A Brief History
On October 6, 1977, the Soviet aircraft design bureau, Mikoyan-Guryevich, flew their MiG-29 supersonic fighter for the first time. In service since 1983, over 1600 of these highly capable air superiority and fighter bomber jets have been built, and incredibly (for a fighter aircraft) the plane is still in production.
Conceived as the lower end mix of fighter jets, similar to the American F-16 vis a vis the F-15, the MiG-29 is the smaller, cheaper half of the Su-27/MiG-29 mix of Soviet (now Russian) fighters. (Note: Twice as many MiG-29’s have been built as have Su-27’s.)
The MiG-29 program has been so successful that not only does Russia and other ex-USSR republics fly the plane, but a total of about 30 countries have this jet in their inventories. (Note: In 1997 the US bought 21 MiG29’s from Moldova.) Designed with the mission of air superiority, the MiG-29 was built to be highly maneuverable with excellent air to air characteristics and visibility, while retaining typical Soviet virtues of ruggedness and easy maintenance.
Capable of over Mach 2 flight at altitude and Mach 1.25 speed at low altitude, the MiG-29, called the “Fulcrum” by NATO, has been adapted for use as a fighter bomber and has undergone various improvements over the years. With a single 30mm cannon (capacity 150 rounds) and 7 “hard points” under the wings, this jet can be outfitted with a wide variety of air to air missiles, air to ground rockets, or bombs, up to a maximum of 3500 kilos worth. A limited number of MiG-29’s have been modified for aerial refueling.
Another variant has been adapted for naval use, and a future development expected around 2018 will be the MiG-35, with 10 prototypes already being tested. The MiG-35 will have a much better capability to operate independent of ground controllers for intercepting enemy planes. The MiG-35 is intended to be a “generation 4++” jet fighter, ready for aerial combat as well as all-weather ground attack. The MiG-35 is expected to have a single engine instead of the twin jet engine configuration found on the MiG-25. (Update, October 2021: The MiG-35 has 2 engines and is poised to finally make its debut on active duty in the Russian Air Force, after an extended and torturous developmental period. When finally fielded, it should prove to be competitive with the best of today’s fighter planes.)
Since 2006, the Mikoyan design bureau has been a subsidiary of United Aircraft Corporation, which continues to build new MiG-29’s. The Russian Air Force has attempted to secure funding to upgrade their large fleet of MiG-29’s to a higher standard, but has faced financial impediments. Of course, after this long a service life, the Russians are investigating a replacement for this fine aircraft, and as yet a replacement program has not been announced. Evolutionary upgrades have continued throughout the life of this fighter, and recently 16 of the MiG-29 SMT models (latest model) have been ordered by the Russian Air Force.
Post-Soviet maintenance of Russian Air Force jets has been inconsistent, and has led to problems with availability and airworthiness of the MiG-29 fleet, a reflection of poor maintenance rather than on the design and quality of the airplane itself. When properly maintained and flown by well trained pilots the MiG-29 matches up well against US fighters such as the F-16, F/A-18 and F-15.
How long will the MiG-29 remain in service is unknown. Question for students (and subscribers): What will be its replacement? How much of a threat to NATO jets remains from Russian MiG-29’s? Let us know if you know the answer to any of these questions in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Baker, David. Mikoyan MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’ Manual: 1981 to present (Owners’ Workshop Manual). Haynes Publishing UK, 2017.
Lake, Jon. Jane’s How to Fly and Fight in the Mikoyan Mig-29 Fulcrum: At the Controls. Harperreference, 1998.