Belyakov: A Legend Passes On

 - March 4, 2014, 1:05 PM
Belyakov was the designer behind the MiG-29 Fulcrum, which became the principal tactical fighter of the Soviet air force and an export success. (Photo: RAC MiG)

On February 28 Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences Rostislav Apollosovich Belyakov passed away, just days before his 95th birthday. Little known outside Russia until the late 1980s, Belyakov was the brilliant aeronautical engineer behind much of the successful MiG jet fighter dynasty. Despite taking on the running of the Mikoyan OKB (design bureau) from 1971, Belyakov remained very much a “hands-on” manager, leading or co-leading the design teams that produced the MiG-23, 25, 27, 29 and 31, which became the backbone of the Soviet/Russian air force.

Born on March 4, 1919, Belyakov grew up in the town of Murom, 170 miles east of Moscow. He studied at the Moscow Aviation Institute, and then in 1941 went to work at the Mikoyan-Gurevich design bureau. His initial assignment was as part of the team charged with upgrading the MiG-3, at a time when the Soviet Union was in desperate need of fighters that could challenge the Luftwaffe. He was subsequently assigned to the landing gear and flight control department, and then as head of high-lift devices. He became deputy chief designer in 1957.

In 1962 Belyakov was promoted to First Deputy Designer General and joined Artem Mikoyan in the design of new fighters. During the 1960s they collaborated on the MiG-23 variable-geometry fighter, its MiG-27 fighter-bomber derivative and the remarkable MiG-25 Mach 3 fighter and reconnaissance platform. When Mikoyan died in December 1970, Belyakov took over the sole running of the design bureau and its projects, officially becoming Designer General the following year.

With Belyakov at the helm the MiG bureau worked on several projects, including the MiG-31 interceptor, which supplanted the MiG-25, MiG 1-44 fifth-generation fighter and the MiG-AT jet trainer. However, the aircraft for which Belyakov is best remembered is the MiG-29, which became the main tactical fighter of the Soviet/Russian air forces and an export success that remains in development today. Belyakov retired in 1998 but remained honorary designer general and continued advising his successors, Mikhail Korzhuev and Nikolai Nikitin.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, as Russian military aircraft began appearing in the West, Belyakov became a familiar and welcome visitor at trade shows in the West. Not only was he keen to champion the MiG-29 in the export arena, but he was also happy to share his unrivaled expertise and knowledge of fighter design with a wider audience.