MiG-21 Fishbed

Built in larger numbers than any other jet fighter, Mikoyan’s Fishbed was, like the American F-104, the result of the post-Korea move towards simple, lightweight fighters with the highest possible performance. Predictably, changing requirements made succeeding MiG-21 variants progressively more capable (and heavy) than those before, although only so much could be done given the basic dimensions of the airframe. Nevertheless, Artem Mikoyan would no doubt be astonished to compare his original design with some of the MiG-21s flying today.

The NMUSAF's MiG-21PF is painted to represent an aircraft of North Vietnam's 921st Fighter Regiment

Variants: MiG-21F: Initial production variant, armed at first with a single NR-30 and two NR-23 cannon, later replaced by a pair of 30mm weapons. Fewer than 100 built.

Ye-66/Ye-6T/1: Ye-6 rebuilt with R11F2-300, and used in September 1960 to set a new world’s speed record. In April of the following year, having been fitted with a tail-mounted rocket as the Ye-66A, this aircraft set a world altitude record of 113,891 feet.

MiG-21F-13: Capability to carry a pair of K-13/AA-2 Atoll AAMs on wing pylons; single NR-30 cannon. Built in China by Chengdu as the J-7 (F-7 for export customers.)

MiG-21PF: As the original MiG-21Fs had little capability against targets at night or in bad weather, the second generation MiG-21PF had the RP-21 radar that allowed for use of the K-5MS radar-guided AAM. To cope with the increased weight, the R11F2-300 engine was fitted.

MiG-21FL: MiG-21PF export model, with the R1L (degraded RP-21) radar, R11F-300 engine, no K-5 capability, and a broad-chord vertical tail. The MiG-21FL finally left Indian service in December 2013.

MiG-21PFS Fishbed-D: Boundary layer control, braking parachute in tail.

MiG-21PFS Fishbed-F: MiG-21FL type broad tail; later aircraft a new side-open canopy design.

MiG-21PFM Fishbed-F: Upgraded PFM, with RP-21M radar, improved avionics, and able to carry a centerline pod containing a GSh-23 cannon.

MiG-21S Fishbed-J: R11F2-300 powered model, with MiG-21R type dorsal, RP-22 radar, four underwing pylons, and the capability to carry the K-13R SARH missile. The -21Sn variant could carry an RN-25 nuclear bomb.

MiG-21M Fishbed-J: Downgraded MiG-21S for export, with RP-21MA radar, no K-13R capability, and an internal GSh-23L cannon. The MiG-21MF was the export counterpart to the MiG-21SM.

MiG-21SMT: Large dorsal spine to accommodate more fuel, later rebuilt with the smaller MiG-21bis type dorsal as MiG-21STs.

Vietnam The NVPAF began receiving MiG-21s in the spring of 1966, initially re-equipping the 921st Fighter Regiment. Seemingly outmatched by the larger and more powerful American F-4 Phantoms it would soon encounter, the North Vietnamese Fishbed force was nevertheless to become a serious threat, as the Phantom’s BVR capability was stymied by restrictive rules of engagement, and in close-on combat, the small and fast MiG-21 was no sitting duck for the easily visible Phantoms with their telltale smoke trails.

Between the fall of 1966 and the end of Rolling Thunder, MiG-21s accounted for seven USAF F-4s, 14 F-105s, four naval Phantoms, an EB-66C, and an F-102. In the last stage of the war, Fishbeds accounted for a further 18 Air Force Phantoms, two Navy/Marine F-4s, an RA-5C, and an F-105G Wild Weasel.

During the Linebacker II campaign, MiG-21s were the only aircraft the North could employ against the B-52s raiding Hanoi and Haiphong; there were several B-52D/Fishbed encounters, but despite North Vietnamese claims of two BUFFs downed, the USAF did not attribute any B-52 losses to air to air combat, and indeed, a pair of MiG-21s were downed by B-52 tail gunners.

MiG-21 Bibliography:

Photo: "Details of Iraqi MiG-21C Shown" Aviation Week & Space Technology September 5, 1966 p.31

Alan W. Hall "Making a Mongol" two seat MiG-21 kitbash; includes 1/72 scale 2-view drawing Airfix Magazine January 1971

Mike Lambert "Flying the Fishbed" Flight International 25 September 1975 p.443+ Includes a MiG-21MF cutaway drawing.

Franco Paolini “Abbiamo Construito: MiG-21, Part 1” Aerei Modellismo May 1983 Includes a cockpit diagram with color key, canopy drawings, sketches of the landing gear, airbrakes, ventrals, antennas & scoops, and missile armament.

MiG-21 scale drawings with cross sections Modelism 2-1985

Color profiles of MiG-21M/MFs of Egypt, Vietnam, India, and Iraq. Air International December 1986 p.316

1/72 color 3-view of Luftwaffe MiG-21SPS 22+02 in special markings with sharkmouth Scale Aviation Modeller November 1997

Photo: Former East German MiG-21SPs at Toulouse. FlyPast September 1998 p.10

Photo: “Finland MiG Preserved” FlyPast January 1999 p.16 Finnish Aviation Museum’s MiG-21UM.

“Last Bulgarian Fishbed Overhauled” Air Forces Monthly October 2002 p.6 1 photo.

Color profile: Luftwaffe MiG-21PS 22+02 in special markings Scale Aviation Modeller December 2003

Review of the Revell MiG-21F-13 Fishbed-C kit in 1/72. Skymodel January 2006 p.64-65

Gianni Cassi “Perekhvatchik Fosirovanny – upgraded interceptor fitted with radar” Skymodel 12/07 building the Academy 1/48 MiG-21PF Fishbed-D kit.

Girolama Lorusso “The Indian Tiger: MiG-21PL” Skymodel January 2010. Building the 1/48 Academy Fishbed-D kit as a tiger-camouflaged Indian aircraft.

Gianni Cassi “MiG-21R Fishbed-H” Skymodel January 2010 Converting the 1/48 Academy MiG-21 to a recce configuration.

Robert Racz “Close Up: MiG-21UM Hungarian Air Force” Excellent close-in pictures of a preserved two-seater Fishbed. Skymodel January 2010

Steve A. Evans “Twenty-One” Model Airplane International January 2012 Building the Eduard 1/48 MiG-21MF

Dirk jan de Ridder “Europe’s Final Fishbeds” Combat Aircraft Monthly September 2013 Includes photos of Bulgarian MiG-21s, Romanian LanceRs, Croatian MiG-21bis/bisD, and MiG-21UMD.

“Tiger Tailed MiG” Model Aircraft May 2016 Building a 1/48 MiG-21MFN as a Czech aircraft with special markings

"real to Replica: MiG-21 in detail" Model Aircraft November 2016 Walk around of preserved MiG-21PF at Cosford.

Jim Winchester Military Aircraft Visual Encyclopedia “MiG-21 Fishbed” p.278-279 Color profiles include a Czech MiG-21MF, Indian tiger scheme Fishbed-D, Polish MiG-21PFMA, Finnish MiG-21U, and a Chengdu F-7.

Ray Bonds Classic Fighters – The Inside Story p.169 MiG-21MF Fishbed-J cutaway drawing. Also included is a large image of an Hungarian MiG-21MF in banked flight, showing the aircraft’s underside to good effect.

Bill Gunston Encyclopedia of World Airpower Aerospace Publishing, 1980 p.262-263: MiG-21MF cutaway illustration; p.265: large color 3-view of a MiG-21bis

Hand-Heiri Stapfer Red Ladies in Waiting Squadron/Signal Publications p.32-33 Photos of German MiG-21MF 23+15 and MiG-21PFM 22+02 in special markings

W. Wayne Patton Aces 3 Squadron/Signal Publications, 2004 p.31: color profiles of Nguyen Van Coc’s MiG-21PF and Le Thanh Dao’s MiG-21PFM.