Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM Fishbed-F
Soviet single-engine single-seat supersonic jet fighter.

Archive Photos 1,6;

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM Fishbed-F (950) on display (8/21/2008) at the Förderverein des Luftwaffenmuseums der Bundeswehr e.V., Bundesgeschäftsstelle, Berlin, Germany (Photos by John Shupek)

Overview 2

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed (NATO reporting name: Fishbed) is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft, designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich 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 olówek (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 fifty 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 variants).

Development 2


the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed jet fighter was a continuation of Soviet jet fighters, starting with the subsonic Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 Fagotand Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 Fresco, and the supersonic Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19 Farmer. A number of experimental Mach 2 Soviet designs were based on nose intakes with either swept-Back wings, such as the Sukhoi Su-7 Fitter, or tailed deltas, of which the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed would be the most successful.

Development of what would become the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed began in the early 1950’s, when Mikoyan OKB finished a preliminary design study for a prototype designated Mikoyan-Gurevich 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 Mikoyan-Gurevich Ye-2. Both these and other early prototypes featured swept wings-the first prototype with delta wings as found on production variants was the Mikoyan-Gurevich Ye-4. The Mikoyan-Gurevich 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.

In the West, due to the lack of available information, early details of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed often were confused with those of similar Soviet fighters of the era. In one instance, Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 19601961 listed the "Fishbed" as a Sukhoi design and used an illustration of the Su-9 Fishpot.


The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed 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 III. Its basic layout was used for numerous other Soviet designs; delta-winged aircraft included Sukhoi Su-9 Fishpot interceptor and the fast Mikoyan-Gurevich E-150 prototype from MiG bureau while the mass-produced successful front fighter Sukhoi Su-7 Fitter&rdqui; and Mikoyan-Gurevich’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 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed 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 Mikoyan-Gurevich 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 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MT and MiG-21SMT variants. These had a range increase of 250 km (155 mi) compared to the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21SM Fishbeds, but at the cost of worsening all other performance figures, such as a lower service ceiling and slower time to altitude.

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-21bis, not far short of the performance of the later General Dynamics F-16A Fighting Falcon. Given a skilled pilot and capable missiles, it could give a good account of itself against contemporary fighters. Its g-limits were increased from +7g’s in initial variants to +8.5g in the latest variants. It was replaced by the newer variable-geometry Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 Flogger and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-27 Flogger-D series for ground support duties. However, not until the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum would the Soviet Union ultimately replace the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed as a maneuvering dogfighter to counter new American air superiority types.

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed 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. Several Russian, Israeli and Romanian firms have begun to offer upgrade packages to MiG-21 Fishbed operators, designed to bring the aircraft up to a modern standard, with greatly upgraded avionics and armaments.


A total of 10,645 aircraft were built in the USSR. They were produced in three factories: GAZ 30 (3,203 aircraft) in Moscow (also known as Znamya Truda), GAZ 21 (5,765 aircraft)in Gorky and at GAZ 31 (1,678 aircraft) in Tbilisi. Generally, Gorky built single-seaters for the Soviet forces. Moscow built single-seaters for export and Tbilisi manufactured the twin-seaters both for export and for the USSR, though there were exceptions. The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21R and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21bis for export and for the USSR were built in Gorky, 17 single-seaters were built in Tbilisi (Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21F), the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF was first built in Moscow and then Gorky, and the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21U was built in Moscow as well as in Tbilisi.



A total of 194 MiG-21F-13’s were built under licence in Czechoslovakia, and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. of India built 657 MiG-21FL, MiG-21M and MiG-21bis (of which 225 were bis)

Design 2

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed has a delta wing. The sweep angle on the leading edge is 57° with a TsAGI S-12 airfoil. The angle of incidence is 0° while the dihedral angle is -2°. On the trailing edge there are ailerons with an area of 1.18 m², and flaps with an area of 1.87 m². In front of the ailerons there are small wing fences.

The fuselage is semi-monocoque with an elliptical profile and a maximum width of 1.24 m (4 ft 1 in). The air flow to the engine is regulated by a cone in the air intake. On early model Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds, the intake cone has three positions. For speeds up to Mach 1.5 the cone is fully retracted to the maximum aft position. For speeds between Mach 1.5 and Mach 1.9 the cone moves to the middle position. For speeds higher than Mach 1.9 the cone moves to the maximum forward position. On the later model Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PF Fishbed-D, the intake cone moves to a position based on the actual speed. The cone position for a given speed is calculated by the UVD-2M system using air pressures from in front and behind the compressor of the engine. On both sides of the nose there are gills to supply the engine with more air while on the ground and during takeoff. In the first variant of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed, the pitot tube is attached to the bottom of the nose. After the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21P variant, this tube is attached to the top of the air intake.

The cabin is pressurized and air conditioned. On variants prior to the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM, the cabin canopy is hinged at the front. When ejecting, the SK-1 ejection seat connects with the canopy to make a capsule that encloses the pilot. The capsule protects the pilot from the high speed airflow encountered during high speed ejections. After ejection, the capsule opens to allow the pilot to parachute to the ground. However, ejecting at low altitudes can cause the canopy to take too long to separate. Some pilots have been killed after ejecting at low altitudes. On the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM, the canopy is hinged on the right side of the cockpit.

On the under side of the aircraft there are three air brakes, two at the front and one at the Back. The front air brakes have an area of 0.76 m², and a deflection angle of 35°. The Back air brake has an area of 0.46 m² and a deflection angle of 40°. The Back air brake is blocked if the airplane carries an external fuel tank. Behind the air brakes are the bays for the main landing gear. Also on the under side of the airplane, just behind the trailing edge of the wing are attachment points for two JATO rockets. The front section of the fuselage ends at former #28. The Back section of the fuselage starts at former #28a and is removable for engine maintenance.

The empennage of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed consists of a vertical stabilizer, a stabilator and a small fin on the bottom of the tail to improve yaw control. The vertical stabilizer has a sweep angle of 60° and an area of 5.32 m² (on earlier version 3.8 m²) and a rudder. The stabilator has a sweep angle of 57°, an area of 3.94 m² and a span of 2.6 m.

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed uses a tricycle type undercarriage. On most variants the main landing gear uses tires that are 800 mm in diameter and 200 mm in width. Only the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21F Fishbed-C variants use tires with the size 660x200 mm. The wheels of the main landing gear retract into the fuselage after rotating 87° and the shock absorbers retract into the wing. The nose gear retracts forward into the fuselage under the radar.

Operational History 2


In 1961, the Indian Air Force (IAF) opted to purchase the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed over several other Western competitors. As part of the deal, the Soviet Union offered India full transfer of technology and rights for local assembly. In 1964, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed became the first supersonic fighter jet to enter service with the IAF. Due to limited induction numbers and lack of pilot training, the IAF MiG-21 Fishbed played a limited role in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. However, the IAF gained valuable experience while operating the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed for defensive sorties during the war. The positive feedBack from IAF pilots during the 1965 war prompted India to place more orders for the fighter jet and also invest heavily in building the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds maintenance infrastructure and pilot training programs. By 1969, India had acquired more than 120 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds from the Soviet Union.

Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

The expansion of IAF Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed fleet marked a growing India-Soviet Union military partnership which enabled India to field a formidable air force to counter Chinese and Pakistani threats. The capabilities of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed were put to the test during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. During the war, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds played a crucial role in giving the IAF air superiority over vital points and areas in the western theater of the conflict.

The 1971 war witnessed the first supersonic air combat in the subcontinent when an Indian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21FL Fishbed-D&rdquo fighter claimed a PAF Lockheed F-104 Starfighter with its GSh-23 twin-barrelled 23 mm cannon. By the time the hostilities came to an end, the IAF Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds had claimed four PAF Lockheed F-104 Starfighters, two PAF F.6, one PAF North American F-86 Sabre and one PAF Lockheed C-130 Hercules. According to one Western military analyst, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds had clearly won the much anticipated air combat between the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed and the Lockheed F-104 Starfighters.

Because of the formidable performance of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds, several nations, including Iraq, approached India for Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed pilot training. By the early 1970’s, more than 120 Iraqi pilots were being trained by the Indian Air Force.

Kargil War and Atlantique Incident

It was also used as late as 1999 in the Kargil War, in which one Indian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds was shot down. The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed’s last known kill took place in 1999 during the Atlantique Incident, when two MiG-21 Fishbed fighters of the Indian Air Force intercepted and shot down an Breguet Atlantique reconnaissance aircraft of the Pakistani Navy with the R-60MK (AA-8 Aphid) air-to-air missile.

India-Pakistan Conflicts: Confirmed MiG-21 Fishbed Kills & Losses in Air-to-Air Combat


The Indonesian Air Force purchased 22 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds. In 1962, 20 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21F-13’s and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21U’s were received during Operation Trikora in the Western New Guinea conflict. Indonesian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds never fought in any dogfight. Right after the U.S. Backed anti-communist forces took over the government, the entire Indonesian MiG-21 Fishbed fleet (also Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19) were delivered to the U.S. in exchange for Lockheed T-33, Sikorsky UH-34D, and later, Northrop F-5 and North American Rockwell OV-10 aircraft. The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG’s then formed &ldquoRed Eagles, a U.S. OPFOR squadron at Groom Lake.


As may be seen from its range figures, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed was designed for very short ground-controlled interception (GCI) missions. It became renowned for this type of mission in the skies over North Vietnam. The first Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds arrived directly from the Soviet Union by ship in April 1966. After being unloaded and assembled they were given to North Vietnam’s oldest fighter unit, the 921st Fighter Regiment which was created on 3 February 1964 as a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 unit. Because the North Vietnamese Air Force’s 923rd FR was newer and less experienced, they would continue to operate Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17’s while the arrival of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19’s (J6 versions) from Communist China in 1969 would create North Vietnam’s only Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19 unit, the 925th FR. On 3 February 1972, North Vietnam commissioned their fourth and last Fighter Regiment created during the war with the Republic of Vietnam, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM (Type 94) equipped 927th Fighter Regiment.

Although 13 of North Vietnam’s flying aces attained their status while flying the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed (cf. three in the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17) many North Vietnamese pilots preferred the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 because the high wing loading of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed made it relatively less maneuverable and the lighter framed canopy of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 gave better visibility. However, this is not the impression perceived by British author Roger Boniface when he interviewed Pham Ngoc Lan and ace Nguyen Nhât Chiêu (who scored victories flying both Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21). Pham Ngoc Lan told Boniface that the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed was much faster, and it had two ATOLL missiles which were very accurate and reliable when fired between 1,000 and 1,200 yards.", and Chiêu asserted that "...for me personally I preferred the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed because it was superior in all specifications in climb, speed and armament. The ATOLL missile was very accurate and I scored four kills with the ATOLL. In general combat conditions I was always confident of a kill over a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II&rdqui; when flying a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21."

Although the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed lacked the long-range radar, missiles, and heavy bomb load of its contemporary multi-mission U.S. fighters, it proved a challenging adversary in the hands of experienced pilots, especially when used in high speed hit and run attacks under GCI control. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed intercepts of Republic F-105 Thunderchief strike groups were effective in downing US aircraft or forcing them to jettison their bomb loads.

After a million sorties and nearly 1,000 US aircraft losses, Operation Rolling Thunder came to an end on 1 November 1968. A poor air-to-air combat loss-exchange ratios against the smaller, more agile enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG’s during the early part of the Vietnam War eventually led the USN to create their Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known as Top Gun at Miramar Naval Air Station on 3 March 1969. The USAF quickly followed with their own version, titled the Dissimilar Air Combat Training (sometimes referred to as Red Flag) program. These two programs employed the subsonic Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and the supersonic Northrop F-5 Tiger II, as well as the Mach 2.4-capable USAF Convair F-106 Delta Dart, which mimicked the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed. Over the course of the air war, between 3 April 1965 and 8 January 1973, each side would ultimately claim favorable kill ratios.

One MiG-21 Fishbed was shot down on 21 February 1972 by an U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom II piloted by Major Lodge with Lt. Roger Locher as his RIO based at Udorn, Thailand. This was claimed to be the first ever U.S. Air Force MiG kill at night, and the first in four years at that time. The intercept occurred near the Fish’s Mouth region of the Laos, North Vietnam border.

Two Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds were claimed shot down by U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52 Stratofortress tail gunners; the only confirmed air-to-air kills made by the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. The first aerial victory occurred on 18 December 1972, kill awarded to tail gunner SSgt Samuel Turner, who was awarded the Silver Star for his feat. The second air-to-air kill took place on 24 December 1972, kill awarded to A1C Albert E. Moore for downing a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed over the Thai Nguyen railroad yards. Both actions occurred during Operation LineBacker II (also known as the Christmas Bombings).

The biggest threat to North Vietnam during the war had always been the Strategic Air Command’s Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. Hanoi’s Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 Fresco and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19 Farmer interceptors could not deal with those bombers at their flying altitude. In the summer of 1972 the NVAF was directed to train 12 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed pilots for the specific mission of attacking and shooting down Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers; with two-thirds of those pilots specifically trained in the night attack. On 26 December 1972, just two days after Tail gunner Albert Moore downed his Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed, a VPAF (North Vietnamese Air Force) Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF Fishbed-J (number 5121) from the 921st Fighter Regiment, flown by Major Pham Tuân over Hanoi, North Vietnam claimed responsibility for the first aerial combat kill of a U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52 Stratofortress in aviation history. The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress had been above Hanoi at over 30,000 feet (9,100 m) during Operation LineBacker II, when Major Tuân launched two Atoll missiles from 2 kilometers, claiming to have destroyed one of the bombers flying in the three plane formation. Other sources argue that his missiles failed to hit their mark, but as he was disengaging a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress from a three-bomber cell in front of his target took a hit from a SAM, exploding in mid-air: this may have caused Tuan to think his missiles destroyed the target he had been aiming for.

The Vietnamese side also claims another kill to have taken place on 28 December 1972 by a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed from the 921st FR, this time flown by Vu Xuan Thieu. Thieu is said to perished in the explosion of a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress hit by his own missiles, having approached the target too closely. In this case the Vietnamese version appears to be a complete fabrication: while one Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed kill was claimed by McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II fighters that night (this may have been Thief’s MiG), no Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers were lost to any cause on the date of the claimed kill.

Year-by-Year Kill Claims involving Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds

Egyptian-Syrian-Israeli Conflicts

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed was also used extensively in the Middle East conflicts of the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s by the air forces of Egypt, Syria and Iraq. the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed first encountered Israeli Mirage III’s on 14 November 1964, but it was not until 14 July 1966 that the first Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed was shot down. Another six Syrian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds were shot down by Israeli Mirages on 7 April 1967. the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed would also face McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II’s and Douglas A-4 Skyhawks, but was later outclassed by the more modern McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, which were acquired by Israel beginning in the mid-1970’s.

During the opening attacks of the 1967 Six Day War, the Israeli Air Force struck Arab air forces in four attack waves. In the first wave, IDF aircraft claimed to have destroyed eight Egyptian aircraft in air-to-air combat, of which seven were Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds; Egypt claims 10 Israeli aircraft destroyed, four or five of which were scored by Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PF Fishbed-D’s. During the second wave the Israelis claimed four Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds downed in air-to-air combat, and the third wave resulted in two Syrian and one Iraqi Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds claimed destroyed in the air. The fourth wave destroyed some more Syrian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds on the ground. Overall, the Egyptians lost around 100 out of about 110 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds they had, almost all on the ground; the Syrians lost 35 of 60 MiG-21F-13 Fishbed-E’s and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PF Fishbed-D’s&rdqwuo; in the air and on the ground.

Between the end of the Six Day War and the start of the War of Attrition, IDF Mirage fighters had six confirmed kills of Egyptian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds, in exchange for Egyptian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds scoring two confirmed and three probable kills against Israeli aircraft. During the War of Attrition itself, the Israelis claimed 56 confirmed kills against Egyptian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds, while Egyptian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds claimed 14 confirmed and 12 probable kills against IDF aircraft. During this same time period, from the end of the Six Day War to the end of the War of Attrition, the Israelis claimed a total of 25 Syrian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds destroyed; the Syrians claimed three confirmed and four probable kills of Israel aircraft.

High losses to Egyptian aircraft and continuous bombing during the War of Attrition caused the Egyptians to ask the Soviet Union for help. In June 1970, Soviet pilots and SAM crews arrived with their equipment. On 22 June 1970, a Soviet pilot flying a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF Fishbed-J shot down an Israeli Douglas A-4E Skyhawk. After some more successful intercepts by Soviet pilots and another Israeli Douglas A-4 Skyhawk being shot down on 25 July, the Israelis decided to plan an ambush in response. On 30 July Israeli McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II’s lured Soviet Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds into an area where they were ambushed by Dassault Mirages. Asher Snir, flying a Mirage IIICJ, destroyed a Soviet Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed; Avihu Ben-Nun and Aviam Sela, both piloting McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II’s, each got a kill, and an unidentified pilot in another Dassault Mirage scored the fourth kill against the Soviet-flown Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds. Three Soviet pilots were killed and the Soviets were alarmed by the losses. However, Soviet Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed pilots and SAM crews destroyed a total of 21 Israeli aircraft, which helped to convince the Israelis to sign a cease fire agreement.

In September 1973, a large air battle erupted between the Syrians and the Israelis; the Israelis claimed a total of 12 Syrian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds destroyed, while the Syrians claimed eight kills scored by Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds and admitted five losses.

During the Yom Kippur War, the Israelis claimed a total of 73 kills of Egyptian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds. Egypt claimed 27 kills of Israeli aircraft by its Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds, plus eight probables. However, according to most reliable sources, these were exaggerated claims as Israeli air-to-air combat losses for the entire war did not exceed five to eight.

On the Syrian front of the war, 6 October 1973 saw a flight of Syrian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF Fishbed-J’s shoot down an IDF Douglas A-4E Skyhawk and a Dassault Mirage IIICJwhile losing three of their own to Israeli IAI Neshers. On 7 October, Syrian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF Fishbed-J’s downed two Israeli McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II’s, three Dassault Mirage IIICJ’s and a Douglas A-4E Skyhawk while losing two of their MiGs to IAI Neshers and one to a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II, plus two to friendly SAM fire. Iraqi Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PF Fishbed-D’s also operated on this front, and on that same day destroyed two Douglas A-4E Skyhawks while losing one MiG. On 8 October 1973, Syrian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM Fishbed-F’s downed three McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II’s, but six of their Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds were lost. By the end of the war, Syrian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds claimed a total of 30 confirmed kills against Israeli aircraft; 29 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds were claimed as destroyed by the IDF.

Between the end of the Yom Kippur War and the start of the 1982 Lebanon War, the Israelis had received modern McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagles and General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon&rdquo fighters, which were far superior to the old Syrian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF Fishbed-J’s. According to the IDF, these new aircraft accounted for the destruction of 24 Syrian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds over this time period, though the Syrians did claim five kills against IDF aircraft with their Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds armed with outdated K-13 missiles.

The 1982 Lebanon War started on 6 June 1982, and in the course of that war the IDF claimed to have destroyed about 45 Syrian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF Fishbed-J’s. The Syrians claimed two confirmed and 15 probable kills of Israeli aircraft. This air battle was the largest to occur since the Korean War.

Other Middle East Conflicts

Egypt would be shipped some American Sidewinder missiles, and these were fitted to their Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds and successfully used in combat against Libyan Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 Floggers during the brief Libyan-Egyptian War of July 1977.

Libya vs Egypt Conflicts: Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds in Air-to-Air Combat

Iran-Iraq War

During the Iran-Iraq War, 23 Iraqi Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds were shot down by Iranian Grumman F-14 Tomcats, confirmed by the Iranian, western and Iraqi sources and 29 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds by McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II’s


Libyan Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds saw limited service during the 2011 Libyan civil war. On 15 March 2011, one Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21bis Fishbed and one Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21UM Mongol-B flown by defector Libyan air force pilots who joined the rebellion, flew from Ghardabiya AB (near Sirte) and landed at Benina airport to became part of the Free Libyan Air Force. On 17 March 2011, after it ran out of fuel, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21UM Mongol-B crashed after takeoff from Benina airport.

Syrian Civil War (2011-Ongoing)

Starting from the final week of July, the involvement of the Syrian Air Force in the Syrian civil war, dramatically increased with videos showing that SyAF Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros&rdqwuo; combat trainers, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 Flogger fixed wing fighter jets started bombing rebel held areas. Up to that point only helicopters, mostly Mil Mi-8 and Mil Mi-17 Hip were captured on videos on strike missions, while few jets used as reconnaissance aircraft. Abu ad Duhur Air Base, home of a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed regiment, became an important focus for the rebel forces to deny this new threat posed by the loyalist Air Force. The base was put under siege with mortar shelling and antiaircraft guns at the end of August.

On 30 August 2012, a Syrian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21bis Fishbed (s/n 2271) was shot down while taking off from Abu ad Duhur Air Base on a mission to provide air support for the loyalist forces. The aircraft was hit by the rebels’ antiaircraft heavy machine gun fire while at low altitude and speed after the take off. The pilot ejected successfully, but was killed by the rebels. Eleven more were claimed to have been destroyed on the ground.

On 4 September 2012, another Syrian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21bis Fishbed (s/n 2280) crashed during a landing approach to Abu al-Dahur air base. Since the base was under siege by insurgent forces, the pilot tried a hazardous maneuver which led the pilot to lose control of the MiG. The pilot ejected at low altitude, but the parachute did not deploy on time and the pilot was killed.


Yugoslavia purchased its first batch of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds in 1962 from the Soviet Union. In the period from 1962 to the early 1980’s Yugoslavia had purchased up to 216 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds in nine variants. From 1964 to 1992, about 80 aircraft had been lost in accidents. Yugoslav Air force units that operated MiG-21 Fishbed were the 204th fighter-aviation regiment at Batajnica Air Base (126th, 127th and 128th fighter-aviation squadrons), 117th fighter-aviation regiment at Željava Air Base (124th and 125th fighter-aviation squadron and 352nd recon squadron), 83rd fighter-aviation regiment at Slatina Air Base (123rd and 130th fighter aviation squadron), 185th fighter-bomber-aviation squadron (129th fighter-aviation squadron) at Pula and 129th training center at Batajnica air base.

During the early stages of the 19911995 Yugoslav wars the Yugoslav People’s Army used Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds in a ground-attack role, while Croatian and Slovenian forces did not have air forces at the beginning of the war. Aircraft from air bases in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were relocated to air bases in Serbia. Detailed records show at least seven Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds were shot down by AA defenses in Croatia and Bosnia. A Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed shot down an EC helicopter in 1992.

Croatia acquired three Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds in 1992 through defections by Croatian pilots serving with the JNA, two of which were lost in subsequent actions - one to Serbian air defenses, the other in a friendly fire accident. In 1993, Croatia purchased about 40 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds in violation of an arms embargo, but only about 20 of these entered service, while the rest were used for spare parts. Croatia used them alongside the sole remaining defector for ground attack missions in operations Flash (during which one was lost) and Storm. The only air-to-air action for Croatian MiG’s was an attempt by two of them to intercept Soko J-22 Oraos of Republika Srpska Air Force on ground attack mission on 7 August 1995. After some maneuvering, both sides disengaged without firing.

Remaining Yugoslav Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds were flown to Serbia by 1992 and continued their service in the newly created Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. During the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, 33 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds were destroyed on the ground.


During the Cold War, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds were supplied to many sub-Saharan African nations by the Soviets. The Cubans also flew their Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds in some of the conflicts.

One of the more notable uses of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds in combat occurred during the Angolan Civil War in the hands of the People’s Air and Air Defence Force of Angola. Cuban Air Force pilots also flew Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds over Angola during the war. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds were used as fighter-bombers and most losses were due to ground fire. However, both Angolan and Cuban Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds often had encounters with South African Air Force Dassault Mirages. On 6 November 1981, Major Johann Rankin, flying a Dassault Mirage F.1CZ, scored the SAAF’s first kill since the Korean War, downing the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF Fishbed-J of Lt. Danacio Valdez. On 5 October 1982, a SAAF Mirage IIICZ damaged a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF Fishbed-J with cannon fire, but the MiG managed to return to base safely. The SAAF acquired a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed from the Angolan Air Force No. 340 through defection and the aircraft currently resides on display at the South African Air Force Museum, Swartkops Air Force Base in Pretoria.

During the Ogaden War of 197778, American-supplied Ethiopian Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighters met Somalian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF Fishbed-J’s in combat several times. In one lopsided incident, two Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighters piloted by Israelis engaged four Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF Fishbed-J’s that were armed only with bombs. The pilots destroyed two and then watched as the two remaining Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds collided with each other while trying to avoid an AIM-9 Sidewinder fired by the Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter. The Ethiopian Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighters&rdaquo; claimed 10 Somali Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF Fishbed-J’s in return, Somali Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF Fishbed-J’s claimed four Ethiopian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF Fishbed-J’s, three Northrop F-5E Tiger II’s, one English Electric Canberra bomber and three Douglas DC-3’s. Ironically, Ethiopia also received Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds. The Ethiopian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds were used to bomb Somali forces in the final Ethiopian counter-attack.

There are also some other reports in the Eritrean\Ethiopian conflict of 1999. That Eritrean Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fishbeds shoot down two Ethiopian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds, three Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 Floggers, and a Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds along with its Chinese copy (the F-7 Skybolt&rdquo), flew ground sorties during the First and Second Congo Wars, sometimes being piloted by mercenaries.


Beginning in 1993, Russia did not offer spare parts for the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 Flogger and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters for the Romanian Air Force. Initially, this was the context for the modernization of the Romanian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds with Elbit Systems, and because it was easier for the Romanians to maintain these fighter jets. A total of 110 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds were modernized under the LanceR designation. Today, only 48 LanceR’s are operational for the RoAF. It can use both Western and Eastern armament such as the R-60M, R-73, Magic 2, or Python III missiles. They will be replaced by General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons in the late 20 teens. However due to lack of funds the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed-LanceR may fly for years longer.

Known MiG-21 Aces

Several pilots have attained ace status (five or more aerial victories/kills) while flying the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed. Nguyên Van Côc of the Vietnam People’s Air Force (VPAF; also referred to as the NVAF), who scored nine kills in Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds is regarded as the most successful. Twelve other VPAF pilots were credited with five or more aerial victories while flying the MiG-21: Pham Thanh Ngân, Nguyên Hông Nhi and Mai Van Cuòng (both eight kills); D´ng Ngoc Ngu (seven kills), Vu Ngoc Dinh, Nguyen Ngoc Do, Nguyen Nhât Chiêu, Lê Thanh Dao, Nguyen Dang Kinh, Nguyen Dúc Soát, and Nguyen Tiên Sâm (six kills each), and Nguyen Van Nghia (five kills). Col. Vadim Petrovich Shchbakov according to the 18th Report of the US government’s Task Force Russia, achieved ace status with six kills in the Vietnam War while serving as a pilot instructor.

Additionally, three Syrian pilots are known to have attained ace status while flying the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed. Syrian airmen: M. Mansour recorded five solo kills (with one additional probable), B. Hamshu scored five solo kills, and A. el-Gar tallied four solo and one shared kill, all three during the 19731974 engagements against Israel.

Due to the incomplete nature of available records, there are several pilots who have un-confirmed aerial victories (probable kills), which when confirmed would award them Ace Status: S. A. Razak of the Iraqi Air Force with four known kills scored during the Iran-Iraq War (until 1991; sometimes referred to as the Persian Gulf War), A. Wafai of the Egyptian Air Force with four known kills against Israel.

For specific information on kills scored by and against Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds sorted by country see the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed operators section.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Variants 3

Development and Pre-Production - Generation Zero (1954-1956)

Initial Mass Production - Generation One (1957-1961)

Interceptors - Generation Two (1961-1966)

Modernization - Generation Three (1968-1972)

Trainer Variants (1960-1968+)

  • MiG-21US (1966; izdeliye 68; NATO "Mongol-B"): U = Uchebnyy ("Training"): S = Sduv [Pogranichnovo Sloya] ("[Boundary Layer] Blowing"): Two-seat training version; upgrade of MiG-21U 66-400 with blown flaps.
  • MiG-21US (1966; izdeliye 68A; NATO Mongol-B"): Export version of MiG-21US with slightly modified avionics.
  • MiG-21UM (1968; izdeliye 69; NATO "Mongol-B"): U = Uchebnyy ("Training"): M = Modernizovannyy ("Modernized"): Two-seat training version of the MiG-21MF. Type 69 Indian Air Force designation.
  • MiG-21UMD: D = Doraden :Croatian designation for four MiG-21UM upgraded for NATO interoperability, similarly to the MiG-21bis-D.
  • Upgrade Programs

    Foreign-Built Variants

    Specifications (MiG-21PFM Fishbed-F) 5

    General Characteristics


    Weights and Loadings


    Armament 3

    Avionics (izd.94A) 3


    1. Photos: John Shupek
    2. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21
    3. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 variants
    4. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 operators
    5. Belyakov, R.A. and J. Marmain. MiG: Fifty Years of Secret Aircraft Design. Annapolis, Maryland: US Naval Institute Press, 1993. ISBN 978-1-55750-566-8. pp 319-321
    6. Photos by Lt. Col. Marc Matthews, M.D. (USAF Ret.), 10/10/2012

    Skytamer.com, Est. 1998