Role                       Fighter
Manufacturer         Mikoyan-Gurevich OKB
Designer                Artem Mikoyan
First flight             14 February 1955 (Ye-2)
Introduction          1959 (MiG-21F)
Retired                  1990s (Russia)
Status                    In active service
Primary users        Soviet Air Force, Polish Air Force
                        Indian Air Force, Romanian Air Force
Produced                1959 (MiG-21F) to 1985 (MiG-21bis)
Number built         11,496
Variants                Chengdu J-7

MiG-21UM (1968)
U = Uchebnyy ("Training")
M = Modernizovannyy ("Modernised")
ABOUT The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 (Russian: Микоян и
Гуревич МиГ-21; NATO reporting name "Fishbed")
is a
supersonic jet fighter aircraft, designed by the
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

DEVELOPMENT The MiG-21 jet fighter was a continuation
of Soviet jet fighters, starting with the subsonic MiG-15 and MiG-
17, and the supersonic MiG-19. A number of experimental Mach 2
Soviet designs were based on nose intakes with either swept-back
wings, such as the
Sukhoi Su-7, or tailed deltas, of which the MiG-
would be the most successful.
Development of what would become the
MiG-21 began in the
early 1950s, when
Mikoyan OKB finished a preliminary design
study for a prototype designated Ye-1 in 1954. This project was
very quickly reworked when it was determined that the planned
engine was underpowered; the redesign led to the second
prototype, the Ye-2. Both these and other early prototypes featured
swept wings—the first prototype with delta wings as found on
production variants was the Ye-4. The Ye-4 made its maiden flight
on 16 June 1955 and made its first public appearance during the
Soviet Aviation Day display at Moscow's Tushino airfield in July
1956. The
MiG-21 was the first successful Soviet aircraft
combining fighter and interceptor characteristics in a single
aircraft. It was a lightweight fighter, achieving Mach 2 with a
relatively low-powered afterburning turbojet, and is thus
comparable to the
American Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and
Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter and the French Dassault Mirage
. Its basic layout was used for numerous other Soviet designs;
delta-winged aircraft included Su-9 interceptor and the fast E-150
prototype from MiG bureau while the mass-produced successful
front fighter Su-7 and
Mikoyan's I-75 experimental interceptor
combined a similar fuselage shape with swept-back wings.
However, the characteristic layout with the shock cone and front
air intake did not see widespread use outside the
USSR and finally
proved to have limited development potential, mainly because of
the very small space available for the radar.
Like many aircraft designed as interceptors, the
MiG-21 had a
short range. This was not helped by a design defect where the
center of gravity shifted rearwards once two-thirds of the fuel had
been used. This had the effect of making the plane uncontrollable,
resulting in an endurance of only 45 minutes in clean condition.
The issue of the short endurance and low fuel capacity of the MiG-
21F, PF, PFM, S/SM and M/MF variants—though each had a
somewhat greater fuel capacity than its predecessor—led to the
development of the MT and SMT variants.
The delta wing, while excellent for a fast-climbing interceptor,
meant any form of turning combat led to a rapid loss of speed.
However, the light loading of the aircraft could mean that a climb
rate of 235 m/s (46,250 ft/min) was possible with a combat-loaded
MiG-21, not far short of the performance of the later F-16A.
Given a skilled pilot and capable missiles, it could give a good
account of itself against contemporary fighters.  However, not
until the MiG-29 would the Soviet Union ultimately replace the
MiG-21 as a maneuvering dogfighter to counter new American air
superiority types.

MiG-21 was exported widely and continues to be used. The
aircraft's simple controls, engine, weapons, and avionics were
typical of Soviet-era military designs. The use of a tail with the
delta wing aids stability and control at the extremes of the flight
envelope, enhancing safety for lower-skilled pilots; this in turn
enhanced its marketability in exports to developing countries with
limited training programs and restricted pilot pools. While
technologically inferior to the more advanced fighters it often
faced, low production and maintenance costs made it a favorite of
nations buying Eastern Bloc military hardware.  
The Classic
Aircraft Museum
owns, flies, and displays 3 MiG 21UM's, 2 are
shown here.

MiG-21UM (1968) Two-seat training version of the MiG-21MF
U = Uchebnyy ("Training")
M = Modernizovannyy ("Modernised")
Mikoyan-Guevich MiG 21UM