A warm, sunny day and a bright blue sky were a perfect backdrop for the grand arrival of a MiG-21UM piloted by Jim “JB” Brown, vice president and chief operating officer of the National Test Pilot School, at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
On Jan. 17, 2018, spectators including friends and family enjoyed several flybys before the sleek, silver and blue jet landed in front of the school. “That is really cool,” said Bill Kuhlemeier, flight test engineer for The Space Ship Company, after watching the MiG-21UM land. “Not as cool as a space ship, but very cool!” Kuhlemeier worked with Brown on the F-22 Raptor and F-117 Night Hawk programs.
Starting from Delaware, it took Brown seven flights, 400 miles at a time, to fly the jet from coast to coast. With no automatic pilot, the journey in a relatively unstable aircraft was quite tiring for the experienced pilot, who has 9,400-plus hours in more than 150 aircraft.
“The aircraft is capable of flying Mach 2.05, a very fast airplane—the biggest limitation is the fuel it carries. If you’re flying for over an hour you’re looking for a runway to put it down right now,” explained Brown.
The supersonic jet fighter and interceptor aircraft was designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union in 1959. This particular aircraft was built in 1976 and served with the Czechoslovakian Air Force. Brown said that the MiG-21 was the most-produced fighter since World War II. Approximately 13,000 have been built and they are still in service with 18 different air forces around the world. “It has plenty to teach a student test pilot. Pilots that have grown up flying F-15s, F-16s and the Eurofighter haven’t seen the handling qualities this airplane has, which are very basic and very typical of the era in which it was developed.” The school also has a supersonic T-38; however, they are hoping the MiG is more cost efficient.
“It’s been quite an odyssey getting it here,” said Dr. Al Peterson, NTPS president and CEO, due to some “unintended consequences.”
The MiG was purchased in 2014 with the expectation of a quick delivery to Mojave; however, the explosives in the ejection seat were due to be replaced about the same time Russia invaded Crimea. International sanctions kicked in and shut down the school’s supply line. It took years to procure the parts from other sources and get them into the airplane.
Peterson said that the next step was to coordinate with the FAA to get the aircraft into the experimental research and development category, so it can be added to the curriculum for the students. “I know right off the bat we need to enlarge the tail numbers—it may be another six month odyssey.”