The Mikoyan MiG-31 is basically a supersonic interceptor aircraft developed to replace the MiG-25 “Foxbat”. Like the MiG-25, MiG-31 is a large twin-engine aircraft with side-mounted air intakes, a shoulder-mounted wing with an aspect ratio of 2.94, and twin vertical tailfins. Unlike the MiG-25, it has two seats, with the rear occupied by a dedicated weapon systems officer. Continue reading for more.
5. Top Speed
The wings and airframe of the MiG-31 are stronger than those of the MiG-25, permitting supersonic flight at low altitudes. Its D30-F6 jet engines, each rated at 152 kN thrust, allow a maximum speed of Mach 1.23 at low altitude. High-altitude speed is temperature-redlined to Mach 2.83 – the thrust-to-drag ratio is sufficient for speeds in excess of Mach 3, but such speeds pose unacceptable hazards to engine and airframe life in routine use. MiG-31 is limited to only 5 g at supersonic speeds. At combat weight, its wing loading is marginal and its thrust to weight ratio is favorable. However, it is not designed for close combat or rapid turning.
4. Advanced Electronics
The MiG-31 was the world’s first operational fighter with a passive electronically scanned array radar (PESA), the Zaslon S-800. Its maximum range against fighter-sized targets is approximately 200 km (125 mi), and it can track up to 10 targets and simultaneously attack four of them with its Vympel R-33 missiles. The radar is matched with an infrared search and tracking (IRST) system in a retractable undernose fairing. A-50 and MiG-31’s can automatically exchange aerial and terrestrial radar target designation.
The aircraft is a two-seater with the rear seat occupant controlling the radar. Although cockpit controls are duplicated across cockpits, it is normal for the aircraft to be flown only from the front seat. The pilot flies the aircraft by means of a centre stick and left hand throttles. The rear cockpit has only two small vision ports on the sides of the canopy. It is argued that the presence of the WSO (Weapon Systems Operator) in the rear cockpit improves aircraft effectiveness since the WSO is entirely dedicated to radar operations and weapons deployment. This decreases the workload of the pilot and increases efficiency. Both cockpits are fitted with zero/zero ejection seats which allow the crew to eject at any altitude and airspeed.
2. Intercepted SR-71 Blackbird
The MiG-31 entered operational service with the Soviet Air Defence Forces (PVO) in 1982. It was the only Soviet fighter capable of intercepting the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, and did so several times starting in 1986.
A new version of the MiG-31 with upgraded avionics, the MiG-31B, was introduced in 1990. Its development was the result of the Soviet discovery that Phazotron radar division engineer Adolf Tolkachev had sold information on advanced radars to the West. Tolkachev was executed, and a new version of the compromised radar was hastily developed. Many earlier MiG-31s were upgraded to the new standard, designated MiG-31BM.