The Soviet-built MiG-105, or to give it its full name, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-105, was a manned prototype aircraft developed to explore the low-speed handling and landing characteristics of possible future orbital spaceplanes. The aircraft got its Russian nickname “Lapot” because it looked a bit like a flying shoe. Lapot is Russian slang for shoe.
Design work began on the MiG-105 in 1965, primarily as a response to the lifting body experimental aircraft being tested at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California. The MiG-105 project was also sometimes referred to as EPOS (Experimental Passenger Orbital Aircraft) and was part of the Soviet Union’s Spiral aerospace progam.
The MiG-105 project got off to a fairly rocky start. Work on the design began two years after NASA had canceled their similar aircraft (the Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar), and the Soviets shut down the MiG-105 program themselves in 1969. Strangely though they brought the aircraft back into service five years later in 1974 in response to the United States’ Space Shuttle.
The aircraft featured a number of unusual solutions to the problems associated with developing a reusable spaceplane. Firstly the MiG-105 was designed for mid-air launch, once separated from the mothership the MiG-105 pilot would light the liquid fuel booster stage and head on up into space. Secondly, the MiG-105 had a variable-geometry wing. During launch and reentry these folded up against the side of the aircraft at an angle of 60 degrees. At lower speeds the wings would be brought down into a more horizontal angle to provide more lift and better maneuverability. Thirdly, the aircraft was fitted with a turbojet engine meaning that unlike almost all other proposed spaceplanes, the MiG-105 didn’t just have to glide back to earth, if needed the pilot could fly the aircraft to alternative landing sites. And finally, the the unusual landing gear of the MiG-105 was designed to deploy from a set of doors on the sides of the fuselage just above and ahead of the wings. This arrangement meant that integrity of the heatshield along the bottom of the aircraft was maintained.
The MiG-105’s first flight took place in 1976, over a decade after the first designs were drawn up. It was piloted by A.G. Festovets, and took off from an airstrip near Moscow and flew 19 miles to the Zhukovskii flight test center – now Ramenskoye Airport. Eight further flights were made during the next two years. One of the pilots was Gherman Titov, the second man to orbit the earth.
The program came to an abrupt halt in 1978, when Soviet leaders opted to proceed with the larger and far more sophisticated Buran project. The design of the MiG-105 did however contribute to the BOR series of unmanned spaceplanes.
Amazingly the MiG-105 still survives to this day. It sits on display at the Monino Air Force Museum near Moscow.
Artist’s impression of the MiG-105 in flight.
Image credits: Richard Seaman, Bernhard Grohl