The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 (NATO reporting name “Fishbed”) is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft, designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. It was popularly nicknamed “balalaika”, from the aircraft’s planform-view resemblance to the Russian stringed musical instrument or ołówek (English: pencil) by Polish pilots due to the shape of its fuselage. Early versions are considered second-generation jet fighters, while later versions are considered to be third-generation jet fighters. Some 50 countries over four continents have flown the MiG-21, and it still serves many nations a half-century after its maiden flight. The fighter made aviation records. At least by name, it is the most-produced supersonic jet aircraft in aviation history and 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).
The classic MiG 21 is the most extensively exported jet fighter in history. It has fought in several wars and continues in frontline service four decades after its appearance.
The experience of air combat in Korea forced the Mikoyan design bureau to draw up radical plans for a new air-superiority fighter. This machine would have to be lightweight, be relatively simple to build, and possess speed in excess of Mach 2. The prime design prerequisite entailed deletion of all unnecessary equipment not related to performance. No less than 30 test models were built and flown through the mid- to late 1950s before a tailed-delta configuration was settled upon. The first MiG 21s were deployed in 1959 and proved immediately popular with Red Air Force pilots. They were the first Russian aircraft to routinely operate at Mach 2 and were highly manoeuvrable. Moreover, the delta configuration enabled the craft to remain controllable up to high angles of attack and low air speed. One possible drawback, as with all deltas, was that high turn rates yielded a steep drag rise, so the MiG 21 lost energy and speed while manoeuvring. This was considered a fair trade-off in terms of overall excellent performance. More than 11,000 MiG 21s were built in 14 distinct versions that spanned three generations of design. They are the most numerous fighters exported abroad, and no less than 50 air forces employ them worldwide. The NATO code name is FISHBED.
The MiG 21 debuted during the Vietnam War (1964–1974), during which they proved formidable opponents for bigger U.S. fighters like the McDonnell- Douglas F-4 Phantom. Successive modifications have since endowed them with greater range and formidable ground-attack capability, but at the expense of their previously spry performance. Russian production of the MiG 21 has ended, yet China and India build, refurbish, and deploy them in great numbers. These formidable machines will undoubtedly remain in service for many years to come.
Specifications (Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21F-13)
Length: 15.76 m (51 ft 8.47 in)
Wingspan: 7.154 m (23 ft 5.66 in)
Height: 4.1 m (13 ft 5.41 in)
Wing area: 23.0 m2 (247.3 ft2)
Empty weight: 4,871 kg (10,738 lb)
Gross weight: 7,100 kg (15,650 lb)
Powerplant: 1 × Tumansky R11F-300, 37.27 kN (8,380 lbf) thrust dry, 56.27 kN (12,650 lbf) with afterburner each
Maximum speed: 2,125 km/h (1,385 mph)
Maximum speed: Mach 2.05
Range: 1,580 km (981 miles)
Service ceiling: 19,000 m (62,335 ft)
1x internal 30 mm NR-30 cannon, plus
2x K-13 or K-13A (R-3S) AAM or
2x 500 kg (1,102 lb) of bombs