Last of the Red-Hot MiG Designers
Rostislav Belyakov engineered some of history’s most famous jet fighters
The obituaries for Rostislav Belyakov are short, almost mysterious. He was 94 and an engineer—and the chief designer at MiG, manufacturer of some of the world’s most famous combat jets.
Balyakov died on Feb. 28.
Most of the obits resemble this brief Associated Press story, which notes that Belyakov joined MiG as a young engineer in 1941, became deputy chief designer in 1957 and then succeeded Artyom Mikoyan as chief designer in 1969.
“Belyakov led the development of a family of MiG fighters, including MiG-23, MiG-25, MiG-29 and their versions, which have been the backbone of the Soviet and then Russian air forces,” the AP repoted, adding that the engineer “was showered with state awards and honors, but his name was unknown to the public until the Soviet collapse.”
According to a Russian aviation Website, in 1997 Belyakov “was appointed the counselor of the general designer,” presumably meaning he became a consultant or designer emeritus.
We don’t know much about Belyakov, but we can surmise that he had an interesting career, to say the least. If he became a designer in 1941, he was building planes for Stalin at a time when designers like Andrei Tupolev were drawing up aircraft blueprints from inside a Soviet penal laboratory.
Rather than speak of Belyakov, we should let his work speak for itself. The MiG-21 Fishbed proved a worthy adversary for U.S. aircraft during the Vietnam War. Many air forces still use the tiny jet.
The MiG-25 Foxbat set speed and altitude records in the 1960s. The MiG-29 Fulcrum with its helmet-mounted sight was reckoned a deadly opponent against contemporary American warplanes like the F/A-18 Hornet. The MiG-31 Foxhound, a sort of 1980s upgrade of the MiG-25, was the first fighter with a passive electronically scanned array radar.
On the other hand, Belyakov might not want to be remembered for the MiG-23 Flogger or its MiG-27 ground attack variant, swing-wing aircraft that were easy prey for Israeli F-15 Eagles over Lebanon in 1982.
He probably was too late to design the latest MiGs, such as the MiG-35. Yet Belyakov has left a legacy of aircraft design that few can match.