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MiG-21

Fighter aircraft

MiG-21

The MiG-21 holds the record for for the most-produced jet aircraft

 
 
MiG-21bis
Country of origin Soviet Union
Entered service 1972
Crew 1 men
Dimensions and weight
Length 15.76 m
Wing span 7.15 m
Height 4.1 m
Weight (empty) 5.46 t
Weight (maximum take off) 10.1 t
Engines and performance
Engines 1 x R-25-300 turbojet
Traction (dry / with afterburning) 40.2 / 67.2 kN
Maximum speed 2 230 km/h
Cruising speed 1 000 km/h
Service ceiling 19 km
Range 1 225 km
Range (with external fuel tanks) 1 470 km
Combat radius ~ 370 km
Armament
Cannon 1 x 23 mm GSh-23L (200 rounds)
Missiles K-13, K-13M, R-60, R-60M air-to-air missiles, Kh-66 air-to-surface missiles
Bombs various bombs, including general-purpose, fragmentation, chemical and cluster with a maximum weight of up to 1 000 kg
Other pods with 57 mm or 240 mm unguided rockets

 

   The most widely produced supersonic jet fighter of all time, the MiG-21 (Western designation: Fishbed) is an incredibly prolific aircraft. Dated but nimble, it has allowed skilled pilots in past decades to defeat more advanced aircraft. However, its days appear to be numbered as the majority of air forces switch to newer fighters.

   The Mikoyan design bureau began development of the MiG-21 in the 1950s, in order to replace the crash-prone MiG-19s. Its first flight was in 1956. Production began in 1959, and it entered service soon after. Although no longer in production, after over 50 years (counting Chinese production), more than 10 000 units were produced, serving in 50 countries. It holds the record for the most-produced jet aircraft. The MiG-21 continues to serve in around 20 countries to this very day.

   The MiG-21 was nothing radical—it was a continuation of the existing MiGs (the 17 and the 19). Compared to its predecessor, MiG-19, the Fishbed’s main design difference is its triangular delta wings (as opposed to the swept wings on the MiG-19). Its primary improvements were its speed, better design, and greater capacity for armament. The MiG-21 was relatively simple in design and technology. This allowed to produce these aircraft in large numbers.

   The MiG-21 could carry a fair amount of armament. Located to the left of the cockpit, the twin-barreled GSh-23 23 millimeter cannon was standard with 420 rounds carried. Optional were a variety of guided air-to-air missiles (the K-13, K-13M, and R-60, for later models) and unguided bombs or rockets. A total of 2 000 kilograms of ordinance could be carried.

   The MiG-21 was highly maneuverable for its time, although even this feature is now outdated compared to fly-by-wire aircraft. In its day (the 60s and 70s), it posed a considerable threat in the hands of a good pilot to more modern western aircraft such as the F-4. One U.S. Air Force pilot said, “Perhaps the most important lesson on fighting the MiG-21 was that it was very maneuverable and that it was better to take care of it before you got into a tussle with it”.

   In its many years of service, the MiG-21 has generated an excellent combat record, for the most part. Against Pakistani F-86s, F-104s, and MiG-19s it performed respectably, taking down several while suffering a few losses itself. Against well-trained Israeli pilots and their Mirage IIIs and F-4s, the MiG-21 and its mediocre pilots performed poorly with many shot down. In Vietnam, the MiG-21 showed its true capabilities, shooting down dozens of American F-4s or F-105s, mostly in close-range dogfights, where its maneuverability and lower speed gave it the edge. Overall, the MiG-21 has proved a highly successful fighter with a low price but much agility.

   After over fifty years of service, the MiG-21 appears to still be going strong, although it is gradually leaving the scene of active service. Despite the advance of newer Russian fighters like the MiG-23 or the still more advanced MiG-29, the Fishbed has yet to be entirely ousted. Many low-budget countries continue to use it, for lack of something better. China and some other countries retain upgraded versions of this fighter aircraft.

 

Variants

 

   MiG-21F is the original model. Letter "F" in the designation stands for "Frontline". It was armed with two 30 mm cannons and unguided rockets. It had no radar and carried no missiles. This aircraft was powered by an R-11F-300 turbojet engine. It was adopted in 1959 and produced until 1960. Only 83 of these aircraft were built until production switched to improved models.

   MiG-21F-13: improved model. Armament of one cannon and two K-13 (R-3S) air-to-air missiles. Though it still had no radar. This aircraft was fitted with improved R-11F2-300 turbojet engine. Deletion of one of the two cannons allowed to increase fuel supplies. The type was adopted in 1960 and was produced between 1960 and 1965.

   MiG-21FL: second-generator interceptor variant with lesser radar and power plant. Intended for export to India. Deliveries to India commenced in 1964. It was produced in Soviet Union between 1964 and 1968. The type was also license-produced in India. Between 1965 and 1971, during India-Pakistan conflicts, these Indian fighters scored destroyed a number of Pakistani fighters. However due to an excessive number of accidents the MiG-21FL was called as a "widow maker" or "flying coffin". Between 1971 and 2012 a total of 482 MiG aircraft reportedly crashed in India. The type was completely retired from the Indian air force in 2013. Currently India has the 4th world's largest air force after the Unites States, Russia and China.

   MiG-21PF: all-weather version with improved radar and engine. Made for Warsaw Pact nations.

   MiG-21U: two-seat trainer.

   MiG-21R: reconnaissance model with various sensors and a different engine.

   MiG-21P: variant with a forward-opening single-piece canopy.

   MiG-21P-13: improved version lacking the cannon.

   MiG-21PFS: interceptor model with a two-piece canopy, Rocket Assisted Take-Off (RATO) capability, better engine, blown flaps, and improved radar.

   MiG-21PFM: a MiG-21PF with upgraded radar and avionics.

   MiG-21R (Western designation Fighbed-H): reconnaissance model that is combat capable. The first production unit was rolled out in 1966. Production continued until 1971. For reconnaissance missions it carried a photo intelligence pod. There were different pods for day and night operation. There was also a general-purpose electronic intelligence pod and another pod housing a TV system. The MiG-21R was one of the first Soviet reconnaissance aircraft fitted with electronic intelligence equipment. Early production units had R11F2S-300 turbojet, which was replaced on later production machines by R13-300 powerplant. In the air-to-air role the MiG-21R could carry two RS-2US or R-3S air-to-air missiles. In the strike role it could be loaded with rocket pods with 57 mm or 240 mm unguided rockets, or 500 kg free fall bombs.

   MiG-21S: multi-role variant with cannon pod, more fuel capacity, four hard points, and RP-22 radar. Delivered exclusively to the Soviet Air Force.

   MiG-21M: Indian-produced export version of the MiG-21S.

   MiG-21N: version of the MiG-21S that can carry the RN-25 nuclear weapon.

   MiG-21SM: a third-generation model that introduces the upgraded R-13-300 engine.

   MiG-21MF (Western designation Fishbed-J): export model of the MiG-21SM with the R-13-300 engine, better radar, and air-to-air missile-capable pylons.

   MiG-21SMT: improvements include more fuel capacity and electronic-countermeasures capability. It can be easily recognized due to its larger spine.

   MiG-21ST: a rebuilt version of the unpopular MiG-21SMT with smaller saddle tanks.

   MiG-21L: model with better engine, radar, and design.

   MiG-21US: two-seat trainer.

   MiG-21bis (Western designation Fishbed L): much improved multi-role fighter with Turmansky R-25-300 turbojet, improved radar, R-60 (AA-8) missiles, and other upgrades. It was adopted in 1972 and produced since 1972 until 1985. It was the last newly-built version of the MiG-21. A total of 2 013 of these aircraft were built. The type was widely exported.

   MiG-21bis-D: modernized MiG-21bis for the Croatian Air Force. Upgraded in 2003.

   MiG-21-93: a modernization standard for units equipped with Heads-Up-Display (HUD) and better radar, avionics, and flight control.

   MiG-21-2000: Israeli export version.

   MiG-21 LanceR: modernized Romanian versions with better radar and LCD displays. LanceR-A is a ground attack model, LanceR-B is a two-seat trainer, and LanceR-C is a dedicated interceptor. These aircraft are compatible with a range of Israeli supplied missiles and bombs. These include Python 3 air-to-air missiles, Griffin and Lizard laser-guided bombs. The MiG-21 LanceR can also fire French Magic 2 short-range air-to-air missiles.

   MiG-21 “Bison”: upgraded model for export with new radar.

   MiG-21-97: modernization standard with better engines with correspondingly improved performance.

  Chengdu J-7 is a Chinese license-produced version of the MiG-21. It has a number of its own variants. Updated versions of the J-7 were produced until 2013. This fighter aircraft is still in service with a number of countries.

 

The Tiger

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