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Mikoyan MiG-21

Mikoyan MiG-21 Book Review

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review December 2017 Title Mikoyan MiG-21
Author Yefim Gordon, Keith Dexter Publisher Midland Publications
Published 2008 ISBN 978-1857802573
Format 720 pages, hardbound MSRP (USD) $79.95 (see text)


Over the last two decades, Author Yefim Gordon has been turning out quite a few informative titles covering many previously sensitive or simply ignored aircraft of the former Soviet Air Force. With each title, the quality and depth of coverage of any given subject has been steadily on the rise. The breathtaking coverage the MiG-31 was an excellent example of how the information that was previously unobtainable is now available on your favorite bookseller's shelves. I've given up trying to pick and choose subjects from this author since I'm enjoying the fantastic coverage of Soviet and Russian aviation. When I see a new title from this author show up on, I simply pre-order and try to keep up with the flow of information coming from this prolific author.

When I saw this title show up on Amazon in late 2007, of course I pre-ordered this one as well. The MiG-21 is one of my favorite subjects and having spent time with various marks of this aircraft, I've been simply amazed at all of the incorrect information in print and the number of people that quote that stuff as if it were gospel. With this title appearing to follow the same depth and format as the awesome MiG-29 and MiG-31, I was hoping to finally have a definitive reference on the subject.

When UPS delivered this book, I wasn't prepared for what arrived. If the quality of the reference was measured by weight alone, this was already a winner: at 720 pages, this is one serious reference. When I started paging through the book, I saw that the author(s) has raised the bar once again on aviation references.

Before we launch into the coverage of this title, it would be worth mentioning that the 'balalaika' (MiG-21) was one of the most widely produced fighters of all time and equipped more air forces in the world than any other supersonic fighter. According to the NATO reporting system, there were at least seven major fighter variants (Fishbed) and two major trainer variants (Mongol). Of course, there were significantly more versions than that, but in those days it was hard to distinguish the subtle differences in subvariants from grainy black and white photos. You've got to know that the author does dive into these various versions and subvariants in the usual thorough style we've come to expect.

Coverage of this title includes:

  • Introduction
  • The Origin of the Family
  • Off to a Fine Start
  • The Interceptors
  • Mass Production
  • The Trainers
  • Experiments and Projects
  • Beyond the Great Wall
  • In Soviet Air Force Service
  • MiG-21 at War
  • Face to Face with the Adversary
  • The MiG-21 in Detail
  • MiG-21 Operators
  • MiG-21 Production List

As you can see in the table of contents list above, the title goes into nice detail on the configurations and detail differences between each of the variants and is well-illustrated with period black & white photos as well as some amazing color photography. If you want to look in the cockpit of original fighters or some of the current modernized 'glass cockpit' MiG-21s, you've got it here. If you want to look under the radomes to see old and upgraded radars, you're covered. If you want lots of color profiles of the aircraft in service around the world, there are lots to choose from.

Where this title leaps beyond previous works is the mass of data that is included. For instance, there is a table out of the pilot's manual that shows the different external stores combinations that were allowed on the MiG-21R with five external pylons to illustrate the combinations of stores that were cleared for safe operations. There are lots of other tables documenting and contrasting the performance differences between different variants, and this coverage extends into the Chinese-manufactured J-7 and export F-7 aircraft as well.

Of course there is thorough coverage of the flight test articles including the unique STOL testbeds and Analog - the MiG-21 with a scaled-down Tu-144 wing.

Now where this title goes over the top, the author provides details of the MiG-21s in service with the various Warsaw Pact, and international air forces. Not impressed? Well in any other title, this coverage would be simply a listing of the quantities of each variant used by a given air force, right? Not here. The author(s) does provide a table of aircraft alright, for each air force the airframes are individually listed by bort number with the variant associated with that number, the airframe serial number (where known) and its in-service date.

With some of the air forces, some of the serial data is sketchy, but when you get into the Warsaw Pact tables, holy cow!, the detail is outstanding. The EGAF tables, for example, map out the EGAF bort numbers, the airframe type (complete with article number), airframe number, in-service date, unit assigned, Luftwaffe side number assigned after assimilation, and good notes on each aircraft's colors and fate. While it would have interesting to see these tables cover the Soviet Air Force as well, there is no doubt that the book would have been significantly thicker.

There are a few glitches in the MiG-21 coverage, though I didn't notice it immediately. The authors have indeed provided in-depth coverage of the MiG-21 through its prototype, production, and variants, there is a small disconnect between the Soviet designators and the NATO code name variants. In the coverage of the Generation 1 MiG-21s, the MiG-21F is correctly called out as Fishbed C, but the MiG-21F-13 is also identified as Fishbed C. Since these code name designators are to help analysts distinguish between the visible differences of the aircraft, the MiG-21F had two 30mm cannons, while the MiG-21F-13 had one cannon removed, the gun port faired over, and in its place the systems to operate the 'new' K-13 missile (AA-2 Atoll). The one-gun/missile-armed version was designated Fishbed E. If you can look back on many early write-ups on the generation one aircraft, the photo captions of the early MiG-21F series that were unarmed and didn't have the gun ports visible were simply referred to as Fishbed C/E. This title incorrectly allocated the Fishbed E designator to a demonstrator variant. There's a few other examples, but they are minor and aren't really relevant when you're really looking for the details of from the Soviet perspective.

One other point to consider. When I purchased this title a decade ago, it cost nearly $45 USD. That's a bargain considering this is the most in-depth study of the aircraft you're likely to find. At some point in the past however, the book did go out of print and I was shocked to see Amazon offering used copies of this book starting at $230 USD. I saw something similar when I look up Gordon's book on Soviet Tactical Aviation, which is currently listing (used) for over $450 USD in contrast with the $33 I paid in 2012. Interesting appreciation in value. I know I consider Yefim Gordon's books to be as good as gold, but I didn't realize that value is more than a metaphor!

Whether you're an aviation historian, Soviet aviation buff, or hardcore Soviet era modeler, you'll find photos, color profiles, detail shots, and tech data that will finally put a clear perspective on this prolific fighter. If you want war stories, the title has you covered with various combat experiences described here, including the MiG-21 versus F-104 engagement during one of the Indian-Pakistani conflicts.

This is (was) another excellent title from Midland Publications and fills another void in the published information about this aircraft. Highly recommended (if you can find a copy at a reasonable price)!