Red Eagles: America’s Secret MiGs (General Aviation)

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9781846039706: Red Eagles: America’s Secret MiGs (General Aviation)

When two Navy F-14 Tomcats engaged and shot down two Sukhoi Su-22 jet fighters in 1981, they drew on experience and tactics that they had learned from a previous encounter with MiG jet fighters. The difference between the two encounters was that in the first, the enemy fighters were flown by American pilots assigned to a top secret squadron hidden at a remote airfield in the ultra-secret Tonopah Nuclear Test range, Nevada. In the second, the Sukhoi fighters were flown by Libyan pilots attempting to enforce Colonel Qadaffi's 'Line of Death' over the Gulf of Sidra.

From the mid-1960s until the end of the Cold War, the United States Air Force acquired and flew Russian-made MiG jets, eventually creating a secret squadron dedicated to exposing American fighter pilots to enemy MiGs. Following underperformance in the Vietnam War, the USAF began to study MiGs in order to improve fighter pilot training. This then developed into the "black" Constant Peg program. In this program, MiGs were secretly acquired, and made airworthy, a difficult task without manuals or parts. A secret base was found to operate the planes from; and then ace pilots were found and trained to not only fly the assets, but fly them as they were flown by America's enemies. Finally, a program of exposing American fighter pilots to the MiGs was developed. In all, more than 1,600 American fighter pilots would train against America's secret MiGs between 1974 and 1989.

Uncovering the story of the secret MiGs in America during the Cold War, and specifically Constant Peg and the 4477th Test & Evaluation Squadron, is a challenge because much of the information has been destroyed, or remains classified. To piece together the story of this group of men who provided America's fighter pilots with a level of training that was the stuff of dreams, author Steve Davies has interviewed over thirty of the Red Eagle pilots, along with other members of the squadron. This paperback edition includes new material on HAVE IDEA and other HAVE programs; making the MiGs airworthy in 1977 from the maintainers' perspective; and the intelligence activities of MiG expert at the Foreign Technology Division Mike Coyle. The result is a fascinating glimpse into a "black" program that enabled American fighter pilots to go into combat having already met and defeated their first MiG.

Hardcover edition ISBN: 9781846033780

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From the Author:

Writing Red Eagles was one of the most challenging and simultaneously exciting experiences of my life. But for all the blood, sweat and tears that it involved, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Red Eagles was challenging to research for a variety of reasons, but none more so than because despite the declassification of the Constant Peg program, many of the story's characters were reluctant to emerge from the shadows. It took time to coax some into talking, such was their natural inclination to protect knowledge that was once a matter of national security. 

But talk they eventually did and we, the listeners and readers, are the beneficiaries of their willingness to do so. Theirs is a phenomenal tale that shows just how mighty the United States was during the Cold War, and how talented and resourceful the men and women of the United States Air Force were.

Actually writing the book posed as many problems as researching it had. How technical can I be? How much will the audience know about military aircraft? Will they want to just get down to the technical stuff, or will they prefer to steer clear of the technicalities and learn more about the politics and personalities? I knew from the outset that I would not be able to please all readers (that's a fact of life for a writer), so I set out to strike a balance between the three key elements of the story: military technology, Air Force and intelligence agency politics, and the personalities that made the program a reality. 
In the end, I settled on making the book accessible to a non-technical audience, but I did so with one caveat in mind: that the audience was prepared to accept that to really understand this story, they must be prepared to learn a little of the lingo that is so characteristic of the military. I suppose that my target audience was actually very narrow - I was writing the book for the family members of those who had served in the Red Eagles. I was writing it so that they could finally understand the secret work that their sons, husbands and fathers had done so many moons ago.
So, who should read this book? For a start, I'd suggest you read some of the reviews. Many, many lay readers have derived great enjoyment from it, as the reviews show. But for some the book has fallen short - it is not technical enough, it is too technical, it features too many names of people involved in the program, and it moves about chronologically too much. If you think that the above complaints resonate with your pet hates as a reader, then perhaps you should give this book a miss. 
But, if you want to learn about a once-classified squadron that was perhaps the most important program of the Cold War, that spanned decades, and which involved dozens and dozens of very clever, very tough and very talented Air Force men and women, then buy it. And, if you are a civilian with no military experience, just be prepared to spend a little time learning the language of the military - try as I did, this story cannot be told using lay speak alone.
If you do buy the book, I truly hope that you enjoy it.

About the Author:

Steve Davies is a freelance military and commercial aviation photojournalist based in Cambridge, England. He began writing in 2001, and has since authored six critically acclaimed books and co-authored three more. His freelance writing includes a plethora of articles penned for the world's leading monthly and quarterly aviation publications, and he has also worked on a range of aviation 'partwork' magazines that have sold millions of copies globally. He has also worked as a subject matter expert for a range of military aviation documentaries commissioned by terrestrial television channels in the UK and North America, and by the History Channel. His photography has been used not only by the aviation press, but also by leading defense contractors and aviation corporations. The author lives in Bristol, England.

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