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.
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 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.
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.
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