NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Being able to witness the operation effectiveness of the F-15C Eagle and F-22 Raptor pilots reminds retired Col. Gaillard Peck, 433rd Weapons Squadrron F-15 Eagle, F-22 Raptor, and MC-130 Talon subject matter expert and academic instructor, of how his contributions to the U.S. Air Force more than 30 years ago has affected the new era of fighter pilots today.
Today, Peck provides revisions to the F-15C Eagle and F-22 Raptor training syllabuses, is the range training officer during Red Flag exercises, and acts as the MiG-21 subject matter expert for the 433rd WPS.
From July 1979 to March 1988, Peck played a crucial role in an endeavor that would implement change in the U.S. Air Force and at Nellis AFB.
In 1979, he and fellow fighter pilots felt the training could be pushed to even greater heights. During the Cold War-era they wanted to be able to test their mettle against what they could possibly face in combat during the time. They wanted to train against, and with, the MiG-17 and MiG-21 Soviet-built fighters, Peck said.
This MiG training came in the activation of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron here.
“The 4477th TES came out of brainstorming sessions, so to speak, that went on between the fighter pilots at Nellis,” Peck said. “We wanted to train at the highest levels, and we considered that to be training against real MiGs, the kinds of jets we would face in combat. That was kind of a hunger that we all had during that time.”
Peck spoke with leadership at the Pentagon about building an airfield in the Nevada desert and to acquire MiGs that could be used for training.
“When we initially equipped, (MiG aircraft) we had two MiG-17s and six MiG-21s,” Peck said. “At the same time, the squadron was building up a flotilla of MiG-23s. At the maximum force structure, we had 27 airplanes that were flyable.”
The addition of these new aircraft allowed the fighter pilots to receive the training they wanted.
“Our enlisted guys took wrecks that came out of jungles and deserts,” Peck said. “Who knows where they came from, but they came from bad places. They took them apart, figured out what was broken, fixed what was broken, and then put them back together.
“The most important part of this entire operation was our enlisted people. Without our enlisted people, in every vocation they participated in, from supply, aircraft mechanics, engine mechanics, vehicle maintenance, operations clerks, and administrative people to name a few, we could not have gotten this job done without a 500 percent contribution from every one of them.”
With fully functional MiGs to incorporate in their training, the pilots’ of Nellis’ idea had become reality.
“We dreamed about things,” Peck said. “We basically established a system of requirements both in terms of equipment and in terms of training paradigms, and we re-developed the training paradigms for air to air combat during the period.”
“The 4477th TES was the icing on a well-baked cake,” Peck said. “We took air-to-air training and we distilled it in all of its basic parts. We found out the most elemental steps and the comparison that’s popular ‘is we wanted to kneel before we crawled, crawl before we walked, walk before we ran, and run before we danced.’ The dance would be an actual air combat type sortie mission, and then you have each of these building blocks to get you there.”
In a typical training mission for a MiG fighter pilot, hewould take a perch, or a position about a mile back and about 2,000 to 3,000 feet high and a little offset, behind a pilot, usually an F-15C Eagle.
“Fights on,” would sound over the radio, and the guy out front would start to turn and the guy on the perch would attack. The pilot in front would try to defend himself and assess the situation while the MiG pilot would try to maintain the advantage and close for a missile shot.
“Sometimes the guy in front would attain the advantage or sometimes he would lose,” Peck said. “That was the learning objective; that is why we were doing it.”
After being so intimately involved in the 4477th TES operations, Peck recalls what the most exciting part of piloting a MiG was.
“I think that the biggest thrill of being involved in this program was making that first flight,” Peck said. “We had no simulators and no two-seaters. So the first time you flew a MiG, you were by yourself with no instructor, only word of mouth and how you were verbally trained on how to do it. We picked up little things that we thought were very important, and we passed it on to each generation that followed.”
Today’s generation of fighter pilots are the echo of what Airmen like Peck and units like the 4477th TES fought so hard for to make the Air Force more efficient.
“The men and women who are flying the combat jets have the benefit of these advanced super avionic systems, super capable jet aircraft, and advanced radars,” Peck said. “It’s just incredible to look back and think we actually had a role in finding some of the requirements, and now we sit back and watch our young people operate so effectively.”