The swept wing MiG 15 (Mikoyan-Gurevich) that entered Soviet service in 1949 and of which an estimated 18,000 plus were produced in the early stages of the Korean War reigned supreme outclassing all allied straight wing fighters.
By late 1943 it became clear that Germany would not be the victors of WWII and the Allies, in particular Russia and the USA, had special teams whose responsibility it was to trace, capture and acquire as many German scientist, engineers and technical knowhow as possible. By the end of the War they had seized most of the assets of Germany's aircraft industry. Much of this technology was used in the design of future Russian and American aircraft and it was the BMW 03 turbojet that powered the MiG 9, Russia's first jet powered fighter. Totally underpowered the MiG 9 was not a success.
Rolls Royce by then had developed the Nene and the Russians approached the British and to their surprise their request to purchase a number of Nenes as well as manufacturing licences were approved. Copies of the Nene, adapted to local conditions, soon ran of Russian production lines as the Klimov RD-45 and were installed in the MiG 15.
The MiG 15 was the product of a requirement of the Soviet Council of Ministers for an advanced high-altitude interceptor capable of a top speed of 620 mph (1,000 K/ph) with a range of 750 miles (1,200 kilometres). Starting with the earlier MiG 9 and making extensive use of the captured German research the new fighter with 35 degree swept wings and tail first flew on 31 December 1948 and demonstrated exceptional performance reaching 647 mph (1,042 K/ph). So successful was the design that it was far superior to the British Supermarine Attacker and Hawker Seahawk that were powered by same Nene engine and almost as good as the North American F-86 Sabre that had flown two months earlier and also benefitted from the captured research. The two adversities would soon meet in combat.
The MiG 15 entered service into the Soviet Air Force in 1949 and although it was able to exceed Mach 1 in a dive due to the lack of an 'all flying tale' pilots were advised not to exceed Mach .92. It also had a tendency to roll to the left or right due to manufacturing variances. The roll tendency was solved by the installation adjustable 'knives' that were fitted whilst later models had all flying tales.
An improved variant, the MiG 15bis, with an upgraded version of the Nene, the Klimov VK-1 became available in 1950. Hard points were added to the underside of the wings for the carrying of rockets or bombs on some aircraft whilst the 23mm canons were placed closer together. The original specification called for an interceptor able to ensure the destruction of American heavy bombers and earlier versions carried two 23 mm canon with 80 rounds per canon and one 37 mm with 40 rounds. Although effective against heavy large aircraft the low rate of fire and low velocity made the armament unsuitable for combat against smaller, faster and more manoeuvrable targets.
In China a civil war raging between the forces of the Kuomintang Nationalists and Communist and in 1950 Kuomintang forces attacked Mao Zedong's Communist forces on the mainland from its basis in Taiwan. Zedong asked for and was granted assistance by the Russians who deployed its 50th MiG 15bis equipped division to the People's Republic. On 28 April the Kuomintang again launched an attack with its P-38s this time to be met by the Mig-15s and Captain Kalinikov engaged a P-38 and shot it down. The Mig-15had its baptism of fire and proved itself superior to the WWII legend. On 11 May it did what it was originally designed for when Captain Schinkarenko downed the B-24 Liberator of Li Chao Hua, commander of the 8th Air Group of the Nationalist Air Force.
Now proven in combat the MiG found a ready market and it is no surprise that China was the first to acquire the Soviet fighter that would eventually be sold to 41 other countries. The Russians were already there and they started training Chinese pilots and maintenance staff. More Russian pilots were recruited and they formed the core of the 64th Fighter Aviation Corps (64th IAK).
Meanwhile in Korea the Northern Communist was battling with the Southern Nationalist. The North that was supported by the forces of the People's Republic of China was as expected armed by the Russians and its Air Force consisted mostly of vintage prop driven Soviet aircraft as well as the MiG 15's of the 64th IAK who flew clandestine missions is aircraft bearing North Korean markings. The South was supported by the United States on a mandate of the United Nations (UN) who besides such WWII legends as the P-51 Mustang and Vought F4U Corsairs also flew the turbojet powered straight wing F-80 Shooting Star and F-64 Thunderjet. They proved no match for the Russian fighter and the first kill in a jet vs jet belonged to the MiG when First Lieutenant Khominich downed an F-80C.
The MiG 15 however was not having it all its own way and on 9 November Lieutenant Commander Amen off the aircraft carrier USS Philippine Sea shot down and killed Captain Grachev while flying a Grumman F9F Panther. As losses mounted it became clear that the current assets where no match for the MiG 15 and three squadrons of Americas swing wing F-86 Sabres were rushed to Korea. On 17 December 1950 Lieutenant Colonel Hinton drew first blood in the battle between the Sabre and MiG when he forced Major Yefromeyenko to eject from his burning MiG. Not long afterwards Captain Vorobyov in his MiG shot down the F-86A of Captain Bach. In the first month of the conflict 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.
The North Koreans and its Soviet Allies claimed to have flown 60,450 daylight and 2, 779 night combat missions during the conflict resulting in the loss of 1,097 UN aircraft including 647 Sabres. These figures are in dispute. The Americans claims 792 MiGs downed for the loss of 78 Sabres. The MiG 15 went on to do battle all over the world and like the AK-47 it became synonymous with Soviet military hardware.
Surviving airworthy examples have found a new lease in life. As they are withdrawn from service more and more are bought by collectors and they are becoming increasingly common as private sport planes and warbirds. According to the USA Federal Aviation Administration FAA, there were 43 privately owned MiG-15s in the US in 2011, including Chinese and Polish derivatives.
Crew: 1 or 2
Length: 10.08 m (33 ft 1 in)
Wingspan: 10.08 m (33 ft 1 in)
Height: 3.7 m (12 ft 2 in)
Wing area: 20.6 m2 (222 sq ft)
Empty weight: 3,630 kg (8,003 lb)
Gross weight: 5,000 kg (11,023 lb)
Max takeoff weight: 6,105 kg (13,459 lb)
Fuel capacity: 1,420 l (312.4 imp gal; 375.1 US gal)
Powerplant: 1 ◊ Klimov VK-1 centrifugal flow turbojet, 26.5 kN (6,000 lbf) thrust
Maximum speed: 1,059 km/h (658 mph; 572 kn) at sea level
Cruising speed: 850 km/h (528 mph; 459 kn)
Range: 1,240 km (771 mi; 670 nmi)
Service ceiling: 15,500 m (50,853 ft)
Rate of climb: 51.2 m/s (10,080 ft/min) at sea level
Time to altitude: 5,000 m (16,000 ft) in 2 minutes
2x NR-23 23 mm (0.906 in) cannon in the lower left fuselage (80 rounds per gun, 160 rounds total)
1x Nudelman N-37 37 mm (1.457 in) cannon in the lower right fuselage (40 rounds total)
Bombs, drop tanks, or unguided rockets on two under wing hard points.