The Mikoyan MiG-29 "Fulcrum" did much to further Soviet/Russian aviation technology and, along with the Sukhoi Su-27 "Flanker", formed a powerful and highly-capable one-two punch for the Soviet Air Force and its allies through the 1990s and the new millennium. The potency of the MiG-29 has since grown over the decades thanks to programs that have evolved the system from a deadly lightweight fighter to a potent, multi-faceted tool of warfare. The MiG-29 has proven a success worldwide with operators beyond the Soviet Union/Russia being Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cuba, Czech Republic, Eritrea, Hungary, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Peru, North Korea, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Yemen. East German/German MiG-29s were eventually sold to Poland. Iraq no longer fields the Fulcrum while Romania has since retired her small fleet. Israel procured at least one example for aggressor training considering its most potent ally in the region would have been Russian-made MiG-29s. Yugoslavia is a former operator and these later fell into Serbian use during the Serb-Croat War.
Today, Russia maintains some 445 MiG-29s in inventory as of early 2011. India also currently manages several dozen MiG-29s for its air force and navy air arms making it one of the primary export operators of the aircraft. North Korea operates at least 40 Fulcrums which were purchased from both Russia and Belarus. In 1997, even the United States purchased 21 Fulcrums from Moldova in an attempt to keep these Russian fighters from falling into rogue hands - giving American engineers unprecedented access to this fine fighter. Several of these MiG-29s went on to become museum displays across America. While an excellent proven fighter platform over the years, the MiG-29 has had her share of notable and much-publicized crashes, some resulting in fatalities. Nevertheless, her potency today is a far cry from what she was at inception and programs have brought about the best in her base design.
In 1979, the US Pentagon received a blurry satellite overhead profile image of what was the actual prototype MiG-29 and, in accordance with past NATO designation standards, afforded the new Soviet model the nickname of "Fulcrum". The image was not overly clear and subsequent artist impressions of the aircraft were well-off base and led to much deviation. Once further versions of the aircraft were identified, the primary fighter variant became known to NATO as "Fulcrum-A". The MiG-29 was formally introduced into the Soviet Air Force in August of 1983 and operational service was achieved in 1984. The first operating wing became the 234th Proskoorovskiy Fighter Wing. At their peak, some 800 MiG-29s would stock the inventory of the Soviet Union / Russia across 25 different fighter groups. The largest group was naturally stationed in East Germany to showcase the new fighter against its Western counterparts. In 1988, the MiG-29 was demonstrated to audiences at Farnborough, UK. There, pilots entertained crowds with an unprecedented "tailslide" maneuver - a feat which, up to this point, had never been accomplished by a combat aircraft.
In 1991, the political climate across Europe saw the end of the Cold War, essentially bringing an end to Soviet rule in the region and an end to the Soviet Empire proper. Russia entered a period of uncertainty and defense funding was drastically cut from what was enjoyed throughout the blank-check "glory days" of the Cold War prior. Production of MiG-29s was therefore slowed to the point of near full stoppage. The reunification of Germany allowed Western observers full access to East German MiG-29s for extensive scrutiny.
The original MiG-29 was fitted with a pair of Klimov RD-33 series afterburning turbofan engines delivering up to 18,300lbs of thrust each. This supplied the mount with a top speed in excess of Mach 2.25 (1,490 miles per hour), a service ceiling of nearly 60,000 feet and a range of 888 miles on just internal fuel. Performance was such that the MiG-29 could get airborne and achieve vertical flight within a short amount of time. Standard armament was a 1 x GSh-30-1 internal cannon which could be supplemented with external ordnance across seven hardpoints, six underwing and a fuselage centerline position. Such munition options included air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles and conventional drop bombs as well as external fuel stores and Electronic CounterMeasure (ECM) pods.
The Fulcrum sported excellent maneuverability and could maintain a high angle-of-attack (AoA) at top flight speeds. Agility was equally excellent and low-speed handling a true strength. Targeting was possible through the internal RP-29 pulse-Doppler radar suite that allowed for "look down, shoot down" capability - a must for modern aircraft. The pilot's helmet-mounted sight delivered pertinent target information and could be used to guide infrared air-to-air missiles towards a target that were not in the immediate vision arc of the HUD (Heads-Up Display). The integrated IRST system allowed for passive detection and engagement of multiple enemy aircraft. As mentioned above, prevention of debris ingestion into the low-slung intake openings during warm up and taxiing actions was handled by the automatically sealing intake doors. Upon the aircraft beginning to move, the leading edge inlets would give way to the primary intakes.
The MiG-29 was naturally branched out into a two-seat conversion trainer variant and designated by Mikoyan as "MiG-29UB". The type first flew on April 28th, 1981 and development involved three prototypes. The major obvious difference in this model was its two-seat, tandem cockpit arrangement with its rear-hinged canopy. To make room for the second cockpit, the production model's fire control radar was omitted but for the most part the MiG-29UB stayed faithful and fully combat-capable and, as such, could be relatively easily converted back into its combat form if need be. Without the radar, however, student pilots could only train for air-to-air missions. Upon identification of this model within NATO, the nickname of "Fulcrum-B" was afforded.
It was only a matter of time before the Fulcrum was open to foreign export orders and this produced the "MiG-29, Export Version A", also known to NATO as the "Fulcrum-A", with production spanning from 1988 to 1991. While most everything remained faithful to the Soviet production mount, it was, on the whole, downgraded to keep the latest Soviet technology intact. The export version was also delivered to select Soviet Warsaw Pact nations and included the Cold War frontline force of East Germany. This export variant was naturally followed by the similar "MiG-29B-12" meant for Soviet-friendly nations outside of the Warsaw Pact. These were also fielded with more basic radar and engine installations and lacked nuclear weapons capability. Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a customer of this type, as was Syria and India.
The dedicated Fulcrum fighter mount became the MiG-29 Tactical Fighter, known in NATO nomenclature as the "Fulcrum-C". These types were noted for their bulged fuselage spines designed to house additional fuel for improved operational ranges and a new Electronic CounterMeasures (ECM) suite. This model was demonstrated in three prototypes with production beginning in 1986 and spanning into 1991. The raised spine of these types went on to earn it the unofficial nickname of "Hunchback" or "Fatback".
An developmental Fulcrum-C existed to test out smart munitions and made its first appearance in 1985. The type was heavily evaluated but never selected for serial production. Other test aircraft appeared as one-off experimental mounts to evaluate forms of stealth technology, carrier operations, digital avionics and newer engines and improved radar systems. One of these more famous test aircraft became known to the world after its crash at the 1989 38th Paris Air Show. Another such accident occurred in the 1993 Royal International Air Tattoo display when a pair of MiG-29s collide midair, both pilots ejecting safely. The MiG-29OVT trialed thrust vectoring engine technology as well as improved fly-by-wire technology.
The next major Fulcrum-C development became the MiG-29S Tactical Fighter ("Fulcrum-C"). It mated the all-new Vympel R-77 (AA-12 "Adder") radar-guided active homing air-to-air missile to a Phazotron N019M radar system. The system now allowed the Fulcrum pilot to let loose two missiles and have the radar guide each missile against two targets simultaneously. Maximum take-off weight was further increased for a broadened range of munition options. The flight control system was improved as was operational range with three hardpoints plumbed for external fuel droptanks. The MiG-29S became the new Soviet Fulcrum standard in the early 1990s to which previous Fulcrum-A and Fulcrum-C production models were brought up to. The Fulcrum-A models simply lacked the hunchback spine and, thusly, held less internal fuel volume and fielded decreased operational ranges. The MiG-29S was fitted with a pair of Klimov RD-33 turbofan engines producing 18,300lbs of thrust. Maximum speed was Mach 2.3 with a rate of climb nearing 65,000 feet per minute. Service ceiling was just under 60,000 feet and maximum take-off weight was rated at 43,430lbs. She was armed with a 30mm GSh-301 series internal cannon and could make use of missiles, rockets and bombs as needed.
The MIG-29S became an export product under the MiG-29SD designation ("Fulcrum-A"). It was much improved over the initial export offering and began production in 1995. One key addition was its introduction of in-flight refueling to make limited operational ranges something of a moot point to an extent. Malaysia became the first export customer of this model and western-style systems were integrated into their final delivery forms per the customer. A 1994 addendum brought over a dozen of the existing Malaysian Fulcrums to a standard that included an in-flight refueling probe.
Another export model became the MiG-29SE ("Fulcrum-C") and these were noted for their "hunchback" fuselage spines mentioned earlier. As expected, the larger spine included larger internal fuel volume thusly producing inherently higher operational ranges than the MiG-29SD. Beyond this difference, both the MiG-29SD and MIG-29SE were largely similar.
The MiG-29SM ("Fulcrum-C") was a multi-role fighter development. Since the early Fulcrum forms were primarily air-to-air in their basic usage (as were early F-15 Eagles), the MiG-29SM was a leap forward for the Fulcrum family line, integrating ground attack into the forte of this already formidable airframe. The design change necessitated some upgrading and introduction of modern attack systems and the end-product had precision-guided strike capabilities through use of missiles and bombs. In-flight refueling was also standard in this version as range was a key concern for strike aircraft of any design.
The MiG-29G and MiG-29GT designations (single-seat fighter and two-seat trainer, respectively) involved existing East German Fulcrums in the post-Soviet world being brought up to NATO standard. As reunification of East and West Germany commenced, two established air forces had to be melded into one cohesive standardized fighting force. These modifications were accomplished by a previously unheard of joint venture between DaimlerChrysler and MiG. Similarly, Slovakia upgraded their MiG fighters and trainers to a NATO standard producing the MiG-29AS, MiG29UBS and MiG-29SD designations.
In 1997, Mikoyan worked on improving the inherent ranges of its Fulcrum family line beyond what was being accomplished with its "hunchback" and probe-installed initiatives. The MiG-29SMT multi-role platform emerged from the MiG-29S design with a different molded fuselage spine while an in-flight refueling probe was standard fare and support for droptanks was included. Munitions capacity was increased to four hardpoints under each wing so the fighter could mount ordnance as well as external fuel in a single sortie, doubling its lethality and reach in the process. The aircraft was also fitted with an improved N019MP radar installation and a single-piece dorsal airbrake was fitted as was a "beaver" tail assembly. Russian digital processing technology had improved dramatically by this point that the internal workings of the Fulcrum were further streamlined for better response and lower operating costs. Production began in 1998 and marked a major improvement over the original Fulcrum offerings.
The MiG-29UBT became an advanced combat trainer based on the original MiG-29UB trainer mentioned. The major difference in its design was the inclusion of the "hunchback" fuselage spine for additional internal fuel. Consistent with the times, the cockpit was also upgraded to a more standard "glass" design featuring the latest in Russian aviation systems technology. Primary customers of this model were Algeria and Yemen.
The MiG-29MF was a multi-role fighter mount born out of a Philippines aircraft requirement. Historically, the Philippines had largely operated with American military firepower so this deal was something new. Talks between the two parties began in 1997 but the MiG-29MF was never realized.
The MiG-29M designation marked a major upgrade initiative in the Fulcrum lineage. The end-product represented a "4.5 Generation" jet fighter beyond the scope and capabilities of the original MiG-29 production fighter. The MiG-29M was a multi-role airframe and fitted with improved avionics and internal systems. The airframe was refined for the better (revised intakes, greater use of lighter composites). An analog-based fly-by-wire system was introduced for improved handling. The cockpit was further raised for better pilot visibility and stronger landing gear legs meant a higher maximum take-off weight. The cockpit itself implemented more in the way of digital technology (including a pair of large liquid crystal multi-function displays) - a far cry from the original's analog displays - and sported a more useful HUD (Heads-Up Display). HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle and Stick) was also brought into the fold, keeping more controls at the hands of the pilot. An optional laser designator now allowed the MiG-29M to self-designate its own targets, no longer needing to rely on ground-based forces or other allied aircraft to "laze" a target when using so-called "smart" guided munitions. This served to ease pilot workload and improve mission efficiency. Range was further addressed as was in-the-field ruggedness and general manufacture. Klimov supplied new RD-33K engines which were managed by a digital onboard suite known as FADEC (Full-Authority Digital Engine Control). Overwing air intakes were deleted and replaced by the inclusion of retractable perforated doors while the internal cannon ammunition store was lessened to make more room. The chaff/flare countermeasures dispenser was relocated from the fins to the spine and all major wing surfaces were slightly revised with extensions.
Key to the MiG-29M development was the Phazotron N-010 Zhuk series pulse-Doppler radar capable of tracking up to ten targets at once out to 152 miles away. It prioritized the threat level of each target and, upon launching of the MiG-29s four air-to-air missiles, the radar system could then guide each missile to their respective targets without pilot input - true "fire and forget". Like other Fulcrums before it, the N-010 system was tied into the pilot's helmet-mounted sight which relayed pertinent target information in real-time. Additionally, the system allowed for inherent air-to-ground attack functionality from the get-go.
The initial MiG-29M prototype flew on April 25th, 1986 and resulted in seven total test airframes being built. However, the intended RD-33K engines were not yet ready so RD-33s were utilized instead. Results were encouraging to say the least with Russian authorities claiming capabilities on par with the newer "Fifth Generation" Lockheed F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter. An RD-33K powered form went airborne in 1989. After some delays and lack of funding across the collapsed Soviet Empire (now Russia), the new Fulcrum type was slowly added to existing Fulcrum production facilities, eventually slated to overtake both Fulcrum-A and Fulcrum-C derivatives within time. The MiG-29ME (also known as the "MiG-33") became the export variant of the MiG-29M albeit with less of the top Russian technology as standard. An advanced two-seat trainer of the MiG-29M was to be the MiG-29UBM but this version was never furthered. The MiG-29M and MiG-33 designations are known to NATO as "Fulcrum-E".
MiG-29K was a proposed navalized form of the MiG29M and highly modified for possible use aboard Russian aircraft carriers. This included the requisite installation of a tail arrestor hook, reinforced undercarriage and folding wings. The latter facilitated ship-borne storage. The MiG-29K initiative was initially killed by Russian authorities in 1992 but resurfaced once more in 1999 - this time for purchase by India. India acquired the MiG-29K as well as its two-seat trainer variant, the MiG-29KUB, to which NATO recognized the breed as "Fulcrum-D". For the Russian Navy, a navalized version of the Sukhoi Su-27 was elected instead of the MiG-29K. The basic Indian Air Force MiG-29s will undergo upgrade to the proposed new standard of "MiG-29UPG". The type will include an all-new Phazotron Zhuk-M series radar suite as well as improved avionics. Engines will consist of a newer type of RD-33 series powerplant. First flight of a development model occurred in February of 2011 with future production believed to be forthcoming as of this writing.
The MiG-35 is known today as the latest available Fulcrum incarnation (known to NATO as "Fulcrum-F") and is based on the impressive MiG-29M. The type goes beyond the previous "4.5 Generation" jet fighter assessment of previous marks and represents the pinnacle of the Fulcrum family lineage to date. It achieved first flight in 2007 and at least three examples were known to be built by the end of 2010. The MiG-35 was first shown in public in 2007 during the Aero India exhibition and further demonstrators have since come online - no doubt to showcase the type to potential customers, including India itself. Like other Fulcrum designs, there exists a single-seat and two-seat version of the MiG-35. The MIG-35 is believed to mount a Phazotron Zhuk-AE phased array radar system as well as Klimov RD-33K series afterburning turbofan engines with possible thrust vectoring. More digital components have been added than previous Fulcrum marks including three full-color multi-function displays (MFD) consistent with Western offerings. Avionics have been kept modular meaning that any customer interested in the MiG-35 could address the avionics suite from another global customer. Armament of the MiG-35 remains the 1 x 30mm GSh-30-1 internal cannon and external ordnance can be spread across nine total hardpoints including a fuselage centerline location. The MiG-35 retains support for air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, guided bombs, conventional drop bombs and unguided rocket pods.
As far-reaching as its sales and history have been, the MiG-29 has never truly seen combat - at least in capable hands. While the Iraqi Air Force maintained a collection of these modern Soviet fighters during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraqi pilots were generally poorly trained in comparison to their coalition counterparts and use of these aircraft to stem the coalition invasion was terrible at best. At least eight total MiG-29s that were sent aloft were downed to coalition F-15 Eagles and F/A-18 Hornets in the conflict while a further nine retreated to neighboring Iran. Iran elected to keep these examples as "payment" for the losses it incurred in the bloody Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s at the hands of Saddam Hussein.
Regardless, the MiG-29 remains a favorite export product and staffs many-an-air-force-inventory the world over. Her near future seems in check though the arrival of the F-22 and Lockheed F-35 Lightning II will more than likely signal the end of the long term legacy of the MiG-29. The Sukhoi firm has also debuted their developmental PAK FA aircraft which incorporates more of what is found in the competing American F-22 - beginning to make more "conventional" minded aircraft like the MiG-29 something of an obsolete breed of fighter. Time will only tell.
- Ground Attack
56.82 ft (17.32 m)
37.27 ft (11.36 m)
15.52 ft (4.73 m)
24,028 lb (10,899 kg)
43,431 lb (19,700 kg)
1,519 mph (2,445 kph; 1,320 kts)
59,058 feet (18,001 m; 11.19 miles)
889 miles (1,430 km; 772 nm)
65,000 ft/min (19,812 m/min)
1 x 30mm GSh-30-1 internal automatic cannon.
Standard air-to-air Armament:
2 x AA-10 "Alamo" air-to-air missiles.
4 x AA-11 OR 4 x AA-8 OR 4 x AA-12 "Adder" air-to-air missiles.
6 x Underwing hardpoints can carry max load of 8,818lb (4,000kg) of stores. Munitions may include the following:
R-27 AAMs, R-73 AAMs, R-77 AAMs, Rocket Pods and
various laser-guided / conventional drop bomb loadouts. External fuel tanks at three hardpoints can replace munitions.
MiG-29 ("Fulcrum-A") - Initial Production Model Designation
MiG-29B ("Fulcrum-A") - Export Model for non-Warsaw Pact allies; downgraded systems.
MiG-29UB ("Fulcrum-B") - Two-seat conversion trainer; sans radar.
MiG-29S ("Fulcrum-C") - Enlarged fuselage spine for higher fuel volume; extended operational ranges; modified flight control system; improved Phazotron N019M radar function; limited ground attack; AA-12 missile compatibility.
MiG-29SM ("Fulcrum-C") - Air-to-Surface guided weapon capability.
MiG-29G - Upgraded East German MiG-29s to NATO standard
MiG-29GT - Upgraded East German MiG-29UB Two-Seat Trainers to NATO standard.
MiG-29AS - Upgraded Slovak MiG-29 to NATO standard
MiG029UBS - Upgraded Slovak MiG-29UB Trainers to NATO standard.
MiG-29SD - Alternative Slovak Designation
MiG-29 "Sniper" - Proposed Romanian Upgraded MiG-29s; since abandoned.
MiG-29M ("Fulcrum-E") - Improved MiG-29; multi-role platform; revised airframe and flight control system (FBW); fitted with RD-33 3M engines.
MiG-33 - Alternative MiG-29M Designation
MiG-29UBM - Proposed Two-Seat Trainer version of MiG-29M production model; never produced.
MiG-29K ("Fulcrum-D") - Proposed Navalized MiG-29M; never produced for Russian use but ordered for Indian Navy.
MiG-29KUB ("Fulcrum-D") - Proposed Navalized Two-Seat MiG-29UBM; never produced for Russian use but ordered for Indian Navy.
MiG-29SMT - Upgraded Original MiG-29 Production Models; increased fuel stores; HOTAS; upgraded RD-33 engines; improved MTOW and thusly weapons loadout; seven hardpoints; modular avionics to suit customer needs.
MiG-29UBT - Upgraded MiG-29UB Trainers
MiG-29UPG - Indian Air Force Export Models; Phazotron Zhuk-M radar; improved avionics suite; in-flight refuling probe as standard' improved RD-33 engines.
MiG-29M2 - Two-Seat Variant of the MiG-29M production model with lesser range; once known as MiG-29MRCA.
MiG-29OVT - Testbeds for fly-by-wire system and engine thrust vectoring.
MiG-35 ("Fulcrum-F") - Latest MiG-29 offering based on the MiG-29M production model; thrust vectoring; improved Phazotron radar system.