FAIRFORD, ENGLAND – An extreme rare sight at airshows in Europe nowadays – the old iconic MiG-21 LanceR! Last year the Cold War fighter from the Romanian Air Force (RoAF) was scheduled to fly a demo at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), but unfortunately the demo was cancelled due to a crash, which occured two weeks before the RIAT 2018 show. Unfortunately the pilot was killed in the crash. During this years’s edition of the airshow, thousands of aviation lovers finally saw the beautiful RoAF MiG-21 perform its probably last demo at the world’s largest military airshow, because the LanceR will be replaced by the F-16 next year.

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The LanceR-C is the air defence variant of the fleet and is the type that flew at RIAT 2019. This video was shot on Friday, when the weather was slighly better than on Sunday. Video: Tonkatsu298 on YouTube

Last demo ever

Every year RIAT has an impressive line up of a great variety of aircraft participating in the airshow. But the RoAF MiG-21 LanceR-C fighter aircraft definitely was the star of this year’s Royal International Air Tattoo, where the pilot performed an awesome display at RAF Fairford Air Base and the many spectators were getting the opportunity to see this iconic fighter in probably its last show ever at RIAT.

Unfortunately there was a low clouddeck over Fairford Air Base, especially during the Sunday demo. This resulted in a flat demo and not so great light conditions for photographers. RIAT is one of the most awesome airshows in the world, but it’s also known for its often poor weather conditions, like many airshows in Western Europe.

However, most of the people at the airshow won’t be forgetting this MiG-21 demo soon. Painted in a beautiful grey camo with a blue belly, the MiG-21 looks quite impressive, like many of the cold war fighters from the former Sovjet Union, which the RoAF was part of till the Cold War ended in the early 90s.

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Video of the RoAF MiG-21 demo on Sunday. Video: Elwyn R on YouTube

Mikojan-Goerevits MiG-21 Fishbed

The prototype of the Soviet Mikojan-Goerevits MiG-21 Fishbed first flew in 1956, with the operational fighter entering service with the Soviet Union in 1959.

The fighter served in the Vietnam War for the North Vietnamese Air Force, where it was quite successful, fighting against American F-105s and F-4s. During the Cold War the MiG-21 served for Romania and other air forces of the Soviet Union.

60 nations have operated the 11,000 Mig-21s that were produced. Over 2,000 were also being licence built in China as the Chengdu J-7.

Romanian MiG-21 LanceR

In 1962, the RoAF received its first 12 MiG-21F-13 fighters, followed by another 12 of the same variant in 1963. Deliveries continued over the next years with many other variants for a total number of 322 aircraft. Romania is one of the few nations still operating the MiG-21.

In 1993 – after the collapse of the Soviet Union – Russia did not offer spare parts anymore for the RoAF MiG-23 and MiG-29. This was the main reason for the RoAF to modernize its MiG-21s with Elbit Systems. This also led to an easier way to maintain these fighter jets, which had being given the LanceR designation.

In 1995–2002, a total of 111 MiG-21s were modernized, of which 71 were M and MF/MF-75 variants modernized under the LanceR-A designation (ground attack), 14 were UM variant as LanceR-B designation (trainer), and another 26 MF/MF-75 variant were modernized under LanceR-C designation (air superiority).

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A RoAF Mig-21 LanceR-B twin-seater starting up and taxiing, earlier this month at its home base in Romania; Campia Turzii Air Base. Video: GMAP .NL on YouTube

The Romanian LanceR can use both western and eastern armament such as the R-60M, R-73, Magic 2, or Python III missiles.

Today, only 36 LanceRs are operational in the RoAF.

Three RoAF Mig-21 LanceRs flying alongside its successor, the F-16 Viper. Photo: RoAF

Replacement of the LanceR

The RoAF MiG-21 LanceR will be replaced by a squadron of 12 F-16AM/BM fighters by 2020. The first F-16s arrived in the second half of 2016.

Another squadron will be operational with newer versions of the F-16 or other types of multirole fighter jets like the Dassault Rafale-B/C/M, used McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornet, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet or Eurofighter Typhoon, to complete the minimum number of 48 multirole fighters, required in 2004 by NATO when Romania joined.

Brand new RoAF F-16 AMs flying over Romania. Photo: RoAF

Despite being one of the newest MiG-21 fleets in service, the Romanian MiG-21 LanceR fleet was grounded earlier, due to difficulties maintaining the aircraft, and since 1996 it has had an accident rate of over 30 per 100,000 hours. Serviceability rates below 50% are not uncommon.

LanceR Crash

One year ago, Observator reported that a RoAF MiG-21 – piloted by Lieutenant-Commander Florin Rotaru – crashed on July 7, 2018 at an airshow in Romania, about 10km (6.2 miles) north of Feteşti Air Base.

The officer was 36-years old and served as a pilot for the 861st Fighter Squadron at 86th Air Base (Baza 86 Aeriană) in Borcea, Romania.

The Romanian Air Force said: “We have now lost Lieutenant Commander Florin Rotaru, pilot of the MiG 21 LanceR crashed at Feteşti.” 

Due to this tragic crash the LanceR demo at RIAT last year was cancelled.

A video with Lieutenant-Commander Florin Rotaru flying the MIG-21 Lancer was posted in July 2018 on Borcea Air Base’s Facebook account.

RoAF Lieutenant-Commander Florin Rotaru flying the MIG-21 Lancer. Video: Baza 86 Aeriană Borcea

Romania as a NATO member

Romania has been a dedicated NATO-member since 2004 and is slowly saying goodbye now to its old and iconic former Soviet Union jets.

In August 2012 the Alabama ANG 187th FW participated together with the RoAF MIG-21 LanceR jets at Campia Turzii Air Base in Romania during Operation Dacian Viper:

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RoAF MIG-21 LanceR fighter jets – takeoff and cockpit video. Video: Gung Ho Vids


(Head photo: Cristian Ghe.derivative work: Mircea87 (CC BY 2.0)

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