The Russian military has a problem – and no, not Ukraine, that is obvious by now. Since the fall of the USSR, it seems Moscow has promised time and time again stealth fighters and other weapons of war but failed to deliver anything in meaningful numbers. The MiG 1.44 stealth fighter project is a great example of this: Apart from aviation buffs, few might actually know the origins of the name of the Soviet “MiG” fighters. There is a common misconception that it is a shortened version of its manufacturer, Mikoyan. That’s actually only partially correct, as the “M” does stand for the bureau’s founder Artem Mikoyan, while the “G” is for the principal deputy Mikhail Gurevich. The “i” is actually for the Russian word that means “and” – so hence MiG.
It would also be fair to say that MiG has never stood for “Make it Great,” given the quality of some of its aircraft over the years.
In fact, the design bureau often took a far more evolutionary than revolutionary approach to aircraft design. That was notable with the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-9, a first-generation jet fighter developed after the end of the Second World War. It was little more than a standard turboprop aircraft with a jet engine.
The trend is largely evolutionary designs, many of which were a response to the latest Western aircraft continued throughout the Soviet era and even continues today. However, one particular aircraft still stands out as a potential leap forward.
It was the Mikoyan Project 1.44, or MiG 1.44 (NATO reporting name “Flatpack”), and in the end, it wasn’t to be.
MiG 1.44: Flatpack or Faceplant?
The Mikoyan Project 1.44/1.42 began essentially as a technology demonstrator developed by the Mikoyan design bureau as the Soviet Union’s answer to the United States Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF). The ATF would eventually go on to be the project that saw the creation of the F-22 Raptor, one of the best fighter jets of all time according to many experts.
The MiG 1.44 would incorporate many fifth-generation jet fighter aspects, including advanced avionics, stealth technology, supermaneuverability, and supercruise. It was meant to eventually replace the successful Sukhoi Su-27 (NATO reporting name “Flanker”).
Development began in the 1980s, and it followed a familiar trend with late-Cold War-era Kremlin projects, and it was delayed due to cost issues. U.S. President Ronald Reagan had started a costly arms race, and it was one the Soviets had no hope of winning.
Yet, credit could be given to Moscow for even trying to develop such an advanced aircraft.
The Project 1.44/1.42 was such an effort that likely seemed good on paper, but it faced numerous and lengthy postponements due to a chronic lack of funds. The 1.42 designation was used to signify the actual project, while the 1.44 was more specifically the program’s aerodynamic test airframe – of which just two prototypes were believed to have been built.
It was reported to be a cutting-edge aircraft that was to have made use of an internal weapons bay – although the demonstrator that was eventually showcased utilized external weapons pylons. The estimated performance included a top speed around Mach 2.6 or roughly 1,716 mph.
The project was put on hold following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the program was canceled by Moscow due to a high per-unit cost. Yet, the efforts found new life, briefly. The MiG 1.44 finally made its maiden flight in February 2000, nine years behind schedule, but was then canceled for good later that year.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force’s ATF resulted in the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, arguably one of the best air superiority fighters ever to take to the skies.
Today, Russia has touted the capabilities of its Su-57, its only successful fifth-generation fighter – yet it continues to have problems producing the aircraft in large numbers. Some things in Russia just never change.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.