MiG-21bis Fishbed-N

Updated: January 24, 2009

MiG-21 is one of the icons that defined the Cold War. The word MiG is almost synonymous with this simple delta-winged Russian fighter, Alongside the American F-4 Phantom II, it was the most popular, most widely produced and most widely used combat aircraft in post-WW2 history, seeing action in numerous conflicts across the globe, from Vietnam to Middle East. It also saw lots of action in Africa and the recent Balkan wars.

Like most aircraft designed in the late 50s, it was not expected to survive the holocausts of nuclear wars. It was build simply, cheaply and in huge numbers. Thousands of Fishbeds have spent years poised to strike against the West, lined on Soviet-held airstrips in the Warsaw-pact countries, refusing to die even when technology seriously outpaced them. Even today, many MiG-21 survive in the service of quite a few air forces, providing lucrative business prospects for modernization and upgrades.

MiG-21 is a single-engine interceptor, with limited weapons and fuel capabilities. However, back then, in the early 60s, it was considered a major threat and Western pilots trained specifically to fight it. The US Navy Top Gun school used A-4 Skyhawks as aggressors, simulating MiG-21 in dogfights.

When I decided to build a MiG-21 model, I wanted it to be a challenge. It could not be a Soviet one, because they were so unremarkable, plus making models with American or Russian insignia is a bit boring. I was thinking about fancy camouflage like that used by Egyptians, but could not find a detailed scheme. So I settled on a Finnish Fishbed, sporting two-tone bare-metal/silver.

Just like I did with F-104, I bought an uber-cheap, 20-part Academy 1/72 model and started making my own changes to make it look a little more presentable.


First, I must say to my own defense that the model quality was absolutely appalling. There was no way I could make this model presentable. So I decided to play on this weakness and turn it into a would-be advantage. Instead of displaying a healthy MiG on a runway, I made it into a 'sick' bird, undergoing maintenance.

I propped it up on jacks for landing gear replacement and smeared the body paint a little, with casual oil and glue bumps to make it look a little more worn than it ought to look. Then, I also pilfered an old bomb trolley and cockpit ladder from an ancient Crusader model and used them here as decorations. To make the carried bomb look more authentic, I used a sample from a MiG-23 model (not yet shown).

I'm not really sure if the desired effect is achieved, but I liked it somewhat, in the end.

Left front + bomb trolly

Left rear + bomb trolly

Notice the ventral fin, one of the telltale signs of a 'bis' model. The Finns also used an older Fishbed-C. You must admit the dull silver-gray and the bright shiny nickel look really lovely. I also added strobes on the tail.

Tail 1

Tail 2

The basic model instructions called for no fancy stuff. I had to up them, so I left the cockpit open, even though it was not meant to be. Again, the forward swiveling cockpit is a telltale mark of the more modern Fishbed versions. The first models had a side-hinged cockpit. I was quite careful painting it, making sure the frame was marked as it ought to be, even though the piece itself had no paint-guide grooves.

Notice also the black-yellow striping on top of the ejection seat. Totally uncalled for, but why not. The step ladder also looks cool, contrasting the monotone body paint. As said, it was 'stolen' from an old, dusty Crusader model. Notice the slightly 'runny' color details here and there, adding to the general feel of neglect.

Cockpit 1

Cockpit 2

Furthermore, I also left the ventral airbrake open. It blends well with the drop tank. My MiG also had a pair of Atolls available, but they looked so miserable I left them out.

Air brake

From this angle, you can also appreciate the somewhat greater beefiness of the bis models compared to older Fishbeds. It has a more sturdy look and feels fatter. The dorsal spine is heavier and bulges out near the cockpit.

Overall, despite the meager details by the manufacturer, the combination of good angles and silvery colors does make for a decent shot.


As you can see, MiG-21 does not sit on the tarmac. It's left landing gear wheel is missing, being replaced. I must admit the jacks look a bit simple, but they were the best option I could find. Even so, it looks better this way that with both wheels on, in this particular case, trust me. The parts were made so crudely, the wheel simply could not be fixed and aligned properly onto the strut.

Right front + wheel

The front and rear views also add a dramatic feel to the raised cockpit.



My Fishbed has a sexy belly, don't you think? The sleek, long, bare-metal drop tanks nicely offsets the lack of details. Likewise, notice the Finnish insignia and the strobe lights near the wingtips.


Bottom zoom

The top view is even better. Clean lines, beautiful colors. Not the best choice for staying invisible, but the people in the 50s and 60s had no concept of stealthiness. The planes had to be fast climbers, so they could intercept the huge nuclear bombers. Everything else was secondary.

Top view

The bomb trolley feels like a nice touch. Notice the utility yellow color, especially the faded, chipped paint near the handle. The trolley carries the classic Soviet FAB-250 general purpose free-fall bomb.

 Bomb trolly 2 Bomb trolly 1

One last screenshot for the finale:

Right view

I feel this model isn't the best I have made. But given the circumstances, it's reasonable. The added details, including the raised cockpit, the open air brake, the jacks, the ladder, and the bomb trolley, help make it look more realistic. The two-tone paint scheme is also quite appealing. One might expect it to be boring, but the alternating pattern blends well with Fishbed's simple lines, creating a pleasing visual experience.

Overall, I think it deserves 6 out of 10.


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