Sunday 22 January 2017

MiG-29s in the US

This is another work in progress, so please feel free to point out mistakes or omissions.

I've divided this work into 2 sections.

The first section deals with those MiG-29's that have been privately imported into the USA.

The second section deals with the 21 MiG-29's purchased from Moldova on 23rd June 1997.  Some of these aircraft flew from Groom Lake as recently as 2009 (witnessed by myself), but the current status of many of this batch of aircraft is unknown.

MiG-29 being readied for transfer to the US Government

MiG-29UB being loaded onto a USAF C-17 in Moldova

Before I begin, I can thoroughly recommend this article, regarding the import of two private single seaters in the 1990's.  It sums up the atmosphere of the mid-1990's period when the Soviet Union was breaking down, and money really could buy you anything...if you were brave enough.

In essence, it took 5 years and a whole pile of cash between this rich guy, Don Kirlin, identifying the two MiG-29 Fulcrum A aircraft in Kyrgyzstan, doing the deal, and getting them to Illinois.

1) MiG-29 Fulcrum A 2960507662 ex Kyrgyzstan bort 32 Blue
Registered N6394K in June 1999 (as MiG-29UB) 

Single Seater.  Owned by Air assets inc, Quincy IL, stored on ramp at Quincy Regional Airport, IL.  

Located in 94, deal complete 1996.  Flown to Tallinn, Estonia, by An-124, seized by authorities.
Finally arrived in Quincy 1999.

This MiG-29 is of particular interest as it is one of the first 70 built, with ventral fins underneath
each tail fin.

2) MiG-29 Fulcrum A 2960520155 ex Kyrgyzstan bort 09 Red
Registered N6394G in June 1999 (as MiG-29UB)

Single Seater.  Owned by Air assets inc, Quincy IL, stored on ramp at Quincy Regional Airport, IL.

Located in 94, deal complete 1996.  Flown to Tallinn, Estonia, by An-124, seized by authorities.
Finally arrived in Quincy 1999.
Ex Kyrgyzstan Fulcrum A Red 09 at Quincy

3) MiG-29UB Fulcrum B N80003003127 ex Ukraine bort 32 Red, last flew in 1999.

Registered N129XX in Jan 2008.  First flew in US on 10 Dec 2010. Videos etc online.
Possible line number 21-02.  Possible build date 9 Sep 1986.

Two seater.  Op by Air USA, Quincy, IL.  Airworthy.

Repainted into two tone grey and blue Soviet colours, as bort number "37 Red".  Offered for sale at $4.65 million.

New colour scheme on N129XX

Old colours on N129XX

4) MiG-29UB Fulcrum B N80003001024 ex Ukraine ? (details unknown)

Registered N229XX in March 2008

Possible line number 21-01.  Possible build date 5 March 1986.

Two seater.  Op by Air USA, Quincy, IL.  Probably not airworthy, but details are scarce.

5) MiG-29UB Fulcrum B N50903014896 ex Ukraine
Registered N29UB in April 2011.  First flew in USA 23 January 2011.

Two seater.  Op by Flying Heritage Collection, Everett, WA.  Airworthy, located at Paine Field.

Wears bort Red 64.

OK, so Part Two.... "The Moldovans"

There are many articles online about the nature of this deal.  In essence the USA stepped in to
prevent the sale of nuclear-capable MiG-29S "Fulcrum C" aircraft from Moldova (who couldn't
afford to operate them) to Iran (who hasn't been in America's 'good books' since the Iranian
Revolution in 1979).

The deal was struck on June 23rd 1997 and consisted of the sale of 21 aircraft to the US Government,
as follows:

6 x MiG-29 Fulcrum A (early model Air Superiority Fighter, the 9.12 model)
1 x MiG-29UB Fulcrum B (two seat trainer, not radar equipped, the 9.51 model)
14 x MiG-29S Fulcrum C (Nuclear capable Air Superiority Fighter, the 9.13 model)

I've divided this section into two.

Firstly those eight airframes who's whereabouts is known. They are now in Museums or displayed on
USAF bases.

Second, there is a list of all 21 airframes involved in the deal.  Some of these aircraft may still fly from
Groom Lake, some may be used as spares sources to keep the flyers airworthy.  In that case they will
probably be parked or stripped down in the 'Red Hats' hangars at Groom Lake.  Undoubtedly some of
these aircraft would have been lost in crashes in the last 20 years.

Sightings of flying MiG-29s are hard to come by.  However I saw two -29's on two consecutive days in
November 2009.  The first was returning to Groom Lake over Queen City Summit, NV. The second
was seen practising intercepts with an F-16 over the Powerlines Overlook, before the pair flew directly
over me back into Groom Lake Airbase.   There is of course the possibility that I saw the same aircraft
flying on each day.

For more, please check out my blog entry for Nov 2009.

Eight aircraft are known to be on display:

1) MiG-29A 2960512124

ex 27 White, now wears "17 Blue".

Preserved at Goodfellow AFB, Texas, since October 1998

2) MiG-29A 2960516761

ex 25 White, now wears "08 Blue".

Preserved at Wright-Patterson Museum, OH, since July 2000.

3) MiG-29A 2960516766

ex 22 White, now wears "53 Blue".

Preserved at Pima, AZ, since Oct 2008.  Formally at Tyndall, Florida. Possibly line no. 2005.

4) MiG-29S 2960717458

ex 10 White, now wears "15 Black".

Preserved at Fallon, NV, since Oct 02

Poss line number 3128

5) MiG-29S 2960717464

ex 12 White (some places report 06 white), now wears "30 Red".

Located inside Threat Training Facility at Nellis AFB, NV, since November 1999.

Possibly line no. 3217.

6) MiG-29S 2960717473

ex 06 White, then wore "309 Red", now wears "65 Blue".  Has "16"
stencilled on fin tip.

Preserved outside at Nellis since November 2004.

Possibly line no. 3221.

7) MiG-29S 2960721930

ex 41 White, now wears "23 Blue".

Preserved at McMinneville, OR, since August 2007.

Possibly line no. 3929.

8) MiG-29UB 50903012038

ex 61 White, now wears "62 Blue".

Was displayed outside Intelligence Centre at Wright-Patterson AFB.  Now stored on the airfield.

The complete list of MiG-29s involved in the 1997 deal:

1) MiG-29 Fulcrum A 2960512124      27 White            Now at Goodfellow AFB.

2) MiG-29 Fulcrum A 2960512140      28 White

3) MiG-29 Fulcrum A 2960516753      20 White

4) MiG-29 Fulcrum A 2960516755      21 White

5) MiG-29 Fulcrum A 2960516761      25 White            Now at Wright-Patterson Museum

6) MiG-29 Fulcrum A 2960516766      22 White            Now at Pima Museum

7) MiG-29UB Fulcrum B 50903012038     61 White     Now at Wright-Patterson AFB

8) MiG-29S Fulcrum C  2960707750      24 White

9) MiG-29S Fulcrum C  2960707753      29 White

10) MiG-29S Fulcrum C  2960710828      09 White

11) MiG-29S Fulcrum C  2960717456     03 White

12) MiG-29S Fulcrum C  2960717458      10 White            Now at NAS Fallon

13) MiG-29S Fulcrum C  2960717459      11 White

14) MiG-29S Fulcrum C  2960717464      12 White            Now at Nellis AFB

15) MiG-29S Fulcrum C  2960717469     04 White

16) MiG-29S Fulcrum C  2960717473      06 White            Now at Nellis AFB

17) MiG-29S Fulcrum C  2960717940      02 White

18) MiG-29S Fulcrum C  2960721907      08 White            Appeared at Wright-Patt Airshow in May 2003.
                                                                                            Had '21' stencilled in fin tips.

19) MiG-29S Fulcrum C  2960721930      41 White            Now at McMinnville Museum

20) MiG-29S Fulcrum C  2960721940      46 White

21) MiG-29S Fulcrum C  2960721945      48 White

White 08 at Wright Patterson airshow in 2003.

MiG-29S Fulcrum C at McMinneville, OR

MiG-29's being dismantled in Moldova prior to shipment

Other MiG-29's in the USA

May 1992: Two Ukrainian MiG-29's, a single seat -A and a twin seat -UB, toured America and Canada to celebrate 100 years of Ukrainian immigration to America.  They were flown dismantled in an An-124 cargo plane to Edmonton, Canada and rebuilt.  They first flew from Namao Air Base, Edmonton on May 16th 1992 and went on to perform 19 shows in North America before flying home to the Ukraine from Bangor, ME, in November.

A Ukrainian Fulcrum-A formates with USAF F-16s in 1992

A Ukrainian MiG-29UB on the deck at Trenton, Canada in '92

Friday 6 January 2017

Another excellent blog (while you're here!)

If you're interested in Groom Lake stuff, with photographs and sightings of F-117A, Su-27 and more, check out this blog, written by another intrepid UK based Area 51 enthusiast!

An update, dated October 2019.  Ian has uploaded an excellent video to YouTube featuring F-117's in action at Tonopah.  Contains still pics and audio:

Thursday 29 December 2016

Su-27's in the USA

This is most definitely a work in progress!

I've been trying to identify Su-27 Flankers known to be in the USA.

So far there seem to be five, if you believe all the rumours and stories on chat forums!

1) Sukhoi Su-27P c/n 36911027918

Flown by An-124 from Belarus to Nevada on 26th November 1995.  Allegedly bought through a company named "Beltechexport"

2) Sukhoi Su-27P c/n 36911027717

Sold by Belarus to Ukraine in the late 1990's, then dismantled, sold, and shipped to the UK MoD in 19 boxes. Rumoured to be spares for the airworthy Su-27P.  May have even been rebuilt to airworthy status?

3 and 4) Sukhoi Su-27UB's c/n 96310408027 and 96310418210

Arrived in the USA from Ukraine in September 2008 and May 2009.

'08027 is ex Ukraine Bort Blue 61, and now wears Bort Blue 32 and registered N132SU

'18210 is ex Ukraine Bort Blue 66, and now wears Bort Blue 31 and registered N131SU

You can Google N131SU and N132SU for a number of photographs.

Both of these aircraft were disposed of by their owners, Pride Aircraft, and their current whereabouts is, as far as I know, unknown.  The FAA registry shows both aircrafts civil registrations to have "expired".

5) Sukhoi Su-27UBM-1 c/n 96310422054

Allegedly in 2012, Belarus sold "on the quiet" an aircraft recently upgraded at the 558 ARZ (Aircraft Repair Plant), Baranovichi.  Alleged sold to the UK MoD, then presumably on to the US Military.

Groom Lake November 2016

Several years elapsed until my most recent visit, in November 2016.  Motivated by stories of the RQ-170, RQ-180, B-21 etc, and by photos of unidentified flying triangles leaving contrails over Wichita, KS and Amarillo, TX, I knew it was time for a visit again.

I spent three days hanging out in the Tikaboo Valley, roughly 20 miles east of Groom Lake Airbase. 

Day one featured lots of dogfighting jets overhead and to the north.  Mainly Aggressor F-15s and F-16s out of Nellis, which dropped a lot of flares and also the occasional sonic boom.  Also a couple of low level C-17s flying though the eastern end of the Tikaboo Valley, and exiting over Hancock Summit.  My third day was similar, with the addition of some Draken International A-4 Skyhawks flying low level through the Valley, again out of Nellis.

F-15C manoeuvring at altitude

Nellis aggressors setting up for a dogfight
A-4 Skyhawks returning to Nellis after a sortie

Day two was the interesting day.  It was US election day, and had started strangely when I followed a convoy of trucks hauling a retired Boeing 777 fuselage sections for several miles as they passed northbound through Alamo.  I wondered if they were heading for Groom Lake, but then they headed north on the 318 towards Hiko when I turned West onto the 375.

The morning was much the same as the other days, with F-15's and 16's playing overhead.  Looking west into Groom Airspace from my location, I saw a couple of Janet 737-600's depart, and more interestingly two F-16s simultaneously operating in the circuit for runway 32 at Groom.

Aggressor F-16 formation returning to Nellis

Things went quiet around 1300.  Very quiet.  Nothing moved for two hours and I was thinking of moving to another vantage point, such as Queen City Summit, or maybe the Powerlines Overlook.

Then the sound of jet noise caught my attention and that's when I got my first sight of a Groom Lake Su-27 Flanker.  Flying NE at around 30000 feet leaving an intermittent contrail.  The time was 1500 and the sun was moving to the west as the Flanker and a F-16 gave me a private 25 minute air display.  The pair seemed to perform a series of head on intercepts at descending altitudes from 30000 feet to around 20000 feet, only a mile or two to the east of me.  This meant they were beautifully illuminated by the sun.  After the head on intercept, the pair would break into a turning dogfight, with the Flanker using it tremendous manoeuvrability to try and get behind the F-16.  I took a long series of photographs, but as the aircraft were fairly high my autofocus couldn't cope.  I had to shoot in manual mode, constantly moving the focussing ring to attempt to get some reasonable images.

The Su-27 was clearly a single seater, a Su-27P Flanker-B.  I was aware that at least two 2-seat Su-27UB Flanker-C's had been imported into America and operated with civil registrations (N131SU and N132SU).  It was not one of these.   Quite apart from the physical difference between the -P and -UB models, they both operated in a jagged blue-grey camouflage, with grey nose and fin tips, and a grey underside.  This Flanker was in the classic 1990's 2 tone blue colour scheme, with white nose and white fin tips.  A very different aeroplane. There had been rumours that the US had obtained 2 single seat Flankers from Belarus in 1996 or 1997, so I figured it should have been one of them.

After the final dogfight, when I was lucky enough to catch on camera the F-16 flashing directly in front of the Flanker, the pair climbed back to 30000 feet or so, and headed SW back into Groom Lake restricted airspace.  Interestingly the Flanker left a solid contrail, while the F-16 left none despite being at a similar altitude.

The Su-27 leaving a contrail, with F-16 just behind not trailing.

Absolutely thrilled by what I had witnessed, I wasn't bothered by the fact that nothing else flew that day.  I had finally caught on camera for the first time the Su-27 that the Americans had supposedly been flying secretly from Groom Lake for the last 20 years. 
Job done!

Groom Lake November 2009

I had spent the morning watching the equally mysterious Tonopah Test Range Airport from Brainwash Butte, about 50 miles northwest of Groom Lake.  I got bored by lunchtime and headed to Groom. I was passing Queen City Summit heading south when I heard jet noise.  I exited my car to see a single MiG-29 transiting towards Groom Lake at around 15000 feet.  I just had time to catch 3 photos with my 210mm lens.  It appeared to be a hump-backed MiG-29 Fulcrum C, a 9.13 version similar to those 21 airframes that the US had bought from Moldova in 1997.

Taken at Queen City Summit on Nov 4 2009, an ex- Moldovan MiG-29 Fulcrum C returns to Groom Lake

The next morning I had planned to do the famous Tikaboo Peak climb, and felt particularly motivated after my encounter with the MiG-29.

I got up at 4.30 am to drive to the start of the hike, and annoyingly I got a blow out about 20 miles off road, a mile short of the start of the hiking trail.  On reflection doing 40mph on a rough gravel road was not wise! Not wanting to be beaten, I parked the car and pressed on with the hike, with the intention of changing the tire later.

Don't think I can patch that

After the 90 minute climb, some of which is pretty strenuous, I got my first view of the Groom Lake base. What a moment of elation!  The base is illumated by the morning sun, so arriving on Tikaboo Peak by 7 am maximised my viewing time.  The base is roughly 26 miles away across the desert, so you need good optics to see anything.  It seemed to be a quiet morning, just a couple of Janets and a F-16 landed.

Groom Lake Airbase, early in the morning

A Janet 737 lands on runway 32 at Groom, seen from Tikaboo Peak
USGS summit marker on Tikaboo Peak

As the sun came round into the south my view was deteriorating, so I called it a day at 11am and descended the mountain to fix my tire.  I finally limped back onto the tarmac at the Pahranagat Lakes at lunchtime, after a very nervous 10 - 15 mph drive out of the desert.  The spare tire was only a thin temporary and flimsy looking thing, and I was relying on it to get me over 20 miles of dirt road!

Having fitted a replacement tire in Alamo, I returned to the Extraterrestrial Highway 90 minutes before dusk and parked up a couple of miles south east of the Mailbox.

I soon became aware of 2 aircraft dogfighting to the east of the Powerlines Overlook, probably somewhere close to Hiko or Crystal Springs.  It quickly became obvious that one of the planes was a MiG-29, thanks to the dirty engine smoke it left behind, a trademark of 1980s Russian engines.  I watched for 20 minutes as the MiG and an F-16 performed a number of head on intercepts in the distance.

When they had finished playing I was lucky enough to have them both transit almost directly overhead me back to the base, at around 20000 feet.  I took a series of photographs, with the planes backlit by the setting sun as they headed West back towards Groom Lake Base.  The MiG flew straight and level, while the F-16 manoeuvred around it, checking it out from all angles.

To give you an idea of how difficult it can be to spot and identify these planes, here is a regular 50mm shot of the F-16 / MiG-29 formation as it passed over:

F-16 / MiG-29 formation at dusk on Nov 5 2009

So that was that! Mission accomplished.  MiG's photographed, Tikaboo climbed, Aliens evaded. Now back to Vegas for some fun!

Groom Lake November 2007

On my first visit in November 2007 I did all the 'touristy' things.  I drove the length of Groom Lake Road, from the Extraterrestrial Highway to the famous warning signs, advising of the use of lethal force, should you cross the boundary.  I waved to the Cammo's.  I visited the Black Mailbox (by that time is was painted white!) and I stayed in a trailer at the Little A'Le'Inn, having eaten one of their 'Alien Burgers' for dinner.  I also drove on dirt tracks to what is known as the Power Lines Overlook, where you can see the airspace directly over Groom Lake Airbase down to about 1000 feet.  The only planes I saw were Janet 737s and Beech 1900s, both using tactical "Rattler" callsigns, before reverting back to Janets in non-restricted airspace.

Groom Lake Road, with distant vehicle

Do not pass this point!

Cammo's keeping an eye on me

Little A'Le'Inn trailer accomodation

Highway 375 by night