EAA AirVenture Oshkosh - The World's Greatest Aviation Celebration
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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedMiG men join the fray over AirVenture
By Frederick A. Johnsen

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 fly.

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 MiG-21.

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 MiGs.

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 flight.

Ward says this Soviet design, when compared to an American combat jet, is a "simpler, but still complex aircraft."

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.

Hands-on…really hands-on
He didn't buy his lethal Czech beauty to have an easy cross-country airplane. "It is a demanding, difficult airplane to fly," he explains.

"You have to be on it 110 percent."

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 enthuses.

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 time soon.

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 contracts.

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2011: July 25-31;  2012: July 23-29;  2013: July 29-Aug. 4
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