For half a century we feared them. Now, for the first time, meet the rugged pilots of the Russian Air Force- and take a close-up look at the heart-stopping maneuvers that still fill Western flyers with awe. Check out the "cobra": coiling up and back like a snake, a jet fighter evades the chasing enemy and becomes the pursuer. See vintage footage of the notorious taran, when wartime pilots would ram their foes in mid-air. Join aviation author Jeff Ethell as he tests out the powerful Su-27- and gets goaded into pulling a hair-raising stunt. The take a $15,000 ride aboard a bomber jet with a US thrill seeker (one measure of Russia's desperate economy), complete with stomach-turning g-forces. "I call it the zoom-boom-throw-up-in-your-helmet ride," a veteran pilot smirks. Find out why, despite baffling differences in approach, Western aces see these fearless flyers as a formidable force- honing their dogfight tactics over the technology we so depend on. "We build our planes like fine watchers," one American expert notes. "And they build their like tanks."