The MiG-25 Terrified the West Until A Defector Exposed its True Nature

The spy satellite tv for pc images created panic within the Pentagon. They confirmed an unlimited Soviet airplane, in all probability an interceptor, with engine intakes the dimensions of small vehicles. The wings have been enormous, too, hinting at maneuverability far past something America’s first-rank McDonnell F-4 Phantom II may obtain.

These have been prototypes of what would turn into the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat. After the airplane appeared in public for the primary time in July 1967 and went on a record-setting spree, it appeared the Soviets had a marvel weapon that might match the very best within the West—the Mach 3.2 Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird spyplane. The lightened MiG-25 prototypes, designated YE-155R (reconnaissance) and YE-155P (interceptor), set 29 velocity, altitude and time-to-climb information, a few of which nonetheless stand. For pure velocity, they notched 1,852 mph. They might climb to 98,425 toes in 4 minutes and three.86 seconds and in the end reached an absolute altitude document of 123,520 toes.

In fact, the MiG-25 turned out to be a Potemkin Village of an airplane. The identical form of surveillance failure behind the so-called “missile hole” that John F. Kennedy exploited throughout the 1960 presidential marketing campaign was additionally answerable for “Foxbat hysteria.” The Foxbat interceptor did obtain its mission in a method, although. It stored the SR-71 out of Soviet airspace for a number of years whereas the West contemplated the large MiG’s true capabilities. And large it was. The Foxbat was the dimensions of a World Battle II heavy bomber—9 toes longer than an Avro Lancaster, two and a half toes taller than a Consolidated B-24 and with a gross weight nearly 27,000 kilos heavier than a Boeing B-17. Images of MiG-25s looming over its swarms of technicians and floor crews steered that the airplane was maintained by toddlers.

After Soviet pilot Viktor Belenko flew his MiG-25 to Japan, the airplane was now not so mysterious or alarming (CIA Museum).
(CIA Museum)

The Soviets have been quick on titanium know-how, nevertheless, and titanium is a key ingredient of high-speed flight. The warmth generated by pores and skin friction at supersonic speeds softens and weakens aluminum, making titanium the very best reply for flying extraordinarily quick. However titanium is dear and tough to machine and form. Within the Nineteen Sixties, the Russians lacked the chopping instruments and the expertise to work with the unique steel.

As a substitute of titanium, the Soviets turned to chrome steel, although metal weighs thrice as a lot because the correspondingly sturdy aluminum. Fueled however with none ordnance, a metal MiG-25 weighed 64,000 kilos. A composites-and-titanium Lockheed-Martin F-35A, the Air Drive’s heaviest fighter, grosses just below 50,000 kilos.

The MiG-31BM interceptor was a redesign meant to treatment the MiG-25’s shortcomings. Right here one takes off on a coaching flight from Tsentralnaya Uglovaya airfield in Primorye Territory, Russia, in October 2018 (ITAR-Tass Information Company/Alamy Inventory Photographs).
(ITAR-Tass Information Company/Alamy Inventory Photographs)

Aft of the cockpit, the Foxbat’s total fuselage consisted of a single welded-steel gas tank. (Within the MiG-25R reconnaissance model, gas was additionally carried inside the 2 large vertical tails.) Soviet aerospace employees had little expertise with metal and hand-welding, although, and the Foxbat revealed that. Workmanship was crude sufficient that some Western observers thought they noticed tough restore patches after they have been really factory-fresh skinning. “These repairs regarded like a rustic tinker had gone to work patching up a pot,” mentioned one British engineer, however they weren’t “repairs” in any respect.

The SR-71’s power was that it may expose a lot of the strategic deception the Soviets had spent a long time creating, to maintain the West considering they have been extra highly effective than the details warranted. They needed to maintain the Blackbird from revealing there was no Soviet Wizard behind the Iron Curtain. They have been additionally anxious concerning the potential of Strategic Air Command’s supreme Chilly Battle bombers—the Convair B-58 Hustler and the under-development North American B-70 Valkyrie—and the MiG-25 had been created particularly to focus on them at altitude. Launch, climb, shoot, come dwelling. Nearly all of it, together with missile launch, was underneath floor management, as was the united states’s wont. Soviet pilots have been paid to take off and take orders.

However nearly as quickly because the Foxbat went operational, the U.S. revised its battle plan. A brand new era of surface-to-air missiles made unbidden entry into Soviet airspace a idiot’s errand. Any bomber heading towards Moscow excessive, huge and good-looking was useless meat. SAC determined it wanted to reach low, quick and stealthy. It retired the B-58 Hustler and canceled the B-70.

The MiG-25RB was the reconnaissance model of the MiG-25 fighter.
The large jet really carried out higher as a reconnaissance platform than as an interceptor (United Plane Company Archives).
(United Plane Company Archives)

That made the Foxbat a machine with out a mission. The airplane had highly effective pulse doppler radar, weighing over half a ton and filled with delicate vacuum tubes, but that radar had a variety of barely 56 miles. One pilot famous that it could kill a rabbit at 300 yards, if the unfortunate bunny bought in the best way whereas a MiG-25 was taxiing—however the radar was designed to look up into an open sky and burn by way of any bomber’s jamming tech from beneath. Countering a Northrop Grumman B-2 Stealth Bomber jinking by way of valleys and riverbeds demanded look-down/shoot-down radar that the Foxbat didn’t have. Actually, the Soviets wouldn’t develop look-down/shoot-down radar till the Eighties, and the Foxbat’s radar was blind beneath 500 meters (1,650 toes) above the bottom.

The West discovered this due to a person named Viktor Belenko. A 29-year-old Foxbat pilot, Belenko was crushed by a spouse who was divorcing him and a Communist society that left him craving for the West’s full grocery store cabinets, so on September 6, 1976, he peeled off from his unit’s coaching sortie and headed for Japan—not an extended flight, since he was based mostly in Vladivostok. He failed to search out the Japanese navy airbase he’d chosen as his vacation spot and as an alternative landed on the civil airport at Hakodate, the place he overran the 6,000-foot runway and shut down with solely 30 seconds of gas remaining.

Belenko had delivered to the West its misunderstood bogeyman, an almost new Foxbat. He even introduced alongside a replica of the airplane’s coaching handbook. Had the U.S. been allowed to put an export order on the MiG manufacturing unit, they couldn’t have spec’d out a greater Foxbat to purchase.

For some cause, no Western pilot ever flew Belenko’s Foxbat. Maybe the Japanese forbade it—it was quickly their airplane, in spite of everything—or cooler heads sensed the political penalties. However Japanese and American technicians did spend two months utterly disassembling the airplane. The tear-down revealed that the braggart was a toothless phony, too heavy to be maneuverable at low altitudes, restricted in what it may accomplish up excessive, and with little vary and no midair refueling functionality. When later in comparison with the U.S. teen-series fighters, the F-15, -16 and -18, it was powerless, significantly as a result of the Foxbat had a max-G ranking of 4.5, and simply 2.2 with full gas. Extra Gs would rip its half-ton air-to-air missiles from their underwing hardpoints, because the airplane was supposed to go quick however in a straight line. The Foxbat was a one-trick pony, and no person was betting on that horse anymore.

The Soviets gave the MiG-25 a service ceiling of 89,000 toes but it surely really may maintain an altitude of barely lower than 79,000 toes for 2 minutes, whereas carrying simply two of its 4 missiles. (Foxbats had no weapons.) Belenko admitted throughout his debriefing that the max altitude for a totally loaded Foxbat was 68,900 toes. Swedish radar often tracked MiG-25s attempting to intercept SR-71s over the Baltic Sea, however the Soviets by no means bought nearer than 10,000 toes beneath the Lockheeds and rapidly fell astern. After their preliminary warning, SR-71 pilots now not thought of the Foxbat a menace.

The dizzying array of devices in a MiG-25PDS cockpit look just a little old style by at this time’s requirements (Jim Laurier from F-15C Eagle VS MiG-23/25, Iraq 1991 by Douglas C. Dildy and Tom Cooper).
(Jim Laurier from F-15C Eagle VS MiG-23/25, Iraq 1991 by Douglas C. Dildy and Tom Cooper)

The MiG-25 was constructed round its engines, however the large Tumansky R-15 wasn’t as much as the job. It was an unsophisticated single-shaft design that had awful gas specifics throughout transonic, non-afterburning flight, however due to its three-ring afterburner gas nozzles, the engine was surprisingly environment friendly in sustained supersonic flight. (In case you use twice as a lot gas with the burners lit however go thrice as quick, that’s a internet achieve.) At velocity, the engine functioned as a ramjet. A lot of the consumption air circumvented the low-pressure compressor part and fed the large afterburner.

A jet engine can swallow solely a lot air. At Mach 2.0+, it’s consuming from a firehose. The consumption air have to be restricted. Lockheed achieved that on the SR-71 with a movable cone in every engine’s consumption. The quicker the airplane went, the farther inward the cones moved to choke off the extreme influx. MiG tried doing that with movable ramps on the Foxbat, however they apparently have been ineffective on the airplane’s highest speeds. The inflow of air demanded a lot gas move that the engines become out-of-control blast furnaces.

However the R-15 was the very best engine that Soviet metallurgy may create on the time. Engines supposed for Mach 3+ flight wanted unique metallurgy simply as a lot as did the airframe they powered, and it turned out that the Foxbat’s two supersized engines started to return aside at speeds over Mach 2.83, which was the airplane’s “operational high velocity.” Any try to really take them as much as the MiG-25’s legendary high velocity, Mach 3.2, actually blew them aside, sucking the cores straight out the tailpipe. Foxbats cruised at Mach 2.35 utilizing partial afterburner and advancing the ability levers any extra needed to be completed with warning.

A MiG-25PU two-seat coach takes off on a flying show on the 1999 Worldwide Aviation and Area Present at what was then referred to as Ramenskoye Airport outdoors Moscow ( Photographs Group by way of Getty Photographs).
( Photographs Group by way of Getty Photographs)

The interceptor model’s solely armament was 4 large AA-6 missiles, the radar-guided variations greater than 20 toes lengthy, a foot in diameter and weighing simply over half a ton, together with the massive 220-pound warhead. The AA-6, code-named Acrid by the West, was the biggest air-to-air missile ever produced, and it was designed particularly to shoot down B-70 bombers, airplanes that existed as solely two prototypes earlier than being canceled. The AA-6 got here in two variations, one guided by the launching airplane’s personal radar and the opposite homing in on its goal’s infrared warmth signature. Foxbats carried a mixture of each sorts and a kill shot was supposed to be a salvo of two AA-6s; first a heat-seeking missile after which the radar-guided model, to keep away from the potential for the heat-seeker homing on the radar missile’s exhaust. 

The Acrid had a restricted vary of between 30 and 50 miles, and its velocity coasted right down to Mach 2.2 after the solid-fuel rocket motor burned out. It had nearly no probability of catching an SR-71 from behind and a beak-to-beak assault would have meant that, with a closing velocity of Mach 6, an AA-6’s steerage system had no time to lock onto a Blackbird from past a most of simply 50 miles out. (No Soviet plane ever fired an AA-6 in fight, however an Iraqi MiG-25 downed Lt. Cdr. Scott Speicher’s F/A-18 with an Acrid throughout the first night time of the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict.)

The U.S. got down to develop a brand new era of air-to-air missiles particularly to counter the MiG-25. They have been radar-guided Mach 3.5 rockets with a variety of greater than 90 miles, to be known as AIM-97 Seekbats, however this system was discontinued in 1976 when Viktor Belenko revealed the Foxbat to be a paper tiger.

After 67 days of research, Belenko’s Foxbat was shipped again to the Soviet Union in items. The Russians claimed some components have been lacking and billed the Japanese $20 million for them. The Japanese extra civilly counterclaimed $40,000 for transport charges and runway repairs at Hakodate. No cash ever modified palms, and Belenko, after two months of debriefing, turned an American citizen, married a music instructor from North Dakota, fathered a son and located work as an aero engineering advisor to the USAF and varied producers. He by no means bothered to finalize his Russian divorce.

Thankfully for the Russians, the Foxbat had initially been envisioned as a superfast, superhigh, unarmed reconnaissance platform, which might turn into the airplane’s forte when its failings as an interceptor turned obvious. The MiG-25 was designer Mikhail Gurevich’s swan track, although he retired earlier than the challenge was totally fashioned. However it was due to him that recon turned an necessary a part of the plan. (Critical consideration was additionally given to creating a bizjet model of the Foxbat, with a luxurious six-seat cabin and a traditional cockpit changing the navy fuselage ahead of the air inlets. It could have been solely for Soviet elites, not the Western market, however the Soviet Union’s immensity and the MiG’s restricted vary made the challenge a nonstarter. Moscow to Vladivostok would have been an embarrassing two-stop journey, and the Russians would have been higher off shopping for Gulfstreams.)

Viktor Belenko’s defection had eliminated the Foxbat from top-dollar tremendous aircraft standing, however that made it reasonably priced sufficient that tinpot dictators from Libya, Syria, Algeria and Iraq have been delighted to purchase the world’s quickest fighter, if just for bragging rights. 

It was within the Mideast and northern Africa, not the Soviet Union, that the MiG-25 made its bones. The airplane was far more practical at reconnaissance than as a fighter, for F-14 Tomcats and F-15 Eagles within the make use of of U.S. forces and consumer nations similar to Israel dined on Foxbat interceptors just about at will.

The MiG-25 was launched to international affairs in 1971, when the Soviets despatched a package deal of 4 Foxbats—two fighters and two recon plane plus seven high pilots and a retinue of ground-
help personnel—to Egypt as a response to Israeli penetrations, certainly one of which had culminated in an assault on a generator station that blacked out all of Cairo. The Soviets retained complete management of the Egyptian unit, and their Foxbats would all of a sudden launch from the Cairo West Egyptian air base at will, ignoring air-traffic controllers. The Foxbats cruised by way of Israeli airspace untouched and so they offered Egypt with priceless intelligence.

The primary Foxbats to see precise fight have been operated by Syria, which had purchased two dozen MiG-25 interceptors and recon platforms. The debut didn’t go nicely. An Israeli F-15 downed a Syrian MiG-25 over Lebanon in February 1981 and repeated the feat in July—the primary instances Foxbats had fallen to enemy hearth. (Syria should still have one or two Foxbats, although nothing that is still flyable.)

In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, and Syria’s MiG-25s started flying recon over Beirut. They have been untouchable, because the lightened MiG-25R was lighter and quicker than the -25P. The IAF arrange a posh ambush mission, nevertheless, and netted its third Foxbat kill.

Through the Iran-Iraq conflict, Iraq operated Foxbats and claimed to have shot down some 15 Iranian plane, but it surely was a listing that included a number of C-130 Hercules, a Fokker F-27 and a Gulfstream III. Iraq’s main Foxbat ace, Mohammed Rayyan, claimed 10 victories earlier than he was himself shot down by Iranian F-14s in 1986. Iran claimed to have downed 9 recon MiG-15Rs and one MiG-15P interceptor, although Iraq insists that it misplaced solely three Foxbats. A clue to the reliability of Rayyan’s claims: some stories recommend that he by no means really existed however was a bogus propaganda delusion invented to spice up morale.

In 2003, U.S. navy personnel unearthed an Iraqi MiG-25RB at Al Taqaddum airfield west of Baghdad throughout Operation Iraqi Freedom. The airplane, which lacks wings (however clearly not its engine nozzles), is now a part of the gathering of the Nationwide Museum of america Air Drive in Dayton, Ohio. (Nationwide Museum of America Air Drive).
(Nationwide Museum of america Air Drive)

The Iraqi Air Drive was significantly famous for having tried to guard its Foxbats from the invading Individuals throughout Desert Storm by burying them within the Arabian Desert sand. U.S. forces discovered certainly one of them, minus its wings, and it’s now underneath restoration on the Nationwide Museum of america Air Drive in Dayton, Ohio. It’s the solely Foxbat in america. (The museum is on the lookout for a set of wings, for those who occur to have any.)

India additionally purchased six MiG-25RBK reconnaissance variations, plus two trainers, for surveillance of its mountainous borders with Pakistan and China. Flying excessive and quick, the Indian Foxbats have been nonetheless solely 30,000 toes above the best Himalayan floor, so their picture intel was significantly crisp, revealing particulars of Chinese language and Pakistani trenches, redoubts and different defensive buildings. The superb aviation weblog Hush-Package (hushkit.internet) revealed an interview with Indian Air Marshal Sumit Mukerji, who had commanded a Foxbat reconnaissance unit. His phrases reveal a number of the MiG-25’s strengths and weaknesses.

“A 20-ton plane that carries 20 tons of gas, flies within the stratosphere and cruises at Mach 2.5 in minimal after-burner with ease…it was an superior airplane,” Mukerji mentioned. He defined that the remarkably correct first-generation inertial navigation system (INS) automated a lot of the Foxbat’s operation. “The MiG-25 would execute the whole mission, images included, and return to base, descending to a top of fifty meters, when the pilot wanted to take management and flare for the touchdown. All of the pilot was required to do by way of the whole mission was manipulate the throttles.

“Certain, you may name it an archaic, unsophisticated machine, however there was no ‘refined’ plane to match its efficiency or shoot it down,” mentioned Mukerji, who had apparently by no means met an F-15. “With a navigation accuracy of a most of 10 kilometers off monitor over a 1,000-kilometer run, with a lateral picture swath of 90 kilometers…targets have been by no means missed.”

Twenty tons of gas, nevertheless, was barely enough. “We operated on the perimeter…. We at all times returned for touchdown with 200 to 400 kg of gas remaining, [and] 200 to 250 kg was required to execute one circuit and touchdown. The runway needed to be stored clear—no different flying permitted for concern of runway blockage—as soon as the MiG commenced its descent.

“The Foxbat was a bullock cart, we might joke. She was heavy however responsive. There was plenty of inertia, requiring anticipation [on the controls]. The plane would wallow on strategy, if pilot anticipation and management inputs weren’t well timed. The best pleasure was to have the ability to throw a fighter round within the sky with abandon, which you missed once you flew the MiG-25. We missed the G [forces].”

Nonetheless, the Foxbat did america one large favor. The Air Drive was within the midst of a contest to create the next-generation air-superiority fighter, initially tagged the F-X. The F-X program was pushed largely by dismaying losses to quick, maneuverable and easy Soviet MiG-21 day-fighters over Vietnam. Concern of the MiG-25 set the bar considerably larger, nevertheless, and engineers at McDonnell Douglas ramped up their efforts to design what turned the F-15 Eagle.

Due to the Foxbat, the airplane supposed to outfly it turned essentially the most profitable air superiority fighter ever fielded. Up to now, F-15s have notched 104 shoot-downs with out shedding a dogfight. With out the phony menace of the Foxbat, that may by no means have occurred.

Regardless of all its faults, the Foxbat had one characteristic that made it in style with the Russians who maintained it—an uncommon and never significantly efficient air-conditioning system that relied upon the evaporation of a combination of distilled water and 240 liters of near-pure grain alcohol. MiG-25s usually returned from missions with a small portion of the brew nonetheless in its tank, however the airborne vodka rapidly disappeared into mechanics’ canteens. It additionally helped that the small bowsers used to refill the system had handy spigots to faucet the keg. No marvel the Foxbat was sometimes called the Flying Restaurant. Na zdorovye!   

Contributing editor Stephan Wilkinson suggests for additional studying MiGs by Invoice Sweetman, MiG Pilot: The Last Escape of Lt. Belenko by John Barron and Foxbat Tales: The MiG-25 in Fight by Mike Guardia.

this text first appeared in AVIATION HISTORY journal

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Nearly as quickly as Soviet air drive pilot Viktor Belenko touched down at Hakodate, Japan, in September 1976, intelligence personnel from Japan and the U.S. started to pore over his “mysterious” MiG-25P fighter. Some say that engineers from the Hasegawa Company, a widely known Japanese mannequin firm, have been included in that group.

Clearly, Hasegawa’s mannequin makers took full benefit of first-hand observations and images of Belenko’s Foxbat. In line with rumors, firm representatives have been current whereas the jet was being disassembled for transport again to the Soviet Union. With correct dimensions and particulars of the jet, Hasegawa gained a scoop on the planet of plastic modeling. Within the mannequin’s instruction sheet the corporate even boasted about the way it went from zero to manufacturing full kits in solely 100 days. 

The outcome turned headline information within the modeling world. The field artwork even duplicated a information picture of Belenko’s jet on the bottom in Japan, partially coated with a tarp. Hasegawa had produced the primary correct equipment of the MiG-25 Foxbat, one which rapidly appeared on workbenches everywhere in the world. A easy, simple equipment by at this time’s requirements, the Hasegawa Foxbat remains to be in manufacturing.  — Man Aceto

This text appeared within the Autumn 2022 concern of Aviation Historical past. Click on right here to subscribe.