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Egyptian MiG-21 PFM
Role Fighter
Manufacturer Mikoyan-Gurevich OKB
Designer Artem Mikoyan
First flight 14 February 1955 (Ye-2)
Introduction 1959 (MiG-21F)
Status In active service (see list)
Primary users Soviet Air Force
Indian Air Force
Romanian Air Force
Serbian Air Force
Produced 1959 (MiG-21F) to 1985 (MiG-21bis)
Number built 11,496[1]
(10,645 produced in the USSR, 657 in India, 194 in Czechoslovakia)
Variants Chengdu J-7

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 (Russian: Микоян и Гуревич МиГ-21; 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 ołówek (English: pencil) by Polish pilots due to the shape of its fuselage.[2]

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 variants).[1]



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-21 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.

In the West, due to the lack of available information, early details of the MiG-21 often were confused with those of similar Soviet fighters of the era. In one instance, Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1960–1961 listed the "Fishbed" as a Sukhoi design and used an illustration of the Su-9 'Fishpot'.


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 III.[1] 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. These had a range increase of 250 km (155 mi) compared to the MiG-21SM, but at the cost of worsening all other performance figures (such as a lower service ceiling and slower time to altitude).[1]

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,[1] 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. Its G-limits were increased from +7Gs in initial variants to +8.5Gs in the latest variants.[3] It was replaced by the newer variable-geometry MiG-23 and MiG-27 for ground support duties. 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.

The 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. Several Russian, Israeli and Romanian firms have begun to offer upgrade packages to MiG-21 operators, designed to bring the aircraft up to a modern standard, with greatly upgraded avionics and armaments.[1]


A total of 10,645 aircraft were built in the USSR. They were produced in three factories: GAZ 30[N 1] (3,203 aircraft) in Moscow (also known as Znamya Truda), GAZ 21 (5,765 aircraft) in Gorky [N 2] and at GAZ 31 (1,678 aircraft) in Tbilisi. Generally, Gorky built single-seaters for the Soviet forces. Moscow constructed single-seaters for export, and Tbilisi manufactured the twin-seaters both for export and for the USSR, though there were exceptions. The MiG-21R and MiG-21bis for export and for the USSR were built in Gorky, 17 single-seaters were helmed in Tbilisi (MiG-21 and MiG-21F), the MiG-21MF was first constructed in Moscow and then Gorky, and the MiG-21U was built in Moscow as well as in Tbilisi.[1]

Gorky 83 MiG-21F; 513 MiG-21F-13; 525 MiG-21PF; 233 MiG-21PFL; 944 MiG-21PFS/PFM; 448 MiG-21R; 145 MiG-21S/SN; 349 MiG-21SM; 281 MiG-21SMT; 2013 MiG-21bis; 231 MiG-21MF
Moscow MiG-21U (all export units); MiG-21PF (all export units); MiG-21FL (all units not built by HAL); MiG-21M (all); 15 MiG-21MT (all)
Tbilisi 17 MiG-21 and MiG-21F; 181 MiG-21U izdeliye 66–400 and 66–600 (1962–1966); 347 MiG-21US (1966–1970); 1133 MiG-21UM (1971 to end)

A total of 194 MiG-21F-13s 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)


The MiG-21 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 MiG-21s, 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 MiG-21PF, 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 MiG-21, the pitot tube is attached to the bottom of the nose. After the 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 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. Starting from the 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 MiG-21 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 MiG-21 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 MiG-21F 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



In 1961, the Indian Air Force (IAF) opted to purchase the MiG-21 over several other Western competitors. As part of the deal, the Soviet Union offered India full transfer of technology and rights for local assembly.[4] In 1964, the MiG-21 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 played a limited role in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.[5] However, the IAF gained valuable experience while operating the MiG-21 for defensive sorties during the war.[5] 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 MiG-21's maintenance infrastructure and pilot training programs.

Since 1963, India has introduced more than 1,200 MiG planes into its air force. As of August 2013, at least 252 MiG-21s are known to be in operation. However, the plane has been plagued by safety problems. Since 1970 more than 170 Indian pilots and 40 civilians have been killed in MiG-21 accidents. At least 14 MiG-21s had crashed between 2010 and 2013.[6]

Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

The expansion of IAF MiG-21 fleet marked a growing India-Soviet Union military partnership which enabled India to field a formidable air force to counter Chinese and Pakistani threats.[7] The capabilities of the MiG-21 were put to the test during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. During the war, the MiG-21s played a crucial role in giving the IAF air superiority over vital points and areas in the western theater of the conflict.[8]

The 1971 war witnessed the first supersonic air combat in the subcontinent when an Indian MiG-21FLs claimed a PAF F-104 Starfighter with its GSh-23 twin-barrelled 23 mm cannon.[9] By the time the hostilities came to an end, the IAF MiG-21s had claimed four PAF F-104s, 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 MiG-21s had clearly "won" the much anticipated air combat between the MiG-21 and the F-104 Starfighter.[10]

Because of the formidable performance of the MiG-21s, several nations, including Iraq, approached India for MiG-21 pilot training. By the early 1970s, more than 120 Iraqi pilots were being trained by the Indian Air Force.[11]

Kargil War and Atlantique Incident

It was also used as late as 1999 in the Kargil War, in which one Indian Air Force MiG-21 was shot down by ground fire, the pilot ejected safely but was captured and tortured to death by Pakistani Forces.[12] The MiG-21's last known kill took place in 1999 during the Atlantique Incident, when two MiG-21 aircraft of the Indian Air Force intercepted and shot down a 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 kills in air-to-air combat
Date Aircraft scoring kill Squadron Pilot Victim
4 September 1965[13] IAF MiG-21F-13 PAF F-86E(damaged)
4 December 1971[1][13] IAF MiG-21FL 28 Squadron (First Supersonics) Manbir Singh PAF Sabre Mk.6
6 December 1971[13] IAF MiG-21FL S B Shah PAF F-6
12 December 1971[1][13] IAF MiG-21FL 28 Squadron (First Supersonics) B B Soni PAF F-104A
16 December 1971[1][13] IAF MiG-21FL 29 Squadron (Scorpios) S B Shah PAF F-6
17 December 1971[1][13] IAF MiG-21FL 29 Squadron (Scorpios) N Kukreja PAF F-104A
17 December 1971[1][13] IAF MiG-21FL 29 Squadron (Scorpios) I S Bindra PAF F-104A
17 December 1971[13] IAF MiG-21FL 29 Squadron (Scorpios) A K Datta PAF F-104A
17 December 1971[13] IAF MiG-21FL 29 Squadron (Scorpios) S B Shah PAF F-104A (damaged)
1997[13] IAF MiG-21bis PAF AV (damaged)
10 August 1999[1][13] IAF MiG-21bis 45 Squadron (Winged Swords) P K Bundela PN Br.1150 Atlantic


The Indonesian Air Force purchased 22 MiG-21s. In 1962, 20 MiG-21F-13s and MiG-21Us were received during Operation Trikora in the Western New Guinea conflict. Indonesian MiG-21s never fought in any dogfight. Right after the U.S. backed anti-communist forces took over the government, the entire Indonesian MiG-21 fleet (also MiG-17 and MiG-19) were delivered to the U.S. in exchange for T-33, UH-34D, and later, F-5 and OV-10 aircraft. The MiGs then formed "Red Eagles", a U.S. OPFOR squadron at Groom Lake.[14]


As may be seen from its range figures, the MiG-21 was designed for very short ground-controlled interception (GCI) missions. It became renowned for this type of mission in the skies over North Vietnam.[15] The first MiG-21s arrived directly from the Soviet Union by ship in April 1966. After being unloaded and assembled[16] they were given to North Vietnam's oldest fighter unit, the 921st Fighter Regiment which was created on 3 February 1964 as a MiG-17 unit. Because the North Vietnamese Air Force's 923rd FR was newer and less experienced, they would continue to operate MiG-17s while the arrival of the MiG-19s (J6 versions) from Communist China in 1969 would create North Vietnam's only 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 MiG-21PFM (Type 94) equipped 927th Fighter Regiment.[17]

Although 13 of North Vietnam's flying aces attained their status while flying the MiG-21 (cf. three in the MiG-17) many North Vietnamese pilots preferred the MiG-17 because the high wing loading of the MiG-21 made it relatively less maneuverable and the lighter framed canopy of the MiG-17 gave better visibility.[18] However, this is not the impression perceived by British author Roger Boniface when he interviewed Pham Ngoc Lan and ace Nguyễn Nhật Chiêu (who scored victories flying both MiG-17 and MiG-21).[19][20] Pham Ngoc Lan told Boniface that "The MiG-21 was much faster, and it had two ATOLL missiles which were very accurate and reliable when fired between 1,000 and 1,200 yards."[21][22] And Chiêu asserted that "...for me personally I preferred the MiG-21 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 F-4 Phantom when flying a MiG-21."[23][24]

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

MiG-21 aerial combat victories in the Vietnam War 1966-1972[25][26]

North Vietnamese Air Force (NVAF)[27] MiG-21 air to air kills:
Date/year MiG-21 unit MiG-21 weapon Aircraft destroyed Destroyed aircraft unit/remarks
10-5-1966 NVAF 921st Fighter Regiment (FR) AA-2 Atoll (K-13) air to air missile F-4C Phantom II USAF 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS)
12-14-66 921st FR AA-2 Atoll F-105D Thunderchief USAF 357th TFS
1967 921st FR 30mm cannon/AA-2 Atoll (7) F-105D, (3) F-105F, (5) F-4D, (2) F-4B, (1) RF-101 Voodoo USAF 13th TFS, 20th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (TRS), 34th TFS, 44th TFS, 333rd TFS, 354th TFS, 357th TFS, 435th TFS, 469th TFS, 555th TFS. (1) F-4D from 555th TFS and (2) USN F-4Bs from VF-151 downed by unknown MiG units. (1) F-105D from 44th TFS downed by MiG-21 30mm cannon fire.[28] (1) F-4B from VF-151 probably downed by MiG-21 cannon fire.[29]
1968 921st FR AA-2 Atoll (3) F-105D, (1) F-4B, (1) F-4D, (1) F-4J USAF 34th TFS, 469th TFS, 497th TFS. USN VF-92 and VF-102.
01-14-68 921st FR AA-2 Atoll EB-66C Destroyer USAF 41st Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (TEWS)
02-03-68 921st FR AA-2 Atoll F-102A Delta Dagger USAF 509th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron (FIS)
1971 921st FR AA-2 Atoll (2) F-4Ds USAF 13th TFS and 555th TFS
1972 921st FR AA-2 Atoll (1) F-4B, (1) F-4D, (7) F-4E, (1) RA-5C Vigilante USAF 4th TFS, 13th TFS, 308th TFS, 334th TFS, 555th TFS, 366th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW). USN VF-51 and RVAH-13.
05-11-72 927th FR AA-2 Atoll F-105G USAF 17th Wild Weasel Squadron (WWS)
1972 927th FR 30mm cannon/AA-2 Atoll (4) F-4D, (10) F-4E USAF 4th TFS, 25th TFS, 34th TFS, 307th TFS, 308th TFSs, 335th TFS, 336th TFS, 421st TFS, 469th TFS, 523rd TFS, 555th TFS. (1) F-4E from the 307th TFS was downed by possible MiG-21 cannon fire.[30]
08-26-72 927th FR AA-2 Atoll F-4J USMC VMFA-232
Total F-4s: 37
Total F-105s: 15
Total Other: 4
Total Aircraft Destroyed: 56

After a million sorties and nearly 1,000 US aircraft losses, Operation Rolling Thunder came to an end on 1 November 1968.[33] A poor air-to-air combat loss-exchange ratios against the smaller, more agile enemy MiGs 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.[34] 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 F-5 Tiger II, as well as the Mach 2.4-capable USAF Convair F-106 Delta Dart, which mimicked the MiG-21.[35] Over the course of the air war, between 3 April 1965[36] and 8 January 1973, each side would ultimately claim favorable kill ratios.

One MiG-21 was shot down on 21 February 1972 by an U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom 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 MiG-21s 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 B-52. 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.[37] The second air-to-air kill took place on 24 December 1972, kill awarded to A1C Albert E. Moore for downing a MiG-21 over the Thai Nguyen railroad yards. Both actions occurred during Operation Linebacker II (also known as the Christmas Bombings).[38] These air-to-air kills were not confirmed by VPAF.

The biggest threat to North Vietnam during the war had always been the Strategic Air Command's B-52 Stratofortress. Hanoi's MiG-17 and MiG-19 interceptors could not deal with those bombers at their flying altitude. In the summer of 1972 the NVAF was directed to train 12 MiG-21 pilots for the specific mission of attacking and shooting down B-52 bombers; with two-thirds of those pilots specifically trained in the night attack.[39] On 26 December 1972, just two days after Tail gunner Albert Moore downed his MiG-21, a VPAF (North Vietnamese Air Force) MiG-21MF (number 5121)[40] from the 921st Fighter Regiment, flown by Major Phạm 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.[41] The 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 kilometres, claiming to have destroyed one of the bombers flying in the three plane formation.[41] Other sources argue that his missiles failed to hit their mark, but as he was disengaging, a B-52 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.[42]

The Vietnamese side also claims another kill to have taken place on 28 December 1972 by a MiG-21 from the 921st FR, this time flown by Vu Xuan Thieu. Thieu is said to have perished in the explosion of a B-52 hit by his own missiles, having approached the target too closely.[43] In this case the Vietnamese version appears to be erroneous: while one MiG-21 kill was claimed by Phantoms that night (this may have been Thieu's MiG), no B-52s were lost to any cause on the date of the claimed kill.[44]

Year-by-Year Kill Claims involving MiG-21s[1]

  • 1966: U.S. claimed six MiG-21s destroyed; North Vietnam claimed seven F-4 Phantom IIs and 11 F-105 Thunderchiefs shot down by MiG-21s.
  • 1967: U.S. claimed 21 MiG-21s destroyed; North Vietnam claimed 17 F-105 Thunderchiefs, 11 F-4 Phantom IIs, two McDonnell RF-101 Voodoos, one Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, one Vought F-8 Crusader, one EB-66 Destroyer and three unidentified types shot down by MiG-21s.
  • 1968: U.S. claimed nine MiG-21s destroyed; North Vietnam claimed 17 US aircraft shot down by MiG-21s.
  • 1969: U.S. destroyed three MiG-21s; one Firebee UAV destroyed by a MiG-21.
  • 1970: U.S. destroyed two MiG-21s; North Vietnam claimed one F-4 Phantom and one CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter shot down by MiG-21s.
  • 1972: U.S. claimed 51 MiG-21s destroyed; North Vietnam claimed 53 US aircraft shot down by MiG-21s, including two B-52 Stratofortress bombers. Soviet General Fesenko, the main Soviet adviser to the North Vietnamese Air Force in 1972,[43] recorded 34 MiG-21s destroyed in 1972.[43]

Egyptian-Syrian-Israeli conflicts

The MiG-21 was also used extensively in the Middle East conflicts of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s by the air forces of Egypt, Syria and Iraq. The MiG-21 first encountered Israeli Mirage IIICs on 14 November 1964, but it was not until 14 July 1966 that the first MiG-21 was shot down. Another six Syrian MiG-21s were shot down by Israeli Mirages on 7 April 1967. MiG-21s also faced McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs and Douglas A-4 Skyhawks, but were 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-1970s.

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 MiG-21s; Egypt claimed five kills scored by MiG-21PFs.[45] During the second wave Israel claimed four MiG-21s downed in air-to-air combat, and the third wave resulted in two Syrian and one Iraqi MiG-21s claimed destroyed in the air. The fourth wave destroyed some more Syrian MiG-21s on the ground. Overall, Egypt lost around 100 out of about 110 MiG-21s they had, almost all on the ground; Syria lost 35 of 60 MiG-21F-13s and MiG-21PFs in the air and on the ground.[1]

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 MiG-21s, in exchange for Egyptian MiG-21s scoring two confirmed and three probable kills against Israeli aircraft. During the War of Attrition itself, Israel claimed 56 confirmed kills against Egyptian MiG-21s, while Egyptian MiG-21s 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, Israel claimed a total of 25 Syrian MiG-21s destroyed; the Syrians claimed three confirmed and four probable kills of Israel aircraft.[1]

High losses to Egyptian aircraft and continuous bombing during the War of Attrition caused Egypt 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 MiG-21MF shot down an Israeli A-4E. After some more successful intercepts by Soviet pilots and another Israeli A-4 being shot down on 25 July, Israel decided to plan an ambush in response. On 30 July Israeli F-4s lured Soviet MiG-21s into an area where they were ambushed by Mirages. Asher Snir, flying a Mirage IIICJ, destroyed a Soviet MiG-21; Avihu Ben-Nun and Aviam Sela, both piloting F-4Es, each got a kill, and an unidentified pilot in another Mirage scored the fourth kill against the Soviet-flown MiG-21s. Three Soviet pilots were killed and the Soviet Union was alarmed by the losses. However, Soviet MiG-21 pilots and SAM crews destroyed a total of 21 Israeli aircraft, which helped to convince the Israelis to sign a ceasefire agreement.[1]

In September 1973, a large air battle erupted between Syria and Israel; Israel claimed a total of 12 Syrian MiG-21s destroyed, while Syria claimed eight kills scored by MiG-21s and admitted five losses.

During the Yom Kippur War, Israel claimed 73 kills against Egyptian MiG-21s (65 confirmed). Egypt claimed 27 confirmed kills against Israeli aircraft by its MiG-21s, plus eight probables.[1] However, according to most Israeli sources, these were exaggerated claims as Israeli air-to-air combat losses for the entire war did not exceed five to fifteen.[46][47]

On the Syrian front of the war, 6 October 1973 saw a flight of Syrian MiG-21MFs shoot down an IDF A-4E and a Mirage IIICJ while losing three of their own to Israeli IAI Neshers. On 7 October, Syrian MiG-21MFs downed two Israeli F-4Es, three Mirage IIICJs and an A-4E while losing two of their MiGs to Neshers and one to an F-4E, plus two to friendly SAM fire. Iraqi MiG-21PFs also operated on this front, and on that same day destroyed two A-4Es while losing one MiG. On 8 October 1973, Syrian MiG-21PFMs downed three F-4Es, but six of their MiG-21s were lost. By the end of the war, Syrian MiG-21s claimed a total of 30 confirmed kills against Israeli aircraft; 29 MiG-21s were claimed (26 confirmed) as destroyed by the IDF.[1]

Between the end of the Yom Kippur War and the start of the 1982 Lebanon War, Israel had received modern F-15s and F-16s, which were far superior to the old Syrian MiG-21MFs. According to the IDF, these new aircraft accounted for the destruction of 24 Syrian MiG-21s over this time period, though Syria did claim five kills against IDF aircraft with their MiG-21s armed with outdated K-13 missiles.[1]

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 MiG-21MFs. Syria claimed two confirmed and 15 probable kills of Israeli aircraft.[1] In addition, at least two Israeli F-15 and one F-4 was damaged in combat with the MiG-21.[48][49]This air battle was the largest to occur since the Korean War.

Other Middle East conflicts

Egypt was shipped some American Sidewinder missiles, and these were fitted to their MiG-21s and successfully used in combat against Libyan Mirages and MiG-23s during the brief Libyan-Egyptian War of July 1977.

Libya vs Egypt conflicts: MiG-21s in air-to-air combat[1]
Date Aircraft scoring kill Victim
22 July 1977 LARAF Mirage 5DE EAF MiG-21MF
23 July 1977 EAF MiG-21MFs 3 (or 4) LARAF Mirage + 1 LARAF MiG-23MS
1979 EAF MiG-21MF LARAF MiG-23MS

Iran–Iraq War

During the Iran–Iraq War, 23 Iraqi MiG-21s were shot down by Iranian F-14s, confirmed by the Iranian, Western and Iraqi sources[50] and 29 MiG-21s by F-4s.[51] However, from 1980 to 1988, the Iraqi Mig-21 downed 43 Iranian airplanes(including F-14 Tomcats), against 49 Mig-21 losses in the same period.[52]


Libyan MiG-21s saw limited service during the 2011 Libyan civil war.[53] On 15 March 2011, one MiG-21bis and one MiG-21UM 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 the MiG-21UM suffered a technical fault and crashed after takeoff from Benina airport.[54]

Horn of Africa

During the Ogaden War of 1977–78, American-supplied Ethiopian F-5As met Somalian MiG-21MFs in combat several times. In one lopsided incident, two F-5As piloted by Israelis engaged four MiG-21MFs that were armed only with bombs. The pilots destroyed two and then watched as the two remaining MiG-21s collided with each other while trying to avoid an AIM-9 fired by the F-5.[1][55]

The Ethiopian F-5As claimed 10 Somali MiG-21MFs; in return, Somali MiG-21MFs claimed four Ethiopian MiG-21MFs, three F-5Es, one Canberra bomber and three Douglas DC-3s.[1] Ironically, Ethiopia also received MiG-21s. The Ethiopian MiG-21s were used to bomb Somali forces in the final Ethiopian counter-attack.[1]

Southern Africa

One of the more notable uses of MiG-21s 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 MiG-21s over Angola during the war. MiG-21s were used as fighter-bombers and most losses were due to ground fire. However, both Angolan and Cuban MiG-21s often had encounters with South African Air Force Mirages. On 6 November 1981, Major Johann Rankin, flying a Mirage F.1CZ, scored the SAAF's first kill since the Korean War, downing the MiG-21MF of Lt. Danacio Valdez. On 5 October 1982, a SAAF Mirage IIICZ damaged a MiG-21MF with cannon fire, but the MiG managed to return to base safely.[1] The SAAF acquired a MiG-21bis 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.


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


Yugoslavia purchased its first batch of MiG-21s in 1962 from the Soviet Union. In the period from 1962 to the early 1980s Yugoslavia had purchased up to 216 MiG-21s in nine variants. From 1964 to 1992, about 80 aircraft had been lost in accidents. Yugoslav Air force units that operated MiG-21 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 1991–1995 Yugoslav wars the Yugoslav People's Army used MiG-21s 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 MiG-21s were shot down by AA defenses in Croatia and Bosnia.[56] A MiG-21 shot down an EC helicopter in 1992.[57]

Croatia acquired three MiG-21s 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.[58] In 1993, Croatia purchased about 40 MiG-21s in violation of an arms embargo,[58] 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 MiGs 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.[58]

Remaining Yugoslav MiG-21s 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 MiG-21s were destroyed on the ground.[56]


Beginning in 1993, Russia did not offer spare parts for the MiG-23 and MiG-29 for the Romanian Air Force. Initially, this was the context for the modernization of the Romanian MiG-21s with Elbit Systems, and because it was easier for the Romanians to maintain these fighter jets. A total of 110 MiG-21s were modernized under the LanceR designation. Today, only 48 LanceRs 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 F-16s in the late 2010s. However due to lack of funds the MiG-21 LanceR may fly for years longer.[59]


Bulgaria received a total of 224 MiG-21 aircraft. From September 1963 the 19th Fighter Regiment of the Air Force received 12 MiG-21F-13s. Later some of these aircraft were converted for reconnaissance as MiG-21F-13Rs, which were submitted to the 26th Reconnaissance Regiment in 1988. In January 1965 the 18th Fighter Regiment received a squadron of 12 MiG-21PFs, some of which also were converted and used as a reconnaissance aircraft (MiG-oboznachevnieto 21PFR). The 26 Regiment reconnaissance aircraft from this squadron were removed from service in 1991, the 15 Fighter Regiment in 1965 received another 12 MiG-21PF fighters and in 1977-1978 operated another 36 refurbished aircraft. This unit received two more aircraft in 1984 and operated them until 1992.

For reconnaissance, a regiment received 26 specialized reconnaissance MiG-21Rs in 1962, and in 1969–1970, 19 Fighter Aviation Regiment received 15 MiG-21m aircraft, which operated in 21 Fighter Aviation Regiment and were removed from active service in 1990. An additional 12 MiG-21MF fighters were received in 1974–1975, with a reconnaissance version of the MiG-21MFR provided to the 26th Reconnaissance Regiment and eksloatirani until 2000, when removed from active service.

From 1983 to 1990, the Bulgaria Air Force received 72 MiG-21bis. Of these, 30 (six new and renovated) are under option with ACS and provided to the 19th Fighter Regiment; the rest are equipped with the "Lazur". This batch was taken out of service in 2000.

Besides fighters, the Air Force has received 39 MiG-21U trainers (one in 1966), five MiG-21US in 1969–1970 and 27 MiG-21UM (new) during 1974–1980, another six refurbished ex-Soviet examples in 1990. In 1982, three MiG-21UM trainers were sold to Cambodia and in 1994 another 10 examples. MiG-21UMs were also sold to India. Oher training aircraft were removed from active service in 2000. A total of 38 aircraft were lost in the period 1963–2000.

Known MiG-21 aces

Several pilots have attained ace status (five or more aerial victories/kills) while flying the MiG-21. Nguyễn Văn Cốc of the Vietnam People's Air Force (VPAF; also referred to as the NVAF), who scored nine kills in MiG-21s is regarded as the most successful.[60] Twelve other VPAF pilots were credited with five or more aerial victories while flying the MiG-21: Phạm Thanh Ngân,[1] Nguyễn Hồng Nhị and Mai Văn Cường (both eight kills); Đặng Ngọc Ngự[1] (seven kills), Vũ Ngọc Đỉnh,[1] Nguyễn Ngọc Độ,[1] Nguyễn Nhật Chiêu,[1] Lê Thanh Đạo,[1] Nguyễn Đăng Kỉnh,[1] Nguyễn Đức Soát,[1] and Nguyễn Tiến Sâm[1] (six kills each), and Nguyễn Văn Nghĩa[1] (five kills).

Additionally, three Syrian pilots are known to have attained ace status while flying the MiG-21. Syrian airmen: M. Mansour[61] recorded five solo kills (with one additional probable), B. Hamshu[61] scored five solo kills, and A. el-Gar[61] tallied four solo and one shared kill, all three during the 1973–1974 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[62] 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[63] of the Egyptian Air Force with four known kills against Israel.

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

See also List of Syrian flying aces, List of Egyptian flying aces


Main article: Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 variants


Current operators

This list does not include operators of Chinese copies / licensed manufactured versions known as the Chengdu J-7/F-7. Information is based on Mig-21 (2008).[1]

Former operators

Civilian operators

According to the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there are currently 44 privately owned MiG-21s in the U.S.[84] There are companies that purchase MiG-21s, MiG-15s and MiG-17s from Russia and other countries for sale to civilians for around $US450,000. Draken International, located in Lakeland, Florida is one of the largest private owners of MiG-21 aircraft. In South Africa, the type is being marketed as part of a joyride package for tourist.[85] Mig-21 is being restored in Perth Western Australia for supersonic joy flights.

Use as space launch platform

Premier Space Systems in Hillsboro, Oregon is currently conducting flight tests for NanoLaunch, a project to launch suborbital sounding rockets from MiG-21s flying over the Pacific Ocean.[86]

Specifications (Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21-93)

Data from [1]

General characteristics
  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 14.5 (with pitot) m (47 ft 6.86 in)
  • Wingspan: 7.154 m (23 ft 5.66 in)
  • Height: 4.125 m (13 ft 6.41 in)
  • Wing area: 23.0 m2 (247.3 ft2)
  • Gross weight: 8,825 kg (19,425 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Tumansky R25-300, 40.21 kN (9,040 lbf) thrust dry, 69.62 kN (15,650 lbf) with afterburner each


  • Maximum speed: 2,500 km/h (1,468 mph)
  • Maximum speed: Mach 2.00
  • Range: (internal fuel) 1,210 km (751 miles)
  • Service ceiling: 17,800 m (58,400 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 225 m/s (44,280 ft/min)
  • 1x internal 23 mm GSh-23 cannon, plus
  • 2x R-27R1 or R-27T or 4x Vympel R-77
  • or 4x R-60M or R-73E AAM or

    • 2x 500 kg (1,102 lbs) bombs

    See also

    Aviation portal
    Related development
    Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

    Related lists





    • Anderton, David A. North American F-100 Super Sabre. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing Limited, 1987. ISBN 0-85045-662-2 .
    • Boniface, Roger. Fighter Pilots of North Vietnam: An Account of their Combats 1965 to 1975. Gamlingay, Sandy, UK: Authors On Line, 2005. ISBN 978-0-7552-0203-4.
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    • Gordon, Yefim and Keith Dexter.Mikoyan Mig-21 (Famous Russian Aircraft). London: Ian Allan Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1-85780-257-3.
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    • Hoyle, Craig. "World Air Forces Directory". Flight International. Vol. 180, No. 5321, 13–19 December 2011, pp. 26–52. ISSN 0015-3710.
    • Hoyle, Craig. "World Air Forces Directory". Flight International. Vol. 182, No. 5321, 11–17 December 2012, pp. 40–64. ISSN 0015-3710.
    • Michel III, Marshall L. Clashes; Air Combat Over North Vietnam 1965–1972. Annapolis, Maryland, USA: Naval Institute Press, 2007, First edition 1997. ISBN 1-59114-519-8.
    • Michel III, Marshall L. The 11 days of Christmas. New York: Encounter Books, 2002. ISBN 1-893554-27-9.
    • Pollack, Kenneth M. Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948–1991 London: Bison Books, 2004. ISBN 0-8032-8783-6.
    • Toperczer, Istvan. MiG-17 and MiG-19 Units of the Vietnam War. (Osprey Combat Aircraft, 25). Oxford, UK: 2001. ISBN 978-1-84176-162-6.
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    External links

    • MIG-21 Fishbed from Russian Military Analysis
    • MiG-21 Fishbed from Global
    • Warbird Alley: MiG-21 page – Information about privately owned MiG-21s
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