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Red Eagles: America’s secret MiGs

19 October 2013

Red Eagles: America’s secret MiGs

Red Eagles: America’s secret MiGs, Steve Davies, 2008, ISBN 978-84603 378 0, 352 pp.

Red Eagles: America's secret MiGs by Steve Davies

Red Eagles: America’s secret MiGs by Steve Davies

The title is both subtle and clever, red for the communist aircraft designs flown and eagles for the pilots from the USA who tested them. The aircraft addressed by author Steve Davies (one of the Red Eagle pilots) are the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 17 “Fresco”, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 21 “Fishbed” and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 23 “Flogger” — each individual aircraft given a program name which began with HAVE (e.g., HAVE DOUGHNUT for the MiG 21 flight testing in early 1968).

Davies speaks from experience and research of that experience. He does not go into the testing of the HAVE BOAT Shenyang F-6 (MiG 19)  or HAVE PRIVILEGE MiG 17, presumably because he was not a participant, but he goes deep into the programs he witnessed. This is the best sort of first hand account — a person who experienced it, is an expert to what was witnessed and researched to fill in the details.

Red Eagles tells the tale of the aircraft testing, the pilots who performed the flight evaluations, the technicians and ground crew, the development of the logistical base at Area 51 as well as how the aircraft were obtained (a few of the stories are intriguing to say the least).

Throughout the book details are given regarding how the aircraft and their performance envelopes were explored in regard to U.S. combat aircraft likely to confront them. Not an easy task since manuals and instructors familiar with the aircraft were not included. Yes, highly skilled pilots learned to fly each of these types by scratch, in a logical testing program while comparing notes — building along the way — a high risk way. Each aircraft were considered to be national assets and pilots took above normal risks to land them after in-flight malfunctions. Davies recollection of the ejections seats is more than enlightening (the original Russian ejection seats continued to be used).

Stories of mishaps (some fatal) and their causes abound as this is the nature of exploring a high performance aircraft without benefit of standing on the shoulders of others. Interestingly, the ergonomics of the cockpits were found lacking, making for difficult landings or some combat maneuvers. Also, the MiG 23 is a dangerous though powerful aircraft to fly and Davies goes into detail about this attack aircraft (as he does the others) with its three wing sweep settings — an obvious conclusion is that any MiG 23 pilot is brave and skillful otherwise there seems little chance of surviving it.

The four appendices and acronym glossary are an extra special bonus for the researcher as well as the index being given Davies consistent attention to pertinent detail. Finally, the photos of cockpit details as well as the people involved are striking since Davies provides so much context for each of them.

Red Eagles explored these aircraft so that U.S. Armed Forces pilots could exploit their weaknesses as well as avoid their strengths. One question is raised by the book in the reader’s mind — given the less-than-optimum cockpit ergonomics which hindered maneuvering, why then did MiG pilots shoot so many U.S. aircraft down?


This book was given to me by Jack Long who is also an author, among many other professions. He has an excellent background in leadership as well as the study of it and published a book on his study on the subject. It is not a how-to book — it is a book which takes the long view, the philosophy, and is useful for industry leaders as well as lower level managers. The citation for the book is:

Three Wellsprings of Leadership: leadership that transcends lists of character traits, John Joseph Long, 2013, ISBN 978-0-9887893-0-2, 117 pp.

Long has chosen an ontological approach — as opposed to recipe listings it is the knowledge and intuition of a master chef which has been explored. Long has excellent credentials for this analysis having played in “the majors” such as international trade, arguing State Supreme Court Cases, on the board of a $1.6 billion holding company and running not one but two state environmental agencies (among other accomplishments). He now is an adjunct professor at Palm Beach State College where he also continues pursuing his interests in what makes for the better leader.

His thoughts in Three Wellsprings of Leadership can work for a general as well as a captain, and just as well for a movie maker or the top business executive. These 117 pages are saturated with carefully selected and elegantly crafted language which summarize Long’s years of expert thought and study of his subject.

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