Skip to comments.Iconic MiG-21 Soviet fighter reaches twilight years in Europe
Posted on 01/18/2018 7:59:22 PM PST by sukhoi-30mki
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany During the Cold War, the MiG-21 fighter and the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle epitomized the might of the Soviet Bloc as it confronted the West in Europe.
Although the MiG-21 dubbed Fishbed by NATO never saw combat in a NATO-Warsaw Pact war, the most iconic Soviet fighter of the jet age frequently tangled with American and other Western warplanes in hot wars in Vietnam, the Middle East and Africa.
But nearly 60 years after it first entered front-line service with the Soviet air force and 33 years since production ceased the single-engine interceptor is reaching the end of the line in Europe.
Although the approximately 14,000 examples built by the Soviet Union, China, India and Czechoslovakia make it the most-produced supersonic jet fighter in history, less than 10 now remain airworthy on the Continent.
Fishbeds still soldier on in Croatia and Serbia, but both nations plan to phase them out within the next two years.
NATO member Croatia has 12 late-model Mig-21 planes in its air force inventory. But Croatian military analyst Denis Kuljis says no more than six are airworthy, with the rest having been cannibalized for spare parts.
It was a great plane during Croatias (1991-95) war of independence, Kuljis said. But it really cant hold its own against modern fighters or anti-aircraft defenses. No amount of upgrades can overcome that.
A Croatian MiG-21UM twin-seat trainer in flight. Painted in Croatia's checkerboard red-and-white pattern, the plane is one of less than a dozen MiG-21s that remain operational in Europe today.
He said Croatia would soon pick a successor, most likely second-hand U.S. Air Force F-16s, to ensure interoperability with NATO systems.
The U.S. first gained vital insight on the capabilities of the rugged and agile jet after a defecting Iraqi pilot took one to Israel in 1966. Eventually, the Air Force evaluated a full squadrons worth of various MiG-21 models.
In Vietnam, they racked up dozens of kills during the eight years they fought against U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy jets. Although heavily outnumbered, the small MiGs evaded U.S. radar and ambush formations with hit-and-run attacks in which some U.S. jets, including top-of-the-line F-4 Phantoms, were downed or forced to jettison their bomb loads and abort their missions.
The MiG-21 quickly earned a reputation as a versatile and effective short-range interceptor with low operating costs.
The planes performance was enhanced over the years, but designers never overcame the limited fuel capacity and lack of space for sophisticated electronic equipment. Another serious weakness was thick windshield framing that reduced forward visibility, a problem during combat.
Despite those drawbacks, the delta-winged Mach 2 interceptor was widely exported and became the backbone of about 50 air forces in Europe, Africa and Asia. It was used in a dozen conflicts during the last 30 years, more than any other fighter in history.
In the 1970s, the U.S. introduced two jets that outperformed the MiG-21 the F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons. The Soviets countered with MiG-29s and Sukhoi-27s. By the 1980s, the aging Fishbeds were relegated to second-line duties, such as reconnaissance.
David Ivry, a former chief of the Israeli Air Force who battled MiG-21s as a squadron leader in the 1967 Arab Israeli War and as a commander in 1973 and 1982, said the aircraft was a real challenge for all pilots who fought against it.
But when the fourth generation F-16s and F-15s entered service in the West, they had an advantage in maneuverability and weapon systems that made the MiG-21 inferior in combat ... (although) the MiG-21, as an aircraft, remained reliable and safe for flight, Ivry said.
Russia has long since retired the MiG-21, which derived its name from the initials of designers Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, former East European allies joined NATO, bringing more than 200 MiG-21s into the alliance. Except for the handful operated by Croatia, all have since been retired.
Alan Warnes, an editor of Air Forces Monthly, noted the MiG-21 is the last fighter from the 1950s to remain operational and that no other fighter has achieved such longevity.
No matter how old (or new) they are, and no matter who made them, fighter jets still look “futuristic”.
Another serious weakness was thick windshield framing that reduced forward visibility, a problem during combat.
I would think it was because they could not reliably produce thick curved bubble windshields without a high defect rate or failure rate in desired mass quantities.
I could see that being it. In fact that frame let them get away with a piece of simple flat glass in the front. But you would think that somewhere along the line they would have gotten the production of bubble glass down pat. According to the article these planes were produced into the 1980s. But maybe later in the game it just wasn’t a priority.
Mix 1.5 oz. single-malt Scotch with .75 oz. Drambuie.
Pour over ice and add a lemon twist.
they did make bubble canopies but for later jets. they would not retrofit mig 21s that were now outdated and 2nd line fighters.
Would like to read a western pilot's account of what they are like to fly.
That livery looks like something out of a Chris Foss painting!
“In Vietnam, they racked up dozens of kills during the eight years they fought against U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy jets. Although heavily outnumbered, the small MiGs evaded U.S. radar and ambush formations with hit-and-run attacks in which some U.S. jets, including top-of-the-line F-4 Phantoms, were downed or forced to jettison their bomb loads and abort their missions.”
One of the patterns of aerial warfare that repeats itself is how a smaller airforce can rack-up disproportionate Kill-Loss ratios against a numerically superior enemy. Examples:
RAF Fighter Command vs. Luftwaffe (Battle of Britain), Luftwaffe v. Red Air Force (eastern front), Cactus Air Force v. Japanese 1st Air Fleet (Solomons), US Fighter-Interceptor-Wings v. ‘North Korean’ airforce (1951-53).
Call it a target-rich environment, or the airborne version of guerrilla warfare.
One of the problems that you have with an aircraft that flies that fast is getting rid of the heat developed by the friction of the air passing over it. It’s a materials problem fundamentally. Sometimes all you can do is mitigate the problem thru some fancy engineering.
Contemporary aircraft the the US Navy’s F8U Crusader were limited by the heating effects on their wind screens. The Crusader III, which never reached squadron service, was capable of dash speeds in the Mach 3 region. The test aircraft were showing problems with windscreens beginning to fail.
The A-12/SR-71 was entirely designed to shed heat. The engines were reportedly capable of pushing that air frame much faster than the Mach 3.35 top speed, but the pilots dare not push too hard for too long. You can do a little more with a strategic recon aircraft that flies with less frequency than a carrier fighter.
Which soviet fighter is ‘more iconic’ the MiG 15 or Mig 21? Close call, I would say.
The Mig 21 is getting the ‘long farewell’ treatment in the Press because a lot of countries are making the decision to retire them, whereas the MiG 15 is already ‘gone’.
Sounds like a waste of good single-malt. Was anything good wasted in the actual MiG-21?
I am not an expert-level alcoholic, but your recipe seems very reminiscent of a Rusty Nail.
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