Text, Pictures & Drawing: Alexander Vandenbohede © sbap 2014

The days that Soviet military aircraft where nothing more than blurred black-and-white images in books or magazines are long gone. However, these machines still possess a special aura and arose that little bit more attention at air shows, even 25 years after the fall of the iron curtain. The MiG-29 Fulcrum is definitely one of those head-turners. A noisy and smoky machine, an aesthetically pleasing design with its wing-body blending and, raw power from two Klimov turbofans are all factors that make a Fulcrum display a delight to watch. So, it was great to have different MiG-29s in two major European air shows close to home: Gilze-Rijen and Kleine Brogel. On both venues, Fulcrums from the Slovak and Polish Air Force participated. And there was a special connection with the Israeli Air Force...



Slovak Air Force

The Slovak Air Force obtained nine MiG-29 single-seat and one MiG-29UB double-seat aircraft after the division of Czechoslovakia. In the autumn of 1992, they were flown to their new base at Sliac, home of the 1st Fighter Regiment. After a reorganization, this became the 31st Fighter Wing, or 31. SLK. The MiG-29s were on strength with the unit's 1st Squadron. In December 1993 Slovakia added five single-seat and one double-seat Fulcrum to the inventory; in 1995-96 five more single-seats were added as foreign debt payment from Russia. In 2005 an upgrade of the fleet with modern equipment began, these machines are known as MiG-29AS and MiG-29UBS since. The Slovak Air Force showed its Fulcrum regularly on air shows, also in Belgium. Nowadays, only five ASs and one UBS examples remain active and are due to be replaced in 2016 by Gripens.

At Gilze-Rijen, MiG-29UBS '5304' was present in the static, proudly showings the tiger, which is in its unit's badge, on the tail. A tiger in the badge opens some connections the NATO Tiger Associations and the unit is indeed a Honorary Member.

The 2014 display pilot was 38 year old major Martin 'Mat' Kuterka. He joined the Air Force Academy in 1993 and has since accumulated 1200 flight hours of which about half are on the mighty Fulcrum. At Gilze-Rijen he used the specially decorated '0921'. Besides the tiger style tail, large parts of the nose an upper fuselage sports a so-called digital camouflage.

The Slovak Air Force was also represented at Kleine Brogel. In the static MiG-29UBS '5304' could be admired again. Interestingly, the tiger livery on the tail had changed during the summer.  That is how we like it: it keeps spotters, modelers and profile drawers busy! Major Kuterka used '6425' as his mount for the display. This is a regularly camouflaged MiG-29 which was a fine addition to the specially painted examples. The Sunday display was flown late in the afternoon resulting in some challenging, but great lightning conditions.

Polish Air Force

The Polish Air Force took possession of its first MiG-29s in 1989, 12 examples in total. The machines went to the first squadron (1.PLM, based at Mińsk Mazowiecki) that was (and is) responsible for the air defense of the capital Warsaw. The squadron proudly wears the city crest, the Syrenka or Little Mermaid, as the unit badge. In the period 1995-96, 10 Fulcrums from the Czech Republic were added to the inventory to replace the last MiG-21bis fighters. A number of W-3 Sokol helicopters were transferred to the Czechs as payment. In 2003, 21 German Fulcrums were delivered for the symbolic payment of 1 euro. Over the years, the Polish MiGs underwent upgrade programs and 28 single-seat and 8 double-seat examples are currently used at Mińsk Mazowiecki and Malbork. The Polish MiGs have a camouflage scheme in different shades of grey that was applied during an overhaul in the period 1997-2007.

At Gilze Rije MiG-29GT '4110 red' could be admired in the static. 'Red 4110' is based ad Malbork and wears the unit badge of 41. elt. The unit badge, applied under the cockpit, shows a knight with a MiG-21 silhouette as background. It is a former East-German machine that was used by the Luftwaffe until its handover to the Polish Air Force in 2003.

Two Fulcrum were present at Kleine Brogel. Both were from 1.elt (the former 1.PLM).  "67 red" was used by the display pilots. The aircraft is adorned with the Kościuszko emblem on its upper surface and below the cockpit. It dates back to the 'Kościuszko' squadron of the 1920 Polish-Russian war. the emblem was thereafter used by the 111 Fighter Flight until 1939 and by the No. 303 (Polish) Squadron, RAF, during the second world war. The emblem has been accepted as an emblem by the 1e flight of the 1.PLM and was inherited by 1.elt. Like a number of other Polish Fulcrums '67 red' commemorates a character from the rich Polish Air Force history on its inner tail surfaces.  
Here, this is Wojciech Kolaczkowski. He joined the Air Force in 1931. After the German invasion in 1939, he was able to fled Poland and came to France via Romania, Yugoslavia and Greece. In July 1940 he arrived in Great-Brittan and was assigned to the No. 303 (Polish) Squadron in December. In September 1942, he became commander of 2 (Polish) Fighter Wing.

The Polish Air Force MiG-29 Solo Display Team consisted in 2014 of Lt Col. Piotr ‘Kuman’ Iwaszko and Captain Adrian Rojek. The display started with an impressive take-off whereby the two powerful Klimov engines pushed the machine into the vertical.  A further highlight was the performance of the  awesome tail-slide. It shows off the tolerance of the engines and inlet design to cope with a highly distorted air flow, something that is not found in contemporary western designs. It was great to see this demonstrated at an F-16 base...

In the static was 'red 105', also a single-seat Fulcrum. Like '67 red', it is one of the 12 first Fulcrums delivered by the Russians and went into active service on 4 February 1990. The airframe underwent a first upgrade between September 2002 and February 2005. Also the camouflage was changes from the original Russian applied scheme to the current-day grey tones. '105 red' was also one of airframes (like '67 red') which underwent recent modernization to upgrade avionics (e.g. multifunctional color displays), mission computer, INS/ GPS navigation and, UHF/VHF radio. The upgrade is easily recognizable by the antenna behind the cockpit. On the tail surfaces, Merian Cooper is commemorated. Besides being an adventurer and film producer, he was one of the Polish-American volunteers who flow with the 'Kościuszko' squadron in the Polish-Russian war.

And what about the Israeli?

MiG-29 '105 red' is a historically interesting airframe so it was great to see it appear at Kleine Brogel. It was one of 3 Fulcrums which were tested by the Israeli Air Force in 1997.

The story starts in the late 1980s when Syria ordered a number (presumably about 80) Fulcrums and these modern machine posed a considerable threat for the Israeli. So there was great interest to gain information on or even access to the type. The demise of the Iron Curtain opened possibilities. A radar was loaned from the Luftwaffe and Israeli pilots had familiarization rides in (presumably also Luftwaffe) examples. However, pitching a Fulcrum against F-4, F-16s and F-15s remained high on the agenda. Therefore, three Polish Air Force examples were loaned for about two weeks to the Israeli Air Force in April/May 1997, i.e. '115 red','114 red' and our '105 red'.

Israeli pilots flew the airframes which led to a number of difficulties: technical manuals had to be translated and essential cockpit instrumentation had to be relabeled. The Fulcrums were based in the Negev desert, both Sedom and Ramon are mentioned as bases. MANAT, the test center of the Israeli Air Force was responsible for the testing of the avionics and flight envelop research, whereas No. 253 'Negev' Squadron performed dissimilar air combat training (DACT). Each airframe flew about 20 DACT sorties against F4E Kurnass, F-15A/B Baz and F-16A/B Netz. Among other things, it was quickly learned that the combination of the helmed-mounted-sight with the maneuverability made the MiG not to be underestimated. However, the avionics were found to be outdated. In general, it is generally acknowledged that the evaluation contributed to the evolution of the Israeli helmed-mounted-sight and its integration with the Python 4 and AIM-120 AAMs.

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