Red Star: The Soviets can Capture Enemy Planes Too

The USSR F-5E

Read any book about the United States Air Force during the cold war and you will probably find a section about the secret fleet of soviet fighter jets that they kept, tested and stole technology from. The less known part is that the Soviets also captured US planes during conflicts, although it seems like less overall. This is the story of the F5 that ended up deep in Russia.

The USSR F-5E

It wasn’t actually the Russians that captured the plane in the first place, it was the Vietnamese. At the end of the Vietnam war, there were many captured parts of american military equipment in different forms. Vietnam, a famously communist country gave several samples of captured US aviation equipment to the USSR, among it was a F-5E light fighter bomber. Overall 27 were captured during the war, along with 87 F-5A’s. Overall 877 aircraft were captured. The Vietnamese actually plan to bring some back into service. The particular F-5E had serial number 73-00807, and was an extremely valuable intelligence coup that had the ability to tell the communists about American design, and how this form of mass produced plane could function. Therefore how they could design planes to counter it.

The USSR F-5E

The plane was sent to the VVS airbase in Chkalovsky before being transferred to the Akhtubinsk air base not long after. Engineers and research staff from the Aeronautical research institute were formed as a test team to investigate the American fighter jet and test its abilities. Overall they were impressed with the design of the jet, and admired the ease of maintenance on the F-5E while they operated it. They were also impressed with the wing design, as t gave the jet an impressive flying ability at high angles of attack and minimum speeds. The F-5E was known officially as the Tiger II. From the end of July 1976 to May 1977, a full scale test flight was conducted at the Air Force Research Institute. A.S.Byezhyevets and V.N. Kondaurov, both decorated Heroes of the Soviet Union, were the pilots in charge of the test flight.

test report of the USSR F-5E

They were surprised with the results, the F-5E was much more maneuverable than most Soviet aircraft, especially then the MiG-21, which was the highly capable soviet dog fighter of the time. It even showed some advantages over the MiG-23, the most advanced Russian fighter of the time. That being said, it was noted that the F-5E did have a disadvantage when it came to vertical maneuverability and energy when compared to the MiG-23. It also had a lacking arsenal, with nothing beyond visual range medium-range missiles, which the MiG-23 could hold. The Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI) in Moscow were in charge of static tests of the aircraft, with the results exhaustively recorded. It is interesting when you look at planes such as the T-8 and the T-10, as you can see some design features obviously lifted from the F-5E. Eventually it was moved in the 1990’s, or at least the nose was, to a display area known as Hangar 1, which is now virtually impossible for any outsiders to visit.

The USSR F-5E on display with descriptions around it

Thank you for reading, take a look at my other posts if you are interested in space, electronics, physics or military history. If you are interested, follow me on Twitter to get updates on projects I am currently working on.

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When Planes Need an Eye Test: NOLF Webster.

webster overall map
From Google Maps. the locations and distances between the 4 photo resolution markers. Taken in 2007.

In a previous post, I put together lots of images of photo resolution markers, from across the USA. This post is about the four markers found at a little known airfield named Naval Outlying Field Webster in Maryland. In posts on this subject in other blogs it is often incorrectly named Walker Field, just to make things confusing. The four markers are in a straight line, with an almost exact 2000ft between them. This is likely for some sort of calibration testing, so the planes have an exact known distance to calibrate their cameras from. They are in parallel with one of the main runways to make it easy to maintain them, and as another reference for the planes.

Photo res marker 1
The most eastern photo resolution marker at Naval Outlying Field Webster. Taken in 2007 by Google Maps.

NOLF Webster is located 12 miles south west of Naval Air Station PAX River. It was bought by the military from a set of jesuit fathers during WW2 for just $96,000. It was bought as a auxiliary airfield for PAX River, to send aircraft to on busy days. PAX River is a very famous aircraft testing base, with lots of history associated with it. Part of the history is the photoreconnaissance training school found there. That explains the reasoning for the photo resolution markers just 12 miles to the SW.

Photo res 2
The second photo resolution marker at Naval Outlying Field Webster. Taken in 2007 by Google Maps.

NOLF Webster is good as an air base due to it’s great location. It has a good approach by water from two sides, especially good for testing and training. The other approaches were mainly woodland and fields. The three runways are built in accordance with the prevailing winds, with two of the runways being 5,000ft long. The base was heavily used in the 1950’s as a ‘touch and go’ site for training at PAX.

photo res 3
The third photo resolution marker at Naval Outlying Field Webster. Taken in 2007 by Google Maps.

In the 1960’s the former electronics test division moved in, now known as Naval Air Navigation Electronics Project (NANEP). They helped develop many air navigation systems. They stopped the interference with operations at PAX River. They may also have been a big part on the development of the photo resolution markers found there.

photo res 4
The fourth photo resolution marker at Naval Outlying Field Webster. Taken in 2007 by Google Maps.

Most of the images I have used are taken in 2007, but the final one (of the fourth marker) is taken in 2015, where it has a slightly different pattern. This is maybe to define markers between each of them, so the planes know the final one. There don’t seem to be any other changes according to the images found on Google Earth.

photo res 4
The fourth photo resolution marker at Naval Outlying Field Webster. Taken in 2015 by Google Maps.

Hope you enjoyed this short post, If you enjoy stories and posts on space and electronics, take a look at some of the other posts on my blog. Thank You for reading.

When Planes Need an Eye Test

Naval Outlying Field Webster
The photo resolution marker at Naval Outlying Field Webster, From Google Maps

A few years ago, The Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) reported on the dozens of Photo calibration targets found in the USA. They are odd looking two dimensional targets with lots of lines on the of various sizes, used as part of the development of aerial photography. Mostly built in the 1950’s and 60’s as part of the US effort of the cold war.

Shaw Air Force Base
The photo resolution marker at Shaw Air Force Base. From Google Maps

At this point, just after the second world war, there was a huge push to get better information about the enemy. The military needed better aerial recconasance. This very problem lead to the development of the U-2 and the SR-71. As part of this, there needed to be methods of testing these planes with the big camera systems attached to them. This was before the development of digital photography, so resolution is much more difficult to test.

The USAF test target
The 1951 USAF test target from wikipedia, they can still be bought.

Fort Huachuca
The photo resolution marker at Fort Huachuca. From Google Maps

This is where the photo resolution markers came in. Much like an optometrist uses an eye chart, military aerial cameras used these giant markers. Defined in milspec MIL-STD-150A, they are generally 78ft x 53ft concrete or asphalt rectangles, with heavy black and white paint. The bars on it are sometimes called a tri-bar array, but they can come in all forms, such as white circles, squares, and checkered patterns.

Beaufort Marine Corps Base
The photo resolution marker at Beaufort Marine Corps Base. From Google Maps

The largest concentration of resolution targets is in the Mojave desert, around Edwards Air Force Base. This is the place most new planes were tested during this time, with the U-S, SR-71 and X-15 being just some of the planes tested there. There are a set of 15 targets over 20 miles, known as photo resolution road. There are also plenty of other resolution targets at aerial reconnaissance bases across the US, such as Travis AFB, Beaufort Marine Corps Base and Shaw Air Force Base.

Elgin Air Force Base
The photo resolution marker at Elgin Air Force Base. From Google Maps