A final flight for the MiG-21s

MiG-21, photo: CTK
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The Czech Republic's famous fleet of Soviet-made MiG-21 fighter jets flew a final flight at the weekend after thirty years of service. Thousands came out to see the show as well as to greet the MiGs' successors: the country's new Gripen fighters from Sweden. How do the planes compare? It's a whole new world.

MiG-21, photo: CTK
A Jas-39 Gripen roars across the sky announcing a changing of the guard: the end of the line for the aging MiG-21 fighters that protected Czech airspace throughout the Cold War and into the new millennium. At the weekend the last of the MiGs disappeared into the clouds high above the east Bohemian Pardubice region as crowds looked on. The end of an era.

MiG-21, photo: CTK
Comparing the MiG fighters with their successors is, experts say, like rolling a forty-year-old racing car out of garage in the hopes of beating Michael Schumacher. Quicker, more powerful, and fully digital, the Gripens guarding the Czech Republic now are simply beyond compare. In terms of speed and manoeuvrability the MiGs were built for another age. At 2,400 kilometres per hour the Gripens fly twice as fast, while the on-board radar is good for 100 kilometres: roughly ten times the range of their MiG predecessors.

All this of course comes at a price: it took ten years for the Czech Republic to negotiate a deal, finally settling on the 14 new jets, and the Swedish Gripens have been leased to the tune of roughly 20 billion crowns, to be paid over twenty years. That's about 820 million US dollars. Some have questioned whether the Czech Republic really needed the brand-new Gripens but the Czech Air Force has countered that the price and deal on servicing for the planes was right. It adds that in the age of global terrorism it would be unthinkable not to employ modern machines. The Gripens, for one, can arrive anywhere in the Czech Republic within 18 minutes. While hopefully they will never be required in an actual terrorist situation, at least they are apparently up to the task. It's their responsibility in any case, now that the MiGs have gone.