Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15

North Korean MiG-15 at the Chinese Aviation Museum
Role Fighter
Manufacturer Mikoyan-Gurevich
First flight 30 December 1947
Introduction 1949
Status Trainers in service
Primary users Soviet Air Force
PLA Air Force
Korean People's Air Force
41 others
Number built ~12,000 + ~6,000 under licence
Developed into Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 (Russian: Микоян и Гуревич МиГ-15; NATO reporting name: "Fagot") was a jet fighter aircraft developed by Mikoyan-Gurevich OKB for the Soviet Union. The MiG-15 was one of the first successful jet fighters to incorporate swept wings to achieve high transonic speeds. In combat over Korea, it outclassed straight-winged jet day fighters which were largely relegated to ground attack roles, and was quickly countered by the similar American swept-wing North American F-86 Sabre. The MiG-15 is often mentioned, along with the F-86 Sabre, as the best fighter aircraft of the Korean War.[1]

When refined into the more advanced MiG-17, the basic design would again surprise the West when it proved effective against supersonic fighters such as the F-105 Thunderchief and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II in the Vietnam War of the 1960s.

The MiG-15 is believed to have been one of the most widely produced jet aircraft ever made; in excess of 12,000 were manufactured. Licensed foreign production may have raised the production total to over 18,000.[2] The MiG-15 remains in service with the North Korean Air Force as an advanced trainer.

Design and development

Front view of a MiG-15
MiG-15 UTI Trainer version, Chino Planes of Fame Air Museum

The first turbojet fighter developed by Mikoyan-Gurevich OKB was the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-9, which appeared in the years immediately after World War II. It used a pair of reverse-engineered German BMW 003 engines.[3] The MiG-9 was a troublesome design which suffered from weak, unreliable engines and control problems. Categorized as a first-generation jet fighter, it was designed with the straight-style wings common to piston-engined fighters.

The Germans had been unable to develop turbojets with thrust over 1,130 kiloponds (11,100 N; 2,500 lbf) running at the time of the capitulation in May 1945 which limited the performance of immediate Soviet postwar jet aircraft designs. They did inherit the technology of the advanced axial compressor Junkers 012 and BMW 018 Jets, in the class of the later Rolls-Royce Avon, that were some years ahead of the currently available British Rolls-Royce Nene engine. The Soviet aviation minister Mikhail Khrunichev and aircraft designer A. S. Yakovlev suggested to Premier Joseph Stalin that the USSR buy the conservative but fully developed Nene engines from Rolls-Royce for the purpose of copying them in a minimum of time. Stalin is said to have replied, "What fool will sell us his secrets?"[4]

However, he gave his consent to the proposal and Mikoyan, engine designer Vladimir Klimov, and others travelled to the United Kingdom to request the engines. To Stalin's amazement, the British Labour government and its Minister of Trade, Sir Stafford Cripps, were perfectly willing to provide technical information and a license to manufacture the Rolls-Royce Nene. Sample engines were purchased and delivered with blueprints. Following evaluation and adaptation to Russian conditions, the windfall technology was tooled for mass-production as the Klimov RD-45 to be incorporated into the MiG-15.[4]

MiG-15bis at Monino Aircraft Museum

To take advantage of the new engine, the Council of Ministers ordered the Mikoyan-Gurevich OKB to build two prototypes for an advanced high-altitude daytime interceptor to defend against bombers. It was to have a top speed of 1,000 kilometres per hour (620 mph) and a range of 1,200 kilometres (750 mi).[5]

Designers at MiG's OKB-155 started with the earlier MiG-9 jet fighter. The new fighter used Klimov's British-derived engines, swept wings, and a tailpipe going all the way back to a swept tail. The German Me 262 was the first fighter fitted with an 18.5° wing sweep, but it was introduced merely to adjust the center of gravity of its heavy Junkers Jumo 004 pioneering axial-compressor turbojet engines. Further experience and research during World War II later established that swept wings would give better performance at transonic speeds. At the end of World War II, the Soviets seized many of the assets of Germany's aircraft industry. The MiG team studied these plans, prototypes and documents, particularly swept-wing research and designs, even going so far as to produce a flying testbed in 1945 to check out swept-wing design concepts as the piston-engined "pusher"-layout, MiG-8 Utka (Russian for "duck", from its tail-first canard design. The swept wing later proved to have a decisive performance advantage over straight-winged jet fighters when it was introduced into combat over Korea.

The design that emerged had a mid-mounted 35-degree swept wing with a slight anhedral and a tailplane mounted up on the swept tail. Western analysts noted that it strongly resembled Kurt Tank's Focke-Wulf Ta 183, a later design than the Me 262 that never progressed beyond the design stage. While the majority of Focke-Wulf engineers (in particular, Hans Multhopp, who led the Ta-183 development team) were captured by Western armies, the Soviets did capture plans and wind-tunnel models for the Ta-183.[6] The MiG-15 bore a much stronger likeness than the American F-86 Sabre which also incorporated German research. The MiG-15 does bear a resemblance in layout, sharing the high tailplane and nose mounted intake, although the aircraft are different in structure, details, and proportions. The MiG-15's design understandably shared features, and some appearance commonalities with the MiG design bureau's own 1945-46 attempt at a Soviet-built version of the Messerschmitt Me 263 rocket fighter in the appearance of its fuselage. The new MiG retained the previous straight-winged MiG-9's wing and tailplane placement while the F-86 employed a more conventional low-winged design. To prevent confusion during the height of combat the US painted their planes with bright stripes to distinguish them.[7]

The resulting prototypes were designated I-310.[8] The I-310 was a swept-wing fighter with 35-degree sweep in wings and tail, with two wing fences fitted to each wing to improve airflow over the wing. The design used a single Rolls-Royce Nene fed by a split-forward air intake. A duct carried intake air around the cockpit area and back together ahead of the engine.[8][9] Its first flight was 30 December 1947,[10] some two months after the American F-86 Sabre had first flown. It demonstrated exceptional performance, reaching 1,042 kilometres per hour (647 mph) at 3,000 metres (9,800 ft).[11]

The Soviet Union's first swept-wing jet fighter had been the underpowered Lavochkin La-160 which was otherwise more similar to the MiG-9. The Lavochkin La-168, which reached production as the Lavochkin La-15, used the same engine as the MiG but used a shoulder mounted wing and t-tail; it was the main competitive design. Eventually, the MiG design was favoured for mass production. Designated MiG-15, the first production example flew on 31 December 1948. It entered Soviet Air Force service in 1949, and subsequently received the NATO reporting name "Fagot". Early production examples had a tendency to roll to the left or to the right due to manufacturing variances, so aerodynamic trimmers called "nozhi" (knives) were fitted to correct the problem, the knives being adjusted by ground crews until the aircraft flew correctly.[4]

An improved variant, the MiG-15bis ("second"), entered service in early 1950 with a Klimov VK-1 engine, an improved version of the RD-45/Nene, plus minor improvements and upgrades.[4] Visible differences were a headlight in the air intake separator and horizontal upper edge airbrakes. The 23 mm cannon were placed more closely together in their undercarriage. Some "bis" aircraft also adopted under-wing hardpoints for unguided rocket launchers or 50–250 kg (110–550 lb) bombs. Fighter-bomber modifications were dubbed "IB", "SD-21", and "SD-5". About 150 aircraft were upgraded to SD-21 specification during 1953–1954.

The MiG-15 arguably had sufficient power to dive at supersonic speeds, but the lack of an "all-flying" tail greatly diminished the pilot's ability to control the aircraft as it approached Mach 1. As a result, pilots understood they must not exceed Mach 0.92, where the flight surfaces became ineffective. Additionally, the MiG-15 tended to spin after it stalled, and often the pilot could not recover.[12] Later MiGs incorporated all-flying tails.

The MiG-15 was originally intended to intercept American bombers like the B-29. It was even evaluated in mock air-to-air combat trials with a captured U.S. B-29, as well as the later Soviet B-29 copy, the Tupolev Tu-4. To ensure the destruction of such large bombers, the MiG-15 carried cannons: two 23 mm with 80 rounds per gun and a single 37 mm with 40 rounds. These weapons provided tremendous punch in the interceptor role, but their limited rate of fire and relatively low velocity made it more difficult to score hits against small and maneuverable enemy jet fighters in air-to-air combat. The 23 mm and 37 mm also had radically different ballistics, and some United Nations pilots in Korea had the unnerving experience of 23 mm shells passing over them while the 37 mm shells flew under. The cannon were fitted into a simple pack that could be winched out of the bottom of the nose for servicing and reloading, allowing pre-prepared packs to be rapidly swapped out. (Some sources mistakenly claim the pack was added in later models.)[4]

Operational history

The MiG-15 was widely exported, with the People's Republic of China receiving MiG-15bis models in 1950. Its baptism of fire occurred during the last phases (1946–49) of the Chinese Civil War. During the first months of 1950, the aviation of Nationalist China attacked from Taiwan the communist position in continental China, especially Shanghai. Mao Zedong requested the military assistance of the USSR, and the 50th IAD (Истребительная Авиадивизия, ИАД; Istrebitelnaya Aviadiviziya; Fighter Aviation Division) equipped with the MiG-15bis was deployed in the southern part of the People's Republic of China. On 28 April 1950, Captain Kalinikov shot down a P-38 of the Kuomintang, scoring the first aerial victory of the MiG-15. Another followed on 11 May, when Captain Ilya Ivanovich Schinkarenko downed the B-24 Liberator of Li Chao Hua, commander of the 8th Air Group of the nationalist Air Force.

Chinese MiG-15s took part in the first jet-versus-jet dogfights during the Korean War. The swept-wing MiG-15 quickly proved superior to the first-generation, straight-wing jets of western air forces such as the F-80 and British Gloster Meteor, as well as piston-engined P-51 Mustangs and Vought F4U Corsairs with the MiG-15 of First Lieutenant Semyon Fyodorovich Khominich scoring the first jet-vs-jet victory in history when he bagged the F-80C of Frank Van Sickle, who died in the encounter (the USAF credits the loss to North Korean flak).[13] Only the F-86 Sabre was a match for the MiG.

The Korean War (1950–1953)

See also: MiG Alley
No's MiG-15 on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

When the Korean War broke out on 25 June 1950, the Korean People's Air Force (KPAF) was equipped with World War II-vintage Soviet prop-driven fighters, including 93 Il-10s and 79 Yak-9Ps,[14] and 40–50 assorted transport/liaison/trainer aircraft".[15] The vast numerical and technical superiority of the United States Air Force (USAF), led by advanced jets such as Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star and Republic F-84 Thunderjet fighters, quickly achieved air superiority, thus laying North Korea's cities bare to the destructive power of USAF B-29 bombers which, together with Navy and Marine aircraft, roamed the skies largely unopposed for a time.

In February 1950, the 50th IAD had already been moved to China to support the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) defending Shanghai and begin training Chinese pilots in the MiG-15. The Soviet pilots and technicians who were already in China relocated from Shanghai to northeast China at the end of 1950. In the Soviet Union, more MiG-15 pilots were recruited; the volunteers had to be younger than 27 years and priority was given to World War II veterans. They formed the 29th GvIAP, which formed the core of the Soviet unit, the 64th Fighter Aviation Corps (64th IAK).

The MiG-15's performance amazed its Western opponents. The British Chief of the Air Staff said "Not only is it faster than anything we are building today, but it is already being produced in very large numbers . . . The Russians, therefore, have achieved a four year lead over British development in respect of the vitally important interceptor fighter".[16] The MiG-15 proved very effective in its designed role against formations of B-29 heavy bombers, shooting down numerous bombers. In a match-up with the F-86, the results were not as clear-cut, though Americans claimed that the F-86 had the advantage in combat kills. The Soviet 64th IAK (Fighter Aviation Corps) claimed 1,106 UN aircraft destroyed in the Korean War, compared to Allied records that 142 Allied aircraft were downed by Soviet MiG-15 pilots. Western experts do acknowledge many Soviet pilots earned bigger individual scores than their American counterparts due to a number of factors, though overall figures of NATO were probably overstated.[17]

For many years, the participation of Soviet aircrews in the Korean War was widely suspected by the United Nations forces, but consistently denied by the Soviet Union. With the end of the Cold War, however, Soviet pilots who participated in the conflict have begun to reveal their role.[18] Soviet aircraft were adorned with North Korean or Chinese markings and pilots wore either North Korean uniforms or civilian clothes to disguise their origins. For radio communication, they were given cards with common Korean words for various flying terms spelled out phonetically in Cyrillic characters.[18] These subterfuges did not long survive the stresses of air-to-air combat, however, as pilots routinely communicated (cursed) in Russian. Soviet pilots were prevented from flying over areas in which they might be captured, which would indicate that the Soviet Union was officially a combatant in the war.

The USSR never acknowledged that its pilots ever flew over Korea during the Cold War. Americans who intercepted radio traffic during combat confirmed hearing Russian-speaking voices, but only the Communist Chinese and North Korean combatants took responsibility for the flying. Until the publishing of recent books by Chinese, Russian and ex-Soviet authors, such as Zhang Xiaoming, Leonid Krylov, Yuriy Tepsurkaev and Igor Seydov, little was known of the actual pilots. The Americans recognized the techniques of their opponents whom they called "honchos",[17] and dubbed "MiG Alley" the site of numerous dogfights in the northwestern portion of North Korea where the Yalu River empties into the Yellow Sea.

The Soviet fighters operated close to their bases, limited by the range of their aircraft, and were guided to the air battlefield by good ground control, which directed them to the most advantageous positions. They were not allowed to cross an imaginary line drawn from Wosan to Pyongyang, and never to fly over sea. The MiG-15s always operated in pairs, with an attacking leader covered by a wingman. Most of the first regimental, squadron commanders and pilots in 1951 were World War II combat veterans, and were well prepared and trained. But from February 1952, when the crack pilots of the 303rd and 324th IAD were largely replaced by rookies, inexperienced and ill prepared, F-86 Sabres and their well-trained US pilots would keep the edge until the end of the war. The only other advantage the Sabre pilots had was Chodo Island radar station, which provided radar coverage of MiG Alley.

Large formations of MiGs would lie in wait on the Chinese side of the border. When UN aircraft entered MiG Alley, these MiGs would swoop down from high altitude to attack. If the MiGs ran into trouble, they would try to escape back over the border into China. Soviet MiG-15 squadrons operated in big groups, but the basic formation was a six-plane group, divided into three pairs, each composed of a leader and a wingman:

Gun camera photo taken by a U.S. Navy F9F Panther from the aircraft carrier USS Leyte (CV-32) as its pilot shoots down a Chinese MiG-15 over North Korea near the Yalu River.
Map showing the general location of "MiG Alley."

Mig-15 entry in Far East Asia

In April 1950, Soviet MiG-15 flown by Soviet pilots first appeared over Shanghai, thwarting a Nationalist Chinese bombing campaign. The Soviets had secretly deployed MiG-15s to Antung next to the border with North Korea in August 1950 and were training Chinese MiG-15 pilots when China entered the war in support of North Korea. By October, the Soviet Union had agreed to provide air regiments of state-of-the-art Soviet-designed and -built MiG-15 fighters, along with the trained crews to fly them. Simultaneously, the Kremlin agreed to supply the Chinese and North Koreans with their own MiG-15s, as well as train their pilots. In November, the 50th IAD was ordered to join the fight with its MiG-15s, with their noses painted red and in North Korean markings, and more MiG-15 units were moved to the Far East. On 1 November 1950, eight MiG-15s intercepted about 15 F-51D Mustangs of the United States Air Force (USAF), and First Lieutenant Fyodor V. Chizh shot down Aaron Abercombrie, killing the American pilot. Three MiG-15s of the same unit intercepted 10 F-80 Shooting Stars, and First Lieutenant Semyon Fyodorovich Khominich scored the first jet-vs-jet victory in history when he downed the F-80C of Frank Van Sickle, who also perished (USAF credits both losses to the action of the North Korean flak).[13] However, on 9 November, the Soviet MiG-15 pilots suffered their first loss when Lieutenant Commander William T. Amen off the aircraft carrier USS Philippine Sea shot down and killed Captain Mikhail F. Grachev while flying a Grumman F9F Panther.[19]

To counter this unexpected development, three squadrons of the F-86 Sabre, America's only operational jet with swept wings, were quickly rushed to the Far East in December.[20] On 17 December 1950, Lieutenant Colonel Bruce H. Hinton forced Major Yakov Nikanorovich Yefromeyenko to eject from his burning MiG.[13] In the following days, both sides traded punches, with Captain Nikolay Yefremovich Vorobyov[21] shooting down the F-86A of Captain Lawrence V. Bach in his MiG-15bis on 22 December 1950.[13] Both sides exaggerated their claims of aerial victories that month. Sabre fliers claimed eight MiGs, and the Soviets 12 F-86s; the actual losses were three MiGs and at least four Sabres.

In October 1950, Stalin had promised to send ground weaponry to China and to transfer 16 aviation regiments to the northeastern area to protect Chinese territory. The MiG-15 squadrons earmarked for Korea were drawn from elite units, as opposed to the inexperienced MiG-15 pilots the US had fought in the winter of 1950. The first large Soviet aviation unit sent to Korea, the 324th IAD, was an air defense interceptor division commanded by Colonel Ivan Kozhedub, who, with 62 victories, was the top Allied (and Soviet) ace of World War II. In November 1950, the 151st and 28th IADs plus the veteran 50th IAD were reorganized into the 64th IAK (Air Fighter Corps).

At the end of 1950, the Soviet Union assigned a new unit to support China, the 324th IAD (made up of two regiments: 176th GIAP and 196th IAP). At that time, a MiG-15 interceptor regiment numbered 35 to 40 aircraft, and a division usually included three regiments. When the new unit arrived to air bases along the Yalu River in March 1951, it had undergone preliminary training at Soviet bases in the neighboring Maritime Military Districts and started an intense period of air-to-air training in the MiG-15. The Soviets trained alongside Chinese and Korean pilots. Both regiments of the 324th IAD redeployed to the forward airbase in Antung, and entered into battle in early April 1951. The 303rd IAD of General Georgiy A. Lobov arrived in Korea in June of that same year and commenced combat operations in August.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighters curving in to attack U.S. Air Force Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers over Korea, c.1951
A photo-reconnaissance B-29 that crash-landed at Iruma Air Base, Japan after being severely damaged by MiG-15 fighters over the Yalu River; the B-29's tail gunner shot down one of the attackers (9 November 1950)[22]

MiG pilots were instructed to jump the American formations in coordinated attacks from different directions, using both height and high speed in their favor. These tactics were tested on 12 April 1951 when 44 MiG-15s faced an American formation of 48 B-29 Superfortresses escorted by 96 jet fighters. The Soviet air units claimed to have shot down 29 American aircraft through the rest of the month: 11 F-80s, seven B-29s and nine F-51s.[13] 23 out of these 29 claims match acknowledged losses, but US sources assert that most of them were either operational or due to AAA, admitting only four B-29s (a downed B-29, plus two B-29s and a RB-29 which crash-landed or were damaged beyond repair). US historians agree that the MiG-15 gained aerial superiority over northwestern Korea.[13]

Those first encounters established the main features of the aerial battles of the next two and a half years. The MiG-15 and MiG-15bis had a higher ceiling than all versions of the Sabre – 15,500 m (50,900 ft) versus 14,936 m (49,003 ft) of the F-86F – and accelerated faster than F-86A/E/Fs due to their better thrust-to-weight ratio – 1,005 km/h (624 mph) versus 972 km/h (604 mph) of the F-86F. The MiG-15's 2,800 m (9,200 ft) per minute climbing rate was also greater than the 2,200 m (7,200 ft) per minute of the F-86A and -E (the F-86F matched the MiG-15). A better turn radius above 10,000 m (33,000 ft) further distinguished the MiG-15, as did more powerful weaponry – one 37 mm N-37 cannon and two 23 mm NR-23 cannon, versus the inferior hitting power of the six 12.7 mm (.50 in) machine guns of the Sabre. But the MiG was slower at low altitude – 935 km/h (581 mph) in the MiG-15bis configuration as opposed to the 1,107 km/h (688 mph) of the F-86F. The Soviet World War II-era ASP-1N gyroscopic gunsight was less sophisticated than the accurate A-1CM and A4 radar ranging sights of the F-86E and -F. All Sabres could turn tighter below 8,000 m (26,000 ft).[23]

Thus, if the MiG-15 forced the Sabre to fight in the vertical plane or in the horizontal one above 10,000 m (33,000 ft), it gained a significant advantage. Furthermore, a MiG-15 could easily escape from a Sabre by climbing to its ceiling, knowing that the F-86 could not follow. Below 8,000 m (26,247 ft), however, the Sabre had a slight advantage over the MiG in most aspects excluding climb rate, especially if the Soviet pilot made the mistake of fighting in the horizontal plane.

The main mission of the MiG-15 was not to dogfight the F-86, but to counter the USAF Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers. This mission was assigned to the elite of the Soviet Air Force (VVS), in April 1951 to the 324th IAD of Colonel Ivan Kozhedub, the World War II Allied "Ace of Aces", and later to the 303rd IAD of General Georgiy A. Lobov, who arrived to Korea in June of the same year.[13]

A total of 44 MiG-15s achieved victories in that mission on 12 April 1951 when they intercepted a large formation of 48 B-29 Superfortresses, 18 F-86 Sabres, 54 F-84 Thunderjets and 24 F-80 Shooting Stars heading towards the bridge linking North Korea and Red China over the Yalu river in Uiju. When the ensuing battle was finished, the experienced Soviet fliers had shot down or damaged beyond repair 10 B-29As, one F-86A and three F-80Cs for the loss of only one MiG.[13]

U.S. strategic bombers returned the week of 22–27 October to neutralize the North Korean aerodromes of Namsi, Taechon and Saamchan, taking further losses to the MiG-15. On 23 October 1951, 56 MiG-15bis intercepted nine Superfortresses escorted by 34 F-86s and 55 F-84Es. In spite of their numerical inferiority, the Soviet airmen shot down or damaged beyond repair eight B-29As and two F-84Es, losing only one MiG in return and leading Americans to call that day "Black Tuesday".[24] The most successful Soviet pilots that day were Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr P. Smorchkov and 1st Lieutenant Dmitriy A. Samoylov. The former shot down a Superfortress on each of 22, 23 and 24 October.[13] Samoylov added two F-86As to his tally on 24 October 1951,[25][26] and on 27 October shot down two more aircraft: a B-29A and an F-84E.[25][27] These losses among the heavy bombers forced the Far East Air Force's High Command to cancel the precision daylight attacks of the B-29s and only undertake radar-directed night raids.[28]

From November 1951 to January 1952, both sides tried to achieve air superiority over the Yalu, or at least tried to deny it to the enemy, and in consequence, the intensity of the aerial combat reached peaks not seen before between MiG-15 and F-86 pilots. During the period from November 1950 to January 1952, no less than 40 Soviet MiG-15 pilots were credited as aces, with five or more victories. Soviet combat records show that the first pilot to claim his fifth aerial victory was Captain Stepan Ivanovich Naumenko on 24 December 1950.[19][29] The honor falls to Captain Sergei Kramarenko, when on 29 July 1951, he scored his actual fifth victory.[30] Approximately 16 out of those 40 pilots actually became aces, the most successful being Major Nikolay Sutyagin, credited with 22 victories, 13 of which were confirmed by the US; Colonel Yevgeny Pepelyaev with 19 claims, 15 confirmed; and Major Lev Shchukin with 17 credited, 11 verified.[31]

The MiG leaders, enjoying the advantage from the ground and the tactical advantage of an aircraft with superior altitude performance were able to dictate the tactical situation at least until the battle was started. They could decide to fight or stay out as they wished. The advantage of radar control from the ground also allowed the MiGs, if desired, to pass through the gaps in the F-86 patrol pattern.

First rotation: January 1952 to July 1952

At the end of January 1952, the 303rd IAD was replaced by the 97th (16th and 148th IAP) and in February the 324th IAD was replaced by the 190th IAD (256th, 494th and 821st IAP). These new units were poorly trained, the bulk of the pilots having only 50–60 hours flying the MiG. Consequently, those units suffered great losses by the now better prepared American Sabre pilots. At least two Soviet fliers became aces during that period: Majors Arkadiy S. Boytsov and Vladimir N. Zabelin, with six and nine victories respectively.[32]

During the six months of February to July 1952, they lost 81 MiGs, and 34 pilots were killed by F-86s, and in return they only shot down 68 UN aircraft (including 36 F-86s). The greatest losses came on 4 July 1952, when 11 MiGs were downed by Sabres, with one pilot killed in action. Contributing to all this was the secret "Maple Special" Operation, a plan by Colonel Francis Gabreski to cross the Yalu river into Manchuria (something officially forbidden) and catch the MiGs unaware during their takeoffs or landings, when they were at disadvantage: flying slow, at a low level, and sometimes short of ammunition and fuel.

Even under these circumstances, MiG-15 pilots would score at least two important victories against American aces:

Third rotation: July 1952 – July 1953

In May 1952, new and better trained PVO divisions, the 133rd and 216th IADs, arrived to Korea. They would replace the 97th and 190th by July 1952, and if they could not take aerial superiority away from the now well prepared Americans, then they certainly neutralized it between September 1952 and July 1953. In September 1952, the 32nd IAD also started combat operations. Again, the figures of victories and losses in the air are still debated by historians of the USA and the former Soviet Union, but on at least three occasions, Soviet MiG-15 aces gained the upper hand against Sabre aces:

MiG-15 from the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in North Korea.

The MiG-15 threat forced the Far East Air Forces to cancel B-29 daylight raids in favor of night radar-guided missions from November 1951 onward. Initially, this presented a threat to Communist defenses, as their only specialized night-fighting unit was equipped with the prop-driven Lavochkin La-11, inadequate for the task of intercepting the B-29. Part of the regiment was re-equipped with the MiG-15bis, and another night-fighting unit joined the fray, causing American heavy bombers to suffer losses again. Between 21:50 and 22:30 on 10 June 1952, four MiG-15bis attacked B-29s over Sonchon and Kwaksan. Lieutenant Colonel Mikhail Ivanovich Studilin damaged a B-29A beyond repair, forcing it to make an emergency landing at Kimpo Air Base.[41] A few minutes later, Major Anatoly Karelin added two more Superfortresses to his tally.[13] Studilin and Karelin's wingmen, Major L. A. Boykovets and 1st Lieutenant Zhahmany Ihsangalyev, also damaged one B-29 each. Anatoly Karelin eventually became an ace with six kills (all B-29s at night).[42] In the aftermath of these battles, B-29 night sorties were cancelled for two months. Originally conceived to shoot down rather than escort bombers, both of America's state-of-art jet night fighters – the F-94 Starfire and the F3D Skyknight – were committed to protect the Superfortresses against MiGs.

The MiG-15 was less effective in getting past the Marine Corps ground-based two-seat Douglas F3D Skyknight night fighters assigned to escort B-29s after the F-94 Starfires proved ineffective. What the squat planes lacked in sheer performance, they made up with the advantage of a search radar which enabled the Skyknight to see its targets clearly, while the MiG-15's directions to find bomber formations were of little use in seeing escorting fighters. On the night of 2–3 November 1952, a Skyknight with pilot Major William Stratton and radar operator Hans Hoagland damaged the MiG-15 of Captain V. D. Vishnyak. Five days later, Oliver R. Davis and radar operator D.F. "Ding" Fessler downed a MiG-15bis; the pilot, Lieutenant Ivan P. Kovalyov, ejected safely. Skyknights claimed five MiG kills for no losses of their own,[43] and no B-29s escorted by them were lost to enemy fighters.[44] However, the duel was not one-sided: on the night of 16 January 1953, an F3D almost did fall to a MiG, when the Skyknight of Captain George Cross and Master Sergeant J. A. Piekutowski suffered serious damage in an attack by a Soviet MiG-15bis; with difficulty, the Skyknight returned to Kunsan Air Base.[45] Three and a half months later, on the night of 29 May 1953, Chinese MiG-15 pilot Hou Shujun of the PLAAF shot down a F3D-2 over Anju; Capt. James B. Brown and Sgt. James V. Harrell still remain missing in action.[27][46]

In a Royal Navy Sea Fury flying from a light fleet carrier [47] FAA pilot Lieutenant Peter "Hoagy" Carmichael downed a MiG-15 on 8 August 1952, in air-to-air combat. The Sea Fury would be one of the few piston-engined fighter aircraft following World War II's end, to shoot down a jet fighter. On 10 September 1952, Captain Jesse G. Folmar shot down a MiG-15 with an F4U Corsair, but was himself downed by another MiG.[48]

The figures given by the Soviet sources indicate that the MiG-15s of the 64th IAK (the fighter corps which included all the divisions that rotated through the conflict) made 60,450 daylight combat sorties and 2,779 night ones and engaged the enemy in 1,683 daylight aerial battles and 107 at night, claiming to have shot down 1,097 UN aircraft over Korea, including 647 F-86s, 185 F-84s, 118 F-80s, 28 F-51s, 11 F-94s, 65 B-29s, 26 Gloster Meteors and 17 aircraft of different types.[38]

Chinese and Korean MiGs

The Soviet VVS and PVO were the primary users of the MiG-15 during the war, but not the only ones; it was also used by the People's Air Forces of China and North Korea (known as the United Air Army). Despite bitter complaints from the Soviet Union, which repeatedly requested the Chinese to accelerate the introduction of MiG-15 new units, the Chinese were relatively slow in this process at the time, and by 1951 there were only two regiments flying MiG-15bis as night fighters. Being not completely trained and equipped, both units were used only for the defence of China, but they became involved in interception of USAF reconnaissance aircraft, some of which went very deep over China.

By September 1951, with enough MiG-15s in the Yalu area, Soviet and Chinese leaders were confident enough to begin planning the deployment of Chinese and new North Korean MiG-15 regiments outside Chinese sanctuaries. Excluding a brief episode in January 1951, the Chinese Air Force did not see action until 25 September 1951, when 16 MiG-15s engaged Sabres, with pilot Li Yongtai claiming a victory, but losing a MiG and its pilot.[49] The North Korean unit equipped with the MiG-15 got into action a year later, in September 1952. From then until the end of the war, the United Air Army claimed to have shot down 211 F-86s, 72 F-84s and F-80s, and 47 other aircraft of various types, losing 116 Chinese airmen and 231 aircraft: 224 MiG-15s, three La-11s and four Tupolev Tu-2s.[50] Several pilots were credited with five or more enemy aircraft, such as Zhao Baotong with seven victories, Wang Hai with nine kills, and both Kan Yon Duk and Kim Di San with five.

Based on Soviet archival data, 335 Soviet MiG-15s are known to have been admitted as lost by the Soviets over Korea.[51] Chinese claims of their losses amount to 224 MiG-15s over Korea.[52] North Korean losses are not known, but according to North Korean defectors their air force lost around 100 MiG-15s during the war.[53] Thus a total of 659 MiG-15s are admitted as being lost, all but a handful to F-86 Sabres, while USAF claims of their losses amount to 78 F-86 Sabres,[54] for a probable kill ratio of around 6:1 in favor of the F-86 Sabre. Overall UN losses to MiG-15s are credited as 78 F-86 Sabres and 75 aircraft of other types [54]

MiG-15 (left) and F-86 Sabre (right) on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum


MiG-15 delivered by the defecting North Korean pilot No Kum-Sok to the US Air Force
Photograph of a wrecked Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter that was analyzed by United Nations' forces in the Korean War.

In April 1951, a crashed MiG-15 was spotted near the Chongchon River. On 17 April 1951, a USAF Sikorsky H-19 staging through Baengnyeongdo carried a US/South Korean team to the crash site. They photographed the wreck and removed the turbine blades, combustion chamber, exhaust pipe and horizontal stabilizer. The overloaded helicopter then flew the team and samples back to Paengyong-do, where they were transferred to an SA-16 and flown south and then to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, for evaluation.[55]

In July 1951, the submerged remains of a MiG-15 were spotted by Royal Navy carrier aircraft from HMS Glory. The MiG-15 was broken up, a piece of the engine was visible aft of the center section, and the tail section was located some 350 meters away. The wreck was located in an area of mudbanks with treacherous tides and at the end of a narrow channel which was supposedly mined, ca. 160 km behind the front lines. The MiG-15 was retrieved, transported to Incheon and then to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Eager to obtain an intact MiG for combat testing in a controlled environment, the United States created Operation Moolah, which offered a reward of US$100,000 and political asylum to any pilot who would defect with his MiG-15.[56] Franciszek Jarecki, a Polish Air Force pilot, defected from Soviet-controlled Poland in a MiG-15 on the morning of 5 March 1953, allowing Western air experts to examine the aircraft for the first time.[57] Jarecki flew from Słupsk to the field airport at Rønne on the Danish island of Bornholm. The whole trip took him only a few minutes. There, specialists from the United States, called by Danish authorities, thoroughly checked the plane. According to international regulations, they returned it by ship to Poland a few weeks later. Jarecki also received a $50,000 reward for being the first to present a MiG-15 to the Americans and became a US citizen.[N 1]

An Operation Moolah propaganda leaflet promising a $100,000 reward to the first North Korean pilot to deliver a jet fighter to UN forces.

Others eventually followed these examples, such as the North Korean pilot Lieutenant No Kum-Sok, who claimed to be unaware of the $100,000 USD reward when he landed at Kimpo Air Base on 21 September 1953.[59] This MiG-15 was minutely inspected and was test flown by several test pilots, including Chuck Yeager.[60] Yeager reported in his autobiography the MiG-15 had dangerous handling faults and claimed that during a visit to the USSR, Soviet pilots were incredulous he had dived in it, this supposedly being very hazardous.[61] Lieutenant No's aircraft is now on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio.

The Cold War

During the 1950s, the MiG-15s of the USSR and their Warsaw Pact allies on many occasions, intercepted aircraft of the NATO air forces performing reconnaissance near or inside their territory; such incidents sometimes ended with aircraft of one side or the other being shot down. The known incidents where the MiG-15 was involved include:

Suez Canal Crisis (1956)

Egypt bought two squadrons of MiG-15bis and MiG-17 fighters in 1955 from Czechoslovakia with the sponsorship and support of the USSR, just in time to participate in the Suez Canal Crisis. By the outbreak of the Suez conflict in October 1956, four squadrons of the Egyptian Air Force were equipped with the type, although few pilots were trained to fly them effectively.

They first saw aerial action on the morning of October 30, intercepting four RAF Canberra bombers on a reconnaissance mission over the Canal Zone, damaging one. Later that day, MiG-15s attacked Israeli forces at Mitla and El Thamed in the Sinai, destroying half a dozen vehicles. As a result, the Israeli Air Force instituted a standing combat air patrol over the Canal, and the next attack resulted in two MiGs downed by Israeli Mysteres, although the Egyptian planes were able to successfully hit the Israeli troops.

The next day, the MiGs evened the score somewhat when they badly damaged two IAF Ouragan fighters, forcing one of them to crash-land in the desert. British and French warplanes then began a systematic bombing campaign of Egyptian air bases, destroying at least eight MiGs and dozens of other Egyptian aircraft on the ground and forcing the others to disperse. The remaining planes still managed to fly some attack missions, but the Egyptians had lost air superiority.

During air combat against the Israeli Air Force, Egyptian MiG-15bis managed to shoot down only three Israeli aircraft: a Piper Cub and a Meteor F.8 on 30 October 1956, and a Dassault Ouragan on 1 November, which performed a belly landing — this last victory was scored by the Egyptian pilot Faruq el-Gazzavi.[65]

Egyptian MiG-15bis, Lake Bardawil, 1956

An Egyptian MiG-15 was damaged, but the pilot managed to ditch in Lake Bardawil, and the plane was salvaged by Israeli forces.

Taiwan Straits crisis

After the Korean War ended, Communist China turned its attention back to Nationalist China on the island of Taiwan. Chinese MiG-15s were in action over the Taiwan Strait against the outnumbered Nationalist Air Force (CNAF), and helped make possible the Communist occupation of two strategic island groups. The US had been lending support to the Nationalists since 1951, and started delivery of F-86s in 1955. Sabres and MiGs clashed three years later in the Quemoy Crisis. Throughout the 1950s, MiG-15s of China's People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) frequently engaged Republic of China (ROC) and U.S. aircraft in combat; in 1958 a ROC F-86 fighter achieved the first air-to-air kill with an AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile against a PLAAF MiG-15.[66]


Vietnam operated a number of MiG-15s and MiG-15UTIs for training only. There is no mention of the MiG-15 being involved in any combat against American aircraft in the early stages of the Vietnam War.

Other events

The first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, was killed in a crash during a March 1968 training flight in a MiG-15UTI due to poor visibility and miscommunication with ground control.[67]


The more advanced MiG-17 Fresco was very similar in appearance, but addressed many of the limitations of the MiG-15. It introduced a new swept wing with a "compound sweep" configuration: a 45° angle near the fuselage, and a 42° angle for the outboard part of the wings. The first prototype was flown in 1953 before the end of the Korean war. Later versions introduced radar, afterburning engines and missiles. Although it was obsolete as a subsonic type by 1965, a small force of MiG-17PFs rose to challenge attackers at the Thanh Hoa Bridge, downing or damaging beyond repair Republic F-105 Thunderchief and Vought F-8 Crusader supersonic fighters. Although Vietnam later flew newer supersonic MiG-19s and MiG-21s, the MiG-17 remained effective, soldiering on until the end of the conflict. It was the MiG-15 derivative which first led to new dogfight tactics and training (including the use of the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk as a MiG-17 simulator) to regain the advantage American F-86s had enjoyed against MiG-15s over the skies of Korea. The twin-engined MiG-19 Farmer was a further development which initially was a MiG-17 fitted with an even sharper wing and tail sweepback, though the final product would bear little resemblance to the original MiG-15 beyond the nose and cockpit.


SB Lim-2 of the Polish Air Force

The USSR built around 12,000 MiG-15s in all variants. It was also built under license in Czechoslovakia (as the S-102 and S-103) and Poland (as the Lim-1 and Lim-2, and two-seat SB Lim-1 and SB Lim-2).

In the early 1950s, the Soviet Union delivered hundreds of MiG-15s to China, where they received the designation J-2. The Soviets also sent almost a thousand MiG-15 engineers and specialists to China, where they assisted China's Shenyang Aircraft Factory in building the MiG-15UTI trainer (designated JJ-2). China never produced a single-seat fighter version, only the two-seat JJ-2.[68]

The designation "J-4" is unclear; some sources claim Western observers mistakenly labelled China's MiG-15bis a "J-4", while the PLAAF never used the "J-4" designation. Others claim "J-4" is used for MiG-17F, while "J-5" is used for MiG-17PF.[69] Another source claims the PLAAF used "J-4" for Soviet-built MiG-17A, which were quickly replaced by license-built MiG-17Fs (J-5s).[70] What is certain, is that the service lives of the J-2 and J-4 in the PLAAF were short, as they were quickly replaced by the more capable J-5 and J-6.


Royal Egyptian Air Force MiG-15UTI at Muzeyon Heyl ha-Avir, Hatzerim airbase, Israel
First production version.
Single-seat all-weather interceptor version of the MiG-15bis.
Single-seat fighter bomber version.
Two-seat all-weather interceptor version of the MiG-15UTI.
Target-towing version.
Improved single-seat fighter version.
Single-seat reconnaissance version.
Single-seat escort fighter version.
Single-seat target-towing version.
Two-seat dual-control jet trainer.
(Jianjiji – fighter) Chinese designation of USSR production MiG-15bis single-seat fighter.[71]
(Jianjiji Jiaolianji – fighter trainer) Chinese production of MiG-15UTI two-seat jet trainers. Exported as Shenyang FT-2.[71]
un-manned target drone conversions of J-2 fighters.[71]
MiG-15 jet fighters built under license in Poland.
Polish-built reconnaissance version of the MiG-15 with AFA-21 camera.
MiG-15bis built under license in Poland, with Lis-2 (licensed VK-1) engines.
Polish-built reconnaissance version of MiG-15bis with a place for a camera in the front part of the canopy.
SB Lim-1
Polish Lim-1 converted to equivalent of MiG-15UTI jet trainers, with RD-45 jet engines.
SB Lim-2
Polish Lim-2 or SBLim-1 converted to jet trainers with Lis-1 (VK-1) jet engines.
Polish-built two-seat reconnaissance version, for correcting artillery.
MiG-15 jet fighters built under license in Czechoslovakia, with M05 (licensed RD-45) Motorlet/Walter engines.
MiG-15bis jet fighters built under license in Czechoslovakia with M06 (licensed VK-1) Motorlet/Walter engines.
MiG-15UTI jet trainers built under license in Czechoslovakia.
Raduga KS-1 Komet
An air-launched anti-shipping cruise missile.

Foreign reporting names

The NATO reporting name for the single-seat MiG-15[72]
The NATO reporting name for the two-seat MiG-15UTI[73]


Former operators of the MiG-15
Afghan Air Force. 42, including 38 MiG-15UTI, were delivered to the Royal Afghan Air Force from 1951, serving through 1979.[74]
Albanian Air Force. 80 or more have served with the Albanian Air Force since 1955, including Soviet, Czechoslovak and Chinese-built examples. The initial allotment of 10 MiG-15 fighters delivered in 1955 was followed by 24 MiG-15UTI trainers from that year on. These were supplemented by Czechoslovak Avia CS-102 trainers, with four being acquired. Further fighter deliveries comprised 26 MiG-15bis examples. Once Albania switched to Chinese support, deliveries of 24 F-2 fighters and 15 FT-2 trainers commenced from 1965. These aircraft remained in service through the late 1990s.[75]
Algerian Air Force
People's Air and Air Defence Force of Angola
Bulgarian Air Force. 78+
 Burkina Faso
Cambodian Air Force
 People's Republic of China
Imported 654 MiG-15 fighters from October 1950 to 1951. The last 18 MiG-15 fighters retired in 1980. Imported 1460 MiG-15bis fighters from 1952 to 1955. The MiG-15bis retired in 1986. Imported 357 MiG-15UTI trainers from 1951 to 1958. China also refitted some MiG-15 and MiG-15bis fighters to tandem trainers. MiG-15UTI retired in 1986.
 Republic of the Congo
Congolese Air Force
Cuban Air Force
Czechoslovak Air Force
 East Germany
East German Air Force
Egyptian Air Force
Finnish Air Force. Only operated the MiG-15UTI.
Military of Guinea-Bissau
Hungarian Air Force (1951-1975)
Indonesian Air Force. Acquired its MiG-15s in 1961. Used MiG-15UTI and other MiG-15 as trainers during the preparation of Operation Trikora in 1962 in Western New Guinea (now Papua and West Papua). The aircraft were grounded in 1969 and removed from service in 1970.
Iraqi Air Force
 Khmer Republic
Khmer National Air Force
Libyan Air Force
Mongolian Air Force. delivered and operated 4 MiG-15UTI as a trainer in 1970 .
Royal Moroccan Air Force
Military of Mozambique
Nigerian Air Force operated MiG-15UTI as a trainer.
 North Korea
North Korean Air Force. Still operates 30 Shenyang FT-2 (MiG-15UTI) as trainers.
 North Vietnam
Vietnam People's Air Force
 North Yemen
North Yemen Air Force
Pakistan Air Force
Romanian Air Force. Operated a total of 514 MiG-15, MiG-15bis, MiG-15 UTI, S-102 and CS-102 from 1952 until 1992.
Somali Air Corps
 South Yemen
South Yemen Air Force
 Soviet Union
 Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Air Force
Sudanese Air Force
 Syrian Arab Republic
Syrian Air Force
Tanzanian Air Force
Ugandan Air Force
 United States
United States Air Force. In the 1980s, the United States purchased a number of Shenyang J-4s along with Shenyang J-5s from China via the Combat Core Certification Professionals Company; these aircraft were employed in a "mobile threat test" program at Kirtland Air Force Base, operated by the 4477th "Red Hats" Test and Evaluation Squadron of the United States Air Force. As of 2015 MiG-15UTI's and MiG-17's are operated by a civilian contractor at both the USAF and US Naval Test Pilot Schools for student training.
 Viet Nam
Vietnam People's Air Force
Yemen Air Force

Civilian operators

One private Czechoslovak-built CS-102 that was operated by the Polish Air Force. Rebuilt in 1975 as a SB Lim2M. It was brought to Argentina in 1997 and given the experimental registration LV-X216.[76][77]

Surviving aircraft

MiG-15 in National Air & Space Museum. Taken in April 2004.
MiG-15 at the Auto & Technic museum Sinsheim.

Many MiG-15s are on display throughout the world. In addition, they are becoming increasingly common as private sport planes and warbirds. According to the FAA, there were 43 privately owned MiG-15s in the US in 2011, including Chinese and Polish derivatives. The first of which is owned by aviator and aerobatic flyer, Paul T. Entrekin.[78]

As of July 2015, six privately owned MiG-15s are airworthy and on the Australian civil aircraft register. At least seven others are on static display in museums, including one in the Australian War Memorial.
One MiG-15 is on display in Sofia at the National Museum of Military History.
One LiM-2 (MiG-15bis) serial number 1B00316 is on display at Canada Aviation and Space Museum. A Czechoslovakian MiG-15bisSB serial number 713133 is on display at Edenvale Airport near Edenvale, Ontario, Canada.[79]
Czech Republic
In 2014 one two seat version of MiG-15 was restored into airworthy condition in Hradec Králové.
A MiG-15UTI of the FAR (Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria) is displayed at the Museo del Aire.
Three MiG-15UTIs survive: one in Päijänne Tavastia Aviation Museum in Lahti, one in Hallinportti Aviation Museum at Kuorevesi and one in Central Finland Aviation Museum in Jyväskylä. The Finnish nickname of the plane was Mukelo ("Ungainly"), after the FinnAF plane type designation code MU.
MiG-15UTI “RED 18”

This aircraft is a Polish-built SB Lim-2 (MiG-15UTI), produced by WSK-Mielec in 1952. The aircraft is operated by the Norwegian Air Force.

FlyFighterJet.com offers a SB Lim-2/MiG-15UTI for adventure flights in Poland[80]
A Romanian MiG-15 is on display in Bucharest, Romania at the Army Museum.
United Kingdom
A Polish-built MiG-15 is displayed in North Korean colours at the Fleet Air Arm Museum.
An S-103 in Czechoslovakian colours is displayed at the National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, Edinburgh.
United States
No Kum-sok's MiG-15 at the NMUSAF

Specifications (MiG-15bis)

MiG-15 drawing

Data from OKB Mikoyan[87]

General characteristics


1,033 km/h (558 kn; 642 mph) at 5,000 m (16,000 ft)
992 km/h (536 kn; 616 mph) at 10,000 m (33,000 ft)
36.2 m/s (7,130 ft/min) at 5,000 m (16,000 ft)
21 m/s (4,100 ft/min) at 10,000 m (33,000 ft)
10,000 m (33,000 ft) in 5.2 minutes


See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists



  1. According to a thesis published by Coleman Armstrong Mehta in 2006, Yugoslavia provided the CIA with a MiG-15 in flying condition as early as November 1951.[58]


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