On October 6, 1977, the first flight of the MiG-29 Fulcrum took place. Although she is getting on in years, Ukraine needs more of her kind to combat Russia.
MiG-29. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
“Many experts thought that the Soviet-made MiG-29 “Fulcrum” 4th Generation fighter jet would have been about as good in air-to-air combat as the U.S. Air Force’s McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon before Operation Desert Storm broke out in 1991.
Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work out in Iraq or, eight years later, over Serbia and Kosovo during Operation Allied Force. Yet that doesn’t prove the MiG-29 has fundamental design flaws.
The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine (or “special military operation,” as President Putin likes to describe it euphemistically) has, if anything, breathed fresh life into the Fulcrum (and moments in the media spotlight).
Let’s dive further into the MiG-29’s past.
The first flight of a MiG-29 Fulcrum took place on October 6, 1977. (For some historical context, Elvis had died less than two months before, and Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope had debuted in theatres three months before that seismic shift in popular culture.)
The next year, 1982, the warbird was put into active service with the Rodina (“Motherland”), one year after Ronald Reagan became American president and began his programme of rolling back the Soviet Union.
According to most aviation experts, the MiG-29 was built to compete with the F-16. However, the anonymous creator of the warbird page on GlobalSecurity.org has a different point of view. The MiG-29 was operated as an interceptor by air forces across the Soviet bloc but was not designed for close air combat. He stressed that the plane could travel supersonic, shoot missiles, and return home. Also, he pointed out that the plane couldn’t achieve supersonic speeds since extra tanks had to be slung from the undercarriage.
The author’s name is unknown, so I can only guess if the interviewed person is talking about the MiG-25 Foxbat. But I’m getting off-topic.
Whatever the case may be, the Fulcrum has dimensions of 17.32 metres (56 feet 10 inches) in length, 4.73 metres (15 feet 6 inches) in height, a wingspan of 11.36 metres (37 feet 3 inches), and a liftoff weight of 18,000 kilogrammes (39,683 pounds). The MiG-29 can reach Mach 2.25, equivalent to 2,400 kilometres per hour, 1,500 miles per hour, or 1,300 knots. The Gryazev-Shipurov GSH-30-1 30mm autocannon fires 150 rounds and can contain up to 8,800 pounds of bombs or missiles like the AA-8 Aphid, AA-10 Alamo, AA-11 Archer, and AA-12 Adder.
Even though the MiG-29 looks good on paper, it could have done better in air battles.
The MiGFlug website says that the Fulcrum has a disappointing kill-to-loss ratio of 1:3. The site collected combat statistics for every military aircraft in use. Still, it hasn’t updated its records with results from the current Russo-Ukrainian War. During the infamous “Brothers to the Rescue” massacre in 1996, two of Fulcrum’s kills were obtained by Fidel Castro’s Communist Cuban pilots against defenceless Cessna 337s.
Looking back at how the MiG-29 did in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Allied Force, we see that five Iraqi jets and six Serbian birds were shot down, with no losses on the other side. Naqib (Captain) Jameel Sayhood of the Iraqi Air Force (IAF) claimed to have shot down a Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado fighter-bomber; however, Western reports give credit for the kill to Iraqi surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).
Friendly fire destroyed one Serbian MiG-29, while an F-16 from the United States Air Force, an F-16 from the Royal Netherlands Air Force, and three F-15s from the United States Air Force all shot down additional MiG-29s. Col. Cesar Rodriguez, a living legend, was one of the Eagle drivers who downed a Serbian Fulcrum; his three aerial victories are the most by any U.S. military aviator since the Vietnam War.
Since then, three Eritrean MiG-29 pilots have shot down Ethiopian MiG-21 Fishbeds during the 1998–2000 Ethiopian–Eritrean War. Of particular note is that on May 27, 2022, a pilot in a MiG-29 from the Ukrainian Air Force successfully shot down a Russian Su-35 “Flanker-E.” Ukraine needs more of these warbirds to continue to have a fighting chance against Putin’s assault, despite the Fulcrum’s mixed overall kill ratio to date.