MiG master William
Ward prepares to launch his Czech MiG-21 from Oshkosh.
Visitors to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2010
saw two Soviet-bloc MiG-21 jet fighters in the skies over Wisconsin this
week. The supersonic jets, once the pride of the Soviet air force,
became symbols of changing times as the Cold War sighed to a halt.
The jets at AirVenture were a two-seat
ex-Polish MiG-21 and a single-seater bearing Czechoslovakian insignia
and markings, scheduled to depart for home on Thursday after the show.
Paul van den Heuvel of DeKalb, Illinois,
brought his natural-metal two-seat MiG to the show. He is the second
U.S. owner since it was imported back in 1992.
The journey to flight was both
mechanically and bureaucratically challenging, taking many years to
complete. Paul finally made it into the air with his Warsaw Pact jet
fighter in May 2003.
He said he came to Oshkosh looking to
sell the supersonic plane for $350,000, which works out to about
one-third the cost of most World War II fighters.
There's a gritty realism to this former
Polish fighter with a back seat. One almost expects a James Bond nemesis
to be lurking nearby…
It takes a fuel truck…
The second MiG-21 is William Ward's single-seater. Its circular engine
inlet is noticeably larger than that on Paul's two-seater, and Ward
explains his MiG still carries radar in the enlarged conical inlet
splitter characteristic of MiG-21s, making a larger inlet necessary to
accommodate the dish.
Ward, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, loves to
Currently he is an Airbus captain for an
airline. He has flown DC-6s hauling freight in Alaska and once hankered
to fly a PB4Y-2 Privateer fire bomber, but he missed getting that job.
So he has built up time in a P-51, T-33, MiG-15, MiG-17, and now his
But never as a military pilot; always as
the adult who grew up from being a model-building kid.
And, yes, the models he remembers are
Ward nods to a finned, bomb-like
centerline fuel tank on his jet fighter. It holds 129 gallons of jet
fuel-not 130-and he says it is pretty much siphoned dry by the time he
starts the engine, taxies, and leaves the runway as wheels come into the
wells, leaving only onboard fuel to complete any flight.
But there's an upside to it: His MiG-21
carries him along at a sporty 400 knots at 24,000 feet.
The jet still requires a functional,
well-maintained ejection seat and oxygen system for high-performance
Ward says this Soviet design, when
compared to an American combat jet, is a "simpler, but still
Every seven or eight sorties, he performs
various inspections and maintenance to keep his MiG manageable.
"There's always something going on,
even if everything is okay," he says, sounding like an exotic
sports car owner.
He didn't buy his lethal Czech beauty to have an easy cross-country
airplane. "It is a demanding, difficult airplane to fly," he
"You have to be on it 110
Capitalizing on the increased fighter
agility that comes with a basically unstable aircraft, Ward's MiG-21 is
very maneuverable, especially in roll rate.
"It is so freakin' quick," he
The rate may be more than 700 degrees a
second, but he hasn't tested that out; don't look for an update here any
The MiG-21 is still a viable
high-performance aircraft, and Ward says about 1,000 are still in
military service around the world.
As far as finding spares for these Cold
Warriors, Ward says parts range "from easy to unobtainium."
These two Mig-21s are enjoyed at air
shows, as they have been here at AirVenture. But there may be more
visibility in their future, ranging from motion picture work to military