The inherited Soviet Fighter Jet

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- This MiG-29 Fulcrum flown by Lt. Col.Tom Hahn, squadron commander of Germany's Fighter Wing 73 "Steinhoff," flies over the Gulf of Mexico during a training exercise. The German MiGs are being hosted the 53rd Wing during various training missions. Unlike previous visits to the U.S. for training, this deployment will provide German pilots the opportunity to fly live-fire missions against both full-scale QF-4 drones and sub-scale drones. This MiG boasts a particularly colorful paint scheme for their "Farewell USA" tour. The Germans are transitioning to the new Eurofighter and this will be the last trip for the MiGs to the U.S. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Ammons)

MiG-29-Fulcrum-Farewell-USA-2003

East Germany (DDR) bought 20 MiG-29A and 4 MiG-29UB two seaters just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, for the Luftstreitkräfte der NVA (East German Air Force). They entered service in 1988 and 1989. After the German reunification in October 1990, these MiGs were integrated into the Luftwaffe, made NATO-compatible and stationed on Laage Fliegerhorst, with Luftwaffe Jagdgeschwader JG73 „Steinhoff“.

Oberstleutnant Johannes Rudolf, German Tornado pilot and former L-39 Albatros pilot at MiGFlug, said about his experience in the MiG-29:

The MiG-29 is a rocket. It’s as simply as that.

It soon turned out that claims of the MiG-29 being superior to Western fighter jets in some areas were right – for example, the Helmet Mounted Weapons Sight (HMS) – a technology the US Air Force and Navy didn’t have operational before 2003 – or the dogfight capability and manoeuvrability, especially at slow speed. The MiG-29 demonstrated it’s ability impressively during joint US-German dissimilar air combat training. But we’ll have a closer look at that below.

In 2003 22 MiG-29s were sold to the Polish Air Force for a symbolic 1 EUR per Fulcrum, 14 were taken into service with the 41. elt after an overhauled. Of the remaining two German MiGs, one had crashed after a pilot’s fault, and one (the 29+03) is on display at Laage-Rostock airport.

MiG-29 strengths and weaknesses

German-MiG-29A-Fulcrum

German-MiG-29A-Fulcrum

During service with German Luftwaffe, Germany and its allies the possibility to compare the MiG-29 like never before. Luftwaffe pilots who flew western jets before suddenly had the possibility to fly the state of the art multirole fighter aircraft of the Eastern Block. That said, one must be aware that Germany inherited the export version of the earliest model MiG-29A, which was inferior to the Soviet MiG-29A, e.g. they are lacking the Lazlo data link and the SRO IFF transponders. And today’s latest MiG-29s are of course more advanced if not to say other aircraft, after several upgrades. A funny side note here: The NATO findings were an important source of improvement for Mikoyan OKB, to further improve the MiG-29.

Strengths 

  • Incredible turn rate. The manually controlled MiG-29 (28°/sec) even beats the fly by wire F-16 Block 50 (26°/sec).
  • The Archer is able to target 45° off boresight
  • Superior in dogfights/close combat to US 4th generation fighter aircraft like McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, General Dynamic F-16 Fighting Falcon and McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet (as proved in dogfights with the Swiss Air Force among others).
  • Helmet Mounted Sight

This led Johann Koeck, Oberstleutnant at German Luftwaffe, to the analysis:

Inside ten nautical miles I’m hard to defeat, and with the IRST, helmet sight and ‘Archer’ I can’t be beaten. Period. 

Weaknesses

  • Navigation system (before it got a GPS upgrade)
  • Limited fuel capacity, thirsty engines, no in-flight refuelling probe. Even with two underwing tanks, the MiG-29 is inferior when it comes to range. According to Koeck, the radius was only 100-150 nautical miles (185-278km). Especially at high speed and low altitudes, the range is very limited.
  • One VHF/UHF radio only
  • Inferior radar (limited autonomous operations, poor reliability, poor display, poor situational awareness, problems with targets flying in formation)

The serious weaknesses of the German Luftwaffe MiG-29s led to limited missions within NATO.  According to Koeck, it was therefore only usable as wing (not lead), point defense and as aggressor for training missions.

How do these findings affect MiGFlug?

Of course, we are not serious here. We are not an Air Force and weapons, fuel capacity and as well as radio systems and radar is not important for us – and the flights in the MiG-29UB. All we want is the sheer power for the Edge of Space flights in the MiG-29. The MiG-29 has a thrust/weight ratio of 1.09, a max speed of more than 2400km/h (Mach 2.25, 1490 mph) and a climb rate of 330m/s! Remember: „It’s a rocket“. Other important things for our customers: The excellent view from the backseat, the beauty of the jet and – with limitations – the manoeuvrability. For most MiGFlug MiG-29 passengers it is more than they can handle anyway, but we had some crazy guys who wanted up to 9.2g.

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