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Evaluating the Mig-21; One of the All Time Great Fighter-Interceptor

Updated on September 8, 2018

The MIG-21 is a Russian plane and was the first supersonic modern interceptor manufactured by Russia. Its rival was the F-104 Starfighter of the United States Air Force. The Russian need for a supersonic fighter interceptor to match the Air forces of the Western world was the need of the hour. Josef Stalin authorized the MIG design bureau to manufacture a supersonic fighter plane. The result was the MIG -21. It was a development over a period of time over the MIG-17 and 19. The MIG -19 was a good plane but had severe limitations of range and operational capability. The test flights of the MIG-21 were conducted in the early fifties and the Russian Air Force began to induct the plane. The MIG was a Mach 2+ plane with a single pilot and single power plant.

The original version of the plane was the MIG-21F-13, given the name by Fishbed by NATO for ease of identification. Its technical details are summarized below.

Powerplant: one 56.3 kN (12,655 lbf) Tumanskii R-11F-300 turbojet with afterburner

Dimensions: The plane had a length of 44 ft and a wingspan of 23.5 ft. Its max takeoff weight was 8386 kg.length excl.

Performance: max level speed in full afterburner at 12,300m (40,350 ft) Mach 2.05 or 2,125 km/h (1,320 mph); service ceiling 19,000m (62,335 ft);

Armament: 2 R-3S (AA-2 Atoll) IR air-to-air missiles or two rocket pods, with each up to 16 57mm unguided rockets, carried on two underwing pylons and one 490 liter drop tank for added range.

The Indian Airforce which for long had relied on British aircraft was jolted to reality when the West refused to give the latest jet fighter to India. The Indian defense minister Krishna Menon negotiated a deal with Russia under Khrushchev and the plane which was the most sophisticated Soviet warplane was inducted into the IAF in 1960 Subsequently, China and Egypt also inducted the.plane.

MIG 21 with IAF markings
MIG 21 with IAF markings

The MIG in the IAF

The Indians began to manufacture the MIG under license and very soon over 15 squadrons of these planes went into service. However the plane had a drastic accident rate and till date over 100 planes have been lost. Courts of Inquiry have been held and they have pointed to pilot error in 90% of the air crashes.

Does this mean that the plane is difficult to fly? The crashes have been a bit of a dampener and many have labeled it a flying coffin. This is not entirely correct and veteran pilots have pointed out that the plane has excellent avionics but requires high-level skill to pilot it.

The initial version of the plane did not have air conditioning but operating in 50 degrees of heat was thus a well-nigh impossibility. This was rectified and planes were made that adapted to Indian and tropical regions.

The plane was more than a match for the F-104 which was quickly phased out. The Russian plane, in contrast, is now a fifth generation plane and very much still in service. But it's in its last phase and the plane is due to be discarded in another half a dozen years. During this period the plane gave splendid service. The Egyptians did muff up the record book as they allowed most of their MIG 21s to be destroyed by Israel during the 1967 war, while still on the ground.

In the subcontinent, the plane proved its superiority. It was not used during the 1962 war with China but it made a telling effect in the 1965, 71 wars. It was also used in the Kargil operations in 1998 and its operational capability was severely tested in the high mountainous regions. It was a success and teh IAF rightly regards the plane as its backbone.

Over the years, the plane has been upgraded at intervals and now the last upgraded version, the MIG(BIS) is in service. The plane has won a healthy respect from NATO. The plane is operated by dozens of countries around the world and many consider the plane as one of the all-time great fighter interceptors of all time.

Chinese MIG 21
Chinese MIG 21

The last post for the MIG-21

The last version of the MIG is now in service and is expected to keep flying for the IAF till 2025. That means it will still be in service for another decade. This points to the versatility of the plane which had its first flight in the fifties of the last century. Many squadrons of the MIG -21 have now been equipped with the MIG 27, 29 and Su-31. With China becoming a bigger threat and Russia losing its parity with the USA, a strategic rethink has taken place. The MIG is being phased out.

The Chinese copied the plane and christened it the J-7 and sold it to Pakistan. Hundreds of MIGs still fly with the Chinese and Russian Air Forces. It is perhaps the plane which has the largest numbers built as well as universally used all over the world. it will go down in the history of military aviation as one of the all-time great fighters.


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    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      21 months ago from Singapore

      Thank you Lawrence for a nice correction as well

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      21 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      It was a great plane. I should say 'IS' a great plane.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      22 months ago from Singapore

      Yes, it's in the last phase

    • manatita44 profile image


      22 months ago from london

      Retired, not retired? Ha ha. Great info here, Bro. Salaam!


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