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Old 25th July 2009, 23:10   #1
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Default Single Engine Fighter Review: the MiG 21

If Mohammed won't go to the mountain, then the mountain must go to Mohammed. Here is a review of my favourite machine - the MiG-21. Disclaimer - the following is a readable summary of what I have picked up from open sources – the internet.

What’s in a name?
In the erstwhile Soviet Union, aircraft were named after their design bureaus – thus MiG stands for Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich – the two persons who founded the design bureau. They also have the tradition of giving fighters odd numbers – hence 21. The earlier MiGs numbers were numbered 15, 17, 19 and later the 23, 25,27 and 29. The IAF has/had all versions since the 21. The PAF has/had Chinese versions of the MiG -19 and 21. The West have been giving their fighters a standard nomenclature of the letter F followed by the series. Hence the F-16 and so on. In keeping with that tradition they have named the Soviet fighter similarly i.e starting with the letter F. Hence the NATO designation of Fishbed for the MiG-21 series of aircraft. We have of course given the MiG-21 bis the name of Vikram. Incidentally the suffix is an abbreviation for a Russian word which means ‘final version’. As it turns out it wasn’t!

Achievements
The MiG-21 has the distinction of holding a number of modern aviation records: it is the most produced supersonic jet aircraft in aviation history, the most produced combat aircraft since the Korean War, and it had the longest production run of a combat aircraft -1959 to 1985 over all variants. Just the Soviet union had produced over 10,000 aircraft! We would have produced upward of 200 ourselves. It set a new world speed record way back in 1960, reaching a top speed of 2499km/h. In 1961,it went on to set a new altitude record at 34,714 m (113,891 ft), breaking the previous record set by the US built F-104 Starfighter by 2899 m (9511 ft). Incidentally, both these aircraft faced each other in the 1971 Indo-Pak conflict. The MiG has been flown by over 50 Air Forces and is still flying in many - a half-century after its maiden flight!

Design
The MiG-21 was designed as a single engine, supersonic interceptor – mainly to bring down the likes of the high flying US spy plane – the U-2. Essentially the idea was to keep the aircraft small, clean (low drag) and light weight. This resulted in a very low endurance/range (or radius of action) unless you added external drop tanks. With a delta wing, and a high thrust to weight ratio, it has an excellent rate of climb of 235 m/s (46,250 ft/min). The same aerodynamic features that enabled this however put it at a disadvantage when it came to any form of turning combat since this led to a rapid loss of speed.

IAF Service
The Indian Air Force has been one of the largest users of the MiG-21 outside the Soviet Union. It saw its initial deployment in the Indo-Pak conflict of 1965 and later the Indo-Pak conflict of 1971. That war witnessed the first supersonic air combat in the subcontinent when an Indian MiG-21 shot down a PAF F-104 Starfighter with its GSh-23 twin barrelled 23mm cannon. The MiG- 21 also shot down 3 more F-104 Starfighters & one MIG-19 before the war ended. It should be remembered that at that time the MiG was in a minority as compared to other fighters in the IAFss inventory. It was also used as late as 1999 in the Kargil War. The MiG-21's last known kill took place in 1999 during the Atlantique incident when two MiG-21 aircraft of the IAF intercepted and shot down a Breguet Atlantique reconnaissance aircraft of the Pakistani Navy with R-60MK (AA-8 Aphid), which was flying into Indian air space.

Vital Statistics
Length: 15.0 m (49 ft 2.5 in)
Wingspan: 7.154 m (23 ft 5.66 in)
Height: 4.125 m (13 ft 6.41 in)
Empty weight: 5,339 kg (11,770 lb)
Gross weight: 8,725 kg (19,235 lb)
Thrust: 40.21 kN (9,040 lbf) dry, 69.62 kN (15,650 lbf) with afterburner
Maximum speed: 2,350 km/h (1,468 mph)
Maximum speed: Mach 2.2
Range: (internal fuel) 1,210 km (751 miles)
Service ceiling: 17,800 m (58,400 ft)

Armament
1x internal 23 mm GSh-23 cannon, plus
2x K-13A (R-3R) or 4x Molniya R-60 AAM or
2x 500 kg (1,102 lbs) of bombs

Here are some of my favourite pics from the net.

The grey one is a typical MiG-21 bis. In fact the colour is often referred to as bis-grey. All the red stuff are blankings and covers to be removed before flight.

The next picture is a MiG-21M. It looks like a landing on a desert base by the background of dunes. All landings as are the take-offs are purely manual - constraints of space and weight imply keeping out luxuries like the Instrument Landing System.

The one with Mach diamonds in the exhaust is of course a MiG take-off. The diamonds are visible only in certain atmospheric conditions. The sound, as someone mentioned in a different thread, is deafening. Not restricted by noise monitoring stations out there in the desert!

The pair of MiGs are getting ready for a formation take-off - this is generally the quickest way to get two aircraft airborne for an intercept. A typical 'scramble' would be a pair take-off followed by the intercept of an intruder within a few minutes.

The next picture is a very common 3-view diagram of the MiG. Pretty much self-explanatory. Hardly visible from the front and presents a very small radar cross-section.

And at the last are two shots of the cockpit. The second of the two pics is a simulation. As you can see, it is pretty cramped..no glass cockpit this! None of the luxuries of its civilian counterpart - no autopilot, no auto-throttle!

And there you have it... a very small account of a very great aircraft!
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Old 26th July 2009, 03:09   #2
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Thanks Jimmy

for this wonderful review of the backbone of IAF and some of the facts specially the acheivements are superb and confidence inspiring.

Please keep the information coming and we all would be interested in knowing more about the comparison or Mig-21 to other fighter planes in IAF like Mirage and Sukhoi

thanks
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Old 26th July 2009, 06:48   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jimmy_iaf View Post
Here is a review of my favourite machine - the MiG-21. Disclaimer - the following is a readable summary of what I have picked up from open sources – the internet.


And at the last are two shots of the cockpit. The second of the two pics is a simulation. As you can see, it is pretty cramped..no glass cockpit this! None of the luxuries of its civilian counterpart - no autopilot, no auto-throttle!
Why would you do that, when you have immense personal experience - unless by referring to that you would violate the Official Secrets Act, or something to that effect. Which is probably the reason, now that I think of it.
And the last part makes it sound like the equivalent of the Bullet - just as old in design, unreliable in unskilled hands, easy to work on, and like Israelis jazzing up a Russian design and putting electronics on to a rugged frame, the Austrians have jazzed up this old Brit design. And like the Bullet, it goes on and on....
And I also suspect, like the Bullet, each individual machine takes on its own individual quirks in time, so pilots probably would prefer to not switch machines. And like in using a Bullet, you better be on good terms with the mechanic, though in this case the possible consequences of not doing so could be fatal. No disrespect intended to the IAFs service arm. And like the Bullet still remains the mount of choice for bike riders going to Ladakh, I am guessing there is some equivalent of that in the IAF.
Do the Migs ever go to the US Red Flag exercises or is it just the Sukhois that do that? On the other hand, the USAF has participated in exercises here. Those outcomes classified too?

Last edited by Sawyer : 26th July 2009 at 06:51.
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Old 26th July 2009, 09:25   #4
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From what I have read, this plane is one that is fast in most of the things. It moves fast, real fast, if in certain conditions it slows, it slows fast. And it lands fast too, the landing speed is quite high that is what I have read, around 300 kmph.

The best part is that this plane in the hands of a skilled pilot can wreck havoc for others. The advanced planes are better for those who are not much experienced with this older fighter. But this is backbone of IAF.

IIRC, in around 80's there was some LCA ( Light Combact Aircraft ) project. This project was not giving good output, so IAF forced Indian government to get license for producing Mig 21. Mig 12 is with us from there on. In fact this plane is quite good, so the LCA project success doesnt matter to India it looks like.

Can you please share more information on :
1) Comparison of Mig 21 with other Mig and newer planes like Sukhoi and Mirage ?
2) Are quality spare parts for Mig 21 a real issue ?
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Old 26th July 2009, 12:20   #5
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Jimmy, That is quite a comprehensive info for laymen like me.

As already stated, I would like to know the comparison if possible between Mig 21 and the others like 23, 27 and 29
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Old 26th July 2009, 13:39   #6
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Jimmy, comprehensive and readable as it can be. A hello from a Seaking operator.
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Old 26th July 2009, 14:08   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aaggoswami View Post
IIRC, in around 80's there was some LCA ( Light Combact Aircraft ) project. This project was not giving good output, so IAF forced Indian government to get license for producing Mig 21.
Not true. License production in domestic factories was always part of every military deal signed by Indira Gandhi's India. Every variant of the Mig's, Sukhoi's or Mirages in Indian service has been license produced with varying and increasing degrees of indigenous components in factories in Kanpur, Nashik and Bangalore.

The LCA is the design that was/is supposed to replace the Mig-21.
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Old 26th July 2009, 14:32   #8
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Nice review there Jimmy...

+1 to Cougar.. The LCA project was launched to replace the Mig 21's as the backbone of IAF's fighter inventory and the project has been delayed due to major issues with the Kaveri engine.. Read somewhere that HAL & DRDO are talking to GE & Eurojet for more powerful engines..
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Old 26th July 2009, 15:08   #9
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Default Comparisons

Comparisons
It seems like I was doing the same thing when I was sixteen – going through aviation books like ‘Janes All the Worlds Aircraft’ and ‘Observers Book of Aircraft’ by William Green – ending up making comparisons between various fighter aircraft. Looks like life has come full circle and I am making more comparisons – only this time I have the access to the internet.

An observation to start with – it is not the machine but the man behind it that counts. You might have the greatest weapon in the world at your disposal but if you use it foolishly, all will still be lost. It is not military force alone, but the political will behind it that matters. You may have the best equipped and the most modern of armed forces, but if you employ them incorrectly, you will still lose the battle. All comparisons must therefore be seen in the light of the above.

Just as a mental exercise – let us compare all our fighters with that of our potential adversaries. What would we get? We would get numbers. Quantitative numbers – so many F 16s and these many MiG-29s and so on. We would also get qualitative numbers – this Mach No and that rate of turn. But perhaps we need to consider more inputs – how hard is it to maintain and how fast can it be turned around and reused, how much battle damage can it sustain? For that matter, when it comes to usage, even air forces cannot be viewed in isolation. You have to contend with the army and the navy as well. What I am getting at is – look beyond these small things and have a larger perspective. All these figures by themselves, to the layman wouldn’t make sense. The end result would be the same – we hear what we want to hear – and that is, our equipment is the best, our training is the best.

But since you want figures, here goes:

(I can't seem to fit a table here, so I've made that into a pic and even that won't insert here - so please refer pic at the bottom)

What are the implications of these figures?
The bigger or heavier the aircraft is, the more weapons it can carry for greater distances. Two engines would imply redundancy in case of a failure/battle damage. Higher Thrust/Weight ratio would imply better performance – be it for merely taking off or for better dog fighting capability. A high rate of climb, service ceiling and maximum mach number would be important in the role of an interceptor. The kind of engines and their fuel efficiency would imply greater range of employment and would be useful in both roles – that of an interceptor for endurance and that of a strike aircraft for a greater radius of action. Finally the weapons – I haven’t included them here because it would be difficult to compare the large variety of armament stores now available – both from the west and the east.
A final word - those of you who really love flying should join the Air Force - not the Navy or the Army and definitely not civil flying. As an old instructor of mine once said, “If you love your job, you won’t need to work a single day of your life!” The most exciting phase of civil flying is the take off/landing. In the Air Force, it is what you do in between that counts!
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Single Engine Fighter Review: the MiG 21-qq.jpg  

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Old 26th July 2009, 15:22   #10
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Ah yes the MiG 21. NATO callsign 'Fishbed'. IAF callsign 'Deathbed' or 'Flying Coffin'. One of the most unforgiving fighters to fly and yet it continues to constitute the back bone of our aerial force. Not to mention the technical issues in flying such old airframes.
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Old 26th July 2009, 15:54   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aaggoswami View Post
IIRC, in around 80's there was some LCA ( Light Combact Aircraft ) project. This project was not giving good output, so IAF forced Indian government to get license for producing Mig 21. Mig 12 is with us from there on. In fact this plane is quite good, so the LCA project success doesnt matter to India it looks like. Can you please share more information on : 1) Comparison of Mig 21 with other Mig and newer planes like Sukhoi and Mirage ? 2) Are quality spare parts for Mig 21 a real issue ?
The LCA project has been with us a for a long time - as you say early 80s. What must be remembered is that it is only a handful of countries who have the wherewithal to make fighter aircraft. Check it out – US, Russia (Soviet Union), China, the EU (most of their aviation industry is collaborative these days). In small numbers – Israel, SA, Japan, Sweden – but then they have just one type to boast off. India made one indigenous attempt way back in the 60s with the HF 24. That was a great airframe but we failed to procure an engine to match and had to make do with two Gnat/Ajeet Orpheus engines – grossly underpowered! It is now almost half a century – to revive an industry that has made major changes during this period, takes a lot of inputs – mainly financial, and partly technological. It didn’t help that since the progress was slow, the requirements projected by the AF too kept escalating, in keeping with the times. This of course made matters worse! End result is we have yet to see the LCA in squadron service. I guess it has always been looked upon as a replacement – first for the older MiGs, the Gnats, Ajeets and now everything! Ok – mainly MiGs.

Regarding spare parts: these have been a problem since the break up of the Soviet Union. The various factories that manufacture parts were located all over the former USSR. Once they split up, all negotiations had to be reworked individually – and of course they took to free market with great gusto – net result, up went the prices, down went quality!

Quote:
Originally Posted by MileCruncher View Post
Jimmy, That is quite a comprehensive info for laymen like me. As already stated, I would like to know the comparison if possible between Mig 21 and the others like 23, 27 and 29
Ahhh..I just posted a reply which should surface after due moderation. I could have tacked on the Mig 23/27 too. To keep it short, these are not interceptors but come under the category of long range strike aircraft. They are comparable with the likes of the Jaguar. The high point of these aircraft have been it’s swing wing or variable geometry wings as it is formally called. That makes them efficient over a larger speed range. They were the most visible VG aircraft - there have been others of course like the F 111, F 14, B 1 Tornado, couple of Sukhois and Tupolevs - but these have been the most popular.

Quote:
Originally Posted by COUGAR View Post
Not true. License production in domestic factories was always part of every military deal signed by Indira Gandhi's India. Every variant of the Mig's, Sukhoi's or Mirages in Indian service has been license produced with varying and increasing degrees of indigenous components in factories in Kanpur, Nashik and Bangalore. The LCA is the design that was/is supposed to replace the Mig-21.
Essentially, only the aircraft contracted for in large numbers would be candidates for licensed production. It doesn’t make sense to set up an assembly line for a small production run – might as well buy it off the shelf. Better examples of licensed production would be the Mig 21, Ajeet and Jaguar lines.
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Old 26th July 2009, 16:14   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mayjay View Post
Ah yes the MiG 21. NATO callsign 'Fishbed'. IAF callsign 'Deathbed' or 'Flying Coffin'. One of the most unforgiving fighters to fly and yet it continues to constitute the back bone of our aerial force. Not to mention the technical issues in flying such old airframes.
That sounds like a knowledgeable opening line! Is that from personal/first hand experience or is it just hearsay? If it is gleaned from the mass media, I would take it with a large lump of salt! Or is it just the 'in thing' to say when one hears of the MiG 21?
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Old 26th July 2009, 16:57   #13
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Sir,

Welcome to TBHP. I'm in awe of our country's fighter pilots - you guys rock!
Any chance we can get a review of a MIG-25?
Also please write on flying impressions, interesting incidents etc.

Thanks!
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Old 26th July 2009, 17:40   #14
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@ Jimmy: You just made my day. Not only were your posts very informative, it got me to start again on my interest on Fighter Aircrafts.The service ceilings on the present day aircrafts especially the F-22 Raptors, Su-27/35 are really mindboggling. Somewhere while perusing the internet also got to Concorde and Tu-144 (am getting amazed by what Soviets did during their days).

I have a little interest in ACM have been awed by Pugachev's Cobra and Kulbit always. Would love if you could throw some light on various maneuvers and what are possible and practiced on IAF MiG 29/Su30MKI.

Cheers
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Old 26th July 2009, 17:51   #15
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Nice review, did you fly one of these yourself?

Just a few corrections -- the MiG-21 was not a dedicated interceptor. It was multi-role, aerial combat as well as interception. No chance it was built to take on the U-2, because it had its maiden flight BEFORE the U-2. The MiG-25 Foxbat, on the other hand, was built with the sole purpose of intercepting the U-2.

Also, not all Western fighter aircraft have the F prefix. It is only for operational USAF fighter planes. RAF/European aircraft have different nomenclatures. F replaced the WWII P, which stood for Pursuit. Like the P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang.
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