How much do we know about MiG-21 – the AK-47 of combat jets?

The majority of combat aircraft created in the 1950s are now merely historical relics. One interceptor, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21, better known in the west by its NATO reporting name “Fishbed,” was first sighted in public in 1956 and is still in use today.

MiG-21 Fishbed | Representative | Military Aircraft

The MiG-21 wasn’t ideal, but it was sturdy, dependable, and reasonably priced. Because of this, more than 10,000 of them were produced, earning it the moniker “AK-47 of combat aircraft.” This is the tale of the MiG-21, one of the most widely produced and enduring combat aircraft ever.


The MiG-21 jet fighter was a development of Soviet jet fighters, which had previously produced the supersonic MiG-19 and subsonic MiG-15 and MiG-17. The Sukhoi Su-7 and other experimental Mach 2 Soviet designs were based on nose intakes with swept-back wings, whereas the MiG-21 and other tailed delta designs were based on the latter.

MiG-15 | Wikipedia

Early specifications of the MiG-21 were frequently mistaken for those of comparable Soviet fighters of the era in the West due to the paucity of information at the time. On one occasion, the “Fishbed” was identified as a Sukhoi design in Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 1960-1961 and featured an image of the Su-9 “Fishpot.”

Su-7 | Wikimedia Commons

Despite not having a formal designation in Russian service, the MiG-21 is well-known as the “balalaika” because of the defining triangle shape of its wings. The MiG-21F performed admirably, reaching speeds of Mach 2 in level flight and Mach 1.1 at its highest altitude of 70,000 feet.


The MiG-21 was the first successful Soviet aeroplane to have both fighter and interceptor capabilities. It was a lightweight fighter that could reach Mach 2 with a relatively low-powered after-burning turbojet, making it comparable to the French Dassault Mirage III, the American Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, and the American Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter.


The MiG-21 had a limited range, like many other aircraft built as interceptors. The MiG-21’s wings are delta-shaped. The semi-monocoque fuselage has an elliptical form and can be as wide as 1.24 metres.

The cabin has air conditioning and is pressurised. The cabin canopy on earlier versions of the MiG-21PFM is hinged at the front. The SK-1 ejection seat joins the canopy during ejection to act as a windbreak from the high-speed airflow experienced during high-speed ejections. The canopy opens after ejection, allowing the pilot to use a parachute to land.

However, ejecting at low altitudes might make the canopy separate too slowly, which occasionally results in pilot fatalities. An ejection in level flight required a minimum height of 110 metres. A redesigned ejection seat, introduced with the MiG-21PFM, proved to be extremely dependable and did not require the canopy to shield the pilot, which had never been completely satisfying.

MiG-21 PFM | Wikipedia

Specifications (MiG-21bis)

LENGTH14.7 m
MAX.TAKE-OFF WEIGHT 8,800 kg (19,401 lb) unprepared or metal planking runway
POWERPLANT1 × Tumansky R-25-300 afterburning turbojet, 40.18 kN (9,030 lbf) thrust dry, 69.58 kN (15,640 lbf) with afterburner
RANGE793 km (493 mi; 428 NMI) at 10,000 m (32,808 ft) with two R-3S missiles and 800 l (210 US gal; 180 imp gal) drop-tank
GUNS1 × internal 23mm Gyrazev Shipunov GSh-23L autocannon with 200 rounds
HARDPOINTS 5 (4 underwings + 1 ventral, reserved for fuel drop tanks), with provisions to carry combinations of rockets and missiles
BOMBS2 × 500 kg (1,100 lb) and 2 × 250 kg bombs


The MiG-21PF, an all-weather version of this interceptor that was equipped for the first time with fire-control radar, was the first substantial variation of the original design.

Representative | Military Wiki

Similar to the PF version, the MiG-21PFM had a redesigned KM-ejector seat and a two-piece canopy in addition to larger internal fuel tanks. All upcoming MiG-21 models would maintain this configuration.

While the MiG-21R was comparable to the PF model, it also had underwing drop tanks for a longer range and the capacity to transport a sizable under-fuselage pod filled with cameras and other reconnaissance-gathering gear.

The MiG-21S was equipped with significantly more potent engines and upgraded avionics built around the RP-22S Sapfir-21 air-intercept radar system. This version also added the ability to carry up to four air-to-air missiles and a single GSh-23L 23mm gun pack.

MiG 21 Bison armed with R77 and R73 Air to-Air missiles | Reddit

With the addition of a sizable dorsal fuel tank in a spine above the fuselage, the MiG-21M was an advancement of the S model. However, stability problems were discovered as a result of the interrupted airflow over the tail surfaces, which prompted the creation of the MiG-21bis, the last major variation (improved).


The new Tumanskii R-25-300 engine, which was added to the bis version, was its most notable addition. It can generate over 15,000 lbs of thrust when reheating and up to 21,000 lbs when employing emergency reheat.

MiG-21F-13 rear view | Representative | Wikipedia

India’s run with the MiG-21

The majority of MiG-21s are operated in India. The Indian Air Force (IAF) chose to purchase the MiG-21 in 1961 over several other Western rivals. The Soviet Union agreed to give India complete technology transfer in exchange for rights to the local assembly.

The MiG-21 entered service with the IAF as the first supersonic fighter jet in 1964. The MiG-21 saw its first combat use in 1965 during the Indo-Pakistan war. Eight MiG-21F-13 models were part of the Indian Air Force’s arsenal, and they were used for Battle Air Patrol (CAP) flights over the Pakistan/India border, though none of them actually engaged in combat.

The Print

The 1965 Indo-Pakistani War saw limited use of the IAF MiG-21 due to low induction rates and a lack of pilot training. However, while using the MiG-21 for defence missions during the conflict, the IAF gained invaluable expertise. [9] India increased its orders for the fighter jet and made significant investments in developing the MiG-21’s maintenance infrastructure and pilot training programmes as a result of the IAF pilots’ good feedback after the 1965 conflict.

India has added more than 1,200 MiG aircraft to its air force since 1963. 113 MiG-21s are known to be in use by the IAF as of 2019.

Safety record

Representative | Source

There have been numerous safety issues with the aircraft. MiG-21 mishaps have claimed the lives of more than 170 Indian pilots and 40 civilians since 1970; therefore, the unofficial moniker “flying coffin.” 840 aeroplanes were produced between 1966 and 1984, and more than half of them crashed.  Between 2010 and 2013, at least 14 MiG-21 aircraft crashed. This problem has been linked to subpar maintenance and replacement part quality. Even a little bird can cause an engine surge or seizure and flame out when it is ingested while the engine is in the afterburner because it works so closely to its surge line.

Over 400 MiG-21 aircraft of the Indian Air Force have crashed in the last 60 years, claiming the lives of over 200 pilots and 60 civilians.

MiG-21: Outdated Doesn’t Equal Unusable

Additionally, the IAF had already intended to phase down some 70 MiG-21 Bisons before the most recent disaster, thus the serviceable aircraft were not spared. This featured the 51 Sword Arms Squadron, stationed in Srinagar, and three other Squadrons in Rajasthan, located in Uttarlai, Suratgarh, and Nal.

For one, the MiG-21 has a rare nose intake design, while the Hunter had intakes on the wings. The delta-wing configuration lent the aircraft different flight characteristics, the initial batch of pilots were not used to. It generates induced drags at lower speeds. Also, the engine response at lower speeds is also slower

Air Chief Marshal PV Naik (Retd) cited inexperience with the new delta-wing design that IAF pilots weren’t used to in the 1970s, after having flown jets like the Toofani, Mysteres, and the Hawker Hunter
Dassault MD-450 Toofani |

The MiG-21 has a greater accident rate than older aircraft like the Gnat or Hunter planes. But the reason for this is that the radically novel jet is “unforgiving” and “demands a lot of expertise.”

Military mishaps during times of peace are a professional risk and a harsh reality as a threat to life and limb in times of conflict. The operation of aircraft, which are sophisticated flying devices, involves a complicated interplay with numerous other governmental departments.

India’s second-generation supersonic jet fighter, the MiG-21FL, was decommissioned on December 11th, 2013, after 50 years of service.

MiG-21 FL | Deccan Chronicle

The Indian Air Force plans to decommission all MiG-21 by 2025.

Why was it created in such large quantities, and why do certain air forces still utilise a design from the 1950s?

Its good characteristics, such as its agility, simplicity, dependability, and ability to take off and land on unpaved runways, are a part of the solution.

Price is, however, likely to be the most important aspect. A well-used F16 can set you back more than $15 million. The MiG-21bis is substantially less expensive and easier to fly than the F16 and can be purchased for less than $500,000.


COVER: Ryan Hothersall | ARC Forums