The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 (Russian: Микоян и Гуревич МиГ-21) (NATO reporting name “Fishbed”) is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft, designed and built by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. More than 30 countries of the world have flown the MiG-21, and it still serves many nations a half-century after its first flight. Its Mach 2 capability exceeds the top speed of many later modern fighter types. Estimates are that more than 10,000 MiG-21s were built, more than any other supersonic jet aircraft
A total of 10158 (some sources say 10645) were built in the USSR. They were produced in three factories, in the GAZ 30 in Moscow (also known as Znamiya Truda), in GAZ 21 in Gorki (Nishni Novgorod) and in GAZ 31 in Tbilisi. The type of “MiG” manufactured differed. Gorki built single-seaters for the Soviet forces. Moscow built single-seaters for export. And Tbilisi manufactured the twin-seaters both for export and for the USSR. However there are exceptions. The MiG-21R and MiG-21bis for export and for the USSR were built in Gorki, 17 single-seaters were bulit in Tbilisi (probably MiG-21F), the MiG-21MF was first built in Moscow and then Gorki, and the MiG-21U was built in Moscow as well as in Tbilisi. The count for each factory is:
* 5278(or 5765) in Gorki
* 3203 in Moscow
* And 1677 in Tbilisi
MiG-21PFM, Polish Air Force, markings of 10th Fighter Regt.
MiG-21PFM, Polish Air Force, markings of 10th Fighter Regt.
The MiG-21 initially achieved renown in the Vietnam War, during which it saw frequent action. It was one of the most advanced aircraft at the time; however, many North Vietnamese aces preferred flying the MiG-17, since the high wing loading on the MiG-21 made it less maneuverable than the MiG-17. Although the MiG-21 lacked the long-range radar, missiles, and heavy bombing payload of its contemporary multimission U.S. fighters, it proved a challenging adversary in the hands of experienced pilots especially when used in high speed hit and run attacks under GCI control. MiG-21 intercepts of F-105 strike groups became so effective in downing US aircraft or forcing them to jettison their bombloads by December 1966 that the USAF resolved to do something about it and launched Operation Bolo in January 1967 to draw the MiG-21s into an aerial engagement. By masquerading as a F-105 strike group, F-4 Phantoms led by Colonel Robin Olds lured the MiG-21s up through an overcast and claimed 7 of them shot down.
By the bombing halt in Operation Rolling Thunder in 1968, poor air-to-air combat loss-exchange ratios against smaller, more agile enemy MiGs during the early part of the Vietnam War eventually led the Americans to establish dissimilar air combat training programs such as “Top Gun”, which employed subsonic A-4 Skyhawk and F-5 Tiger II aircraft to mimic the performance of more maneuverable opponents like the MiG-21.
A VPAF MiG-21MF flown by Phạm Tuân over Hanoi, North Vietnam on December 26, 1972 was apparently responsible for the only claimed combat kill of a (U.S. Air Force) B-52 Stratofortress in history. The B-52 had been circling above Hanoi during Operation Linebacker II. During that operation, two MiG-21s were shot down by B-52Ds, the last air-to-air victories for American aerial gunners. Over the course of the Vietnam War, between April 26 1965, and January 8, 1973, USAF F-4s and A-4s downed 68 MiG-21s.
In October 1987, a North Vietnamese MiG-21 on a reconnaissance mission near the Sino-Vietnamese border was shot down by Chinese air defense forces with HQ-2 SAM. The pilot survived and was captured.
 Middle East
The MiG-21 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 MiG-21 first faced Israeli Mirage IIICs on April 7th, 1967 when six Syrian MiG-21’s were shot down by the Israeli Mirages. The MiG-21 would face F-4 Phantom IIs and A-4 Skyhawks later in the 1970s, but was later outclassed by the more modern F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, which were acquired by Israel beginning in the 1980s. The MiG-21 was also used in the early stages of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December, 1979.
Interestingly, Egypt would eventually be shipped some American Sidewinder missiles, and these were fitted to their MiG-21s and successfully used in combat against Libyian MiG-23s during the brief 1977 war.
In 1991, two MiG-21s were downed by F/A-18 Hornets from USS Saratoga during Desert Storm.
The Indian Air Force has been one of the largest users of the MiG-21 since its initial employment of the plane in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 with good results. That war also witnessed the first supersonic air combat in the subcontinent when an Indian MiG-21 shot down a PAF F-104 Starfighter. The MiGs played an important role in air combat, ensuring an aerial superiority that ultimately resulted in Pakistan’s defeat in just a fortnight. It was also used as late as 1999 in the Kargil War, with mixed results. The MiG-21’s last known kill took place in 1999 during the Atlantique Incident when two MiG-21 aircraft of the Indian Air Force shot down a Breguet Atlantique reconnaissance aircraft of the Pakistani Navy, loitering over Indian airspace. Upgraded MiG-21 ‘Bison’ aircraft reportedly performed well against F-15 and F-16s of the USAF during Indo-US joint air exercises, surprising American pilots with its capabilities.
During 1991-1995, army of Yugoslavia and Serb forces used its MiG-21 Ms (about a hundred in total compromising 1/3rd of the entire air force) during the Slovenian War, Croatian War of Independence and the Bosnian War and again during the 1999 Kosovo War and NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Except during the NATO intervention, the aircraft had no air opposition and was mainly used in a ground-attack role. During the NATO intervention, a substantial number of them was destroyed on the ground. In 1993. Croatia purchased about 25 MiG-21 in a violation of arms embargo and used them alongside the (by then) sole survivor of the three defectors from JNA in Operation Storm for ground attack missions with a few being lost.
During the Cold War MiG-21s were supplied to many sub-Saharan African nations by the Soviets. Their most notable use in combat occurred during the Angolan Civil War in the hands of the People’s Air and Air Defence Force of Angola. Cuban Air Force pilots also flew MiG-21s over Angola during the War. Both Angolan and Cuban MiG-21s often had encounters with and downed South African Air Force Mirages. In 2006, at least two MiG-21s were used to bomb the Somalian airbases loyal during Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia.
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Design and development
On April 20 1951, OKB-155 was given the order to develop the MiG-17 into a new fighter called “I-340”, which was to be powered by two Mikulin AM-5 non-afterburning jet engines (a scaled-down version of the Mikulin AM-3) with 4,410 lbf (19.6 kN) of thrust. The I-340 was supposed to attain 725 mph (1,160 km/h; Mach 0.97) at 6,560 ft (2,000 m), 675 mph (1,080 km/h; Mach 1.0) at 33,000 ft (10,000 m), climb to 33,000 ft (10,000 m) in 2.9 minutes, and have a service ceiling of no less than 55,000 ft (17,500 m). The new fighter, internally designated “SM-1”, was designed around the “SI-02” airframe (a MiG-17 prototype) modified to accept two engines in a side-by-side arrangement. The aircraft was completed in March 1952. The aircraft suffered from poor cockpit pressurization and the engines proved temperamental with frequent flameouts and surges with rapid throttle movements. The engines were upgraded to the AM-5A standard with 4,740 lbf (21.1 kN) of thrust each, which exceeded the power output of the Klimov VK-1F in afterburner while providing better fuel economy. The SM-1 was barely supersonic, reaching 745 mph (1,193 km/h) at 16,400 ft (5,000 m) — Mach 1.03. This performance was deemed insufficient for the new supersonic fighter and an afterburning version of the engine, the AM-5F, was proposed. While not implemented, the AM-5F served as the basis for the Tumansky RD-9 which powered production aircraft. Further development of the twin-engine concept resulted in a government request for the “I-360”, internally designated “SM-2”, which was also powered by the AM-5F engines, but featured a highly swept wing.
On August 15 1953, the Mikoyan-Gurevich OKB was given a new order to create a frontline fighter. The OKB was asked to create two designs — a single-engined version with the Klimov VK-7 and a twin-engine version with Mikulin AM-9Fs. The twin-engine fighter, internally designated “SM-9” — but also assigned the production name MiG-19 — was based on the earlier SM-2 prototype. The first airframe, “SM-9/1” flew on January 5 1954. The afterburner did not light in the first flight, but in the second flight the aircraft reached Mach 1.25 at 26,400 ft (8,050 m). This was improved to Mach 1.44 in subsequent flights. Based on this promising performance, the MiG-19 was ordered into production on February 17 1954, even though government acceptance trials did not start until September of that year. The first production aircraft rolled off the assembly line in March of 1955.
Initial enthusiasm for the aircraft was dampened by several problems. The most alarming of these was the danger of a mid-air explosion due to overheating of the fuselage fuel tanks located between the engines. Deployment of airbrakes at high speeds caused a high-g pitch-up. Elevators lacked authority at supersonic speeds. The high landing speed of 145 mph (230 km/h) (compared to 100 mph (160 km/h) in the MiG-15), combined with absence of a two-seat trainer version, slowed pilot transition to the type. Handling problems were addressed with the second prototype, “SM-9/2”, which added a third ventral airbrake and introduced all-moving tailplanes with a damper to prevent pilot-induced oscillations at subsonic speeds. It flew on September 16 1954, and entered production as the MiG-19S.
A total of approximately 8,500 MiG-19s were produced, mainly in the USSR, but also in the People’s Republic of China as the Shenyang J-6 and in Czechoslovakia as the Avia S-105. The aircraft saw service with a number of other national air forces, including those of Cuba, North Vietnam, Egypt, Pakistan, and North Korea. The aircraft saw combat during the Vietnam War, the 1967 Six Day War, and the 1971 Bangladesh War.
All Soviet-built MiG-19 variants are single-seaters only. Although the Chinese developed the JJ-6 trainer version of the Shenyang J-6, the Soviets believed that the MiG-19’s handling was easy enough that no special conversion trainer was needed (other than the MiG-15UTI).
In the USSR, the MiG-19 was superseded by the MiG-21. The Shenyang J-6 remained a staple of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force, and has also been developed into the Nanchang Q-5 (NATO reporting name “Fantan”) attack aircraft. Despite its age, the MiG-19 and its descendants exhibit good handling characteristics at low altitude and a surprisingly high rate of climb, and their heavy cannon armament — a one-second burst from 3x 30 mm NR-30 cannons had a projectile mass of 40 lb (18 kg) — makes them formidable adversaries in close combat.
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Design and development
The MiG-17 design was generally based on a previously successful Mikoyan and Gurevich fighter, the MiG-15. The major novelty was its introduction of a swept wing with a “compound sweep” configuration: a 45° angle near the fuselage, and a 42° angle for the outboard part of the wings. Other easily visible differences to its predecessor were the three wing-fences on each wing, instead of the MiG-15’s two, and the addition of a ventral fin. The MiG-17 shared the same Klimov VK-1 engine and the rest of its construction was similar. The first prototype, designated “SI” by the construction bureau, was flown on the 14 January 1950, piloted by Ivan Ivashchenko.
The second prototype variant, “SP-2”, was an interceptor equipped with a radar. Despite the SI prototype’s crash on 17 March 1950, tests of another prototype “SI-2” and experimental series aircraft “SI-02” and “SI-01” in 1951, were generally successful, and on 1 September 1951 the aircraft was accepted for production. It was estimated that with the same engine as the MiG-15’s, the MiG-17’s maximum speed is higher by 40-50 km/h, and the fighter has greater manoeuvrability at high altitude.
Serial production started in August 1951. During production, the aircraft was improved and modified several times. The basic MiG-17 was a general-purpose day fighter, armed with three cannons and considered to be most effective in action against enemy aircraft. It could also act as a fighter-bomber, but its bombload was considered light relative to other aircraft of the time, and it usually carried additional fuel tanks instead of bombs.
Soon a number of MiG-17P all-weather fighters were produced with the Izumrud radar and front air intake modifications. In the spring of 1953 the MiG-17F day fighter entered production. Fitted with the VK-1F engine with an afterburner, which improved its performance, it became the most popular variant of the MiG-17. The next mass-produced variant with afterburner and radar was the MiG-17PF. In 1956 a small series (47 aircraft) was converted to the MiG-17PM standard (also known as PFU) with four first-generation Kaliningrad K-5 (NATO reporting name AA-1 ‘Alkali’) air-to-air missiles. A small series of MiG-17R reconnaissance aircraft were built with VK-1F engine (after first being tested with the VK-5F engine).
Several thousand MiG-17s were built in the USSR by 1958.
Day-fighter variants (MiG-17, MiG-17F) were armed with two NR-23 23 mm cannons (80 rounds each) and one N-37 37 mm cannon (40 rounds), which were mounted on a common bed under the central air intake. The gun bed could be easily wound down for maintenance. On radar-equipped variants (MiG-17P, MiG-17PF), the N-37 37 mm cannon was replaced with were a third NR-23 23 mm cannon (all carrying 100 rounds) to compensate for the weight aft of the radar. All variants could carry 100 kg bombs on two underwing pylons and some could carry 250 kg bombs; however, these pylons were usually used for 400 l fuel tanks. The MiG-17R was armed with two 23 mm cannons.
The only variant with air-to-air missiles was the MiG-17PM (or MiG-17PFU), which could carry four K-5 (NATO: AA-1 ‘Alkali’). It had no cannons. Some countries occasionally modified their MiG-17s to carry unguided rockets or bombs on additional pylons.
The MiG-17P was equipped with the Izumrud-1 (RP-1) radar, while the MiG-17PF was initially fitted with the RP-1 which was later replaced with the Izumrud-5 (RP-5) radar. The MiG-17PM was also equipped with a radar, used to aim its missiles. Other variants had no radar.
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