A world-class aircraft

The MiG-9 was the first Soviet jet aircraft. Despite the fact that pilots were afraid of flying an aircraft without a propeller, and the mechanics had no experience of working with jet engines, the experience that the Mikoyan Guryevich Design Bureau gained in creating this aircraft allowed them to produce the MiG-15, one of the best fighters of its time.

The finest hour for MiG aircraft came during the Korean War. For the Americans the appearance of the most modern Soviet fighters came as a complete surprise: the MiG-15 easily dispatched the slow F-80 fighters and successfully hunted down bombers. As a result the Americans immediately sent their F-88 Sabres, which had only just entered service, to the Far East.

As Squadron Commander Sergey Kramarenko, who recorded 13 victories in Korea explained, “very often the result of the duel would be decided by the initial attack. The MiGs would climb rapidly following a strike, while the Sabres would do the opposite, trying to hug the ground. Each of them would try to use the best combat characteristics of their aircraft, so at times the encounter would be limited to a single attack, after which we would be at altitude while the Americans would be at low level.”

Mig-15

MiG-15. Source: RIA Novosti

The MiG-15 is the world’s most widely produced jet combat aircraft. Aside from the U.S.S.R., it was produced under license in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and China. In all over 15,000 of these aircraft were manufactured and the fighter was in service with more than 40 countries for over half a century.

The ‘Phantom’ buster

The MiG-19 took the biggest share of the air combat victories in the Vietnam War as well as in the armed conflict between India and Pakistan. Chinese copies of the MiG-19 known as the J-6, and flown by local pilots shot down American Phantoms, while over Kashmir they destroyed Indian Air Force Su-7s. 

Mig-19

MiG-19. Source: RIA Novosti

The fighter’s powerful armament – 3 x 30-mm guns, harmonized well with excellent maneuverability and a good rate of climb. Pilots would often remark on the aircraft’s excellent reliability.

The MiG-19 was used in the U.S.S.R. to intercept aircraft that strayed over its borders. It claimed an American RB-47 long-range reconnaissance aircraft, shot down in 1960 over the Polar Region as well as several United States Air Force aircraft, destroyed in the skies over the German Democratic Republic, together with a large number of reconnaissance aerostats.

The deadly ‘balalayka’

The next success for Mikoyan was the MiG-21, the world’s most widespread supersonic fighter. This aircraft entered series production more than half a century ago, and is still being manufactured in China. One outstanding feature of this aircraft is its low manufacturing cost: The export version costs less than a BMP-1 (Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty – Armoured Personnel Carrier).

MiG-21

MiG-21. Source: Vladimir Perventsev / RIA Novosti

In NATO the MiG-21 was given the unfathomable name of Fishbed, a geological layer, rich in the fossilized remains of fish. Soviet pilots named the aircraft the balalaika in view of the triangular shaped wing.

The MiG-21 fought successfully in Vietnam alongside its predecessor. This small and maneuverable fighter became a serious adversary for second generation American Phantoms. A special tactic was even developed in America for air combat with a MiG-21.

Vietnamese pilots adhered to Soviet tactics: having been guided onto the target from the ground the fighters would try and position themselves behind and beneath the American aircraft. They would then attack it with guided missiles and return to base.

A watchful eye

The MiG-27 ground attack aircraft was known as the “balcony with a battlefield view” in recognition of the excellent visibility from the cockpit. In reality though it was the MiG-31 interceptor that was to become a truly vigilant aircraft.

MiG-27

MiG-27. Source: RIA Novosti

The MiG-31 was the first in the world to feature a phased array radar system, which allowed it to identify airborne targets (including low visibility targets) at a distance of 320 kilometer.

Its onboard electronics can track 24 targets, follow 10 of them, and select four of the most important ones and then fire long range ‘air to air’ missiles at them. Four MiG-31s are able to control an airspace covering a front line of 800 kilometers to 900 kilometers in length.

Agile and capacious

The modified MiG-29 is the principal fighter in the Russian Air Force and at the same time acts as a flying laboratory to test new technologies.

MiG-29

MiG-29. Source: AFP / East News

This aircraft is fitted with engines that employ thrust vectoring, giving it a new level of manoeuvrability.

Pilots named the first MiG-29s a “homing beacon aircraft” because they had enough fuel to fly around their own airfield.

Today the SMT modification has been fitted with the most modern on board electronics, and additional fuel tanks as well as in flight refueling equipment.   

A fighter of the future

The prototype, fifth generation 1.44-fighter design was to have been given the designator MiG-35 MFI (Mnogofunktsionalniy Frontovoy Istrebitel - multi-role tactical fighter). This aircraft was due to be fitted with engines employing thrust vectoring and stealth technology was widely used in production of this fighter.

MiG-35

MiG-35. Source: Sergei Mikheev

In 2002 however the Government issued a decree concerning the creation of the PAK FA (Peredniy Aviatsionniy Kompleks Frontovoy Aviatsii - Advanced Front Line Aviation Complex), which brought development of the 1.44 to an end.

The single airworthy prototype, which took to the skies on February 29, 2000, is today at the Gromov Flight Research Institute in Zhukovskiy.

First published in Russian in Rossiyskaya Gazeta