Russian Video Of Captured U.S. F-5 Tiger Jet Dogfighting Against MiG-21 in Tests Raises Question: Do They Still Operate American Jets?

Jun 14 2017 - 28 Comments
By Tom Demerly

Russia Operated Captured U.S. Aircraft for “OPFOR” Evaluation.

As we have reported previously, it is no secret the U.S. has made and still make use of captured or otherwise acquired Russian aircraft for test, evaluation and training purposes including the development of U.S. radars, countermeasures and early warning systems (earlier this year we published some really rare images of a Russian Su-27 Flanker dogfighting with a U.S. F-16 inside Area 51…)

Has Russia done the same with U.S. aircraft? Absolutely.

The RT video below contains some quite famous footage of a Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter formerly stationed at Bien Hoa Air Base in Vietnam being operated in Soviet markings against a MiG-21 (NATO codename “Fishbed”). The aircraft was seized along with “several US military aircraft”, taken to the USSR and used in a test and evaluation project to determine the capabilities of the F-5 series compared to Warsaw Pact aircraft.

Bien Hoa Air Base was overrun by Communist forces on Apr. 25, 1975 as the Vietnam War (referred to as the “American War” in Vietnam) neared its end.

A number of F-5A and F-5E aircraft attributed to the 522nd Fighter Squadron were left behind intact at the air base. Because the F-5E version of the aircraft had only flown for the first time three years earlier in 1973 and was being marketed to other Western user nations it was of significant interest to the Warsaw Pact.

Was the F-5 a threat to the Russian mainstay MiG-21? This video shows testing to answer that question in Russia.

At least one of the F-5s, in Soviet markings, was tested in opposing forces simulation with the MiG-21 as shown in this video.

Soviet pilots from Chkalov’s Russian Flight Test Center near the Volga River, a facility similar to the secret test ranges at Tonopah and Edwards AFB, were reportedly impressed by the performance of the F-5 against the MiG-21. Interestingly, Soviet engineers assumed the MiG-21 was more advanced but the F-5 won every time in the simulated air combat carried out in USSR. According to some reports the Russian pilots who flew the F-5 against the MiG-21 were named Vladimir Kandaurov, Alexander Bezhevets and Nikolay Stogov. The findings of these fly-offs and simulated combat were said to contribute to the development of the MiG-23 for the Russians, an aircraft that was imported to several Arab nations friendly with the USSR.

Noteworthy, the F-5 was so similar to the MiG-21, it was used as

Another curious development from behind the Iron Curtain was this photo of a what seems to be a McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom aircraft (or mock-up) under a tarp at the famous Zhukovskiy airfield near Moscow. The photo is allegedly from Aug. 11, 1971. It includes a French-built Mirage aircraft, also under cover, parked next to it. The massive Myasishchev M-4 Molot strategic bomber in front of the F-4 and the Mirage add some scale to the image.

An F-4 Phantom II and a French Mirage III sit under cover behind a Russian Myasishchev M-4 heavy bomber in Russia. (International Air Power Review Photo)

There have also been some interesting hoax aircraft flown in the Photoshop air force with Russian markings. The most famous is an F-14 Tomcat said to be taken from the Iranian Air Force following the fall of the Shah of Iran during the Iranian Revolution in 1978. While the photo looks convincing and the story is certainly plausible, most analysts agree it is faked.

A Photoshopped image of a Grumman F-14 with fake Russian Markings. Internet contributors contended the aircraft went to Russia from Iran for testing but the story proved to be untrue and the photo manipulated. (The Aviation Forum)

Perhaps the most interesting question is, does Russia own current frontline U.S. tactical aircraft as a part of its opposing forces unit? Are there Russian-marked F-16s or F-15s flying somewhere in Russia? The answer is, likely no.

The U.S. has been careful about the distribution of tactical aircraft to nations that may realign with Russia from the U.S. if their strategic alliances shift. And while relations with Russia and the U.S. have been much more open since the end of the Cold War there are still many reasons why the U.S. and Russia are vigorous about maintaining security about their respective combat aircraft.

Have you ever heard reports or rumors about American aircraft in the hands of the Russians? Let us know.

 

  • Dave

    Did the F-5 ever see combat action for the US? It seems like a very small blip on the radar, but I don’t know much of its history.

  • MP

    They would have been pretty old by the time Chavez became closer with Russia, but I would not be surprised if Venezuela transferred a F-16 in exchange for better pricing on SU-30’s.

    • Victorinox

      All 21 remaining Venezuelan Air Force F-16A/B are present and accounted for in Venezuela. No transfer was ever made to Russia, Iran, Cuba, or any other country.

      • MP

        …that we know of. In all seriousness, I guess we can rule Venezuela out then. I don’t have access to the Air Forces Monthly database, but it might be interesting to see which airframes haven’t been seen for a while and aren’t listed as a victim to accident.

  • prowneratty

    The F-4 is obviously, even under a tarp, an F4H-1/F-4A and the few built were long replaced by F-4B/Cs by the time of the photo. One “complete” example was at NAS Memphis, one became a “Bicentennial bird” on the Intrepid, and another at NAS Pensacola. F4H-1 “Sageburner” was also a complete survivor and is still extant. I think the Russian F-4 was assembled from scrap remains of an F-4A merely for their fighter pilots to enjoy a walkaround experience with “the real thing.” A mock up of an early/unrepresentative F-4 is pointless. Of course, if only the Russian anoraks could have advised the colonel in charge on this, hehe.
    One of the F-5s mentioned was later passed on to the Czech air museum at the military Prag-Kbely base, still in original VNAF operational paint. It is reasonable to think it was flown in the USSR and made its last landing at Kbely rather than being trucked all the way to Prague for static display in a museum with very limited access.

    • Uncle Mike

      The only lesson to be learned from the F-4 is “with big enough engines, anything can fly”. Maybe this influenced Mig-25 design.

      • Harris Naseem

        And the F-15 also…

  • Pepe Le Cox

    The F-5 is a small aircraft, very difficult to spot in the air, we had the same results flying the MIG21bis vs F-5E in Digital Combat Simulator, about 4:1 in favor of F-5E. They have a smaller RCS and flying low, they exploits the lack of lookdown/shootdown of the MIG-21 radar, due
    the ground clutter.

    • What’s funny is 10 years ago I tried in the earliest versions of DCS to get my F-5E fix, you couldn’t fly it, and it is my favorite plane, so I tried doing guns only 1v1 head on start fights with them in an Su-27, and WOW, what is really striking is the profile you are trying to hit is absolutely tiny, and you are big when he is bearing down you – it felt like a bus trying to hit an ant it can’t see in the highway. I would see the F-5E later than he would see me, always, and the Su-27 gun has a low ROF and magazine.

      If I was flying an early model no guns F-4 against it in the real world I would be terrified.

  • leroy

    “Interestingly, Soviet engineers assumed the MiG-21 was more advanced but the F-5 won every time in the simulated air combat carried out in USSR.”

    The same result would await today’s Russian fighters vs. the U.S. or NATO. Especially the U.S. with our 5th gen stealth capabilities. Russia is and has been 2 – 3 decades behind the U.S. for years now. Ever since we started building the F-14 and F-15/16. Now?

    Now Russia is so far back they’ll never catch up. Never! Fighter-wise the U.S. and NATO are accelerating away from Russia at an ever increasing pace, and financially poor, low-tech Russia can’t do a thing about it. While they struggle with PAK FA and PAK DA we are already working on 5th gen (F-22, F-35), 6th gen and our brand new high tech B-21 stealth bomber.

    I make this prediction with 100% certainty. Come the year 2100, Russia will still lag behind U.S. aviation technology. With AI coming, and the U.S. leading it out of Silicon Valley, they may want to simply disband their air force. Truth be told in the not-to-distant future their planes will never even get off the ground. FACT!

    • WalWAL

      I really love your patriotism but it is better to be frank than lying to yourself. Any aircraft that is US/NATO goes up against anything Russian in this present day, well we will be sending the pieces back to Washington or Brussels and that is if there is an agreement to that. You need to watch reality news in real war theater not the movies acted on MSM.

      • MP

        Looking back at historical conflicts, while SU-35’s and modernized Fulcrums are more than match for the pre-block 50 F-16’s and legacy F-18’s, I think the real difference maker would be pilot training. Most foreign air forces cannot support the number of training hours the USAF puts in.

        • Pepe Le Cox

          Dont need it, simulators are better everyday!, most of the actual pilots, fly mostly in flight simulators than real life. The red Flag and others are to coordinate with other countries the same estrategies.

          • MP

            I don’t disagree, but Russian naval aviation does not have the same support it used to because its main base for training in the Crimea relied so much on Ukrainian assistance and I was under the impression that the Monino based simulator facility was closed and in process of ‘reorganization.’ Happy to be proven wrong so I can find some new places to ‘Google Earth.’

    • Holztransistor

      I don’t see where Russia will be the aggressor if there should be a war. If ‘Murica wants the resources (that’s what is is always about), they have to go there and then the Russians will have an air defense that works together with the air and space forces. But to be honest, I don’t have any illusions as leroy does that this will stay on the conventional level. And he will also have a very radiant face for a long time as everyone on this planet does.

  • Shlomo Yaalon

    given how porous our security infrastructure is at the development stage of new weapon systems nowadays, i doubt they would need to do any real air trials. pretty sure at least half of what one would want to know about our capabilities is well documented in beijing and moscow.

    • Lonesome Whistle

      “given how porous our security infrastructure is…”

      Reality Winner
      Chicken Dinner!

      (I hope she gets shivved in prison)

  • José Manuel Piñero Álvarez

    I don’t think they are operating F-15s… but… why not F-16s? As it has been previously stated, this aircraft serves on the inventory of some countries that may find Russia as a probable ally.. Venezuela? Egypt? Pakistan?

  • Quattro Bajeena

    There are rumours that the Chinese have had access to an F-16 (supposedly from Pakistan). Egypt was one of the few countries which could transfer weapons from the United States to Russia or the other way around. I’ve heard that Egypt transferred Soviet Mig-23s to China and the USA at one point for example. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Russians had more copies or parts of other aircraft which came down in Vietnam like the F-111.

    • Pacemaker4

      look up the f-14 and iran… russia took over supplying parts …

    • MP

      China/Pakistan have made the JF-17 together so using technology from the F-16 wouldn’t be out of the question.

  • “Noteworthy, the F-5 was so similar to the MiG-21, it was used as”…………what? A portable coffee maker? A dumptruck? A hat for bigger planes?
    Now I want to know.

    • Victorinox

      I presumed that paragraph was going to mention the use of the F-5 as a MiG21 simulator in their aggressor role.

  • kiwi7

    An F-5 Tiger tested at Aktyubinsk (Kazakhstan) had its serial number 7300807 and arrived in a few boxes together with an unknown serial number A-37 Dragonfly on 20th July 1976. Russian engineers had no documentation at all to complete dismantled aiframes.
    “Soviet aircraft engineers were annoyed by the abundance of exclamation marks and terrible
    inscriptions-warnings, beginning with the words “WARNING” and “DANGER” with seemingly most obvious content – it seems that the creators of the “aliens” paid close attention to “protection from a fool.” Before each departure, to remove a dozen of stubs and removable check from an aircraft was required, protecting the “newcomer” from accidental landing gear up when on the parking stand or unintended operation of the weapon. With such unprecedented security measures, you need to be a total idiot, in order to do something wrong when preparing for a takeoff.”
    After 18 dog fight flight tests with MiG-21 as an adversary, the MiG pilots got a strong advise, never get involved in slow speed and horizontal manouvres and rather start the attack from a distance, using more powerful Saphir radar as an advantage.
    After MiG-21, a more modern MiG-23 with its R-23 air-to-air missiles got tested with much better results as MiG-23 was able to engage in combat at a distance of 40 km. Both F-5 and A-37 had a few features copied then (fuselage armor, wing technology, polyurethane filled fuel tanks, servo controls), to design a new “T-8 product” what´s a Su-25 attack aircraft.