Cold War Era

Between the MiG-21PF and the MiG-21PFM: the Story of the MiG-21PFS, the Weird Fishbed Variant

Between Jun. 12 and 30 1967, the USSR delivered exactly 65 such MiG-21PFS aircraft to Egypt as replacements for losses from the June 1967 War.

This story is something one is next to never going to find explained (or at least mentioned) in any of MiG-21-books: that of an upgrade of most of MiG-21PFs (the second variant to enter large-scale series production, right after the first one, MiG-21F-13), to ‘MiG-21PFM-like’ standard, i.e. the creation for the sub-variant differently called either the ‘MiG-21PFS’ or ‘MiG-21PFM-early’.

While retaining its cockpit (including the SK-1 ejection seat and the forward-hinged canopy), the MiG-21PFS contained two major add-ons from the MiG-21PFM: blown flaps and the housing for para-brake installed on the base of the fin.

I’ve got no firm figures for how many MiG-21PFs were modified that way: the only thing I’m certain is that between Jun. 12 and 30 1967, the USSR delivered exactly 65 such aircraft to Egypt as replacements for losses from the June 1967 War (in turn indicating how many Egyptian MiG-21s were actually written-off during that conflict, instead of the usually reported 100+).

These 65 MiG-21PFS’ then formed the backbone of the 104th Air Brigade of the United Arab Republic Air Force (UARAF, official designation of the Egyptian air force in period 1958-1972) during the so-called War of Attrition, 1967-1973, and then the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

Mind, although they should have been modified to carry the GP-9 gun-pod (containing the GSh-23 cannon calibre 23mm and its ammunition), in around 1969-1970, this was rarely (if ever) carried: the MiG-21 was so short-ranged, that fuel was always in much demand. Correspondingly, their sole armament consisted of two R-3S air-to-air missiles (also known as AA-2 Atoll in the West), which proved de-facto useless.

What is also little known is that – together with MiG-21F-13s of the 102nd Air Brigade UARAF – it was these birds, MiG-21PFS’ that bore the brunt of air combats against Mirages and Phantoms during the two above-mentioned conflicts. Namely, first MiG-21Ms were delivered to Egypt only around the time of the cease-fire with Israel of August 1970, and first MiG-21MFs arrived only in 1972. Even then, these were considered as ‘multi-role’, i.e. fighter-bombers, and assigned to ground attack purposes for most of the time.

The picture in this post is a well-known photo of the Egyptian MiG-21PFS ‘8075’, from 1981, taken at Shubra Kit AB, and showing her in full ‘Nile Valley’ camouflage pattern (consisting of beige, grey-green and black-green). The last surviving examples were withdrawn from service shortly after: 8045, for example, was put on display at the Teshreen Panorama; 8047 is a gate guard at one of air bases in southern Egypt; 8058 is waiting to be put on display at the EAF museum which is in planning for construction outside Aswan since about a dozen of years etc., etc., etc.).

Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper is an Austrian aerial warfare analyst and historian. Following a career in the worldwide transportation business – during which he established a network of contacts in the Middle East and Africa – he moved into narrow-focus analysis and writing on small, little-known air forces and conflicts, about which he has collected extensive archives. This has resulted in specialisation in Middle Eastern, African and Asian air forces. As well as authoring and co-authoring 560 books and over 1,000 articles, he has co-authored the Arab MiGs book series – a six-volume, in-depth analysis of the Arab air forces at war with Israel, in the 1955–73 period. Cooper has been working as editor of the five @War series since 2017.

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