Country of origin
Dimensions and weight
Weight (maximum take off)
Engines and performance
1 x R-25-300 turbojet
Traction (dry / with afterburning)
40.2 / 67.2 kN
2 230 km/h
1 000 km/h
1 225 km
Range (with external fuel tanks)
1 470 km
~ 370 km
1 x 23 mm GSh-23L (200 rounds)
K-13, K-13M, R-60, R-60M air-to-air missiles,
Kh-66 air-to-surface missiles
various bombs, including general-purpose,
fragmentation, chemical and cluster with a maximum weight of up to 1 000 kg
pods with 57 mm or 240 mm unguided rockets
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.
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even this feature is now outdated compared to fly-by-wire aircraft.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
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
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
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
of this fighter aircraft.
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.
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
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
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.
Indian-produced export version of the MiG-21S.
MiG-21N: version of the MiG-21S that can carry the RN-25
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
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
Article by The Tiger
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