The Prague Aviation Museum at Kbely in the Czech Republic has plenty of Cold War era Soviet designed Mikoyan Gurevich jet fighters. One that really stood out when I was there in September 2017, was a Czech Air Force Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-23MF Flogger B (s/n 3646) variable geometry wing fighter that sports the almost cartoonish “Hell Fighter” livery and artwork. The flying devil on the tail with a trident is a ripper!
The Mach 2.3 capable Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-23MF Flogger B was an export version of the early 1970’s era Soviet Air Force MiG-23M (1,300 entered Soviet VVS service between 1972 and 1978). It was fitted with an improved performance Turmansky R-29-300 afterburning turbojet engine, a Sapfir-23D “High Lark” radar that provided the first Soviet look down/shoot down capability (45km range) and a TP-23 Infra Red target tracking sensor (with a range up to 30km for bomber sized targets). These sensors enabled the use of new beyond visual range air to air missiles.
The Warsaw Pact export version was similar to that flown by the Soviets, with some variation in communications equipment and the Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) transponder. Non Warsaw Pact nations received an export variant that featured a downgraded radar.
MiG-23MF armament consisted of 1 x GSh-23L 23mm autocannon, 2 x Vympel R-23 (AA-7 Apex) medium range air to air missiles (radar or infra red guided) and 2 to 4 x Molniya R-60 (AA-8 Aphid) short range infra red air to air missiles (heat seeking). Bombs, rocket pods and air to surface missiles could also be carried for ground attack missions.
The first 3 MiG-23MF fighters arrived in the then Warsaw Pact nation of Czechoslovakia in August 1978 and initially flew with the 1st Fighter Air Wing at Ceske Budejovice Air Force Base. A further 10 aircraft were delivered in December 1979. Following a restructuring in 1983, the MiG-23’s flew with the 11th Fighter Air Wing at Zatec Air Force Base. In 1989 they returned to the original fighter wing.
MiG-23MF (s/n 3646) was one of the first delivered to the then Czechoslovakian Air Force in 1978. The “Hell Fighter” livery scheme was applied in June 1994 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the forming of the 1st Fighter Air Wing. In October 1994 the fighter was retired and flown one last time by Major Petr Hromek to its final home at the Prague Aviation Museum with 1,160 hours and 49 minutes of flying time on the airframe.
One thing I note with interest in my photos from 2017 is that the flying devil on the tail of “Hell Fighter” is not painted red, as it was back in 1994 and beyond. Perhaps it was in the process of being redone, as the overall paint scheme had greatly faded in the past 23 years?
The MiG-23MF fleet was retired from Czech service in 1994. Following the 1989 Velvet Revolution and the downfall of communist power, Czechoslovakia was officially dissolved and split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993 – for most aircraft of the old air force, they were split 2:1 across the two nations, in favour of the larger Czech Republic. The exceptions were the entire MiG-23 fleet remained with the Czech Republic (MiG-23BN, MF, ML and UM variants) and the split was 1:1 for the newer MiG-29 Fulcrum (18 MiG-29A and 2 MiG-29UB fighters were distributed evenly).