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PRE ORDER NOW: MAE 8 Building the MiG-21 Fishbed


Model Aircraft Extra No. 8: Building the Mig-21 Fishbed

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The MiG-21 NATO reporting name ‘Fishbed’ is a supersonic jet fighter and interceptor aircraft, designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. Sold to a host of countries the MiG-21 is one of the most successful and numerous aircraft ever built. The MiG-21 was the first successful Soviet aircraft combining fighter and interceptor characteristics in a single airframe. It was a lightweight fighter, achieving Mach 2 with a relatively low-powered afterburning turbojet, and was therefore comparable to the F-104 Starfighter, the F-5 Freedom Fighter and the Mirage III, and its basic layout was used for numerous other Soviet designs. Like many aircraft designed as pure interceptors, the MiG-21 had a short range. This was exacerbated by the poor placement of the internal fuel tanks ahead of the centre of gravity. As the internal fuel was consumed, the centre of gravity would shift rearward beyond acceptable parameters. This had the effect of making the aircraft unstable to the point of being difficult to control, resulting in an endurance of only forty-five minutes in clean condition. This could be somewhat countered by carrying fuel in external tanks closer to the centre of gravity. Additionally, when more than half the fuel was used up, violent manoeuvres prevented fuel from flowing into the engine, thereby causing it to shut down in flight. The short endurance and low fuel capacity of the MiG-21F, PF, PFM, S/SM and M/MF variants, led to the development of the MT and SMT variants. The MiG-21 was exported widely and remains in use in many countries. 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 favourite 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. The MiG-21 was also used extensively in the Middle East conflicts of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s by the Egyptian Air Force, Syrian Air Force and Iraqi Air Force. 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. The MiG-21 also served in the Vietnam War, but many VPAF pilots preferred the MiG-17. The Bulgarian Air Force received a total of 224 MiG-21s including twenty-six specialised reconnaissance MiG-21Rs, and MiG-21MFs of the 25th Fighter Aviation Regiment of the National Air Force of Angola flew ground attack sorties during the Second Congo War, and during the Ogaden War of 1977–78, and Ethiopian Air Force F-5As engaged Somali Air Force MiG-21MFs in combat on several occasions. During Angola's long-running civil war, MiG-21s of the Cuban Air Force were frequently deployed to attack ground targets manned by rebel forces or to engage South African Air Force Mirage F1s conducting cross-border strikes. India is the largest operator of MiG-21s, and in 1961, as the Indian Air Force opted to purchase the type over several other Western competitors. Romania received a number of MiG-21 variants, a number of which were later modernised to the LanceR configuration, able to carry both Western and Eastern armament such as the R-60M, R-73, Magic 2, or Python III missiles. So, despite its age, the MiG-21 story is far from over, and this new Model Aircraft Extra book features no fewer than seventeen model builds of the MiG-21 in all popular scales and will be a must have for the Soviet modeller and aficionado.

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