One of our first orders when Wall Pilot opened the shopping cart in May of 2019 was for six Air Force aircraft. The customer owns a hanger for his private aircraft and wanted to display all six aircraft from his career as a United States Air Force pilot. In an instant message the customer told us he had flown F-4s in Okinawa and Korea, but also flew F-15s and F-5 Tigers. Z-Man mentioned in the message he flew two “special” airplanes during his USAF career also. On a hunch, I asked, ”Were you a Red Eagle?”

His one-word answer… “WINNER!”

MiG-23 4477 Red Eagles

7744th Test and Evaluation Squadron was a Top Secret unit stationed inside Area 51 of the massive Nellis Air Force Base Nevada training range complex. The Red Eagles as they called themselves taught Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps fighter pilots air combat tactics against Russian aircraft. The Air Force program came under another name Constant Peg, Constant was the callsign of the General authorizing the program, and Peg was the wife of the first Commander. Their unique way of training fighter pilots was flying Russian aircraft! The squadron was filled with MiG-17s, MiG-21s, and MiG-23s U.S. pilots fought against to gain real-world experience on how those airplanes maneuvered during dogfights. Other airplanes were added to the Red Eagle stable over the years such as the  MiG-29 Fulcrum and now… possibly the Su-27 Flanker. In recent years two photographers traveling on a highway through the Nellis range saw airplanes fighting overhead. Taking out his camera with a long zoom lens, he followed two airplanes dogfighting each other. Zooming in on the picture, one photographer was shocked to find out the F-16 was fighting against a Russian SU-27 Flanker! There’s no better way to understand the handling qualities of enemy airplanes by actually fighting against them. The Red Eagle Squadron officially closed its doors in 1989 but there are Russian fighter jets flying over Nevada again. 

Z-Man standing next to his MiG-23 Flogger assigned to the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron

A Red Eagle pilot named Rob “Z-Man” Zettel sent Wall Pilot pictures of his MiG-21 and MiG-23 with his name on both jets. Based on those pictures our artist Jack Morris drew both of these aircraft within 24 hours. Sending the drafts back to Z-Man, he reviewed each aircraft meticulously to make sure every aspect of the digital graphic was correct. When Z-Man received his six airplanes, he peeled them off placing them on clear sheet acrylic plastic using a 3M vinyl adhesive for putting up wallpaper. Those six airplanes and the six patches representing the units Z-Man flew with are now hanging on the back wall of his private airplane hangar in Jacksonville Florida.

Rob "Z-Man" Zettel with his eight foot long MiG-23 Flogger print

Wall Pilot’s motto is “Preserving history, one aircraft at a time!”, and a former Red Eagle pilot asking us to do his MiGs was a lot of fun for a first order. In the next few months Rob Zettel’s book MiG Driver will be published by Osprey in the United Kingdom and available on Amazon. He sent me a few of the chapters and pictures accompanying the stories in his book and it is fantastic! Z-Man’s book will be a great read for anyone who’s a fan of the Air Force’s Top Secret MiG Squadron and wants to learn what it’s like flying MiGs over Nevada.

The Red Eagles exploitation program for the MiG-21 was called HAVE DOUNUT, the airplane now on display at the USAF Museum in Dayton Ohio.

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