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Hans Hastio
Article, Fighter aircraft
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Exploitation of the MiG-21

December 20, 2023
MiG-21 USAF
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Picture: US Air Force (Edited) Public Domain

Based on a briefing document by historian Rob Young, National Air and Space Intelligence Center.

In the Cold War's technological chess game, "Project Have Doughnut" stands out as a remarkable U.S. initiative. From January 23 to April 8, 1968, the U.S. Air Force closely examined a Soviet-built MiG-21F-13, known as FISHBED E, an export variant (Article 74) manufactured in late 1963. The aircraft, operated for 102 flights totaling 77 flying hours, offered a unique insight into Soviet aviation technology.

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The MiG-21-F-13 80965. Picture: Rob Young's briefing document

Technical Modifications

The MiG-21 was subjected to comprehensive performance evaluations, including 17 performance sorties and nine stability and control sorties. The aircraft featured an array of sophisticated instrumentation, such as a 12-channel oscillograph, pitch, roll, and yaw gyros, fuel flow meters, and a photo panel showing vital flight parameters. Additionally, it was adapted to include AIM-9B Sidewinders instead of its original ATOLL missiles, enhancing its operational profile with minimal performance changes.

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The cockpit with modified instruments. Picture: Rob Young's briefing document

Performance and Maintenance Insights

The project uncovered the MiG-21's robust yet maintenance-friendly nature, marked by a 20-minute turnaround time. It displayed features like low wing loading (50-55 psf), a lacquer coating for corrosion prevention, and a unique air intake system adjustable for speeds up to Mach 1.9. Maintenance discrepancies, like EGT malfunctions and frayed cables, highlighted its operational quirks.

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On-site modifications. Picture: Rob Young's briefing document

Strategic and Tactical Repercussions

"Project Have Doughnut" profoundly influenced U.S. military aviation tactics, leading to the creation of the U.S. Navy's TOP GUN program in 1969 and the U.S. Air Force's Red Flag exercises. These initiatives aimed to prepare U.S. pilots for encounters with aircraft like the MiG-21, especially after the Vietnamese MiG-21s demonstrated a significant air-to-air kill ratio over the USAF in the early 1970s.

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The missile test configuration. Picture: Rob Young's briefing document

Concluding Analysis and Totals

The project highlighted the MiG-21's unique characteristics, including its engine exhaust smoke, three-wheel brake concept, and critical design features optimized for aerial combat. The U.S. response, catalyzed by the project's findings, underscores the strategic value of understanding adversary capabilities in-depth. "Project Have Doughnut" is a case study in the intersection of technological innovation and strategic military planning, a pivotal moment in Cold War aviation history.

Check all totals here:

A briefing PowerPoint by historian Rob Young - Download as pdf (23 pages)

Project document by the Defense Intelligence Agency - Download as pdf (310 pages)

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