At the turn of the century, there are more MiG fighters in service around the world than any other type, about 20 percent of the world’s total. MiG was founded as an independent design department in December 1939 by Artem Mikoyan. He had worked as a mechanic in the 1920s before graduating from a military academy in 1937. He worked briefly in the late 1930s for Nikolai Polikarpov, a famous Soviet aviation designer. When Mikoyan began his independent work in 1939, he joined forces with Mikhail Gurevich, an accomplished aeronautical engineer who had recently visited the United States to negotiate a license to build a Soviet version of the Douglas DC-3. Mikoyan and Gurevich’s first design was the I-200 high altitude interceptor that eventually bore the name MiG-1. Although the MiG-1 was an excellent aircraft, the Soviet Air Force used it sparingly since high altitude interceptors were not in demand at a time when the Soviet Union was facing German strategic bombing attacks. Few MiG interceptors, in fact, saw action during World War II, and it was only in the postwar era that the organization, known by then as the Experimental Design Bureau No. 155 (OKB-155), grew rapidly in size and influence.
Using engine technology captured from the Germans after the war, Mikoyan and Gurevich produced the first Soviet jet fighter, the MiG-9. Later that same year, in August, Joseph Stalin ordered Mikoyan and Gurevich to have ten of these aircraft prepared for a fly-past in Moscow during a national parade. Fearing for their lives if the order was not fulfilled, engineers worked around the clock for two whole months to produce ten MiG-9s in time for the October demonstration. Ironically, the actual parade was canceled due to poor weather. But the MiG-9 entered service with the Soviet Air Force soon after.
The MiG design bureau became vry productive the Soviet Union’s most famous high-speed jet fighters. These included the MiG-15, the MiG-17 (capable of supersonic speeds), the MiG-19 (the first mass-produced Soviet supersonic fighter), and the MiG-21. The design bureau produced more than 9,000 MiG-21s in as many as 32 versions for the Soviet Air Force. Several countries including China, Czechoslovakia, and India also produced their own domestic versions of the MiG-21.
The last major fighters under Mikoyan and Gurevich’s leadership were designed in the 1960s. These included the MiG-23, the first operational variable geometry jet fighter in the Soviet forces, and the Mach 3-capable MiG-25 interceptor. Mikoyan died in 1970 and was succeeded by his deputy Rostislav Belyakov. Gurevich retired earlier in 1964.
With Belyakov at the helm, the MiG design bureau produced several new fighter aircraft for the Soviet Air Force. These included the MiG-29 attack light interceptor and the all-weather MiG-31 fighter interceptor, both of which first flew in the 1970s.
In May 1995, the Russian government established the MAPO-MiG (Moscow Aircraft Production Association-MiG) by combining production plants with the MiG design bureau. In December 1999, the Russian government renamed MAPO MiG as the new MiG Aircraft Building Corporation and promised further shakeups that could possibly include a merger with arch rival Sukhoi.
Latterly, MAPO MiG has turned to export sales of modernized versions of the MiG-29. Despite a distinct lack of government interest, it has continued developing advanced fighter concepts, including the mysterious 1.42 multifunctional fifth generation fighter, said to be capable of outperforming the American F-22 Raptor. The 1.42 (also known as the 1.44I) took off on its first flight in February 2000 and is competing with a similar Sukhoi design to satisfy requirements for a future generation of Russian fighter aircraft.