Digital Access

Digital Access
Access daily-chronicle.com and all Shaw Media Illinois content from all your digital devices and receive breaking news and updates from around the area.

Home Delivery

Home Delivery
Local news, prep sports, Chicago sports, local and regional entertainment, business, home and lifestyle, food, classified and more!

Text Alerts

Text Alerts
Choose your news! Select the text alerts you want to receive: breaking news, prep sports scores, school closings, weather, and more.

Email Newsletters

Email Newsletters
We'll deliver news & updates to your inbox. Sign up for free e-newsletters today.
News

Red Bird

Paul van den Heuvel always wanted to fly. Van den Heuvel grew up building model airplanes with his father and developed an affinity for the Royal Air Force Spitfire, a World War II-era British plane. Even after becoming a pilot for United Airlines, he continued to dream of owning his own plane. But rather than a WWII British fighter, the plane that finally fulfilled the fantasy was a Cold War-era craft built in the Soviet Union. Last January, van den Heuvel flew his 1973 MiG-21 into DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport, where it is now stored. Between 20 and 30 people gathered to see the landing of the two-seat supersonic jet, which once belonged to the Polish air force. A police officer scanning the landing with a traffic radar clocked it at 193 mph, van den Heuvel said. “That was with low fuel and full flaps,” he said. “It's so fast, it's scary.” For a history buff like van den Heuvel, the thrill of the jet lies in more than just its speed. He calls the plane a “flying museum,” preserving technological advances from decades ago, some of which were ahead of their time. “It's a piece of flying history,” van den Heuvel said. “In the 1970s, it was built with anti-lock brakes. If the engine dies mid-flight, you can pump oxygen into the igniter to start it back up.” The MiG-21 is capable of speeds up to Mach 2 - twice the speed of sound. The plane was not designed to overwhelm fighters one on one, especially since jets like the American-built F-4 Phantom had more sophisticated technology, van den Heuvel said. The purpose was to overwhelm a fighter crossing into MiG-dominated airspace with a lot of jets that could swiftly fly into missile range, attack and fly away, he said. The plane's wingspan is only 23 feet, short compared to most other aircraft. The short wings make maneuvering somewhat difficult, especially at high speeds, but after enough practice a pilot can learn the feel of it, van den Heuvel said. “Riding in a fast car, you get that sunken-in feeling in the chair,” van den Heuvel said. “Imagine that feeling never stops throughout the ride. It's fun to fly this plane.” In 1998, another airline pilot told van den Heuvel a man in Reno, Nev., was looking to sell his MiG. Van den Heuvel bought the jet that November, but he still had to learn to fly it. He met a famous Russian test pilot by chance the following summer at the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture plane show in Oshkosh, Wis. “A man saw me wearing a MiG T-shirt and asked if I flew the plane,” van den Heuvel said. “He had an unmistakable Russian accent. I said, ‘Not yet, but I couldn't help but notice your accent. Do you?' He said his name was Yuri, and he used to be an instructor pilot for the Russian air force.” Yuri Prikhodko was a decorated member of the air force and was once in line to be a cosmonaut. Over the next three years, each time van den Heuvel's work took him near Prikhodko's home in San Diego, he learned more about how to fly his jet. The MiG had to pass numerous flight tests to comply with Federal Aviation Administration guidelines. After time and effort by mechanics in Reno and Prikhodko in San Diego, van den Heuvel began flying the jet on his own. He has flown the jet in air shows and practice runs with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps. “The (other pilots) get to the end of the chase and they say, ‘Holy cow, it's a MiG,'” van den Heuvel said. “It's such a thrill. Any pilot at some point really wants to be a fighter pilot.” Van den Heuvel has spent far more time maintaining the jet than flying it, but he still enjoys the historical aspects of the plane and the rare opportunities to take it up in the air, he said. “It takes about a second for the burner to light, and when it does, it's just bang,” van den Heuvel said about taking off in the MiG. “By the time you make sure the nozzle is open, the burner's lit, the temperature and pressure are all good, you're already going about 100 knots. You set the nose on the horizon, the tail wiggles a little and it starts to levitate. All of that happens in about 30 to 40 seconds.”

On the Net For information on the performance specifications and history of Paul van den Heuvel's MiG-21, visit http://www.mach 2mig.com.

Loading more