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Book Review
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 * Air Vanguard 14
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Osprey Publishing launched the series Air Vanguard which focuses in-depth on famous aircraft. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 by Alexander Mladenov is the 14th title of the series.
    The MiG-21 (NATO reporting name Fishbed) firmly holds the title of the world’s most widely built and used jet fighter, with more than 10,000 units rolling off the lines of three plants in the former Soviet Union. The type was also built under license in India and Czechoslovakia, and without license in China until the late 2000s. Designed as a Mach-2 light tactical fighter, its original prototype, the Ye-6/1, was first flown in 1958. The first production variant of the type, designated the MiG-21F, appeared in 1960 and its improved sub-variant, the MiG-21F-13 (Type 74, NATO reporting name Fishbed-C), was made available for export by 1961. It was a simplified daytime short-range, clear-weather interceptor and tactical fighter.

The MiG-21 Fishbed is one of the last Cold War jets that I have interest in, perhaps because it would have been my primary foe had I realized becoming a NATO jet jock. I grew up with reports of the frightening Fishbed fighting over Southeast Asia and the Middle East, reading sometimes contradictory contemporary reports of the big bad MiG in combat against Western fighters. In 1979 Soviet MiG-21s visited France and peeled back the Iron Curtain a bit; newer Soviet fighters were swelling forward bases and in development, and the Fishbed was getting better known.

Author Alexander Mladenov brings current insight to the MiG-21 in this title. It is eye-opening in some aspect, and informative throughout the book. The MiG’s acknowledged forte, tight turning and burning dogfighting, was not what it was designed for and was not the operational doctrine of the VVS and Warsaw Pact. The book is illustrated by Adam Tooby, available in paperback, PDF, and eBook formats, is 64 pages long, and coded ISBN: 9781782003748.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 is s brought to us through 64 pages in eight chapters and sections:


    • The sharply-swept vs. delta-wing planform dilemma
    • Delta-wing Ye-4
    • Ye-5 enters flight testing
    • MiG-21F launched in production
    • Ye-6T testbeds
    MiG-21F-13 guided missile interceptor


    • Fuselage
    • Wings and undercarriage
    • Flight controls
    • Airframe systems
    • Cockpit
    • Engine
    • Fuel system
    • Navigation, communication and IFF equipment
    • Ordnance
    • RP-21M radar
    • Self-protection systems


    • MiG-21PF radar-equipped all-weather interceptor
    • MiG-21PFS with blown flaps
    • MiG-21PFM
    • MiG-21PF/PFM’s export versions
    • MiG-21R for tactical recce missions
    • MiG-21S
    • MiG-21M
    • MiG-21SM/MF
    • MiG-21SMT/MT
    • MiG-21bis – the last of the line
    • MiG-21 two-seaters
    • M-21/M-21M target drones


    • Indo-Pakistan wars
    • Vietnam War
    • MiG-21 in the Arab-Israeli wars
    • Soviet MiG-21s in action
    • Iraqi MiG-21s in combat
    • MiG-21 in the former Yugoslavia


The text follows the design and development through various administrative apparatus, i.e., GKAT (State Committee on Aviation Technology). Furthermore, the text is a delight for those of us who love designation and equipment abbreviations and acronyms. Depending on the classification, MiG-21 has four different nomenclatures: “Ye-“ series of lightweight fighter prototypes; “Type” being the internal designation of OKB-155 (Experimental Design Bureau No.155, the official name of Mikoyan & Gurevich Design Bureau); series production designation “MiG-21”; “Fishbed-C”, NATO codename of aircraft and variant. I am disappointed that only a couple of NATO designations are listed with each Soviet designation; one may be able to extrapolate which MiG-21 equates to "Fishbed J", "Fishbed N", etc. . One must be attentive and agile to follow the designations of a component through its developmental, operational, and NATO names, e.g., the K-13 guided missile system was the R-3S heat-seeking missile (AA-2 “Atoll” to NATO) and gave the “-13” suffix to the MiG-21F-13: MiG-21 with the R-11F-300 turbojet armed with the K-13 missile system. Subsystems are not ignored - the R-11-300 was initially known as the AM-11, for the parent A. Mikulin Design Bureau. Further in the text different MiG-21 variants and sub variants are defined: MiG-21PF was originally the MiG-21P-13, “P” appending Perekhvatchik - interceptor, “-13” again for the K-13 missile system using the R-3S missile. The MiG-21P-13 was based on the MiG-21F aircraft, thus designated the MiG-21PF. One must be attentive and agile! Often all of the terms are listed together, “MiG-21PFS (Ye-7SPS, Type 94)”. The author is equally generous with equipment nomenclature, such as the RSIU-5V UHV radio; SOD-57M air traffic control transponder; DTsN-13-D1 fuel pump; APU-13 rail launchers attached to BD3-58-21 adapter beams, you get the idea.

The text is very interesting. Mr. Mladenov’s writing style is mostly easy to follow although there are a few parts which seem not to have translated smoothly. There are a few typos, a misstated altitude on Pg.7, “gimbal” misspelled as “gumball” on Pg. 35, and another I didn’t record. There is also an inconsistency concerning the American doctrine for dogfighting the Fishbed; Pg. 49 states, “However, F-4 pilots were instructed to engage in dogfights with the MiG-21 by performing maneuvers in the horizontal plane and to avoid any vertical maneuvering…” This is opposite the lessons learned and applied through Project Have Doughnut, the extensive USAF and USN flight comparisons between a MiG-21 and American tactical aircraft carried out in 1967. Indeed, Project Have Doughnut is not even mentioned in the book. The declassified 310-page report is accessible via Click here for additional images for this review., at the bottom of this review.

Ten pages of details describe the background of the Design and Development of what became the world’s most produced jet fighter. Fishbed originated from criteria for a Mach 2 fighter armed with powerful cannon and air-to-air rockets to destroy bombers. Discussed are the three different wing designs explored. Technical Specifications lead the reader through 10 pages of specific and detailed descriptions worthy of an aeronautical engineer. If you want to build your own MiG-21 then you will enjoy the descriptions of spars, thickness/chord ratios, and type of alloys, to list a smidgen of information. A side panel presents inflight design limitations of the fighter. The text even includes how many airframes were produced by different state factories.

Fishbed is not the only system presented; to combat ultra-high altitude reconnaissance platforms a mixed propulsion jet was built. Ye-50 used rockets to propel it to a dynamic ceiling where its weapons might reach the sky-spy. Additionally, how the MiG compared to the new Sukhoi Su-7 and Su-9 is noted.

Main Mig-21 Versions, Modifications and Projects examines 16 MiG-21 versions, including export variants, two-seaters, and target drones. A side panel narrates the drone story. Twenty-one pages relate good descriptions with enjoyable detail about the systems and additions that enhanced the types. An entire side page presents the radical Ye-8, a canard-equipped pointy-nosed Fishbed development with intake under the fuselage. Another side panel explains the role of MiG-21 in the nuclear strike role.

War laurels of those fighters in six main conflicts are discussed through 14 pages in Operational History. With the passage of time and the fall of the Soviet Union, claimed and acknowledged kills and losses have been refined. Also clarified is that the K-13 system were not the only missiles launched, surprisingly even over Vietnam. B-52 kills credited to MiG-21 are discussed in a side panel.

Strengths and weaknesses of the MiG-21 over 50 years are considered in the final two pages. While this book presents a great deal of information, a great deal was left out (India’s current Fishbed fleet, Chinese exports), a limitation of the 64-page format of this series. Still, it delivers a good overview of this old yet troublesome icon of the Cold War. I was very surprised that the Soviets never envisioned it as a dogfighter. Apparaently, the Soviets were very surprised that it was used as such over the Middle East.

artwork, graphics, photographs
This book is generously supported by 41 color and black-and-white photographs. Most of the photos are small. Numerous full-color illustrations bring the aircraft and weapons to life:
A. Full MiG-21bis Armament Breakdown
1. R-60 air-to-air missile
2. R-3S air-to-air missile
3. R-13M air-to-air missile
4. R-3R air-to-air missile
5. R-55 air-to-air missile
6. RS-2US air-to-air missile
7. Kh-66 air-to-surface missile
8. S-24 240mm rocket
9. UB-16-57UM rocket pack
10. S-5 57mm rocket
11. OFAB-100-120 free-fall bomb
12. OFAB-250-270 free-fall bomb
13. FAB-500M54 free-fall bomb
14. ZAB-360 napalm canister
15. Gsh-23L twin-barrel cannon
B. MiG-21 Profiles
1. Soviet ‘big-spine’ MiG-21SMT nuclear-equipped Fishbed.
2. North Korean MiG-21PFM.
3. Malian two-seat MiG-21UM.
4. Soviet two-seat fighter trainer.
C. The MiG-21FL: Indian Air Force Fishbed 3-view.
D. MiG-21 Profiles
1. Ye-6/3, the first flying MiG-21F prototype.
2. Soviet recce MiG-21R in Afghanistan.
3. Egyptian dissimilar air combat two-seater.
4. Libyan MiG-21bis, 2013.
E. MiG-21 VS F-4: in-action scene of a VPAF MiG-21PFM downing an F-4 during Linebacker II.
F. Fishbeds in the Balkans: in-action scene of a Croatian Fishbed attacking with an S-24 240mm rocket.
Graphics and tables include:
i. MiG-21 dimensions (six variants)
ii. MiG-21 weights (seven variants)
iii. MiG-21 performance (six variants)
iv. Main production (1958-85) (16 MiG-21 variants)
v. MiG-21bis’ heat-seeking air-to-air missiles: R-3S, R-13M, R-60, R-60MK
G. MiG-21MF cutaway: two-page foldout color artwork with 25 components keyed.

Air Vanguard Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 is a detailed primer of the ubiquitous Fishbed. It recounts strengths and weaknesses of the most-produced jet fighter which still prowls the skies after 50 years. The author writes in a mostly easy to follow manner, and there are a few typos. This book presents a great deal of information, a great deal was left out (India’s current MiG-21 Bison fleet, Chinese exports), a limitation of the 64-page format of this series. Still, it delivers a good overview of this old yet troublesome icon of the Cold War.

A good selection of photographs enhances the book. The original artwork allows the reader envision the aircraft. Several tables condenses data into easily understood.

This book presents the MiG-21 in a condensed yet detailed format. I am happy to have it on my shelf and recommend it.

"Have Donut-Tactical Volume II (U)." Defense Intelligence Agency Vol. II.FDT-CR-20-13-69-INT (1969): 1-310. Print.

Have Donut-Tactical Slide Show

Click here for additional images for this review.

Highs: This book presents a great deal of information. A good selection of photographs enhances the book. The original artwork allows the reader envision the aircraft. Several tables condenses data into easily understood.
Lows: Typos; inconsistency concerning the American doctrine for dogfighting the Fishbed.
Verdict: A detailed primer of the ubiquitous Fishbed presented in a condensed yet detailed format.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN: 9781782003748
  Suggested Retail: $18.95, £11.99
  PUBLISHED: Jul 14, 2014

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2020 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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