Saturday, August 20, 2016

Book Review: Jane's How to Fly and Fight in the Mikoyan MiG-29

Jon Lake
Jane's How to Fly and Fight in the Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum
New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997
Category: Aviation History

Rating: 4-Stars

Jon Lake's slim volume covering the MiG-29 is nowhere near as complete Yefim Gordon's later, exhaustive tome on the subject, nor was it ever meant to be.  Written long before many key documents were available in the West, Jon Lake's profile of the Soviet Union's last lightweight, Frontal Aviation fighter represents a key snapshot from the mid-1990s, in the years shortly after the Cold War had ended.

What makes this particular book stand out, even decades later, is its collection of first-hand pilot interviews, conducted with aviators who had actually trained and flown in the aircraft.  This includes extensive accounts from a former Soviet (Russian) pilot, a U.S. exchange pilot who flew and assessed the aircraft in East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and a West German Luftwaffe pilot who was charged with integrating the type into the new, united German air force.  The candor of these pilots, and their differing perspectives on both the strengths and weaknesses of the aircraft is what makes this volume unique.

For the Soviet pilot who had never known anything other than East Bloc warplanes, the praise heaped on the aircraft is well deserved.  The MiG-29 had succeeded in delivering the point air defense fighter that was a key part in a much larger, Soviet air defense system.  For the U.S. pilot, coming from years in the cockpit of the F-16, the lack of human engineering and the very poor cockpit design were key limiters to the effectiveness of the MiG, although he also retained a healthy respect for the MiG's short-range, high-off-boresight heat seeking missiles.  And for the Luftwaffe pilot, the type's limited range and lack of multirole capabilities makes the airplane's integration into the West German fleet a constant struggle.

In other respects, the text of this book has been overtaken by other resources that have helped to flesh out the technical picture for this important aircraft type.  Taken together, however, the cross section of observations offered by the pilots themselves - faithfully rendered by author Jon Lake - makes this a unique and invaluable look at this important aircraft, more than compensating for minor shortcomings elsewhere.

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