The Mikoyan-Gurevich MIG-21 is a supersonic jet fighter and interceptor aircraft designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the former Soviet Union. Approximately sixty countries across four continents have flown the MIG-21, and it still serves many nations six decades after its maiden flight. It made records, becoming the most-produced supersonic jet aircraft in aviation history, the most-produced combat aircraft since the Korean War , and, previously, the longest production run of any combat aircraft ever.
This airplane is based on the subsonic MIG-15, MIG-17, and the supersonic MIG-19. Its development started in the early 1950s and it flew for the first time on the 16th of June 1955. It can achieve supersonic speeds and has a delta wing configuration. Many variants of this model were used across the eastern Europe air forces but it also has a reputation among the pilots of the Vietnam War, being the main opponent of the American F-4 Phantom. It also saw action in the Middle East, mostly going up against the Israeli Defence Forces, but also against Yugoslavia.
The fuselage of the MIG-21 is a semi-monocoque with an elliptical profile and a maximum width of 1.24 m. The airflow to the engine is regulated by an inlet cone in the air intake. On early model MIG-21s, the cone has three positions: for speeds up to Mach 1.5, the cone is fully retracted to the maximum aft position, for speeds between Mach 1.5 and Mach 1.9 the cone moves to the middle position, and, finally, for speeds higher than Mach 1.9 the cone moves to the maximum forward position. On the later model MIG-21PF, the intake cone moves to a position based on the actual speed. On both sides of the nose, there are gills to supply the engine with more air while on the ground and during take-off. In the first variant of the MIG-21, the pitot tube is attached to the bottom of the nose. After the MIG-21P variant, this tube is attached to the top of the air intake. Later versions shifted the pitot tube attachment point 15 degrees to the right, as seen from the cockpit, and had an emergency pitot head on the right side, just ahead of the canopy and below the pilot’s eyeline. The cabin is pressurized and air-conditioned. On variants prior to the MIG-21PFM, the cabin canopy is hinged at the front. When ejecting, the SK-1 ejection seat connects with the canopy to provide a windbreak from the high-speed airflow encountered during high-speed ejections. This airplane has a climb rate of 235 m/s and has a Tumansky R-25 jet engine that can develop 97.4 kN of thrust under 2000m of altitude, helping the airplane to achieve a maximum speed of 2229 km/h. The fuel consumption increased by 50% over the rate in full afterburner.
The MIG-21 was known among NATO countries as “Fishbed” and 11’496 airplanes were built between 1959 and 1985. Between 1966 and 1972 the MIG-1 performed fast and accurate attacks on US troops in Vietnam and was responsible for shooting down fourteen F-105 Thunderchiefs in December 1966 alone, without any losses. It also shot down a lot of F-4s and, after seeing the numbers, the generals of the United States Navy decided to create their Naval Fighter Weapons School, also known as TOPGUN at Naval Air Station Miramar (California) on March 1969. Between April 1965 and January 1973, the North Vietnamese Air Force lost 54 MIGs and claimed ninety US aircraft shot down. In the 1970s, Syrian pilots flying MIG-21s also independently discovered the Cobra maneuver, which became a standard defensive maneuver named “zero speed maneuver”.
After 1989, in Europe, states that have been under the soviet influence kept their MIGs operational and, as of today, this aircraft is still in use in two NATO countries: Croatia and Romania. Croatia will soon replace its MIG-21 fleet with newer Dassault Rafale fighters, while Romania will buy used F-16 from Norway. Due to a high rate of accidents in recent months, Romania grounded the MIGs but, after some investigations, operations for air policing have been resumed. This operation is done not only by the old but modernized MIG-21 LanceR but also for the Romanian F16, the American F16, and the Eurofighter Typhoons from Italy, Germany, and UK.