BARSTOW — The MIG-25 jet fighter banked slightly to the right, leveled off at about 500 feet and streaked across the desert toward the line of American tanks and infantrymen.
The soldiers responded with a shattering barrage of .50-caliber machine-gun fire that lofted a curtain of dust and littered the ground with shell casings. But the plane escaped unscathed.
As the troops at Ft. Irwin have found, it's pretty hard to hit a 10-foot model buzzing by at about 120 m.p.h. Some of the little planes have successfully evaded machine-gun bullets for as many as 100 missions.
The one-fifth scale radio-controlled MIG-25s are among 40 aircraft models that Continental RVPs of Barstow makes and sells to the military for target practice. The price--ranging from $300 to $30,000 per plane, depending on the size and the sophistication of the electronic gear aboard to record near-misses--is a tiny fraction of what it would cost to use the real thing, assuming that the real thing was available.
Don Shaper, vice president of Continental, said he learned as a boy never to become too attached to a model plane, "because they don't last that long. . . . Now, when they shoot one down, I feel great, because that means they gotta buy more."