Wednesday, July 29, 2020

DEATH OF ARTEM MIKOYAN (DECEMBER 9, 1970)

Both brothers were famous for different reasons. Artem Mikoyan was a famous aircraft designer and the younger brother of Anastas Mikoyan, the statesman whose career encompassed fifty years of the Soviet regime.

Artem (Anoushavan) Mikoyan was born in the village of Sanahin (Lori, in Eastern Armenia), on August 5, 1905. He also had one other brother and two sisters. He started his elementary studies at the village school, and, after his father’s death, his mother sent him to Tiflis, where he graduated from a local Armenian school. 

In 1923 he moved to Rostov-on-the Don, along his elder brother Anastas. He took a work as a machine tool-operator, but a year later he moved to Moscow, working in a similar position in the “Dynamo” factory until 1928 before being conscripted into military service. In 1931 he joined the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy, where he created his first plane. Following graduation in 1937, he worked with Nikolai Polikarpov before being named head of a new aircraft design bureau in December 1939. Together with Mikhail Gurevich, Mikoyan formed the Mikoyan-Gurevich design bureau, producing a series of fighter aircraft. The first MiGs were not that successful. In 1941, however, he won the first of his six Stalin Prizes (the next ones would come in 1947, 1948, 1949, 1952, and 1953), which would be renamed USSR State Prize after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953.

Early post-war designs were based on captured German jet fighters and information provided by Great Britain or the United States. The first production model was the MiG-9 of 1946. The I-270 prototype based on German ideas and a British engine became the MiG-15, which despite its mixed origins, it had excellent performance and formed the basis for future fighters, with over 18,000 MiG-15s manufactured. In 1953 came the MiG-17, which reached the speed of sound, followed by the famous MiG-19, the first serial Soviet supersonic fighter.

From 1952, Mikoyan also designed missile systems to particularly suit his aircraft, such as the famous MiG-21. He continued to produce high performance fighters through the 1950s and 1960s, including the MiG-25, the fastest and the highest-flying fighter. The MiGs have been a part of air forces for decades. His fighters scored 55 world records. In particular, the MiG-15 and MiG-29 held records of speed and height for a long time.

The MiG-15s were the jets used during the Korean War by Communist forces. U.S. Air Force pilots named “MiG Alley” the northwestern portion of North Korea where the Yalu River empties into the Yellow Sea. During the war, it was the site of numerous air battles between U.S. fighter jets and those of Communist forces, particularly the Soviet Union.

Mikoyan was twice awarded the highest civilian honor, the Hero of Socialist Labor, and was a deputy in six Supreme Soviets. He also earned other honors, such as the Order of Lenin (six times), the Order of the Red Banner, the Order of the Patriotic War 1st class, the Order of the Red Star (twice), and the Lenin Prize (1962). In 1968 he was elected a member of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

After a stroke in 1969, Artem Mikoyan passed away on December 9, 1970, and was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. After his death, the name of the design bureau was changed from Mikoyan-Gurevich to simply Mikoyan. However, the designator remained MiG. Many more designs came from the design bureau such as the MiG-23, MiG-29, and MiG-35.

Mikoyan was inducted into the International Air and Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air and Space Museum in 1996. There is a string of places that remember him in Armenia: a high school and a monument at the Erebuni airport of Yerevan; a military unit placed in Gyumri; a monument at the Mikoyan Brothers Museum in Sanahin, their birthplace, and a memorial in the same town.