The Soviet MiG-25 Foxbat was many things. An interceptor, reconnaissance aircraft and a fast, high-altitude, record-setting bogeyman that scared the pants off Western air forces in the 1970s.
But a MiG-25 business jet? Coffee, tea or vodka served by an Aeroflot stewardess at 60,000 feet, the Earth below hurtling past your window at three times the speed of sound? Forget being imprisoned in cattle class on a Boeing 747, your knees jammed into your face for eight hours. Think New York to London in two. That’s traveling in style.
The idea never got off the drawing board. But it was under serious consideration, according to Yefim Gordon and Sergey Komissarov, authors of Unflown Wings: Unbuilt Soviet/Russian Aircraft Projects Since 1925.
The aircraft would have carried five to seven passengers or up to 2,000 pounds of cargo at a cruising speed of Mach 2.35—that’s 1,552 miles per hour. MiG would have lengthened the wings as well as added extra fuel capacity to extend passenger jet’s range to 2,200 miles, versus about 1,100 miles for a Soviet Air Force MiG-25P.
A photo of a model in Unflown Wings shows a stretched-out MiG-25 with a larger and wider forward fuselage. “Behind the flight deck was a passenger cabin with one-abreast seating for six and an aisle, with a port-side entry door immediately aft of the flight deck,” Gordon and Komissarov write. “The cabin could be converted for cargo carriage by removing the seats.”
The concept was the brainchild of some imaginative soul at the MiG design bureau. His bosses were interested, and the Soviet air force somewhat so. MiG conducted preliminary design work on the project from 1963 until 1965.
“However, the relatively short range, limited usage of the aircraft and the large amount of design work needed all consigned against the Mikoyan biz-jet and the project was abandoned,” according to Gordon and Yefimov, who believe that this might have been the world’s first supersonic business jet.
It was not to be—and that was probably fortuitous. The Concorde proved a commercial flop due to fuel costs, as well as concerns about its noise and environmental impact.
While the Soviets had plenty of oil and couldn’t have cared less about pollution, how economical would it have been to run commercial flights with a fighter jet on steroids? Supersonic transport across the vast Soviet empire would have been nice, but a 2,000-mile range would have been somewhat limited.
The MiG-25 needed lots of maintenance, especially of its engines. Most likely a business jet would have ferried only senior officials, who would have appreciated the convenience and ignored the cost. No doubt it would also have been popular with its flight and ground crews. The Foxbat was dubbed “Flying Restaurant” by Soviet personnel who enjoyed partaking of the 132 gallons of pure alcohol needed for braking, cooling and de-icing.
Still, next time you find yourself sentenced to flying in coach, close your eyes and imagine whisking to your destination at three times the speed of sound in a converted fighter jet.
If only it could be so.