It’s no secret that the United States has flown captured — or otherwise acquired — Soviet and Russian aircraft for test, evaluation and training. The Soviet Union returned the favor.
The RT video below contains some quite famous footage of a U.S.-made Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter — formerly stationed at Bien Hoa Air Base in Vietnam — flying in Soviet markings in mock combat with a Soviet MiG-21.
North Vietnamese forces had seized the F-5 along with several other U.S. military when the overran Bien Hoa, home of the South Vietnamese air force’s 522nd Fighter Squadron, in 1975. Hanoi generously provided the F-5 to the USSR for evaluation.
This first appeared earlier in 2019.
The newer F-5E version of the Northrop fighter — reportedly one copy of which the North Vietnamese seized at Bien Hoa — was of particular interest to the Soviets, as the United States was actively marketing the new fighter to its allies.
Soviet pilots from Chkalov’s Russian Flight Test Center near the Volga River — among them Vladimir Kandaurov, Alexander Bezhevets and Nikolay Stogov — were reportedly impressed by the F-5’s performance against the MiG-21. Interestingly, Soviet engineers assumed the MiG-21 was more advanced than the American jet was, but the F-5 won every simulated air-combat engagement.
The data from the F-5 tests apparently contributed to the development of the MiG-23.
The F-5 wasn’t the only American fighter the Soviets obtained. One curious photo depicts what seems to be a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom fighter — or a mock-up of the legendary jet — under a tarp at the Zhukovskiy airfield near Moscow in August 1971.
Parked next to the F-4 is a French-built Mirage or, again, a mock-up of a Mirage.
While the Soviets definitely obtained an F-5 and apparently also got their hands on an F-4, they probably didn’t acquire an American-made Grumman F-14 Tomcat naval fighter, even though Iran bought scores of the swing-wing jets prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution that turned Iran from America’s ally to its enemy.
A photo depicting an F-14 in Soviet markings is almost certainly fake.
This piece by Tom Demerly appeared in War is Boring in 2017.