Ukrainian Falcons MiG-29A at Burlington, Vermont in 1992
Mikoyan’s MiG-29 jet fighter prototype first flew in late 1977, and entered production in 1981. The design was developed in response to the new American F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, which were in production since the mid-1970s. Originally, the MiG-29 was produced as an air superiority fighter, but later in its production life became a true multi-tasked fighter-bomber much like the General Dynamics F-16 did.
Russian Air Force Fulcrum-A performing at Ottawa, Ontario’s National Capital Air Show in the early 1990s
Developed amid some secrecy beginning in 1974, the pre-production aircraft were known as the Ram-L and first took to the sky after some three years in development. The MiG-29 replaced the swing-wing MiG-23 in most cases in the Soviet Air Force. Parallel in development, the larger Sukhoi SU-27 was designed for longer range missions of interceptor and air superiority roles.
Ukrainian Falcons MiG-29UB at the London International Air Show in 1992
The original MiG-29 was codenamed Fulcrum A by NATO and was exported to numerous Warsaw Pact countries. The single seat version was modified into a tandem twin seat trainer known as the MiG-29UB, or Fulcrum B. Western analysts quickly saw two items worth note in the design. One was a very smoky exhaust (similar to early F-4 Phantom exhaust plumes), the other being air intake ramps that could be shut and secondary engine air intakes opened on the top of the wings would be used to avoid foreign object damage to engines.
Polish Air Force MiG-29 in a high-G turn
Throughout its career, upgrades to avionics, weapons systems and radar/sensors were fitted. It has been described as a “4th generation fighter” as far as its capabilities. Although the aircraft does not contain digital fly-by-wire controls, it has proven to be extremely agile in mock dogfights, especially at slow speeds. Friendly training scenarios against F/A-18, F-16 and F-15 fighters have shown both strengths and weaknesses between each of the opponents.
Polish Air Force MiG-29A on display at RNLAF Leeuwarden
MiG-29s have been operated by at least 40 countries. This total includes Russia. The Indian Air Force was the first country to receive export aircraft in 1985. East Germany operated a number of these types, and after unification with West Germany in 1990 the jets stood guard as part of their quick reaction force and as an adversary training aid. The Helmet Mounted Weapons Sight fitted to the MiG-29 offered an advantage to the MiG pilots during close range maneuvering. Poland received their first examples of the Fulcrum in 1989, and still has a large amount of the jets, which have been upgraded over time. Some of these are retired German Air Force examples.
Luftwaffe MiG-29A at the 2000 Royal International Air Tattoo
Other quick facts… somewhat surprisingly, the United States bought 21 Moldovan MiG-29s including MiG-29S versions with upgraded avionics and nuclear weapons capability. This was partly due to the fact the U.S. didn’t want these aircraft to fall into a certain other country’s forces. A navalized version was built for the Russian Navy’s aircraft carriers, known as the MiG-29K. Most of the Warsaw Pact forces operated one version or another of the MiG-29, and several African countries do too. Israel operated a pair of MiG-29s for a while, by their flight test squadron. Offers to several Asian and South American air forces have been made; most were never finalized.
Slovakian Air Force MiG-29UBS at Radom, Poland’s air show
Here are a group of photos of MiG-29s in various countries’ colors.