For more than half a century, if aerial combat was going on anywhere in the world, chances are good that MiG-21s were involved.
MiG-21s are a family of jets from the Mikoyan-and-Gurevich Design Bureau, a Soviet success story with an amazing production run, from the MiG-21F in 1959 to the MiG-21bis in 1985. A dozen types of MiG-21s have been flown by nearly 40 nations and many are still flying on the front line.
The MiG-21, with its thin delta wing, was nicknamed “Balalaika” for the Russian stringed instrument it resembles. It is fast, small, and agile. Like the F-104 Starfighter and F-5 Freedom Fighter, it is a swift sword in battle. Its limits are little room for fuel, arms, or radar, and poor view to front and rear. The shock cone and front air intake are distinctive, inspiring Polish pilots to call it the “Pencil.”
The MiG’s primary foe over Vietnam was the big F-4 Phantom II. Communist ground controllers vectored MiG-21s neatly behind American fighter-bomber formations to fire cannons and Atoll missiles, dashing away before the sluggish F-4s could react. The MiGs didn’t down many planes, but often made bombers drop their loads early. U.S. pilots learned to “fight in the vertical,” flying straight up and dropping in a vertical loop into the enemy.
Our MiG originally served in Serbia. It is the PF edition, an early variant used by North Vietnamese aces such as Nguyen Van Coc.