Text: Richard Plos
Illustration: Piotr Forkasiewicz
Cat. No. 7469
It´s August 28, 1992. I´m standing next to one of the five Mi-24Vs of our Pilsen display box as we are preparing to our choppers´ startup procedure prior to the general rehearsal of our performance for tomorrow´s Airshow in České Budějovice. The first APU sounds, but as I am in the fifth solo chopper there is still some time for us to follow. With my foot on the footrest under the cockpit, gripping the edge of it, I can´t resist to watch the dynamic performance of a MiG-21MF. It roars through the air on full throttle with the afterburner and starts a spectacular steep bank roll through the reverse position. The seconds which follow are like a slow-motion movie. In the reverse position, the aircraft pitches the nose sharply and descends rapidly. The pilot tries to get the aircraft back to normal position but having not enough speed it is now flat-falling rather than flying. The MiG disappears behind the edge of the distant forest and suddenly the big explosion cloud rises and its sound hits us a split second later … It´s clear there would be no point to start our engines. The crash was disastrous as Lt. Col. Jiří Moutvička was killed. He was a member of the Delta team, the group of three pilots and aircraft which was performing MiG-21MF displays. He died in the cockpit of aircraft number 7709, the camouflaged one and also the only standard MiG-21MF of the team. The other two aircraft were examples of the last 20-aircraft delivery of this type to Czechoslovakia. As they were delivered in a light grey color, the nickname “Greyish” was logical. They all were produced by Plant No. 21 in Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod), which by that time was already producing a more advanced version MiG-21bis. Czechoslovakia decided not to introduce the latter, as it had already its fighter regiments on full strength with MiG-21MFs. These were all produced by Znamaya Truda Plant No. 30 in Moscow. However, at the time of the order for the last MiG-21MFs the latter was already producing MiG-23s. And, as the Gorky plant no longer produced the MFs either, the MiG-21bis being the standard product there, they manufactured the “Grayishs” as side products for last-call MiG-21MF orders by several countries.
The “Grayishs” actually represented a kind of intermediate type, as they carried several features of the MiG-21bis version. For example, they differed from the standard MFs by a different “periscope” (rear-view mirror), a different cockpit layout, in which a modernized KM-1M ejection seat was installed, a slightly different gun cover, and a different location of the cartridge belt covers. In addition, oval panels were missing on the upper side of the wing. This change was related to a different technological procedure for sealing the wing integral tanks. The Moscow plant first assembled the wing and then injected the liquid seal into the tank through the hole under the panels. However, at Gorky they applied the seals during the assembly of the wing and so they did not need the hole under the oval panels.
The Delta team was founded in the spring of 1992 by Lt. Col. František Hlavnička (who died in a car accident on August 13, 2019). This excellent pilot and later inspector of piloting techniques at the Air Force Headquarters (already as a Full Colonel) had been demonstrating the MiG-21s since 1988, and it was his idea to spray paint the wing and fuselage of one camouflaged aircraft (7709) and two “Grayishs” (2410 and 2205) with winged arrows in the colors of the Czechoslovak tricolor. In addition, the Delta team emblem was painted on the vertical stabilizer and the number 9 on the rudder represented the 9 Fighter-Bomber Regiment based in Bechyně. Together with František Hlavnička, who even at the end of his flying career considered himself a “young pilot” (in the sense that he still had a lot to learn), the members of Delta team were Lt Col. Jiří Moutvička and Lt. Col. František Bittner.
The disaster in which Jiří Moutvička died was the first nail in the coffin of the Delta team. The next was the disbanding of the 9 Fighter-Bomber Regiment and the overhaul of the no. 2205 aircraft in November 1992. Subsequently it served with the 82 Independent Fighter Squardon in Mošnov and then in Čáslav, there already in the MFN version. Aircraft No. 2410 also served briefly in Mošnov, but it did not see overhaul nor upgrade to the MFN version and was handed over to the museum in Kbely, where it is still located today.
As part of the repairs carried out at the beginning of the 1980s in the Aviation Repair Shop Kbely, the “Grayishs” were repainted with a similar shade of a gray paint, the exception being aircraft No. 4175, which for unknown reasons was painted in a slightly blue-gray shade. However, some of the standard MiG-21MFs also received gray paint as a part of repairs, so not every MiG-21MF in a gray color is a “Grayish”. This nickname belongs only to the aircraft with fuselage numbers 2205, 2410, 2500, 3008, 4003, 4008, 4017, 4038, 4101, 4127, 4175, 4405, 4421, 5494, 5508, 5512, 5581, 5603, 5612 and 9307. The 2205, 2500, 3008, 4003, 4017, 4127,4175, 4405, 5581 and 5603 were converted to the MFN version. Aircraft 3008 and 4127 were destroyed in the crash on October 10, 2000, while No. 5494 was also lost in a previous crash (1980).
One of the two “Grayihs”" with striking Delta team graphics is depicted on Piotr Forkasiewicz´s boxart for the kit Cat. No. 7469 in a low pass over the base. It may just be leaving for an airshow, and the pilot is determined to show what this aircraft can do despite its age...