Monday, March 14, 2016


Gap Fillers: MiG Family Photo, models by R. Denham.

The MiG-15 first saw combat over Shanghai in April 1950. As with the Japanese Zero a decade before, Western observers were not paying attention, and the appearance of the MiG-15 over Korea in November 1950 was a shock. The MiG-15 and the North American F-86 Sabre were roughly an equal match, the MiG slightly better in climb at altitude and in maneuverability in the vertical plane, the Sabre faster in a dive, with better horizontal maneuverability. The MiG had better weapons, but the Sabre had the better gun sight. Success depended on the skill of the individual pilots and the specific tactical situation. None of the other U. S. or British aircraft really had a chance.

After Korea, the MiG-15 saw further combat in the Middle East and was widely sold to all the Soviet Union’s allies and to most of the newly emerging nations. Almost 10,000 were produced by the mid-1950s, including production by Poland and Czechoslovakia. In addition to the single-seat fighter, there was also a two-seat fighter-trainer, the MiG- 15UTI, of which about 6,700 were built. The MiG-15UTI was even more widely sold than its single-seat brother and remained in use in the Soviet Union until the end of the 1980s.

From 1951 to 1956, the MiG-15 was supplanted in production with a modernized version, the MiG-17. Neither the MiG-15 nor the MiG-17 was capable of supersonic flight, which was finally achieved by the MiG-19 series (in production from 1954 to 1961). Only 3,700 MiG-19s were produced; it was sold widely, but it had the misfortune to appear between the exceptional and long-lived MiG-17 and the equally successful MiG-21.

Gurevich retired from the bureau in 1964; he died on 12 November 1976. Mikoyan died on 9 December 1970 and was succeeded by Rostislav Apollossovich Belyakov (b. 1919), who had long been MiG’s chief designer. At this time, the MiG-23/MiG-27 family was entering production. Although the Sukhoi Su-17 was the first operational variable-geometry aircraft, the MiG-23 and MiG-27 were more distinctive, recognized first, and produced in greater numbers. From 1969 to 1982, 4,278 examples of the MiG-23, 910 MiG-27s, and 769 MiG-23UMs were produced. The MiG-23M and MiG-23P variants and derivatives were optimized for air combat and interception, respectively, and were distinguished by an ogival nose cone containing advanced radar systems. The MiG-23B variants and the MiG-27 were dedicated fighter-bombers, without air-to-air radar systems but with more flexibility for carrying bombs and rockets, and they had specialized ground targeting laser systems. These aircraft were distinguished by a sloping forward fuselage, which gave the type its Russian nickname,”Utkanos”(Ducknose).

Too late for combat over Vietnam, the MiG-23 family has participated prominently in all the conflicts since then in the Middle East and Africa and has been exported to dozens of nations. By 1982, when Syrian MiG-23s tried to fight over Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, they were flown by pilots less experienced than the Israelis and were pitted against F-16s and F-15s, fighters of an entirely later generation. Also during the 1980s, MiG-23s had the misfortune to duel Pakistani F-16s over the Afghan border, which proved it was not merely Israeli skill at work over the Bekaa. The MiG-23 was retired from Russian service on 1 May 1998 but continues in service with former Soviet republics and other countries around the globe.

Also entering service in 1969 was the MiG-25, a large interceptor capable of reaching Mach 2.8 at altitude. This aircraft was originally designed to counter the U. S. XB-70 and SR-71 and was produced in several reconnaissance variants. The MiG-25 (NATO code name “Foxbat”) achieved notoriety in 1975 when Lieutenant Viktor Belenko flew an example to Japan, which allowed the United States to examine it thoroughly, revealing a curious mix of very advanced and antiquated technology. As a consequence, the Soviets introduced a drastically improved version, the MiG-25PDS, in order to restore their secrets. About 1,190 MiG-25s of interceptor, reconnaissance, and combat trainer variants were produced by 1984. A further evolution of the basic MiG-25 design is the MiG-31. This aircraft is a highly modernized interceptor, with no reconnaissance or trainer variants included among the 500 or more produced between 1977 and 1986. In 1990, the further modified MiG-31M appeared, but the end of the Soviet Union and the decline of the Russian air force has prevented it from entering service.

The MiG-29 was the last MiG to be produced. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union caused difficulties for most Russian arms producers, especially MiG. The political connections that earlier proved so advantageous now turned into a liability, as MiG was associated too closely with the old regime. At the same time, MiG was supplanted by Sukhoi, which experienced a flowering of design creativity and lacked the political baggage. In 1995, MiG was merged with the newly privatized aviation factories of the Moscow Area (Aircraft) Production Organization to become MiG-MAPO. A new design, the MiG-AT, has been offered in competition with the Yak-130 for the Russian air force’s Advanced Trainer requirement.

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