In the 1990s, although not public, Americans knew about the existence of Mikoyan Project 1.44. This was Russia’s first fifth-generation fighter, the biggest rival of the F-22 stealth fighter.
The Soviet Union began designing and constructing fifth-generation fighters long before the appearance of the PAK FA project, which later known as the Su-57.
In 1983, the Mikoyan Design Bureau began implementing the “Combined Task Programme” to maximize efficiency and develop technologies to be used for all classes of aircraft. The research project included engines, avionics and weapons, as well as tactical and technical assignments by the Air Force and Air Defense. In 1987, this defense project was approved, and in 1989 there was a preliminary design of a heavy multi-role aircraft, also known as the MiG-1.44. Mikoyan stated that the combination of the aerodynamic, weapons, and avionics of the MiG-1.44 makes it superior to any contemporary fighter, including the US F-22A.
The project was halted in 1991 after the political crisis. Russia then took over the project, and after all efforts a prototype was completed, officially announced in January 1999. The prototype made its maiden flight on February 29, 2000. But, the Russian government’s decision in 2002 on Pak FA project buried the Mig 1.44. The only prototype is stored in the Gromov Aviation Research Institute in the city of Zhukovsky near Moscow.
The final specifications of the MiG 1.44 remain a mystery. According to information published by Russian media, the MiG-1.44 was built in the form of a multi-role strike fighter, delta wing, twin-tailed, single seat. Theoretically, the aircraft was equipped with the most advanced technologies, giving it excellent stealth and combat capabilities.
The manufacturer made used weight-saving materials in aircraft construction, including aluminum-lithium alloys combined with steel and titanium alloys, along with composites materials. The Mig-1.44 had an empty weight of 18 tons (39,683 lb) and a maximum take-off weight of 35 tons (77,162 lb). Other basic specifications include a length of 19m (62 ft 4 in), a wingspan of 15m (49 ft 3 in), and a height of 4.5m (14 ft 9 in).
From the outside, the fuselage was well-rounded and beautiful. Its aerodynamic design was different from the previous Soviet boxy airframes. The single cockpit was located behind the small nose, the pilot sited under a all-glass two-piece canopy, giving him a great view. The forward fuselage of Mig-1.44 featured a close-coupled canard layout located in front of the main wings, controllable, gave the aircraft remarkable maneuverability. The canards had a leading-edge sweep of 58 degree and had prominent dogtooth which improved airflow over the wings at high angles of attack.
The main wings were of delta shape, the leading-edge sweep at 52 degree. The overall design had minimise surface-area and reduce drag, helped significantly improves in-flight efficiency and stealth characteristics. Two rectangular air intakes were arranged below the cockpit, exhausted through their respective vectoring nozzle rings. The Mig-1.44 did not have horizontal tail fins like conventional aircraft, only a pair of vertical fins were mounted outboard of each engine compartment at the rear. The aircraft had a tricycle landing gear system, with a single, dual-wheel landing gear in the front, and two single wheels in the rear.
The MiG-1.44 was powered by a pair of thrust-vectoring Lyulka-Saturn AL-41F series afterburning turbofan engines delivering 176 kN (40.000lbs) of thrust each with afterburner. This was the first engine in the world to featured thrust-vectoring. Thanks to this advanced engine, the MiG-1.44 was capable of super maneuverability, allows aircraft unprecedented agility in the skies, particularly in lateral movements. Theoretically, the Mig-1.44 could reach a maximum speed of 2,760 km/h (1,710 mph), equivalent to Mach 2.24, a range of 4,000 km (2,500 mi), a service ceiling of 17,000m (56,000 ft).
The fighter was equipped with a glass cockpit and features a Pulse-Doppler radar. The N014 radar, with a range of 420 km (260 mi) and target detection from 250 km (160 mi) to one metre (3.3 ft), was able to track up to 40 targets and shoot against 20. The radar system has a passive electronically scanned array antenna and is linked to a fire-control system.
In terms of weapons, it is believed that the Mig-1.44 was designed with internal weapon bays, although demonstrator was showcased with external weapons pylons. The standard internal weapon fitting was a single 30mm Izhmash GSh-301 series cannon for close-in self-defense with 250 rounds. Other weapons included R-77, R-73 and R-37 air-to-air missiles. Drop tanks could be carried under the wings as well.
In 2000, the MiG-1.44 prototype flew twice, and then the project was shelved for reasons that weren’t really clear. According to some Russian military sources, the main reason for the freezing of the MiG-1.44 project was that Moscow had made its choice with the fifth-generation stealth fighter. Specifically, the Russian Air Force chose the PAK FA for its fifth generation stealth fighter program.
In addition to the above reasons, according to Russian media, the reason that Moscow was cold with MiG-1.44 fighter was because at that time, the limited budget did not allow Russia to simultaneously implement two stealth aircraft programs. However, what was really the reason why the MiG-1.44 program had to be shelved, only the Russian military itself knows. In 2010, China released the first images of J-20 air superiority fighters, which were nearly identical to the MiG-1.44. Some military analysts believe that the Chinese fifth generation J-20 drew heavy inspiration from or was fundamentally based on the MiG 1.44, citing similarities in its canards, tail section, and “duck like” aerodynamic design. To date, the J-20 has become the fifth-generation fighter of the Chinese Air Force, while the MiG-1.44 is forever an experimental fighter of the Russian Air Force.