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Mikoyan-Gurevich MIG-21 Fishbed
History of the MIG-21
The MiG-21 jet fighter was a continuation of Soviet jet fighters, starting with the subsonic MiG-15 and MiG-17, and the supersonic MiG-19. A number of experimental Mach 2 Soviet designs were based on nose intakes with either swept-back wings, such as the Sukhoi Su-7, or tailed deltas, of which the MiG-21 would be the most successful.
Development of what would become the MiG-21 began in the early 1950s, when Mikoyan OKB finished a preliminary design study for a prototype designated Ye-1 in 1954. This project was very quickly reworked when it was determined that the planned engine was underpowered; the redesign led to the second prototype, the Ye-2. Both these and other early prototypes featured swept wings—the first prototype with delta wings as found on production variants was the Ye-4. The Ye-4 made its maiden flight on 16 June 1955 and made its first public appearance during the Soviet Aviation Day display at Moscow's Tushino airfield in July 1956. The MiG-21 was the first successful Soviet aircraft combining fighter and interceptor characteristics in a single aircraft. It was a lightweight fighter, achieving Mach 2 with a relatively low-powered afterburning turbojet, and is thus comparable to the American Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter and the French Dassault Mirage III. Its basic layout was used for numerous other Soviet designs; delta-winged aircraft included Su-9 interceptor and the fast E-150 prototype from MiG bureau while the mass-produced successful front fighter Su-7 and Mikoyan's I-75 experimental interceptor combined a similar fuselage shape with swept-back wings. However, the characteristic layout with the shock cone and front air intake did not see widespread use outside the USSR and finally proved to have limited development potential, mainly because of the very small space available for the radar.
Like many aircraft designed as interceptors, the MiG-21 had a short range. This was not helped by a design defect where the center of gravity shifted rearwards once two-thirds of the fuel had been used. This had the effect of making the plane uncontrollable, resulting in an endurance of only 45 minutes in clean condition. The issue of the short endurance and low fuel capacity of the MiG-21F, PF, PFM, S/SM and M/MF variants—though each had a somewhat greater fuel capacity than its predecessor—led to the development of the MT and SMT variants. These had a range increase of 250 km (155 mi) compared to the MiG-21SM, but at the cost of worsening all other performance figures (such as a lower service ceiling and slower time to altitude).
The delta wing, while excellent for a fast-climbing interceptor, meant any form of turning combat led to a rapid loss of speed. However, the light loading of the aircraft could mean that a climb rate of 235 m/s (46,250 ft/min) was possible with a combat-loaded MiG-21bis, not far short of the performance of the later F-16A. Given a skilled pilot and capable missiles, it could give a good account of itself against contemporary fighters. It was replaced by the newer variable-geometry MiG-23 and MiG-27 for ground support duties. However, not until the MiG-29 would the Soviet Union ultimately replace the MiG-21 as a maneuvering dogfighter to counter new American air superiority types.
The MiG-21 was exported widely and continues to be used. The aircraft's simple controls, engine, weapons, and avionics were typical of Soviet-era military designs. The use of a tail with the delta wing aids stability and control at the extremes of the flight envelope, enhancing safety for lower-skilled pilots; this in turn enhanced its marketability in exports to developing countries with limited training programs and restricted pilot pools. While technologically inferior to the more advanced fighters it often faced, low production and maintenance costs made it a favorite of nations buying Eastern Bloc military hardware. Several Russian, Israeli and Romanian firms have begun to offer upgrade packages to MiG-21 operators, designed to bring the aircraft up to a modern standard, with greatly upgraded avionics and armaments.
Due to the lack of available information, early details of the MiG-21 were often confused with those of the similar Sukhoi fighters also under development. Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1960–1961 describes the "Fishbed" as a Sukhoi design, and uses an illustration of the Su-9 'Fishpot'.
The MiG-21 saw frequent action in the Vietnam War and was one of the most advanced aircraft at the time. However, many North Vietnamese aces preferred flying the MiG-17, due to the high wing loading on the MiG-21's. With high wing loading, the MiG-21 was not as agile or maneuverable as the MiG-17. Employing a delta wing configuration, it was the first successful Soviet aircraft combining fighter and interceptor in a single aircraft. It was a lightweight fighter, achieving Mach 2 speed using a relatively low-powered afterburning turbojet, and is thus comparable to the American F-104 Starfighter and French Dassault Mirage III.
It was also used extensively in the Middle East conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s, by the air forces of Egypt, Syria and Iraq against Israel. The plane was outclassed by the more modern F-15 Eagle (designed primarily to combat the Soviet MiG-25 "Foxbat"), which was acquired by Israel in the 1970s. The Indian Air Force has been one of the largest users of this plane after it was used in the 1971 war with good results. The war also witnessed the first supersonic air combat in the subcontinent when a MiG-21 shot down a F-104 Starfighter. It was also used as late as 1999 in the Kargil War with mixed results.
It was used also in early stages of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan but soon outclassed by the newer MiG-23 and MiG-27.
Between 1962 and 1972 the MiG-21F-13 version was manufactured under license by Aero Vodochody, in Czechoslovakia. Aero built a total of 194 planes during this period.
A PAVN Air Force MiG-21MF flown by Phạm Tuân over Hanoi, North Vietnam on 27 December 1972 was apparently responsible for the only claimed combat kill of a (US Air Force) B-52 Stratofortress in history. The B-52 had been circling above Hanoi during Operation Linebacker II.
Chinese copies of the MiG-21 are designated Chengdu J-7 and F-7 (for export).
Russia now offers an upgrade pack for the MiG-21 up to MiG-21-93 standard. This includes an avionics suite upgrade including the installation of the Kopyo pulse doppler radar used by the MiG-29, enabling the aircraft to fire a greater range of modern weapons such as the beyond visual range Vympel R-77 air-to-air missile. The upgraded avionics also enhance the aircraft's survivability as well as its ability to engage enemy fighters. Other upgrades include the installation of a dual screen HUD, helmet-mounted target designator, and advanced flight control systems.
Israeli Aircraft Industries manufactures an upgrade package for the MiG-21 called the MiG-21-2000.
A joint venture between Aerostar SA and Elbit has developed the Lancer upgrade package for MiG-21. 114 MiG-21s have been upgraded to MiG-21 Lancer for the Romanian Air Force.
History courtesy of www.wikipedia.org. Photos courtesy of The USAF Museum, all other info Copyright 2012, JPLANES.COM