Russian-made MiG-21 Fishbed

Constant Peg, Red Eagles, America’s Secret MiGs

Having finished reading the awesome book by Steve Davies, "Red Eagles: America’s Secret MiGs" ISBN: 978-1-84603-378-0, I highly recommend it for anyone interested in fighter aviation. It was a wonderful time in the development of modern aerial combat fighters and weapons.

The Sport of Kings

I can remember killing a few single-ship Fishbeds over Cedar Pass in the Kawich Mountains during the Mission Employment (ME) phase of the F-15 Fighter Weapons Instructor Course (FWIC) in April 87. My two-ship was capping south of Revelle Peak. The MiGs would fly east out of Tonopah, cap over Cedar Pass, and then run back west to Tonopah. Cedar Pass was 20 miles east of Tonopah. It was "the sport of kings", flying and fighting against these Soviet fighters.

During F-15 FWIC in 1987, we flew one basic fighter maneuvers (BFM) sortie vs the Fishbed. It was the easiest ride in the F-15 FWIC syllabus. "Guns tracking kill on the bandit." Prior to becoming a Red Eagle pilot, Hawk used to preach to us in that patch-wearer-kind-of-way, "The MiG-21 is just a shit-heap, gun his brains out." Hawk was right. If you knew what you were doing in the Eagle, you could kill the Fishbed with any of the weapons we carried. Take your pick: the 20mm cannon (gun), the AIM 9 or the AIM 7. The gun was always my favorite. As Bashful used to say, "Hot lead in the head." And from Yoda, "Happiness is a hot gun!"

"A MiG trapped at 6 is better than no MiG at all"

Even in a defensive BFM (DBFM) setup in the Eagle vs Fishbed, the Eagle is king. If the Fishbed stays around and fights, he will get gunned. The Eagle out-performs the Fishbed in all areas of flight envelope, check the EM diagrams.

After the Eagle's break-turn, if the Fishbed is pure or lead pursuit, get ready to reverse and go offensive as the Fishbed over-shoots your flight-path. The major worry against the Fishbed is to get out of the way of a snap-shot gun attack if the Fishbed tries to intimidate you with nose-position on the initial DBFM set-up. In this slow speed fight, the Eagle should maintain a 3/9 advantage and eventually gun the Fishbed.

If the Fishbed is in a good lag pursuit position after the Eagle's initial break-turn, and/or if the Fishbed goes up with a good high yo-yo, then the Eagle should continue turning, transitioning a bit down hill into a 2-circle energy fight. The Eagle could also separate in this situation, as the Fishbed has taken the pressure off by lagging. On the subsequent merge, the fight should have transitioned to neutral BFM where the Eagle could continue the 2-circle energy fight, employing missile face shots with the AIM 7 Sparrow or AIM 9 Sidewinder; or the Eagle could explode into the vertical, going over-the-top and back down to an offensive position on the out-of-energy Fishbed. In any case, as the fight progresses, the Eagle will gain a 3/9 advantage over the Fishbed and the Eagle will have an eventual guns-track solution.

The bottom line is: the Eagle always has the advantage over the Fishbed; gun the gomer!

Air-to-Air Experience Matters

The average experience level of tactical air forces (TAF) pilots flying against Constant Peg MiGs was relatively low. Most fighter pilots reach a high level of competence employing the jet after 4 years of operational flying. In my opinion, on average, the TAF pilot would have little more than 2 years of operational jet fighter experience when put up against Constant Peg Fishbeds. This is important, because the Constant Peg MiG-21 pilots would have over 7 years of air-to-air experience. At 7 years, these Constant Peg pilots had been instructor pilots (IPs) in the tactical fighters for over 3 years; they had seen and done about everything you can think of in the air-to-air arena. The Constant Peg Fishbed pilots were like Jedi Masters in air-to-air dog-fighting and the TAF pilots were like a young Apprentice.

On my first exposure to Constant Peg, I had 2.5 years experience and was a flight-lead in the Eagle. I led a few young wingmen on several sorties to the Tonopah Air-to-Air Ranges to fight 1 vs 1 against the Fishbed. These wingmen had less that 1.5 years of flying the Eagle and they were fighting against a "Jedi Master" Fishbed pilot! There is little doubt in any fighter pilot's mind who is going to win that first engagement. (For the civilians: the young pilot wasn't going to win the first dog-fight. Simply due to experience, the odds were greatly favored toward the experienced air-to-air master flying the inferior MiG-21.) With instruction from the Constant Peg pilots and instruction from the IPs and flight-leads in the operational squadron, the young fighter pilot would do better much on subsequent engagements and/or sorties. Many of the young pilots got the thrill of a lifetime: "Guns tracking kill on the F-5." (Due to the classified nature of the Constant Peg black-world program, F-5 was the code-name for the MiG-21 Fishbed.)

MiG-21 Fishbed Dog-Fighting Performance

The MiG-21 Fishbed performed much like an F-5 in a dog-fight. The F-15 Eagle in military power was also a good Fishbed simulator, except, of course, for the large size of the Eagle. (The MiG-21 Fishbed wingspan is 23 feet and the F-15 Eagle wingspan is 42 feet.) Most Eagle Drivers would fight the MiG-21 Fishbed the same as an F-5, T-38, A-4 or military powered Eagle. [For the civilians: military power is full power without utilizing the after-burner (AB).] If the Fishbed vs Eagle fight continued, the Fishbed would get gunned unless the Eagle pilot made an error.

MiG-21 Fishbed Bomber Lure Box 308 Canadian Flight Jacket Operation Bolo Dogfight
MiG-17 Fresco Bomber Lure Box 310 Heddon River Runt 9010L SA-10 FlapLid e-mail

For more information, e-mail

©2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 ---