Russian fighter jet MiG-23, which once lorded the skies during combat in Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Angola, Libya, Egypt, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, India, and Sudan, crashed in the US on August 13. The aircraft was participating in the ‘Thunder Over Michigan’ air show.
No one suffered significant injuries during the crash as both pilots managed to eject safely. The aircraft crashed in the parking lot of a nearby apartment complex and struck unoccupied vehicles. No one in the apartment complex was injured.
During its heyday, the MiG-23 swing-wings, single-engine turbojet fighter jet could out-accelerate everything. The aircraft was meant to replace MiG-21s. The Soviet aircraft maker Mikoyan-Gurevich began work on the MiG-23 in the early 1960s.
The engineers at Mikoyan-Gurevich studied the American McDonnell F-4 Phantom II and General Dynamics F-111, and the MiG-23 – NATO codename ‘Flogger’ derives a lot from these war jets. But, the Soviets wanted a much lighter and more agile fighter jet for dogfights with enemy fighters.
It was the first Soviet jet with swing wings to enable high-speed flight and manageable take-off and landing speeds. The first MiG-23 flew in 1967, and production aircraft entered service in 1970.
The Soviet Union produced more than 5,000 of them over the next 18 years and exported hundreds to their allies and client states.
Details on Michigan MiG-23 Fighter Jet Crash
At approximately 4:15 PM local times a MiG-23 fighter jet lost control as the two pilots ejected during the 'Thunder over Michigan' airshow demonstration at Willow Run Airport.
– "The pilot and backseater successfully… pic.twitter.com/Hye5G2h1Ra
— Brian Krassenstein (@krassenstein) August 14, 2023
The MiG-23 was the Soviet Air Force’s “Top Gun”-equivalent aggressor aircraft from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. The MiG-23 original engine was a 27,500 lb (12,500 kg) thrust.
It had a fast acceleration time, especially at low altitudes, taking only 3-4 seconds to go from idle to full power and less than a second to ignite the afterburner. Its small profile made it difficult to spot visually.
The MiG-23 MF was a swing-wing interceptor capable of delivering an array of missiles, bombs, and guided weapons. The fighter jet could fold its wings and scoot away during aerial combat. The aircraft could out-accelerate everything.
“The Soviet-designed fighters were agile, too. In an engagement, the enemy’s first turn would be eye-watering- unless 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,” said an article after the US Air Force declassified its Constant Peg program.
MiG-23 was one of the Soviet fighter jets that were part of the US’ secret program – Project Constant Peg, to train the US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps fighter aircrews to fly against the Soviet combat sets. The secret USAF’s 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron (TES) was nicknamed the “Red Eagles.”
It consisted of MiG-17 “Fresco,” MiG-21 “Fishbed,” and, in the 1980s, MiG-23 “Flogger” aircraft, acquired by the US intelligence services and restored in the US for flight. The Red Eagles were meant to train American aircrew to fight against these jets in aerial combat.
Red Eagles pilots not only used Soviet tactics but also flew the same formidable MiG series fighter jets they would face during the conflict.
“Established in 1977, Constant Peg applied lessons learned in Southeast Asia. Over North Vietnam, the USAF and USN (US Navy) had faced high losses to enemy aircraft, air-to-air missiles, and surface-to-air missiles. These losses sharply illustrated training shortfalls and a loss of skill in the art of the “dogfight,” as the website of the National Museum of the United State Air Force read.
The USAF personnel selected for the secret training program were in for the shock of their lives when they saw their first Red Eagles approaching during the initial flight training missions. The first MiG exposure that the USAF pilots began with a radar intercept and formation flight displaying the capability of the MiG fighter jets. This introduction aimed to eliminate “buck fever” – the pilot’s shock at seeing a MiG up close for the first time.
“Whenever a US pilot swept in over the desert, the first thing he noticed was how truly small the MiGs were. Their engines didn’t smoke, and they didn’t swiftly change from tiny dots into giant fighters, as was true of the US aircraft. To find these MiGs, you had to visually scour small sections of the Nevada sky.”
Constant Peg was terminated in 1988, and the 4477th TES was inactivated in 1990 in a funding drawdown at the end of the Cold War.
MiG-23 – The Indian Air Force’s First Fighter Jet To Operate From Ladakh
The MiG-23s were the Indian Air Force (IAF) first fighter jets to operate from air bases at high altitudes and rarified the environment of Ladakh in the northernmost sector. It has been a rare distinction for the aircraft to have operated from one of the highest airfields in India, located at 11,000 feet above sea level.
It is quite a feat as the high altitude limits the aircraft’s performance, considerably reducing the margin of error. The aircraft also participated in Operation Meghdoot, launched in 1984 to capture the Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world. They remained in service with the IAF for two and a half decades.
It was the first aircraft of the IAF equipped with the ‘Beyond Visual Range’ missiles R-23 R and R-23 T. It saw combat in the Kargil war with Pakistan.
When A MiG-23 Flew 900 Km After The Pilot’s Ejection
On July 4, 1989, a pilotless Soviet MiG-23 crashed in Belgium after flying 900 kilometers after its pilot ejected over Poland following technical problems. The aircraft hit the ground after its fuel ran out.
The aircraft had taken off from an airbase in Poland. During take-off, the engine’s afterburner failed, causing a partial loss of power. At 500 feet, the pilot ejected, but the engine kept running, and the aircraft remained airborne, flying on autopilot.
The unmanned fighter jet crossed Polish airspace and traversed East and West Germany. In West Germany, it was intercepted by a pair of US F-15s stationed in the Netherlands.
The F-15 pilots noticed that the MiG had no crew. There were orders to shoot down the plane over the North Sea. But the combat jet crashed after flying over 900 kilometers as it ran out of fuel.
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com