Foreign Policy Digital

The Private Air Force Preparing U.S. Pilots for the Next War

For years, the U.S. military secretly flew Russian aircraft. Now it needs a cheaper option.

When Lt. Col. Eric “Doc” Schultz died in a crash during a training flight in early September at a Nevada test range, it took three days for the U.S. Air Force to acknowledge the accident. Even then, the Air Force refused to say what kind of jet Schultz was flying when he was killed.

The hushed reaction spawned theories that the Air Force didn’t want to expose a new, classified aircraft. Another theory was the military was covering up the crash of an F-35 stealth fighter, which the service eventually denied. Some of the speculation was put to rest when reports emerged that Schultz was part of Air Force squadron tasked with evaluating foreign aircraft and was likely flying a Russian Su-27 used to train pilots on how to fight some of the newest aircraft coming from Russia and China.

Over the years, plane spotters have snapped pictures of at least one Russian Su-27 fighter jet flying over Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where American pilots

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