Balalaika / MiG-21

Asif Farooq has been obsessively making paper airplanes since he was five years old. Top Gun, G.I. Joe, and Hulk Hogan are the pop-culture icons that formed the worldview of his youth. Even at a young age the underlying tension of Cold War politics embedded in these icons did not go unnoticed. Since this time he developed a fascination with the American nationalist concept of “good” (U.S.A.) versus “evil” (U.S.S.R.) and the airframes that defined them. In his view the American F-14 Tomcat and the Soviet MiG-21 Balalaika represented the achievements and conflicts between the two superpowers. In Soviet service the MiG-21 got its nickname from a Slavic lute-like instrument, the balalaika, which has a similar appearance.

Farooq’s Balalaika project is a full-scale paper replica MiG-21. From an aesthetic perspective, the MiG-21 has always interested him over its American counterpart. Even though his American education taught him that the MiG-21 was inferior, he could not resist the gravitation towards the formal beauty of this fighter jet over the F-14. A correlation exists between his preference towards the Soviet aircraft and his experience growing up in an immigrant family. Locating a sense of self and cultural identity within a climate of nationalism has always required tremendous investment in himself. He relates this frame of exotic otherness to the way Soviet aviation has historically been represented in American media.

Balalaika is built to a scale of 1.0588 times it’s official size. Farooq would have been too large overall to have been allowed to fly the MiG-21 in real life so the scale was chosen to accommodate his actual height. Over the span of 5 years Farooq has hand built every internal component down to the smallest flush rivet (numbering tens of thousands), functional landing gear and control surfaces. The control surfaces (ailerons, rudder, stabilators) are all functional and actuated from manufactured paper linkages and paper rope. All of the functions of the jet are accessible through mechanisms within the cockpit. The engineering for the plane, although not a duplicate of the Mikoyan OKB original, is still analogous in almost every respect. 


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