The Threat Training Facility at Nellis Air Force Base outside Las Vegas isn't the easiest place to get into. In fact, its very existence was classified until 1993, since its $70 million collection of Soviet military equipment was considered highly secret. Nowadays it's still next to impossible to get access unless you're on active service with the US Air Force, but it's certainly better known, even making an appearance during the recent IMAX "Fighter Pilot" movie set at Nellis. As a member of the press contingent for the 2004 Nellis Air Show, I made it a priority to visit this unusual museum, and Program Chief Bernard Zager was kind enough to make the arrangements and show me around.
Nellis Air Force Base is the primary flight testing station for new USAF aircraft, a role it has filled since the early 1950s and continues to fill today, most recently with the development of the F-22 Raptor and the 11th, 15th and 17th Reconnaisance Squadrons, which operate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over the 3.1 million acre Nellis Range. This was the logical place, then, for the development of a research department to provide hands-on assessment of the capabilities of enemy military equipment. The Threat Training Facility was established in 1976, and currently operates under the control of the 547th Intelligence Squadron, whose motto is "Our Adversaries Have No Secrets".
As you can tell, the Threat Training Facility is not an aircraft museum in the ordinary sense of the term. Instead it is a research facility which determines the capabilities and shortcomings of enemy weapon systems, with the primary focus on enemy aircraft, anti-aircraft systems and tanks. This means that quite a number of the aircraft have been flown by American pilots, which is why Lt Gen David McCloud has his name listed beside the cockpit of the MiG-17 "Fresco" fighter, and why many of the instruments in the Mi-24 "Hind" helicopter gunship are labelled in English. Another major focus is to provide hands-on training to American military forces, which involves not just the preparation and delivery of training material, but also the opportunity for "hands-on" experience with the equipment. This unusual freedom to handle and even sit inside the equipment has lead to the nickname "The Petting Zoo".