The MiG-29 was designed in response to a new generation of American fighters, which included the F-15 and F-16. Designed as an air defense fighter, this dual-purpose aircraft also possessed a ground attack capability. The task of producing a "frontal" or tactical fighter for the Frontal Aviation Regiments of the Soviet Air Force went to the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau (MiG OKB). Employing all the technical data available about the most advanced Western aircraft, the MiG designers started working on the MiG-29 in the early 1970s, and the first prototype made its first flight on Oct. 6, 1977. U.S. reconnaissance satellites detected the new fighter in November 1977, and NATO gave it the designation "Fulcrum."
Production started in 1982, and deliveries to Frontal Aviation units started in 1983. By comparison, the USAF's first operational F-15As arrived seven years earlier in 1976, and its F-16As entered operational service four years earlier in 1979.
Although newer, the MiG-29 still lagged behind the most modern Western fighters in several important areas. For instance, the aircraft designers had little experience in either fly-by-wire controls or lightweight composite materials for airframe construction, and the first MiG-29 versions used a conventional hydraulic flight control system and an aluminum alloy fuselage. Over time, MiG designers addressed these deficiencies, and later variants of the MiG-29 incorporated some fly-by-wire controls and composite materials.
Nevertheless, the MiG-29 presented a formidable threat to Western pilots. The radars used on earlier Soviet fighters had been unable to distinguish aircraft flying below them from ground clutter, and low-flying aircraft could avoid detection. With the Phazotron NIIR N019 Doppler radar (NATO designation "Slot Back") capable of detecting a target more than 60 miles away, infrared tracking sensors, and a laser rangefinder carried on the MiG-29, a pilot could track and shoot at aircraft flying below him. Also, the pilot's Shchel-3UM-1 helmet-mounted aiming device turned the MiG-29 into a very dangerous threat once opponents came within visual range. No longer did a pilot have to turn his aircraft toward a target and wait for his missiles' sensors to "lock-on" before firing. Now, the pilot simply turned his head toward a target, and the helmet aimed the missile's sensors toward the target. This "off boresight" procedure gave the MiG-29 pilot a great advantage at close range.
The aircraft on display was an early model Soviet Air Force MiG-29A (S/N 2960516761) assigned to the 234th Gvardeiskii Istrebitelnii Aviatsionnii Polk (234th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment) stationed at Kubinka Air Base near Moscow. It was one of the six MiG-29s that made a good will visit to Kuoppio-Rissala, Finland, in July 1986. This event marked the first public display of the MiG-29.
Armament: One 30mm GSh-301 cannon; six air-to-air missiles (mixture of medium-range, radar-guided AA-10 "Alamo-A;" or close-range, infrared-guided AA-11 "Archer;" and/or close-range, infrared-guided AA-8 "Aphid" missiles); able to carry bombs and 57mm, 80mm and 240mm rockets in attack role. Engines: Two Isotov RD-33 turbofans of approx. 18,300 lbs. thrust each with afterburner Maximum speed: Approx. Mach 2.3