In addition to the Soviet Union, India and Czechoslovakia also built the MiG-21 superstar jet “Fishbed” under license and technology transfer agreement with Russia. Meanwhile, China built the MiG-21 variant after acquiring the aircraft. If the numbers are combined, Fishbed is by far the most supersonic aircraft produced in history.
Military aircraft usually have a very short life span, especially during periods of technological turmoil. World War I’s most elite aircraft can become obsolete in a matter of months. The situation is not much different in World War II. In the early days of the jet, the entire aircraft fleet became outdated as technology matured. Advanced aircraft that fought in the Korean sky became junk only a few years later.
Some designs are durable. According to the National Interest report, the B-52 Stratofortress first flew in 1952, but it still operates today. The C-130 is also still rolling from the production line, based on a design that began operating in 1954.
However, those were bombers and transport planes, they were not combat aircraft. Fighter aircraft usually do not have long life, because they have to compete directly with newer models. As such, very few fighter planes have a long life span, both in production and in service, except Russia’s MiG-21 “Fishbed”.
Initial studies for the MiG-21 “Fishbed” began in 1953. The success of the MiG-15 and MiG-17 showed Soviet engineers could compete with their Western counterparts. With the MiG-19, the Soviets had their first supersonic fighter.
Meanwhile, technology changed so quickly in the first two decades of jet flights that the warplanes that had dominated the Korean War were effectively obsolete in the mid-1950s.
The Soviet Union then built 10,645 Fishbed between 1959 and 1985. India built another 657 under license and technology transfer agreements with Russia, while Czechoslovakia built 194 under license.
Under complicated circumstances, China obtained the aircraft and sufficient technical documents to engineer the MiG-21 to become Chengdu J-7 / F-7. China produced around 2,400 Fishbed between 1966 and 2013. If these numbers were combined, Fishbed was by far the most widely produced supersonic aircraft in history.
WOULD THE MIG-21 (OR ITS VARIATION) STAY FUNCTION UP TO 2059?
China has ended production on its MiG-21 variant, J-7. Croatia and Romania will dump their fishbed in the next five years. After a series of accidents, India finally retired MiG-21. J-7 China has also been moved to local defense and training duties.
But this does not mean the end of Fishbed. Many J-7 and F-7 models have remained in operation for some time. Bangladesh obtained the last dozen F-7s in 2013, and will not need a replacement in the near future.
Many air forces don’t have the requirements to have a fighter that is far more sophisticated or expensive than a Fishbed. Maybe there had never been such a fighter in a hundred years (although the B-52 might have reached that level before it was finally retired). Although the progress of the MiG-21 has sunk, it remains one of the iconic warplanes of the supersonic era.