Member Profile: Gail “Evil” Peck, Jr.
Career Title: Colonel Gail Peck, Retired, United States Air Force
Member since: 1978
Las Vegas resident since: Full time since 1988. First time in 1968
Favorite thing about One Nevada: Convenience, competence and fees, and I have always liked the people that work at the credit union.
Q: Tell us about your career and how you got your start in the military?
A: I was born into an Air Corps family and raised in what became the Air Force. My dad was a pilot and mom was a “stay at home Mom.” We lived in occupied Japan after WW II and in the Territory of Alaska when I was young among many other places. From a young age I knew I wanted to be a fighter pilot, so I set my goals on attending West Point. Then, along came the AF Academy. I graduated from there, attended pilot training and had a great career flying airplanes including combat time during the Vietnam War in the F-4. I flew a lot of different kinds of airplanes and commanded at each level from Flight to Wing. It was great.
Q: Can you tell us about your book, “America’s Secret MIG Squadron?
A: It is a historical effort to explain why we were determined to set up the secret MiG program; how we built the airfield and equipped it with real Soviet jet fighters and finally; what did the USA accomplish with the program. Included are a lot of side stories and personal observations and tales.
Q: What motivated you to write the book?
A: The MiG squadron was highly classified from the beginning in the 1970s until declassification in 2006. As one of the officers that more or less got it started and then became the first commander at the secret airfield, I felt that it was important for an original planner and operator to tell the “inside” story and make that SUCCESS story known to the American public.
Q: What has the reaction to the book been?
A: Stunning, especially when I have had the opportunity to tell the story in person and explain that my remarks are just a part of what went on at Tonopah. To learn more, I tell my audiences, read the book. I have given the talk at the National Museum of the Air Force, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the Mall in Washington DC and numerous other venues. The book was introduced at the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture 2012 Air Show in Oshkosh, WI. At the July 2012 introduction at AirVenture I gave two large venue presentations and signed a lot of books. I had the chance to do AirVenture 2014 this past July/Aug (2014) also.
Q: Can you explain the Constant Peg Program/4477th Squadron?
A: The first commander, LTC Glenn Frick, was stationed at Nellis AFB. While I named the program Constant Peg (General Vandenberg’s call sign and the first name of my wife Peggy), Glenn picked the numbers. There are a lot of theories about his selection of the numbers, but I don’t think we will ever know for sure why he picked 4477. The squadron started as a flight and when I came aboard on 1 Oct 1978 there were 29 officers and NCOs. The officers worked with the contractor to get the airfield built, flew the jets and organized the unit. The NCOs restored the jets into safe flying machines along with a lot of other vital duties. The unit eventually became a squadron officially and I’m told that in later years had over 500 officers and NCOs assigned (and maybe some civilians). At peak we had 27 flyable MiGs.
Q: How many flying hours do you have and in what aircraft?
A: I have over 5000 hrs in the T-33, T-38, F-4, F-5, F-15, MiG-17 and MiG-21. I started flying light aircraft during a Pentagon assignment and have owned a Cessna 172, Piper Arrow, Cessna 210 and currently a Cessna 177RG. I am also building an RV-8 tail dragger that I hope to fly the first time in 2015.
Q: What are the Original Red Tags?
A: The four classes in residence at the AF Academy were assigned class colors which scroll as classes graduate. First was gold (or yellow as we called it), then blue, gray and finally red. I was in the first red class. Our Class of 1962 made the AF Academy a four year school. We initiated our summer training at Lowery AFB in Denver, CO and then moved to the permanent site in time for the fall school year to start. Each class had bed spreads, bath robes, and name tags that were in their class color. Thus, Class of 62 became the Red Tags. Sometimes there is a “B” word added at the end to describe us as we were known to be rowdy.
Q: What is your call sign and how did you get it?
A: I have had a lot of them that varied from “Tequila” (flight instructor days) to “The Skipper” (thanks to my three US Navy pilots) when I was in command of the MiG squadron. Later in life the F-15 guys in the 67th TFS at Kadena tried to call me “Bushel” but it didn’t stick. Neither did “Top Cover”, another Kadena effort from either the Bats (44th TFS) or the 12th TFS. The one I can’t seem to get rid of is “Evil.” The details of the reason for that naming are best left unsaid. It came from my cadet squadron commander and dear friend at the AF Academy, Jeff Hornaday (RIP - died in an F-105 during the VN War).
Q: Can you describe your favorite assignment during your AF career?
A: Certainly the time involved creating the MiG squadron from the Pentagon followed by the actual period of command and flying the jets is special. I really never had a bad assignment. I was anxious to leave Air Training Command and get to fighters, and I will always be respectful of the combat experience in the F-4 along with being a Air Force Weapons School instructor in the F-4. F-5s followed as an Aggressor and that was definitely the most fun, operational in the F-15 was an incredible experience both because of Kadena and the cosmic features of the jet. And I can’t leave out the thrill of the Castle Tours in Germany flying RF-4s. The Rhine River at 500 knots and less than 500 ft is a real deal!
Q: What is your role at the Air Force Weapons School?
A: I was hired to be the academic Subject Matter Expert for the F-15C with the task of assisting the “Blue Suit” instructor pilots. When the Special Ops folks (Hurlburt) became a part of the Weapons School I picked up the MC-130 and then finally the F-22 was added. So those are the systems. For each I assist the respective squadron instructors (pilots and navs) with academic teaching, courseware development and revision, syllabus updates, instructional handbooks and handouts and finally syllabus implementing phase manuals.
Q: What do you advise the young pilots joining the military today?
A: Do it. You will never be sorry.
Q: Do you still fly today?
A: Just in our Cessna and in the back end of the big commercial jets. I last flew in the F-15C in 2002. The pilot with me was Max Marosko III. His Dad, Max Marosko II checked me out in the F-15 at Luke AFB in 1980. So that was special. I am also a card carrying, pilot qualified member of the Nevada Wing of the Civil Air Patrol but in recent years have not made the time available to be as active in CAP as I would like. My first jet ride was in a T-33 as a CAP cadet. My Dad was the pilot. When my Dad retired from the AF his last ride or fini-flight was in a T-38 at Laredo AFB, TX. As a T-38 instructor pilot I rode in Dad’s back seat on that last flight of his.
Q: What is the most satisfying part of your career?
A: I was fortunate enough to do exactly what I wanted to do with my life and career. And, it is still going that way. Better lucky than good! Without the people I met and worked with along the way, it wouldn’t have been near as satisfying. Thanks to you all.