The MiG 31 Firefox was an advanced Russian fighter prototype.

Information in this entry is taken from the Firefox PDF by Kurt F Beswick at[N 1] unless stated otherwise.

Description[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

The fundamental purpose behind the MiG-31 program was to develop an aircraft capable of intercepting anything the West currently had, due to overflights of Russia with spyplanes. Thus, the Mach 5 Lockheed D-21 drone launched from a "mother-ship" SR-71 was the only real concern Russia had in 1982, a very real one nonetheless. The Americans already had several successful launches and recoveries of the unmanned aircraft, and with its penetration speed of Mach 5 at an altitude of well over 100,000 feet, Mikoyan-Gurevich needed to make this their primary target. Much of what they had learned from the MiG-25 Foxbat programme was applied to create one of the most advanced aircraft to ever take to the skies. The Firefox was at the forefront of aviation technology and the United States recognized this.

The budget kept getting larger and the hopes of building more than two prototypes began to diminish quickly. The titanium manufacturing process alone was already far beyond the initial budget for the program, but officials pushed regardless. They were not to be outdone by anyone, and they certainly would not allow the American's to overfly their airspace unchallenged any longer. The MiG-31 was to be the ultimate advanced interceptor aircraft.[1]

Powerplant[edit | edit source]

The MiG-31 used two Tumansky RJ-15BD-600 high-bypass afterburning turbojets capable of producing 50,000 lbs. thrust each. These were heavily modified, uprated turbojets based upon the engines from the Mig-25 Foxbat programme. Russian engineers took what they learned from high~mach turbojet engine technology and applied acquired US engine manufacturing technology to the Tumansky 600 series engines, built specifically for the MiG-31. The inherent problems Russian designers faced with the R-15BD-300's used in the MiG-25 had been overcome.

Overspeeding of the engines had been a major problem with the Foxbat because their methods of controlling the fuel/air ratio were less advanced at the time, resulting in uncontrollable engine RPM at high-mach speeds. The result was an aircraft that could achieve Mach 3.2 for a short burst of time, but the engines would have to be replaced entirely if they hadn't already torn themselves apart. There had to be a way to increase the efficiency and power of the engines while keeping them within the same footprint of the current R-15BD-300 design. The introduction of high-bypass air intake systems helped produce the most powerful conventional turbojet engine of it's day, surpassing even the US made 32,000lb P&W J58, used in the much revered SR-71 Blackbird.

In addition to these massive engines, the Firefox had six Soyuz/Komarov solid rocket boosters, using a solid-propellant with a proprietary ignition/shutoff system. These rockets could be used to augment the main engines, providing an additional 15,900 pounds of thrust. These were normally used during take-off under full-load, or high-speed dash acceleration. In some rare cases, test pilots were known to engage these rockets at extreme altitudes where thin air produced flame-outs on the main engines. The first flying prototype was taken to 131 ,079 feet setting a new world record, breaking the previous record of 123,492 ft. held by a Ye-266M.

The compressor blade components were manufactured of pure titanium, a first for Russian aircraft manufacturing. Fuel was cooled via the centerline ventral air intake and then pumped through a complex series of conduits around the giant Tumansky engines to keep them cool, as well as throughout much of the airframe. Much of this technology and ideology was gleaned from information obtained by Russian agents on the production of the US Blackbird, which used similar cooling principles.

By alternating wastegate control between the dorsal and ventral air intakes using ramps, thereby more accurately controlling the engine-breathing, the RJ-15BD-600 could achieve incredible thrust to weight ratio and excellent high-altitude air-breathing qualities. Achieving Mach 6 was a reality, although this was considered maximum speed which was ineffecient to maintain for any period of time due to the MiG's massive fuel consumption. Cruise speeds were more in the range of Mach 3.8 to 5.2, and operational altitudes under normal conditions were considered to be in the range of 85,000 to 95,000 feet.[1]

Airframe[edit | edit source]

The airframe was composed mostly of titanium and SS-118, a stainless steel / nickel alloy that was used extensively in the later model Foxbats. The MiG-31 was the first Soviet aircraft to extensively use titanium in the structure, it wasn't until the mid 1970's that Russias‘ manufacturing technology reached a point where working extensively with titanium was realistic. However, with the addition of a radar absorbent material coating the aircraft, surface heating became a major problem. To partially combat this issue the plane was designed with a very thin aspect-ratio to the leading/trailing edges of the wings, much like the American F-104 Starfighter. The nose and engine nacelles were designed based upon seam-less flat-angles to minimize air friction and reduce overall drag. All rivets were countersunk, unlike most Russian aircraft preceeding it, and there were virtually no exposed protuberances, sensors or seams anywhere on the craft. Expansion joints were built into the wings of the craft to allow for expansion/contraction of the skin due to this surface heating. The weapons bays were internal and missiles were carried on retractable launching racks behind flush-mounted doors on the port and starboard sides of the plane. Many different methods of heat-reduction were tested, but in the end it was still a big heatsink, not unlike its MiG-25 forefather.

The airframe had "stealth" characteristics, however there was much debate over the need for this considering the speed and altitude capabilities of the aircraft. lt used a three-fold combination of countermeasures to make itself virtually undetectable to enemy radar systems. The design of the aircraft was angular enough to deflect much of the incoming radar away from its‘ point of origin, the most basic form of "stealth" technology. In addition to this, the skin of the craft was coated with a radar absorbent material (RAM) very similar to the American Stealth technology at the time. Finally, the MiG had electronic countermeasures (ECM) that could jam enemy early-warning systems. However, there was no way to effectively cool the exhaust of the giant Tumansky engines which gave the MiG-31 a massive heat signature for heat-seeking missiles, one of the aircraft's only major downfalls.[1]

Avionics & Systems[edit | edit source]

The Firefox was the first aircraft to effectively use an operational thought-controlled weapons management system. Not only was it a fully operational and working system, it was also rather simple and unobtrusive from a mechanical standpoint. The receptors were mounted inside the specially designed helmet and linked to the aircraft's central computer system via a data-link. The pilot simply had to think (in Russian) about what weapon he wanted selected, and could execute the command to launch the missile mentally. This is what is known as an EEG Feedback system. The pilot did not fly the aircraft via thought, only controlled the weapons system by thought. Most of the fly-by-wire systems in the aircraft were considered new technology at the time, but the Thought Controlled Weapons Management System was truly revolutionary. Mikoyan-Gurevich also managed to develop a synthetic aperture radar system for the plane which gave it even more mission flexibility, including being well suited for recon missions.[1]

Fate of the Firefox[edit | edit source]

Following the existance of the Firefox becoming known to the US Government, a plan was developed to place an experienced combat pilot named Mitchel Gant in the vicinity of the prototype during it's final trials, with orders to steal the aircraft and fly it to the West for analysis. During the flight, Gant was pursued by a Russian test pilot flying the only other prototype, resulting in a prolonged aerial battle which resulted in the destruction of the second prototype. [N 2]

I didn't really follow the timeline of the Firefox according to Craig Thomas, because quite frankly I thought it was ridiculous to go through all of that effort to steal the plane, only to crash it into the ground (as in “Firefox Down") I took a few liberties with it, but still kept in line with the known facts. IE: The full-scale mockup of the Firefox really was filmed in and around a hangar at Edwards Air Force Base during filming. So what I did was create a bit of a "history" for the aircraft. I thought to myself; ‘If this were an actual stolen Soviet fighter, where would the US military brass go with it?’ The first logical choice, since the plane was headed toward Alaska at the end of the movie, would be a secure facility in Northern California, probably Beale AFB since it has vast support capabilities and it's fairly remote (they operated SR-71 and TR-1 spyplanes out of the base for years). Here, the majority of the initial inspection and study of the aircraft would be done. From there they would probably take it to Groom Lake to join the "Red Hat" squadron of other acquired Russian military hardware. Once the majority of the plane had been assimilated and reverse-engineered over a period of several years, it would eventually find its way to the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB in southern California. There, it would spend the rest of its life undergoing high-speed flight testing, and metallurgy research in conjunction with their already-existing SR-71 testbed programme, not to mention study of the thought-controlled weapons system. The possibilities are endless from there. I think maybe our ATF (F-22 Raptor) fighter would have had quite a different outcome had any of this actually been real.

Kurt F. Beswick


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau succeeded in creating an aircraft with capabilities far beyond anything the west currently had by using the proven "brute force" design tactic so typical of Russian military aircraft. The creative minds at the Mikoyan-Gurevich design bureau learned as much about what was being done at the time as they could, then improved upon the concepts in many ways. The west recognized this as an opportunity to even the table and consequently made the radical decision to steal the aircraft from Russia. They succeeded in doing so, succeeding also in destroying the only other prototype example of the MiG-31.

With both aircraft gone, all of the program funding used to build the first two prototypes gone, and several of their lead engineers dead, Mikoyan-Gurevich decided not to reinstate the Firefox program. This effectively ended the legacy of one of the greatest, most powerful and technologically advanced aircraft of our time. There have been many stories about how the Firefox was never spoken of again among the corridors at Mikoyan-Gurevich. All records of it, along with the tooling, were destroyed shortly after it was stolen, and there exists no mention of the programme in any Russian aviation literature. It was viewed by many of the top Russian commandants as an "embarrassing" end to such an incredible machine.[1]

Behind the scenes[edit | edit source]

About the Illustration[edit | edit source]

MiG 31 Firefox in flight[1]

This illustration was created entirely in Adobe Photoshop 5.02 and 4.04 as a layered image. Adobe Premiere was used to grab stillframes from the actual movie for color and lighting references, and used in conjunction with Ulead Systems Photo Explorer. The file was created at 300dpi resolution at 22.50" wide x 17.50" high. The resulting image was a 352MB psd file with 100 layers. Kurt F Beswick created each view separately making sure that all of the dimensions matched-up perfectly. Once Kurt had the three views done, he imported each into a larger ‘final’ canvas and created the actual layout of the poster. Everything was airbrushed in by hand in Photoshop (using a wacom tablet) in separate sections over a period of about eight months.

It took approximately five years to track down enough data and information to make this possible, and 200+ hours to create on a high-end computer workstation, so naturally Kurt wanted to have as much fun with it as possible. The basic dimensional structure of the aircraft was already down on paper, but he was just lacking some much-needed details. Over the years he managed to get into contact with about six different people who actually worked on the film. They ranged from a carpenter who worked on building the full-scale mockup Firefox, to an R/C aircraft model builder, to the VP of Northrop Aviation (1982) who worked as one of the initial design consultants for Clint Eastwood. Needless to say, it's been rather difficult to find much surviving information on this movie creation after 18 years.

Several publications were consulted, but the majority of the images used as reference material were obtained from internet resources and from individuals providing Kurt with scanned images of photos. The rest were obtained via descriptions given by the author of the book, Craig Thomas, and by viewing (in great detail) the actual movie.

William Babington provided the final pieces of this puzzle. He possesses a 21" long solid black resin casting of the Firefox that was used to make molds of the models used in the movie, complete with etched panel lines from which he generated an accurate line art CAD image. By combining this data along with various photos of the model, Kurt was able to interpret the image three-dimensionally and begin illustrating it from scratch at that point, choosing to straddle the middle of the road on the skin tones and coloration. In some cases the plane was very dark, with a matte-charcoal finish, but in other instances it is seen with a very distinctive blue-gray gunmetal sheen, so he chose to incorporate a little bit of both. This may or may not appeal to everyone depending upon their interpretation of how they remember the plane from the movie.


Clint Eastwood's Firefox the missile cruiser

Gant versus the missile cruiser[2]

Clint himself was easy to talk to, and he always had good ideas. Al one point, we were informally kicking around what finish to use on the plane and he said he wanted a nice, shiny surface. He also mentioned something about making it black. Actually, although the shininess was retained, my Firefox was not black at all. It was a shade of very dark gunmetal. Russian standard gray; the final Apogee stage model was a sort of charcoaly blue-gray.

Greg Jein, the man who built the Firefox models [N 3]

Most of the text that has accompanied this illustration is the product of research on the MiG-25 Foxbat, MiG-31 Foxhound, and Kurt's own working knowledge of Russian military aviation.[N 4] Kurt took the liberty of "filling in the blanks" with educated guesses, creating a bit of history for the plane just out of sheer amusement.[1]

The Design of the Firefox[edit | edit source]

This illustration and document are the result of a lifelong fascination with aircraft in general, and a creative eye for great design. When Firefox hit the theaters in 1982, I was hooked. The design of the aircraft was very different, it contained elements of existing aircraft from that time period, as well as speculation about what the MiG-25 Foxbat and Stealth fighter might have looked like. Both of these aircraft were still regarded as classified information at the time. lt‘s very interesting to look back now, 18 years later, at the MiG-25 Foxbat and the now famous F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter and see the similarities in features. Although the final design evolution of the plane was retained by Clint Eastwood and most of the initial design influence was set by him, the majority of the study models of the plane were created by Greg Jein, Grant McCune, and Bill Creber. There are many different magazine articles and publications available where you can read as much about the making of the film as you could ever want.

Kurt F. Beswick


Credits & Sources[edit | edit source]

I would like to thank the following people for their help and support in making this project a reality, in no particular order; Ellen, for putting up with my obsessive-compulsive behavior for the last eight months while working on this project, William "Gant“ Babington, Jack (and his uber webpage), Larry Wolfe, Phyllis Winkelbauer (Northrop Aviation), Gatekeeper (and family), Andy Scow, Joe Cherrie, Kenny Mitchell, Jarrett Broder (programming god), Flashmaster Steveo, Matthew Howard (for the kind words), Tim Zehner, and Grand Master Davis; for thy Wacom is more powerful than any sword...

Kurt F. Beswick


Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. This website is no longer active.
  2. The follow up novel Firefox Down revealed that during the dogfight with the other prototype Firefox, cannon fire damaged critical fuel lines and loosing precious fuel forced Gant to make an emergency landing on a frozen lake in Finland. A covert recovery team had to raise the Firefox after it had fallen through the the ice. After raising the plane and making it airworthy, Gant finally escaped with the Firefox, but some systems of the Firefox were damaged and had to be reverse engineered.
  3. Quote is taken from a section of the Cinefex 10 Firefox article, where Greg recalls discussing the coloration with Clint Eastwood,
  4. The exception is the first paragraph of the Fate of the Firefox section. SENIRAM (talk) 15:46, November 19, 2013 (UTC)

Sources[edit | edit source]

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