Mig-29 "Fulcrum"

Historical Review

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The MIG-29 story began in the early 1970s when Mikoyan was working on a number of project for tactical fighters for the 1980's. The first MIG-29 prototype flew on October 6th, 1977. From the beginning the Mig-29 was a vital project for the Soviet Air Force and its importance increased steadily as time went on. NATO's adoption of low-level penetration tactics for it's bombers and attack aircraft rendered the Soviet system of using unsophisticated fighters and close ground control unmanageable, and aircraft like the MiG-23 lacked the look-down-shootdown radar necessary for dealing with such target independently in all weathers. The emergence of a new generation of highly agile, well-equipped Western fighter aircraft, including the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, the General Dynamics F-16 and the Northrop YF-17 (forerunner of the F/A-18), was also a vital spur to thc program. Less important, but a factor nonetheless, was the poor showing of Soviet fighters in a number of regional conflicts, especially in the Middle East. The regular defeat of MIG fighters was humiliating, and people looked to the new MIG-29 to restore the credibility and honour of the Mikoyan Design Bureau, the Soviet air force and, to some extent, the national pride of the USSR.

Possibly the 10th prototype with early AA-10 "Alamo" and AA-8 "Aphids"

Detailed design work began in 1974, the year that the F-15 Eagle entered service and the YF-16 and YF-17 prototypes made their maiden flights. The new Soviet fighter would clearly have to be able to better these aircraft in close-in combat and to match or better them in BVR (Beyond Visual Range) capability. It would also need a weapons system capable of dealing with low-flying attack aircraft and bombers such as the F-111 and the new tri-national European MRCA, later named Tornado. These considerations were in addition to the traditional guiding principles of Soviet fighter design.

Today the MiG-29 is perhaps the best-known Soviet fighter in service. Numerous visits have been made to the West, including participation at the world's most important air shows, where the aircraft has stunned onlookers by performing manoeuvres that cannot be emulated by contemporary Western fighters at air show altitudes. The Mikoyan designers and pilots alike have revealed themselves to be men of good humour and old-world charm, answering many questions with astonishing candour. As always, there are two sides to the coin. Some aspects of the aircraft remain a closed book, and awkward questions receive the standard Brezhnev-era replies of "That is not interesting", or unhelpfully vague responses like "Sufficient", or "Very big/great".

Farnborough show (1988) escorted by Tornado F.MK 3s

While Western pilots have even been allowed to fly the aircraft, their flights have been strictly controlled, and the weapons system, navigation equipment and even the head-up display have not been demonstrated. In addition the aircraft was created using a totally different set of design criteria to the Western fighters with which we are familiar, making objective assessment extremely difficult. As a result the MiG-29 remains something of an enigma, and so-called experts have made radically different assessments of the aircraft.

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