air Force Systems Command recruited its pilots from the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, who were usually graduates from various test pilot schools. Tactical Air Command selected its pilots primarily from the ranks of the Weapons School graduates.[1]

The 4477th began as the 4477th TEF, which began 17 July 1979. The name was later changed to the 4477th TES in 1980. The 4477th began with three MiGs: two MiG-17Fs, and a MiG-21, loaned by Israel, captured from the Syrian Air Force and Iraqi Air Force. Later, it added MiG-21s from the Indonesian Air Force.[1]

The aircraft were collected at the Department of Energy's Tonopah Test Range, where they were flown by the squadron. The squadron operated MiG-17s until 1982, but mostly MiG-21s and MiG-23s.[1]


Two pilots of the 4477th died flying the Soviet planes. The pilots had no manuals for the aircraft, although some tried to write one. Nor was there a consistent supply of spare parts, which had to be refurbished or manufactured at high cost.

On 23 August 1979, a pilot lost control of the squadron's MiG-17F, USAF serial 002. U.S. Navy Lieutenant M. Hugh Brown, 31, of the U.S. Navy's Test and Evaluation Squadron FOUR (VX-4), "Bandit 12", originally of Roanoke, Virginia, entered a spin while dogfighting a U.S. Navy F-5. Brown recovered, but entered a second irrecoverable spin too low to eject. The plane hit the ground at a steep angle near the Tonopah Test Range airfield boundary, killing the pilot instantly.[1]

On 21 October 1982, USAF Captain Mark Postai crashed with a MiG-23.[1]

On 26 April 1984, USAF Lieutenant General Robert M. "Bobby" Bond, then vice commander of Air Force Systems Command, died attempting to eject after losing control of his MiG-23 while supersonic. A few hours after the crash, the Air Force Systems Command at Andrews Air Force issued a brief statement: "Lt. Gen. Robert M. Bond, vice commander, Air Force Systems Command, was killed today in an accident while flying in an Air Force specially modified test aircraft". Three-star generals do not generally fly test missions, so Bond's death attracted press interest. The fact that the air force also refused to identify the type of plane also raised questions. Early reports claimed he had been flying "a super-secret Stealth fighter prototype." The death of a three-star general led the Air Force to reveal that it was flying Soviet aircraft.[3][4][2]

End of operations

Near the end of the Cold War the program was abandoned and the squadron was disbanded. Flight operations closed down in March 1988, although the 4477th was not inactivated until July 1990, according to one official Air Force history.[1]

Current operations

After the 4477th TES was inactivated, the remaining assets were reconstituted as a detachment of the 57th Fighter Wing at Nellis AFB, now known as Detachment 3, 53rd Test and Evaluation Group).

In a March 1994 article on Groom Lake in Popular Science, a photo was published of an Su-22 Fitter in flight. The plane was painted in a green and tan finish. The Su-22 is a swing-wing,light-attack aircraft. It was in frontline Russian Air Force service at the time and was exported widely to Eastern European and Third-World countries during the 1970s and 1980s.[2]

Also in 1993, the United States and Germany trained with former East German MiG-23s and two Su-22s which were sent to the United States. With East and West Germany now unified, there was an ample supply of both Soviet-built planes and the spare parts needed to support them. [2] In October 1994, Aerospace Daily reported that "reliable observers" had sighted an Su-27 Flanker on two occasions. The Su-27 is a Russian first-line advanced interceptor. It is in operation with both the Russian and Communist Chinese air forces. [2]

It is believed that Air Force Material Command operates MiG-29 Fulcrums and Su-27 Flanker aircraft somewhere in Nevada flying against Fighter Weapons School instructors, 422d Test and Evaluation Squadron aircrews and F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon "Aggressor" aircraft flying from Nellis AFB. [1]


As an OPSEC measure, the Soviet aircraft had their own US aircraft designations in order to avoid using the actual Soviet designations.[1]

  • YF-110: MiG-21
  • YF-113: MiG-17 and MiG-23
  • YF-114: MiG-17

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Davies, Steve (2008), Red Eagles, Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey, pp. 352, ISBN 978-1-84603-378-0 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Peebles, Curtis, (1999), Dark Eagles, Presidio Press; Revised edition, ISBN 089141696X
  3. ^ http://www.f-117a.com/Bond.html
  4. ^ http://www.af.mil/information/bios/bio.asp?bioID=4734

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