Bulgarian Air Force retires MiG-21

Bulgarian Air Force MiG-21bis Fishbed

After 52 years of operations, the MiG-21 Fishbed was finally withdrawn from service with the Bulgarian Air Force on 18 December 2015.

The total number of MiG-21s acquired between 1963 and 1990 amounted to 226 airframes. When the Cold War ended, large numbers of MiG-21s (some of which barely six years old) were reduced to scrap metal in order to meet limits set by the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). Only small numbers of MiG-21s, MiG-29s and Su-25s remained in service.

Bulgarian Air Force MiG-21bis Fishbed
MiG-21 operations were already dwindling down for years. During my two-day visit to Graf Ignatievo in August of 2011 three MiG-21s logged four sorties, while eight MiG-29s flew at least twenty times. Two Fishbeds, plus a spare aircraft, were on QRA duty though.

Armed with two R-60 infrared short-range air-to-air missiles and the 23mm GSh-23L cannon, they stood ready to take off whenever the alarm horn sounded. NATO regulations require them to take off within 15 minutes, which is convenient compared to the five minutes during the Warsaw Pact era, but pilots still approximated the old Soviet time limit.

The MiG-21’s roles are taken over by the MiG-29 that will remain in service for a few more years.