The iconic MiG-21, a legendary supersonic jet, has left an indelible mark on aviation history, spanning six decades of service across approximately 60 countries on four continents. Boasting an impressive list of achievements, it holds the title of the most-produced supersonic jet aircraft, the most-produced combat aircraft since the Korean War, and formerly, the record for the longest production run of any combat aircraft—now surpassed by the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Distinguished as the first successful Soviet aircraft to seamlessly blend fighter and interceptor capabilities into a single design, the MiG-21 stands out as a lightweight marvel. Surpassing Mach 2 with a relatively low-powered afterburning turbojet, it finds common ground with its American counterparts like the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter, as well as the French Dassault Mirage III. This groundbreaking aircraft’s influence extends beyond its own production, shaping the design of other Soviet models, including the Su-9 interceptor and the fast E-150 prototype.
While the MiG-21’s characteristic layout, featuring a shock cone and front air intake, didn’t see widespread adoption beyond the USSR, its impact on aviation history is undeniable. The design’s limitations, particularly in radar space, ultimately tempered its developmental potential. Yet, as the MiG-21 continues to serve nations worldwide, its enduring legacy in the annals of aviation remains a testament to its groundbreaking design and lasting impact on global military aviation.
The MiG-21, having found its way to numerous corners of the globe, continues to be a stalwart in military aviation. Its enduring popularity can be attributed to its straightforward controls, uncomplicated engine, weaponry, and avionics—characteristics emblematic of Soviet-era military design philosophy. The incorporation of a tail with a delta wing not only contributes to the aircraft’s stability and control but also enhances safety, particularly for less-experienced pilots. This feature has proven advantageous in markets where limited training programs and a shortage of skilled pilots are prevalent, making the MiG-21 an attractive choice for developing countries.
While the MiG-21 might not match the technological prowess of more advanced adversaries it often encounters, its appeal lies in its cost-effectiveness. The combination of low production and maintenance costs has made it a favored option for nations seeking military hardware from the Eastern Bloc. In a testament to its enduring legacy, several entities in Russia, Israel, and Romania have taken the initiative to offer upgrade packages for MiG-21 operators. These packages aim to modernize the aircraft, incorporating significantly enhanced avionics and armaments.
A notable feature of the MiG-21 is its air intake system, where an inlet cone regulates the airflow to the engine. In the earlier models, the cone had three positions, adjusting based on the aircraft’s speed. The later MiG-21PF introduced a more sophisticated system, dynamically adjusting the cone position according to the actual speed. Additional innovations, such as gills on both sides of the nose, further enhance the aircraft’s performance by supplying the engine with additional air during ground operations and takeoffs. The continued evolution and adaptability of the MiG-21 underscore its remarkable resilience and relevance in the ever-changing landscape of military aviation.
The MiG-21 showcases a tricycle-type undercarriage, a design feature that distinguishes it in the realm of military aircraft. In most variants, the main landing gear boasts tires with dimensions of 800 mm in diameter and 200 mm in width, providing robust support for takeoffs and landings. It’s worth noting that the MiG-21F variants deviate slightly, utilizing tires sized at 660×200 mm.
An intriguing facet of the MiG-21’s landing gear system is its retractable nature. Upon completion of the landing or takeoff sequence, the main landing gear wheels elegantly fold into the fuselage after a precise 87° rotation, with the shock absorbers finding their designated space within the wing structure. The nose gear, exhibiting a forward retraction motion, tucks neatly into the fuselage beneath the radar, contributing to the aircraft’s streamlined and aerodynamic profile.
In the event of an internal failure or technical glitch leading to a locked-up undercarriage, the MiG-21 possesses a unique fail-safe. The nose wheel can be manually lowered from inside the cockpit by unlocking its hatch. This ingenious feature mitigates the severity of potential issues, allowing for successful landings with the undercarriage in the locked-up position. In such cases, the aircraft has demonstrated a remarkable capability to land safely on the nosewheel, sometimes utilizing the ventral fuel tank or the airbrake as additional support. This design ingenuity underscores the MiG-21’s adaptability and the thoughtful engineering that has contributed to its reputation as a resilient and versatile aircraft.
The early developmental stages of the MiG-21, a legendary aircraft in aviation history, showcase a fascinating journey through various prototypes and experimental designs. Let’s delve into the key milestones:
Ye-1 (1954): The Ye-1 marked the preliminary swept-wing design era, centered around the Mikulin AM-5A non-reheated turbojet. However, this design was swiftly reworked into the Ye-2 before actual production.
Ye-2 (1954; NATO: “Faceplate”): The Ye-2 emerged as a swept-wing prototype featuring the Mikulin AM-9B reheated turbojet. Armed with three NR-30 cannons and capable of carrying a UB-16-57 rocket pod, it boasted advanced avionics, including radio equipment, radar rangefinders, and an automatic direction finder. Despite its promising start with a maiden flight on February 14, 1955, the program was abandoned in favor of the Mikulin RD-11 turbojet.
Ye-2A (1955; aka “MiG-23”): This design iteration, modified for the RD-11 turbojet, became the Ye-2A, later designated as the MiG-23. Six units were built, featuring swept wings and advanced avionics similar to the Ye-2. The aircraft was equipped with a radar rangefinder and a computing gunsight.
MiG-23 (1957; Izdeliye 63): The production version of the Ye-2A, designated MiG-23, retained the swept-wing configuration. It incorporated changes such as the SRD-5M Baza-6 radar rangefinder and an SRO-2 Khrom IFF transponder. However, only five units were built in 1957, powered by R11-300 turbojets, before the project was terminated in 1958.
Ye-50 (1956): Designed as an experimental high-altitude interceptor with a swept-wing configuration, the Ye-50 was a modification of the Ye-2 airframe to accommodate the Dushkin S-155 rocket motor. The program faced an unfortunate end after the crash of Ye-50/3 on August 8, 1957.
These milestones in the early development of the MiG-21 illustrate the evolution of the aircraft, its experimental phases, and the technological advancements that shaped its formidable legacy in the world of aviation.
That was The Legacy Of Mig-21: Specifications, Variants and Operations Of The Flying Coffin!