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The Mig-21 Fishbed

In Vietnam, the great air rivalry was between the massive F-4 Phantom II and the small MiG-21, which American’s called Fishbed. Both were Mach 2 fighters, although most dogfights were fought at much lower speeds. However, they took very different paths to achieve their high speeds.

The F-4 was designed as an interceptor to shoot down Soviet bombers threatening the fleet. To be effective over very long ranges, and to accommodate advanced radar electronics and a second crew member to run the electronics, the F-4 had to be a huge machine with two powerful engines. As with many U.S. aircraft of that era, it was designed without guns. However, when it was doing counter-air work, it had a heavy arsenal of four radar-guided missiles and four heat-seeking missiles. There was nothing stealthy about the F-4. Its engines smoked like a locomotive, and it was visible from miles away. The Phantom II was a battle axe.

In contrast, the MiG-21 was a rapier. It was a small aircraft—barely...

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