Jane's - At the Controls:
How to Fly and Fight in the Mikoyan MiG-29
by Jon Lake
Published by Jane's
Reviewed by Mike O'Hare
The name "Jane's" is well known in the field of military technology - they've been publishing reference materials for more than a century, covering everything from ships and aircraft to guns and land mines. One of their more recent ventures is the At the Controls series, a group of books, each focusing on a specific aircraft, which provide an in-depth history and evaluation of some of the most significant contemporary aircraft. One of the first in the series, and typical of the rest, is the volume detailing the MiG-29.
Though the book is short, some 95 pages, it is jam-packed with colour photographs. The text is thoroughly accessible and an enjoyable read. Though there is plenty of specific, technically oriented detail for seasoned aviation fanatics, it is neither jargony nor difficult to comprehend, and is broken down so that even those with just a passing interest in military aircraft will enjoy it.
The book begins with a general introduction to the type, outlining the circumstances and changing philosophies leading up to the proposal which eventually produced the MiG-29, the basics of the aircraft's design and the resulting aerodynamic characteristics before moving on to meatier topics. Different mission types are discussed: the front-line fighter during the Cold War in Germany, air defence over Russia and the secretive nuclear strike role, concluding by detailing the step breakdown of a typical training mission. This latter portion contains many fascinating details of Russian fighter tactics, providing for a more valuable understanding of the Fulcrum's capabilities than one could glean from simply stating statistics. Next comes a section, which details the specifics of many of the MiG-29's systems: radar, weapons and engines. There is also an excellent full page cockpit schematic, illustrating each instrument's function. Following this are two separate chapters containing, respectively, the views of an American fighter pilot regarding the Fulcrum as a weapon and a threat, and a German pilot's view as a user. This is a novel approach, but an informative one; as the author suggests, every pilot is likely to gloss over the failings in his own aircraft, and over emphasise flaws in anyone else's. As such, contrasting the harsh narrative of the American pilot's perspective with the optimistic spin of the German allows the reader to come to a more balanced middle ground. Finally, the book concludes with a chapter on potential MiG029 developments - how the basic aircraft has been developed over the years into a superior weapons platform, and what the likelihood is for sales success. This section also contains interesting insights into Mikoyan's fall from political favour, and Sukhoi's rise. Particularly useful though, is the series of line drawings, which demonstrated the evolution of the MiG-29, from the MiG-29M to the MiG-35 and SMT.
It should be stressed that, while there are many photos included that a modeller would find useful, this is not a photographic reference, nor is it geared towards modellers. Rather, it is extremely useful for anyone with an interest in military aviation and who wants a greater understanding of how modern jet fighters in general, and the Fulcrum in particular, are designed, built and flown, what the pilots who fly it and what the pilots who fly against it think about the aircraft. It is more educational in nature, and serves to contextualize modern air combat - rather than being just a stack of plastic model parts, or a list of numbers citing its specifications, the reader gains an understanding of what the aircraft itself is like, and a greater appreciation for the type. And in doing so, it is every bit as valuable a resource as a Walkaround book as it helps spark a greater enthusiasm about the subject. While other references may provide images of the specific technical devices that allow an aircraft to fly, At the Controls illustrates what it's like to actually fly it.