Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Guest Blogger: Project Constant Peg

This post was written by John Grainger, a student at the University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill, majoring in "Peace, War, and Defense", and concentrating in the Evolution of Warfare.

Yesterday’s Mitchell Hour featured an intriguing presentation by John T. “Jack” Manclark, former head of Air Force Test and Evaluation. The topic of Mr. Manclark’s presentation was Project Constant Peg, a highly classified, joint Air Force-Navy program that involved performance evaluations of captured Soviet fighters and the subsequent use of those aircraft against American fighters in air-to-air combat training. Project Constant Peg was carried out at the Tonapah Test Range in Nevada from 1979 through 1988 by the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron. As the commanding officer of the 4477th from 1985 through 1987, Mr. Manclark offered a unique perspective into the history of the black project.

The twenty-six aircraft evaluated by Project Constant Peg consisted of various models of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 (NATO: “Fresco”), MiG-21 (NATO: “Fishbed”), and MiG-23 (NATO: “Flogger”). Most of the aircraft evaluated were MiG-21 “Fishbeds” because, as Mr. Manclark explained, “it was the threat that had proliferated the most.” Mr. Manclark also iterated that there was a consensus among the pilots of the 4477th that the MiG-17 “Fresco” and MiG-21 “Fishbed” were excellent airplanes. The MiG-23 “Flogger,” on the other hand “…was a nightmare for us, the guys hated flying it… It was faster than anything we had but we were never comfortable in it.”

After evaluating the Soviet fighters, the Air Force and Navy began weekly rotations of personnel flying American fighters, such as the F-4 Phantom II, F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and early versions of the F/A-18 Hornet, to fly combat sorties against the MiGs of the 4477th. The idea behind these rotations was so that Air Force and Navy fighter jockeys would have first-hand experience in fighting against the MiG-17, 21, and 23, instead of just reading about the capabilities of those aircraft. As Mr. Manclark explained, “When you tell a guy don’t slow down with a MiG-21, it’s one thing. But when a guy tells his buddies that he got gunned down by a MiG-21, it’s another.” 

Picture provided by Jack Manclark: "The 4477th with a MiG-21"

In describing how pilots fared against the 4477th and the lessons learned from those engagements, Mr. Manclark stated that, “We were going to beat them up on day one, that was a given. The goal was by the end of the week to have them beat us up…the bottom line was that we gave the guys confidence.” The lessons learned from Project Constant Peg showed the importance of acquiring and evaluating weapons that might be used against us in future conflicts. 

Also check out Air Force Magazine's Daily Report for more: 

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