The Fishbed MIG-21 prototypes appeared at the June 1956 Tushino Air Show. The E-5 prototype of the MiG-21 was first flown in 1955. During the Vietnam War, MiG-21s were often used against U.S. aircraft. Between April 26, 165, and January 8, 1973, USAF F-4s and B-52s downed 68 MiG-21s. More than 30 countries of the world-including nations friendly to the U.S. have flown the MiG-21. At least 15 versions of the MiG-21 were been produced, some outside the Soviet Union. Estimates place the number built at more than 8,000, a production total exceeding that of any other modern jet aircraft.
The MiG-21's amazing record includes service with no less than 56 air forces and action in 30 shooting wars. The little delta's phenomenal production tally of 13,500 aircraft is more than two-and-a-half times that of the F-4, the MiG's long-time adversary in Vietnam and the Middle East.
In the former USSR this aircraft was manufactured between the late 50s and the middle 1970s. The MiG-21 is the world champion in the number of the air vehicles produced (11,000) and in airframe service life (up to 30 years). That is why about 3,000 MiG-21 are now operated by the air forces of more than 40 countries. The MiG-21 is close to setting another world record in the amount of the upgraded aircraft.
To improve on the MiG-15, Russian designers experimented with a tailed delta-wing configuration that soon became the distinctive shape of the MiG-21. This durable and simple short-range fighter design has been improved over the years with modified radar, flaps, airframe construction, avionics, weapons, and engines. The aircraft has mid-mounted delta wings with small square tips. There is one turbojet inside the body. There is a small round air intake in the nose. There is a single exhaust. The fuselage is a long, tubular body with a blunt nose and bubble canopy. There is one belly fin under the rear section. There is a large dorsal spine flush with the canopy. The tail fin swept-back and tapered with a square tip. The flats are mid-mounted on the body, swept-back, and tapered with square tips.
The MiG-21 had guns, missiles or rockets available for air-to-air use. Some models had one or two 30mm cannons with a 700 round per minute capability and enough ammunition for five seconds of firing. Since distinction between those models that had guns and those that did not was difficult, if not impossible, in an air-to-air engagement, a general assumption that all MiG-21s encountered had guns was made. Like the MiG-17, the MiG-21 could carry two Atolls, two Alkalis or two pods of 16 unguided rockets each. The external load had to be the same with no mixing of munitions.
The MiG-21, besides cockpit visibility limitation, had maneuvering problems at all altitudes when the airspeed is below 215 KIAS and above 510 KIAS. At low speeds, the aircraft may become uncontrollable, and longitudinal stick forces become extremely heavy at high speeds. The Fishbed, with a climbing spiral, zoom capability, can accelerate quickly from low and medium airspeeds because of its big thrust to weight ratio. During an engagement, forcing a MIG-21 to lower altitudes degrades its performance.
This jet fighter is limited to 595 KTs at sea level. For comparison, airspeeds of more than 700 KCAS are not uncommon for the F-105. The latter had a capability of sustaining higher indicated airspeed at low levels than any aircraft in SEA.
An F-105 pilot commented about speed comparisons: "The basic comparison I would like to make is the handling capability at extremely high airspeeds within our maneuverable range of ZO,000 down to 5,000 feet. With the airspeeds that we are capable of generating and the airspeeds that they are limited to as far as the handling characteristics of the aircraft, puts us in such an extremely good advantage that there is no comparison.
"Neither aircraft can, approaching our max airspeed, stay with the F-lOS. If we want to disengage, we can disengage. As you get into higher altitudes the F-05, with its high wing loading compared to the MIG-17 and MIG-21, cannot turn with then. We can still put the nose down and disengage."
The MiG-21 had an advantage over the F-105 and, to a lesser degree, the F-4 for combat survivability. A simple and unsophisticated hydraulic system design insures minimum damage to the MIG control system. In addition to this, a bladder type fuel tank, vented to the atmosphere, decreases effectiveness of an incendiary round or other hit. The horizontal stabilizer of this aircraft is the only flight-system requiring hydraulic boost for flight, although other control surfaces are boosted. Armor plate, lacking in US aircraft, affords considerable safety to the MiG-21 pilot.
The Soviets considered GCI essential to the use of the MIG-21 for effective attack. Because of forward visual acquisition limitations of the canopy, the aircraft is vectored to about a 20-degree angle from the rear of the target.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|