History Podcasts

MIG-23 'Flogger'

MIG-23 'Flogger'

MIG-23 'Flogger'

At one point the backbone of the Soviet air defence force the MIG-23 was produced in large numbers and has been exported to over a dozen countries. This swing-wing fighter was designed between 1961 and 1964 as a multi role fighter to replace the smaller MIG-21. The idea of swing wing aircraft whose wings pivot to allow shorter take off runs and lower speed ground attacks runs while allowing a high speed swept wing configuration has fallen out of fashion. The MIG-23 has a powerful engine which was changed between the prototype and the Flogger-B which was the first production version and although some versions have provision for booster rockets to be attached to the rear to aid take off it can still take off in 900m (2,950ft) which is an excellent figure for such a fast aircraft. One of the most unusual features of this aircraft is its large ventral fin which helps stability needed for accurate ground attacks, this fin is hinged to the right hydraulically for landing. Basic armament consist of a 23mm twin barrel cannon and normally four Air to Air missiles (for the ground attack version see MIG-27).

Maximum Speed; 1551 mph (2496km/h)
Combat Radius; 805 miles(1300km)
Service ceiling; 61,000ft (18595m).


MiG-23 (v kódu NATO: „Flogger“) je sovětský proudový stíhací letoun s měnitelnou geometrií křídel. Spolu s podobně starým strojem MiG-25 "Foxbat" byl zamýšlen jako třetí generace sovětských stíhacích letounů. Letoun byl i prvním sovětským letounem se schopností "look-down/shoot-down" (možnost útočit z výšky na cíle proti pozadí země) a jeden z prvních se schopností vzdušného boje za hranicí viditelnosti. Výroba se rozeběhla v roce 1970 a bylo vyrobeno více než 5 000 letounů, tím se stal nejvíce vyráběným stíhačem s měnitelou geometrií na světě. Dnes MiG-23 nadále zůstává v některých zemích ve službě

Letoun také posloužil jako základ pro MiG-27 - bitevní variantu. Významným rozdílem u MiGu-27 byla výměna radarového systému v nose letadla za TV kameru s laserovým dálkoměrem a značkovačem cílů.

The Syrian Air Force, officially the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) is the air force branch of the Syrian Armed Forces and it was established in 1948.

In April 1974, Syria received the first two batches of MiG-23 fighter-bombers. Acquisition of additional aircraft from the USSR was stopped in 1975 due to differences of political nature between Damascus and Moscow.

In the late 1970s, an insurgency characterised by dozens of assassinations of government officials and military officers erupted in Syria. By 1978, the Moslem Brotherhood of Syria joined the armed uprising. Concerned by destabilisation of the government of President Hafez al-Assad, Moscow decided to restart providing arms and military aid. In April of the same year, a new arms deal was signed, including deliveries of advanced MiG-23MF and MiG-25PD interceptors.

As told by Tom Cooper & Sergio Santana in their book Lebanese Civil War Volume 1: Palestinian Diaspora, Syrian and Israeli Interventions, 1970-1978, although the aircraft delivered to Syria were second-hand, overhauled, former MiG-23Ms and MiG-25 of the VVS or PVO, the Soviet agreement to export MiG-23MFs and MiG-25PDs to Syria was a major break-through: it was the time ever that the USSR showed readiness to deliver advanced weapons system de-facto equipped to the same standard as that used by its own military to a customer outside item Europe.

The MiG-23MF was essentially the same the MiG-23M: although designated S-23E, its weapons system was the same as the S-23 on the original model, and primary armament consisted of the same R-23 MRAAMs operated by the Soviets. These could only be deployed against targets underway at altitudes above 1,000 metres (3,280ft), but had an effective engagement range of between 15km (8nm for the IR variant, R-23T) and 25 kilometres (13.5nm the SARH variant, R-23R, ASCC code AA-7A Apex-A). The centrepiece of the S-23E weapons system was the Sapfir-23D-III — an analogue, pulse radar. This utilised the — rather unreliable — ‘envelope detection’ technique to detect objects flying low over the ground: thanks to about 40 analogue filters ed to suppress ground clutter, it was capable of projecting only radar echoes from moving targets on the ASP-23D sight in the cockpit. Certainly enough, in a look-down mode, or a tail-chase type of engagement, the Sapfir-23D-III was extremely limited, having a detection range of barely 10-20 kilometres (5.3-10.6nm), respectively. It was already renowned as notoriously unreliable and its proper function was heavily dependent on constant fine-tuning of its AVM-23 analogue computer. Furthermore, it proved effective only over relatively flat terrain. However, by having a maximum detection range of about 45km (24nm) for fighter-sized targets at medium or high altitudes, in combination with R-23s, and if deployed with full support of a well-developed IADS — as already available in Syria — it was expected to prove at least a match for the Israeli F-15A/B Eagle, and superior to the Mirages and Kfirs. That said, conversion training of Syrian pilots and Soviet deliveries of MiG-23MFs advanced rather slowly: No. 67 Squadron was officially declared operational on this type only in May 1981.

The Syrians expected even more from the MiG-25PD. Manufactured for export purposes only, this variant entered production in 1978. It was equipped with the massive, I-band, Smerch-A2 radar low PRF pulse radar, with a transmission power of an enormous 600KW, modified through the addition of an anti-jamming capability in the form of the ‘azimuth only’ mode. This system used an inverse cassegrain antenna capable of sweeping +/-30 degrees to the side and ‘looking up’ for up to 14 degrees in elevation, and had a maximum detection range for bomber-sized target of 100km (54nm), with the ability to track and engage from a range of 60km (32nm). However, contrary to the fire-control system of the F-15A delivered to Israel in 1976, the Smerch-A2 lacked the look-down capability unless the aircraft was underway at or near its top operational ceiling. For this purpose the MiG-25PD was equipped with the same IRST as the MiG-23MF, though officially designated the 26Sh-1 installed in housing under the chin. Interceptor variants of the Foxbat were equipped with slightly improved (in comparison to their original variants) R-40RD (semi-active radar homing and R-40TD (infra-red homing) air-to-air missiles (ASCC NATO-codename `AA-6 Acrid’), of which it could carry four — two under each wing. Although the biggest air-to-ai missiles in world-wide service of the early 1970s, these had a maximum engagement range of only 50km (27nm): what did matter about the R-40s was their large, 70kg (154lbs) blast-fragmentation warhead. Because the R-40s could only sustain about 2.5gs, the MiG-25PDs were modified to carry up to four R-60M or R-60MK missiles instead of the outer pair of Acrids: however, although capable of tracking targets manoeuvring at up to 9gs, these were short-range weapons only. As far as is known, between 1979 and 1982, Syria received a total of 46 MiG-25s, of which 10 were MiG-25RBs. The latter was a dedicated reconnaissance variant, equipped with reconnaissance cameras and a relatively primitive ELINT-system. At least two of these were reportedly equipped to the MiG-25RBS standard, which included the Shompol side-borne looking radar (SLAR), but it remains unknown if these arrived before or after 1982: indeed, for all practical purposes, the Syrian fleet of Foxbats was still not operational as of that year.

Lebanese Civil War Volume 1: Palestinian Diaspora, Syrian and Israeli Interventions, 1970-1978 is published by Helion & Company and is available to order here.

MIG-23 'Flogger' - History

The Mig-23 is a swing-wing fighter and belongs to the Soviet "Third Generation" aircraft category. It was the first Soviet fighter with a look-down/shoot-down radar and beyond visual range missiles, and the first MiG production fighter plane to have intakes at the sides of the fuselage. The MF variant was an export derivative of the Mig-23M, originally intended to be exported to Warsaw Pact countries, but it was also sold to many other Russian allies and clients.

The kit consists of 565 parts on 24 sprues, plus an upper and lower fuselage, rubber tires, repositionable wings, and what looks to me like every conceivable external load. Also included are a highly detailed engine and metal landing gear struts. The decal sheet has markings for Czech AF and East German AF and appears to have all of the necessary stencils and markings for the aircraft as well as for all of the weapons loads.

The kit is packed in a large, sturdy box, with each sprue in a plastic bag and all of the small parts such as the PE fret, the clear parts, the metal parts and the big fuselage bottom piece are packed in a separate sub-container. There is also a cart which would be used to support the rear of the fuselage when it is removed for engine access. The kit will measure over 21" long and have a wingspan of over 17". I certainly hope I can do this kit justice. The instruction book is 34 pages long and the kit builds up as several separate components so I plan to build them as such.

Cockpit and Forward Fuselage Assembly

Wings, Landing gear and lower fuselage assembly

The left and right wings were assembled minus the upper wing spoilers and wing tip pieces I suspect are some kind of antenna system. The fit of the parts was very good but getting the leading and trailing edge flaps in place was touchy. Don't over look the PE piece near the wing tip.

While that is drying the next assembly is the main landing gear wells. Here I would also suggest you not place the pipes in place until after the gear is actually glued into place. Otherwise it will only get in the way. The gear wells are then placed in the respective sides of the lower fuselage pan.

Rear fuselage and engine

Joining the rear to forward fuselage

In this step build two rings that are to be glued into the mid section behind the wings that will allow the rear section to be removed for inspection of the engine. These parts fit together well enough but the fit when they were set into the fuselage mid section is extremely tight. Then the fit when the rear of the fuselage is mated to the forward section it is very, very tight, requiring a great deal of pressure and finesse. So I chose not to fix it so they could not be separated. There is just too much risk of damaging the finished model. So I glued the two sections together permanently.

Vertical stabilizer and seam filler

The assembled pieces were now ready to paint. The model was given a washing with soap and water and then wiped with a tissue soaked with denatured alcohol to remove any soap residue and finger oils. I used some of my diminishing supply of Flo-Quil Military colors and then lay down some Testors Gloss Coat for the decals.

I didn't attempt to place all of the decals on the model. There are just too many small ones. The decals are very fine, thin and in perfect registry and compatible to the Micro Scale decal system.

The previously painted small and fragile pieces were located and put in place and the model was set aside for a while.

Under wing stores

The kit contains fourteen sprues of weapons and fuel tanks to choose from, and enough decals for every one of them. I couldn't see the need to assemble every bomb, missile and fuel tank so I settled for two guided air to air missiles and their pylons and the fuselage and wing mounted fuel tanks. However the holes for the wing tank pylons did not have a capability to pivot so the tanks would stay in line with the direction of flight. Maybe I should have just left them off, they look pretty silly.

In summation

I found this kit to be extremely detailed, inside and out. I can not account for the complete accuracy so I can be sure that I made several mistakes getting it together. About half way through building it I borrowed a Walk Around book from a fellow modeler and was shocked and dismayed that the cockpit was not the color the instructions called for and several other errors. But the idea of this build is to decide if the quality of the kit justifies the price, not to test my building skills.

I believe an experienced model builder with the proper reference material will find it a very pleasant build. I did despite the blunders I committed.

MiG-23: A Ferrari leaving Fords behind

The Soviet-designed fighters were agile, too. In an engagement, the enemy’s first turn would be eye-watering—unless, that is, the model in question was a MiG-23. Then, there typically was no turn at all. The MiG-23 would simply tear away so fast that it seemed like a Ferrari leaving Fords behind. A MiG-23, such had one chance to make a pass and run. Once the pilot tried to turn, he was done.

MiG-23 Floggers were the MiG-21’s replacement. Their swing-wing was patterned on that of the F-111, but unlike their US antecedent, the MiG-23s were small and light enough to serve as dogfighters. On the whole, the aircraft weren’t as capable as US models, say those who flew them. Their fit and finish were vastly inferior, characterized by such defects as protruding rivets. That does not mean they could be written off. Far from it. They performed very well for the state of technology they had.

The MiG-23 that was the maintainers’ nightmare. The Flogger was a compromised design, in the US view. Made light for speed, the airframe didn’t have sufficient strength. The wing box which carried the weight of the swing wings was particularly prone to cracks.

Performance tests

Many potential enemies of the USSR and its client states had a chance to evaluate the MiG-23’s performance. In the 1970s, after a political realignment by the Egyptian government, Egypt gave their MiG-23MS to the United States and the People’s Republic of China in exchange for military hardware. These MiG-23MS helped the Chinese to develop their Shenyang J-8II aircraft by borrowing some MiG-23 features, such as its ventral fin and air intakes, and incorporating them into the J-8II. In the US, these MiG-23MS and other variants acquired later from Germany were used as part of the evaluation program of Soviet military hardware. Dutch pilot Leon Van Maurer, who had more than 1200 hours flying F-16s, flew against MiG-23ML Flogger-Gs from air bases in Germany and the U.S. as part of NATO’s aerial mock combat training with Soviet equipment. He concluded the MiG-23ML was superior in the vertical to early F-16 variants, just slightly inferior to the F-16A in the horizontal, and has superior BVR capability.

The Israelis tested a MiG-23MLD that defected from Syria and found it had better acceleration than the F-16 and F/A-18.

Another MiG-23 evaluation finding in the US and Israel reports was that the MiG-23 has a Heads-Up Display (HUD) that doubles as a radarscope, allowing the pilot to keep his eyes focused at infinity and work with his radar. It also allowed the Soviets to dispense with the radarscope on the MiG-23. This feature was carried over into the MiG-29, though in that aircraft a cathode ray tube (CRT) was carried on the upper right corner to double as a radarscope. Western opinions about this “head-up radarscope” are mixed. The Israelis were impressed, but an American F-16 pilot criticizes it as “sticking a transparent map in front of the HUD” and not providing a three-dimensional presentation that will accurately cue a pilot’s eyes to look for a fighter as it appears in a particular direction.

Besides the Syrian defection, a Cuban pilot flew a MiG-23BN to the US in 1991 and a Libyan MiG-23 pilot also defected to Greece in 1981. In both cases, the aircraft were later returned to their countries.

The MiG-23 was the Soviet Air Force’s “Top Gun”-equivalent aggressor aircraft from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. It proved a difficult opponent for early MiG-29 variants flown by inexperienced pilots. Exercises showed when well-flown, a MiG-23MLD could achieve favorable kill ratios against the MiG-29 in mock combat by using hit-and-run tactics and not engaging the MiG-29s in dogfights. Usually the aggressor MiG-23MLDs had a shark mouth painted on the nose just aft of the radome, and many were piloted by Soviet-Afghan War veterans. In the late 1980s, these aggressor MiG-23s were replaced by MiG-29s, also featuring shark mouths.

One of the most important tactical war planes of the Soviet Union the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 (NATO reporting name ‘Flogger’) was first flown in prototype form during 1966 entering service for evaluation some four years later. This air combat fighter and its ground attack MiG-27 derivative was in large scale production between 1969 and 1984

Designed to provide Frontal Aviation with a tactical fighter offering secondary ground attack capability and capable of meeting contemporary Western fighters on more than equal terms the MiG 23 was designed around the primary aim of an aircraft that could operate effectively without being tied to massive concrete runways The Mikoyan bureau is known to have adopted two approaches to this requirement first was the Ye-23 (or Ye-230) prototype which was of tailed delta configuration and incorporated high lift devices to give STOL capability powered by a single turbofan engine supplemented by a battery of Kolseov lift jets amidships for VTOL operations the alternative prototype was the Ye-231 which deleted the lift jets and replaced the delta wing by a variable geometry wing very similar to that of the General Dynamics F 111 The prototypes were evaluated during 1966 67 with a decision to develop the swing wing Ye 231 finalized probably during 1968 resulting in the pre production MiG-238 ‘Flogger-A’ which powered by a Tumansky R 27 turbojet with an afterburning thrust of 10200 kg (22 485 Ib) first entered service for operational evaluation in 197071 At about this time it must have been decided to optimize the MiG 23 as an air combat fighter and to develop a dedicated ground attack parallel version which was allocated the designation MiG 27 In consequence aerodynamic changes were made to the MiG 23 the fuselage structure being lightened and more advanced avionics being introduced by the time the initial MIG-23M version entered service in 1973 More or less simultaneously the dedicated attack variant was developed and while having much in common with the MiG 23 this was sufficiently different to warrant the allocation of the separate designation MiG-27 This differs primarily by having a completely redesigned forward fuselage providing a better field of view for the pilot increased armour protection terrain avoidance radar and provision to deploy a wide variety of air to surface weapons There appear to be only two versions of the MiG 27 differing in the shape of the nose avionics and aerodynamics and these have the NATO reporting names ‘Flogger-D’ and ‘Flogger-J’

Both the MiG 23 and MiG 27 are in large scale use with the former Soviet air force an estimated 3 000 reported being operational They served with the Warsaw Pact air forces and were exported to the air arms of Algeria Angola Bulgaria Cuba Czechoslovakia East Germany Egypt Ethiopia Hungary India Iraq Libya North Korea Poland South Yemen Syria and Vietnam The MiG 23M/K Flogger J is also currently in production in India.


  • Ye-230: First test aircraft, first flown on april 1967
  • Ye-231 Flogger-A: First prottype with variable sweep wing, first flown on June 1967
  • MiG-23S Flogger-B: First service capability variant
  • MiG-23SM Flogger-B: compareable with MiG-23S, only with four additional pylons
  • MiG-23M Flogger-B: first variant that has entered service, new avionics, engines
  • MiG-23MR Flogger-B: MiG 23M variant
  • MiG-23MS Flogger-E: export variant of the MiG-23M with MiG-21bis-Radar
  • MiG-23MF Flogger-B: Another export derivative with not as many changes as on the MiG-23MS
  • MiG-23ML Flogger-G: First Multirole derivative with more advanced radar, N-003 (Saphir-23ML), Prototype was the 23-12 look-down/shoot-down-ability
  • MiG-23MLG: derivative of the MiG-23ML , Prototype was 23-37
  • MiG-23MLS: another derivative of the MiG-23ML, prototype was 23-47
  • MiG-23A: not produced carrier variant of the MiG-23ML
  • MiG-23K: Not produced derivative with new engine ( R-100 ) and capable for aerial refueling
  • MiG-23MLA: MiG-23ML derivative as a tactical fighter, prototype was 23-13
  • MiG-23P: MiG-23ML Interceptor version, designed only for aerial combat with new radar, N-006 (Saphir-23PA) Prototype was 23-14
  • MiG-23MLD Flogger-K: upgraded MiG-23ML with better aerodynamics, weaponsystems and new avionics, designed to be a multirole fighter, prototype was the 23-18
  • MiG-23MLDG: not realised project, with electronic Warfare capabilities called 23-57
  • MiG-23B Flogger-F: Fighter bomber variant, based on MiG-23S, with better armor, new AL-21-F3 engine with 110 kN of thrust, prototype was the 32-24, it was first flown by Alexander Fetodow on February 1971
  • MiG-23BN Flogger-H: Export version of the MiG-23B prototype was the 32-23, with Tumanski-R-29B-300-engine, 624 had been produced
  • MiG-23BM Flogger-F: Prototype of the MiG-27,called 32-25
  • MiG-23BK Flogger-H: Prototype of the MiG-27K, called 32-26
  • MiG-23U Flogger-C: Two seated trainer derivative
  • MiG-23U Flogger-C: Armed trainer variant, prototype was the 23-51
  • MiG-23UM Flogger-C: Trainer version, based on the MiG-23ML and MiG-23P
  • MiG-23-98:

Walkaround Video Of The Soviet MiG-23 Flogger Fighter Jet


The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 is a variable-geometry fighter aircraft, designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich design bureau in the Soviet Union. Production started in 1969 and reached large numbers with over 5,000 aircraft built, making it the most produced variable-sweep wing aircraft in history. Today the MiG-23 remains in limited service with some export customers.

Pilot Will “Psycho” Ward offers a walkaround tour of his MiG-23ML Flogger, plus footage of an engine run and control checks. The aircraft is based in Lakeland, FL, and is being returned to flight!

Now, we can also benefit from his knowledge about the swing-wing MiG-23ML Flogger in an excellent walk-around video of the fighter that explains its many unique features and characteristics in detail.

With 60 different types in his logbook, including the Korean War-era MiG-15 and the supersonic MiG-21, as well as the American-made F-104 Starfighter and A-26 Invader, Ward is a true aficionado of Cold War combat aircraft.

In the roughly half-hour walk-around video of the MiG-23ML—courtesy of our friends over at the always awesome Airshowstuff.com—which includes running up the engine and demonstrating its variable-geometry wings, he imparts expertise down to the minutiae of the different pitot tubes and access doors.

In the process of taking the viewer around the ex-Czechoslovakian Air Force MiG-23ML Flogger-G at Lakeland, Florida, Ward also busts a few myths about the jet, which has, it must be said, not the best reputation in the West.

This is the product of a general misunderstanding of how Soviet-era jets were designed and expected to be used, but also the less-than-stellar combat performance of (mainly earlier models of) Flogger in combat in the Middle East, in particular.

Then there are the hair-raising tales of the MiG-23s flown under conditions of great secrecy in the United States by the “Red Eagles” of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron, which you can read about here and here.

MiG-23 "Flogger" Technical Data.MiG-23 Custom Flight Package.

First demonstrated to the public during the Domodedovo airshow in 1967, the MiG-23 was a major advance in fighter design over the preceding MiG-21.
The aircraft uses variable-sweep wings which can be set at 16, 45, or 72 degrees of sweep, and variable inlets are used for improved engine efficiency.
About 3,000 MiG-23s were built before production ended in the late 1980s, and the type is said to be easy to fly, popular with pilots, and very reliable.

A simplified model was widely exported, especially to Middle Eastern nations, though success has been limited. Numerous MiG-23s were shot down by Israeli F-15s during the 1982 Lebanon conflict, and Libyan examples were successfully engaged by US F-14s during skirmishes in the mid-1980s. Though still in service with a number of nations, the MiG-23 and related MiG-27 were phased out of Russian service during the mid-1990s.

Red Hats – MiG-23Flogger

Cairo had recently fallen out with Moscow with predictable results: less than one year after it started flying the Russian-supplied MiG-23 “Flogger” – a new and somewhat enigmatic supersonic interceptor that was greatly revered by US intelligence agencies – the Egyptian Air Force withdrew them from service as spare parts from the Motherland were withheld and their own stocks dried up. The situation for Egypt’s MiG-21s was only marginally better, thanks to more plentiful stocks of spares, but even these would not last for too long. Cairo did the only thing it could and made its MiGs available to China and the United States in exchange for new hardware and hard currency. America bought a large quantity of equipment from Egypt – MiGs, bombs, missiles, radars, surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, and so on. But the jewel in the crown was the Flogger. Merlin cited a former Red Hat commander as saying: “In the summer of 1977, the Red Hats acquired from Egypt 12 MiG-23MS `Flogger E’ interceptors and one MiG-23BN `Flogger F’ fighter-bomber. They were shipped to the US in two C-5s, each carrying six airframes.” AFSC took the first look at the two MiG-23 variants under the codenames HAVE PAD and HAVE BOXER. Soon, it would be TAC’s turn.

On November 1, 1980, the first MiG-23 was flown by the 4477th TES at Tonopah when a single MiG-23BN Flogger F flew in from Groom Lake. Ellis, Henderson explained, had been crucial in preparing for the arrival of the Flogger. “The 4477th’s budget never quite caught up with the exploding growth of the operation and the arrival of the MiG-23. We were always scrounging for makeshift solutions to storage, housing, supply, etc. Only Bobby knew the ‘grand plan’ and I was constantly being surprised by a new structure or vehicle at the complex at Tonopah. It looked like a shantytown and it was called Indian Village for very obvious reasons.”

TAC had been flying the Flogger on and off since PAD and BOXER, and it is probably more than coincidental that the permanent acquisition of the first Flogger in November corresponds with the end of AFSC’s HAVE LIGHTER and HAVE DOWN testing of “Type IIIB” aircraft by the Red Hats, according to Merlin.

The MiG-23 was designed in the 1960s as a next-generation fighter for Russia’s Frontovaya Aviatsiya (Frontal Aviation), a part of the VVS. FA was the equivalent of TAC, and it wanted a fighter with performance superior to the MiG-21, and the ability to operate from short airstrips. The prototype first flew in the summer of 1967 the first production model – the MiG-23S – followed in 1969. NATO called it the Flogger A. Improved Floggers had followed, and Russia was soon developing export variants for sale to its allies. For the least trusted of those, Russia offered the MiG-23MS Flogger E. It was based on the 1970s MiG-23M Flogger B that was operated by the VVS, but had a less sophisticated Sapfir RP-22SM radar, known to NATO as the “Jaybird,” and a very basic avionics suite that severely limited its effectiveness as a beyond-visual-range interceptor. When Russia developed a dedicated air-to-ground variant, the MiG-23B Flogger F, they deleted the radar and completely revised the nose profile to allow the pilot better visibility out front. This too was made available in the form of the MiG-23BN Flogger F.

The Flogger used variable geometry (“swing”) wings similar to those found on the General Dynamics F-111 and F-14. The wings were manually set to 16 degrees for take-offs, landings, or low-speed cruise 45 degrees for high-speed cruise and 72 degrees for supersonic flight. Each wing featured trailing-edge flaps to improve low-speed handling, and spoilers on the top that popped up to generate roll, working in unison with the two large horizontal “tailerons” at the back of the fuselage. The vertical stabilizer – the “tail plane” – had a long strake that ran along the fuselage, and a ventral fin under the tail helped maintain high-speed directional stability. A fairing at the back of the vertical stabilizer housed a brake parachute to reduce landing distance.

The Flogger E had a GSh-23L twin-barreled 23mm cannon mounted flush with the underside of the fuselage, and there were two weapons pylons under the forward fuselage, and one under each wing glove. These could carry the R-3S (NATO designation, AA-2 “Atoll”) IR AAMs, or the R-3R (AA-2C “Advanced Atoll”) semi-active radar homing (radar-guided) derivative. The pilot sat on a Mikoyan-Gurevich KM-1 ejection seat that required a minimum speed of 90 knots in order for the parachute to deploy.

On paper, the Flogger was a decent design that, when used in conjunction with the Soviet doctrine of strength in numbers (as opposed to NATO’s “quality versus quantity”) could offer the VVS and the USSR’s allies an effective interceptor capability. But it wasn’t the air superiority fighter that the FA had wanted. More worryingly, the Flogger was plagued from the outset by design flaws, poor reliability, and an airframe that was easy to overstress. But the MiG-23 Floggers E and F were fast. There was no denying it. The Tumansky R-29-300 (R-29A) engine would churn out 27,500lb of thrust, easily taking the Flogger E to its placarded limit of Mach 2.4, or more than 1,500mph. In its early years, the Flogger’s parachute had a propensity to deploy spontaneously in flight. While this would be startling, but not necessarily fatal, there were several handling issues with the MiG-23 that had, and continued to, kill its pilots. It did not like to be spun and was averse to the low-speed maneuvering flight that characterized the final stages of BFM – when two evenly pitted adversaries might be out of altitude and airspeed.

At the opposite end of the envelope, the Flogger was unstable in yaw as it passed through the sound barrier, and then again as it exceeded Mach 2. Even in regular phases of flight – like take-off and landing – it was a handful. Its narrow landing gear would skid and slide on a damp, icy, or wet runway and since its main landing gear was articulated to absorb the bumps and ruts of an unprepared surface, the jet sat low to the ground where its two intakes could suck up foreign objects.

Corder, the Red Eagles’ assistant ops officer, must have known most, if not all, of this as a result of HAVE PAD and BOXER when he volunteered to be the first Red Eagle at Tonopah to fly the MiG-23. McCloud followed suit and became the second to checkout in the Flogger, Scott recalls. “It was a new experience and we didn’t know too much about the jet it didn’t come with the knowledge that the other countries operating it around the world took for granted,” he added. As they learned each day, Corder got to work writing the Flogger’s Dash 1.

With experience flying MiGs going back more than seven years, Press was soon selected to transition to the Flogger, becoming the third pilot in the unit to do so. But the Flogger immediately proved problematic: “On about my second or third sortie in it I was up with Dave McCloud flying chase in a T-38. It was basically an aircraft-handling sortie to investigate the envelope. Up at about 20,000ft, I pulled little too hard on the stick with the wings swept back and the thing went out of control and entered a spin. McCloud was calling: ‘You’re on fire! Bail out!’ I managed to get it out of the spin, but the engine shaft had warped from the motion of the spin.” All was not well. The Flogger’s engine intakes featured a system of louvers around the compressor section of the R-29A, and these were used to take surplus “bleed” air for use by the Flogger’s environmental control system for cooling the avionics and the pilot. “The spin and warping had caused the compressor blades to tear out the louvers, and these had gone into the turbine section, causing turbine blades to break off and fly everywhere. That was the cause of the fire.”

By now the fire had gone out, but he had no engine and was faced with either landing the 34,000lb fighter like a glider – known as a “deadstick” landing – or to eject. “I still had enough hydraulic power to get the wings forward, and the gear came down via pneumatics, so I decided to head back towards Tonopah. The thing was coming down like the space shuttle and McCloud kept telling me he didn’t think I would be able to make it. I told him I could. I got the gear down and landed 500ft down the runway and rolled to a stop.”

Press had inadvertently demonstrated that the MiG-23MS engine casing was the weak link during out-of-control maneuvers that resulted in strong sideloads (yaw). While intentionally spinning any of the MiGs was already against the rules, the MiG-23 pilots at Tonopah now understood exactly how dangerous the Flogger could be. It was an incredible baptism of fire, and the incident put Press in the history books as the only Red Eagle to deadstick a Flogger. Ted Drake, who would join the squadron in 1984 and become the unit’s high-time Flogger pilot, explained: “The air model [MiG-23MS] engine, the R-29-300, was mounted in a way that meant it was really not stressed for yaw, and that’s why you experienced this. That’s why Press ended up with a dead motor. But if you look at the guys who, in the years that followed, spun the ground model [MiG-23BN], that motor, the R-29B-300, was much better suited to sideloads and so carried on working.”

Coyle, the FTD analyst, had seen with his own eyes the damage that these out of control incidents could cause when he visited Tonopah to inspect some Floggers. The three MiG-23s were being temporarily stored at Tonopah, probably in advance of their delivery to Groom where they were most likely dismantled for spares, and may well have been Egyptian examples.

All three of the ones I examined showed the result of a compressor stall and verified to me the reasons for several reports I had gotten earlier about the FLOGGER having a “Coffin Corner” problem. All three aircraft had fragmentation penetrations of their inside and outside intake surfaces with one exhibiting entry and exit holes all the way through the equipment and avionics bay just aft of the cockpit.

What was happening with the FLOGGER air-to-air birds, both the export FLOGGER E and the indigenously flown FLOGGER B, was a vertical stabilizer washout. This came from the vortex flows off of the wing glove leading edge extensions at high angles of attack and high dynamic pressures when any sideslip was introduced. When you got all of these conditions together at one time you were usually in a high-G nose high turn at low to medium altitudes. The vortices would suddenly stop traveling to the sides of the wing glove and cross over the top of it. The inboard vortex would then wrap itself around the tail and you immediately lost all directional stability. The plane would snap roll in the opposite direction of the turn and the aircraft would swap ends at the same time.

This motion was so violent that the engine would deform enough for the front fan blades to gouge into the casing treatment at their tips and start stripping off chunks of metal that were then ingested into the low and then high pressure parts of the compressor, stripping off compressor blades and stators all the way down into the core. Portions of the compressor lost any semblance of an aft directed pressure gradient and the higher-pressure air and burning fuel from the annular combustor had a new direction to travel and that was back through the already damaged compressor. A huge explosion out of both forward facing intakes then occurred accompanied by a lot of high velocity shrapnel. Then the whole mess got swallowed again and that was the end of the engine and a lot of structure around it and forward of it. If he was still conscious, the pilot found himself about 1,500 feet lower than where he started, already at stall speed, with no engine. If he started all of this at less than about 7,000 – 10,000 feet above local ground level he didn’t have a chance to recover the aircraft. If he was higher, he had a chance to use his accumulator pressure to drive the wings forward to their best glide configuration and look for a place to set the thing down.

Some guys just ejected immediately, but I was looking at three ships that some line pilot on the other side had recovered in one piece. I just stood there amazed at the physical reality of what I had been reading about and the guts and flying skill that had apparently gotten these things back on the ground in one piece.

“There were other things that we had to find out for ourselves, one of which was structural,” adds Scott. “The Flogger was never designed for the sort of high-G flying that we were putting it through, so we developed a modification to reinforce the ‘wing carry through box,’ which held the sweeping wings in place. These were ‘discovery’ problems, the sorts of things that Tom Gibbs was having to deal with on a day-by-day basis as we learned new things about the jet.” The addition of the third type of MiG created more pressure for Gibbs’ men and complicated the issue of reverse engineering. “But we at least had a pretty good budget to deal with that, probably a little bit more than $1 million,” Gibbs estimated.

As 1980 came to a close, 1,015 sorties had been accumulated, accounting for the exposure of the MiGs to some 372 Air Force and Navy pilots. CONSTANT PEG’s first full year at Tonopah had been hugely successful, and at one point in 1980 “the Red Eagles flew five sorties a day for two straight weeks, including weekends,” says Sheffield.

The MiG-23: Russia's Worst Fighter Jet Ever?

In the 1980s, the U.S. Air Force's secret 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron evaluated a collection of captured or donated Soviet aircraft to determine their strengths and weaknesses.

On the whole, the expert test pilots were fond of the light, nimble and simple MiG-21. But not its successor. “The MiG-23 was a nightmare, maintenance was a nightmare. The guys hated flying it,” recalled a former 4477th squadron commander.

The MiG-23 was the 1970s fighter that the West loved to mock as junk. What could one expect from an aircraft that NATO gave the sadomasochistic name of Flogger?

With this year marking the fiftieth anniversary of the MiG-23’s first flight, it's worth asking: was the West's contempt justified? Or did the Flogger have the last laugh?

The MiG-23 began its life in the early 1960s. Impressed by America's new F-4 Phantom, the Soviet military asked the MiG design bureau to design a successor to the MiG-21 Fishbed, according to Yefim Gordon and Keith Dexter, writers of an authoritative history of the MiG-23. The new fighter was to be capable of achieving Mach 2.2, have a longer range than the MiG-21 and have a short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability to operate from rough airstrips. In return, Soviet commanders were willing to accept a less maneuverable aircraft.

Struggling to meet these requirements—especially the STOL part—MiG designers turned to a variable-geometry, or “swing-wing” design. They weren't the only ones: the 1960s and 1970s saw the introduction of the F-111, F-14, Tornado and B-1. Though offering the ability to configure an aircraft aerodynamics to meet various flight situations, such as takeoff and landing or low speed versus supersonic speed, the weight and complexity of variable-geometry wings soon made them a Cold War relic.

The MiG-23 first took flight in June 1967, and went into operational service in 1970. From 1967 to 1985, some 5,047 MiG-23s were manufactured, used by twenty-eight nations in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The aircraft's equipment evolved over time, but standard models included a Sapfir-23 radar, TP-23 infrared sensor, a 23-millimeter cannon and four air-to-air missiles (two R-23 medium-range radar-guided missiles and two R-60 short-range heatseekers).

The Vietnam War made established the MiG-21’s reputation. It was the Arab-Israeli Wars that blackened the reputation of the MiG-23. During air combat against Israeli F-15s and F-16s over Lebanon and Syria between 1982 and 1985, nearly a dozen Syrian MiG-23s were shot down. In Western eyes, the Flogger became a clumsy fighter that lacked the sophistication of Western designs.

Fast forward to today, and opinions of the MiG-23 are all over the spectrum. Former 4477th Squadron test pilots were afraid the engines would blow up or the aircraft would kill them. On the other hand, the Israelis evaluated a MiG-23 handed to them by an Arab defector, and concluded it had better acceleration than an F-16A. The Flogger is best characterized as a speeder rather than a dogfighter: in a NATO-Warsaw Pact war—the war that Soviet equipment was designed to fight—mass formations of MiG-23s would use their superb acceleration to zoom in, launch their air-to-air missiles and zoom away. MiG-23 fans also say that the aircraft exported to Soviet clients like Syria were “monkey models” lacking many capabilities that Soviet air force enjoyed, such as better radar and radar warning sensors.

Perhaps the last word should come from the Soviets themselves, who produced a manual for foreign pilots learning to fly the MiG-23. The Soviets believed the MiG-23 had better climb rates and turning ability than the F-4 or F-16A at certain altitudes and speeds. However, “compared with the F-15A, the only advantage possessed by the MiG-23MLD was its ability to outclimb the Eagle in a zoom at speeds above 1,150km/h (715mph).”

The Soviets also considered the MiG-23s radar to be inferior to the F-15A's but equal to the F-16A's. “In conclusion, the manual stated that when armed with R-24 and R-60 missiles, the MiG-23MLD could hold its own against all the types of fighters considered,” Gordon and Dexter write. “If, however, it was pitted against F-15A, the MiG-23MLD only stood a chance of prevailing if several of them made simultaneous diving attacks from different directions and zoomed away once within visual range to return to the attack. This required experienced, skilled pilots and good ground control or AWACS backup. Great emphasis was placed on the initial attack phase and the importance of the element of surprise. It warned against head to head attacks against F-15As.”

The MiG-27 appeared in 1975, which was a ground-attack variant of the MiG-23. India used both models, and is retiring both models of what what it considers to be an accident-prone aircraft.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Watch the video: Mig-23 Flogger Rare Videos (January 2022).