It was called the “Blue Bandit” by the American pilots who faced it in combat. It ranks as one of the most widely produced and exported fighters in history. It was the victim of one of the best ruses in military warfare, and it’s flown for almost 60 years. Even though it was designed in the ’50s, it remained in production until 1985 alongside more advanced jets.
This is, of course, the MiG-21 “Fishbed.”
This jet was produced by both the Soviet Union and Communist China. It saw action in Vietnam, the Middle East, and even over Yugoslavia. Even now, with upgrades that allow it to carry the latest in air-to-air missiles, it serves on the front for India. Over its long history, this plane has evolved from a pure interceptor to a multirole fighter.
The wide exportation of the MiG-21 meant that a few examples, like the one on the right, ended up in American hands.
The MiG-21 is best known for its use by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. It was fast — it could reach a top speed of 1,386 miles per hour — but had a short range of just 721 miles.
Most famously, the MiG-21 was the primary victim of Operation Bolo, a plan cooked up by U.S. Air Force legend Robin Olds. The North Vietnamese sent their MiG-21s to attack what looked like a large, unescorted strike. They found out the hard way that what looked like F-105 Thunderchiefs (ground-attack planes) were actually F-4 Phantoms. Seven Fishbeds were shot down in that dogfight.
While North Vietnamese Fishbeds did shoot down 56 American planes using the AA-2 Atoll anti-air missile, 90 were downed in air-to-air combat, including two by B-52 tail gunners.
A Bulgarian MiG-21 taxis for takeoff during a 2006 exercise with the United States Air Force.
(US Army photo by Maj. Dana Hampton)
The Fishbed also saw action in the Middle East, mostly going up against Israeli Defense Forces. Here, its record wasn’t as good — and it gained notoriety for being the first to fall prey to the F-15 Eagle.
Learn more about this veteran fighter in the video blow!