At least 3,000 MiG-15 tactical fighter models were produced by the Soviets, along with some 5,000 MiG-15UTI two-seat trainers. Other eventual operators of the aircraft included Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, East Germany, Egypt, Finland, Guinea-Bissau, Hungary, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel (captured Egyptian examples), Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, Romania, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Uganda, North Vietnam and Yemen. The United States still holds its single North Korean example captured during the Korean War.
Much work had to be completed by the Soviets to produce a jet-powered design for a program that was, for all intents and purposes, still in its relative infancy. As expected, much thought had to be given to every portion of design including engine placement (effecting the aircrafts Center of Gravity - or CG), cockpit placement and wing shape, edges and surfaces. The thought processes that had been so prevalent in piston engine-powered designs of World War 2 now had to be reworked to produce an effective jet-powered solution - one might note the early jet-powered fighter attempts all nearly had straight wings for example. The MiG-15 featured many solutions to these issues, with a single turbojet engine mounted behind the pilot, an intake taking up the forward portion of the fuselage, pilot seating between these two systems, thin swept back wings, a high mounted T-style tail assembly and a low tricycle undercarriage - the undercarriage could afford to be low as there was no spinning propeller system to account for.
In all respects, the MiG-15 was of a conventional design for jet-powered aircraft of the time. Opting for a nose-mounted intake (which in itself became an identifiable design choice of the early Mikoyan-Gurevich aircraft series including the follow-up MiG-17 and MiG-19, right up to the MiG-21 - the latter fitting a cone inside of the intake), the aircraft negated the need for a wider fuselage altogether. This of course presented problems in their own right as engineers now had to implement all sorts of internal components in and around the forward opening. The fuselage itself was streamlined and effectively positioned with a center of gravity favoring the rear. Construction of the fuselage was made up of a semi-monocoque design with a riveted, all-metal stressed skin structure and framing. The fuselage was made up of two major sections that comprised the forward area (made up by the cockpit, weapons bay and nose gear) and rear area (making up the engine, wings and tail section).
The cockpit was positioned forwards in the design, providing an impressive view outwards, particularly to the sides. Wings were swept back and engineered as very thin assemblies, with specially-designed landing gears that could fully recess into the arrangement while still manage the weight of the aircraft while taxiing, taking off and landing. Wings also bore a design element that would be consistent with future Mikoyan-Gurevich aircraft designs in the use of boundary layer fences to counteract "tip stall", an airflow issue related to all swept wing designs. The wings could also sustain ordnance and droptanks in future model developments.
The empennage was dominated by a single vertical tail surface with a horizontal plane forming a high T-tail - another MiG-series design trademark. All edges were highly swept, apart from the trailing edge wing roots, for maximum aerodynamic efficiency. Jet exhaust formed out at the base of the empennage.
If there was one area where this Soviet design shined beyond its Western counterparts it was its selection of standard armament. The Soviets, learning from their (and the German) experiences in the World War 2, opted to showcase a collection of cannon as primary armament for the aircraft instead of the machine gun-laden designs still being offered up by the West, in particular, the United States. Though displaying a slow rate-of-fire and a limitation as to how much ammunition could be carried aloft, the crippling power of just a single shell could easily render any avionics or engine system inoperable with even the slightest of peripheral hits.
The primary armament was fitted into a convenient and easily accessible winch-operated tray under the forward fuselage and consisted of a single Nudel'man N-37 37mm recoil-operated cannon and two Nudel'man/Rikhter NR-23 23mm recoil-operated cannons. Due to space constraints in this area of the MiG-15 design, the 37mm cannon was mounted along the starboard side of the weapons tray while the twin 23mm systems fit into the port side, these being staggered in their placement for maximum space usage. The tray could easily be lowered for maintenance, resupply and repairs as needed. Sighting was accomplished through the ASP-3N gun sight with accompanying S-13 gun camera - the gun camera was traditionally mounted in the upper lip portion of the forward intake opening.
Additional armament (for MiG-15bis) included the use of two electrically-actuated underwing bomb pylons. Each pylon could mount a single 110lb or 220lb bomb as required. Other fighter-bomber versions emerged with provision for rocket pods as well. "Slipper Tanks" - or fuel drop tanks - could be utilized for increased range.
The forward placement of the cockpit lent itself well to providing a proper seating area for a dogfighting pilot. Visibility was exceptionally good to the sides, below and above with rearward visibility being eventually addressed and improved. Heavy framing dominated the forward view to an extent - which featured a bulletproof windshield - while other views were mostly unobstructed (the radio aerial protruded from the rear right section of the fuselage, just aft of the canopy). The gun sight was adorned with a soft pad for the safety of the pilot in the event of a forced crash land (similar to that as found on the North American P-51 Mustangs). Most instrument gauges (including the Mach speed indicator, gyro-magnetic compass and radio altimeter) were placed on the forward panel with a traditional flight stick control column between the pilots legs. A noticeable feature of the cockpit was a white line that ran vertically across the center of the main instrument panel. This line was to be used by the pilot to align his flight stick with in the event of an uncontrollable stall spin. Quite utilitarian in nature but the device worked in practice.
The pilot sat on his attached parachute which, in turn, became his cushion on top of the ejection seat pan. The seat was ejected via controlled explosive cartridges that jettisoned the seat up and past the vertical tail surface. Early models featured a single, right side-mounted ejection handle. Later models incorporated a more conventional handle on both sides of the seat. The whip-style aerial antenna protruding from the right side of the fuselage - just aft of the cockpit - powered the onboard VHF radio.
Despite its first appearance in a Soviet 1948 flyby showing, the West knew little of the MiG-15 by the time of the Korean War. As a result, it proved quite a shock to UN pilots when coming across this swept-wing, agile, cannon-laden aircraft. Along with its military entry, the MiG-15 immediately formed a Soviet air display team as well. Straight out of the gun, the system was noted for its ease of operation, maintenance and repair.
MiG-15's arrived to the Korean Front in quantity in November of 1950. These would be operated in combat by Soviet pilots wearing Chinese uniforms and forming from Chinese air bases (UN targeting was restricted to North Korean territory, hence the aircraft bases in China were off limits to UN bombers). Along with operating in defense of North Korean targets, Soviet officials were also charged with the training of Chinese and North Korean fighter pilots. Despite all this activity, the Soviet Union operated under a guise so as not to involve itself fully in the conflict. Basically Soviet pilots were given the freedom to operate from a line stretching from Wonsan to Pyongyang. Similarly, UN airmen were restricted from crossing the Yalu River - the term "MiG Alley" stemmed from the area encompassing these restrictions. While Soviet MiG-15 pilots could hold their own in a fight, Chinese and North Korean pilots fared poorly without Soviet assistance. This became an issue when Chinese and North Korean pilots flew in areas restricted to Soviet airmen, making them essentially cannon fodder for UN pilots.
The first Western encounter against MiG-15's took place on November 1st, 1950. A flight of North American P-51D Mustangs were attacked by no fewer than six unidentified aircraft, powered by jet propulsion. These were, of course, the new MiG-15 aircraft, appearing from Manchuria, crossing the Yalu and introducing themselves into the Korean War. Though Western reports claim no losses, the Soviets claimed one P-51 in their after action reports.
November 8th brought about the first ever jet-versus-jet action. Six MiG-15's tangled with a flight of Lockheed F-80 Shooting Stars. Though results differ depending on the side writing the account, the Western account had an F-80 downing a MiG-15 - Soviet records show no such kill. It is known that five of the six machine guns onboard the F-80 had jammed. This, along with the ability of the MiG-15 to absorb a good amount of punishment from 12.7mm ammunition, leads to some discredit of the Western account. The MiG-15 was seen heading down to the ground in smoke, though it is believed that the aircraft had jettisoned its somewhat full fuel tanks in a dive in an effort to create space against the F-80, eventually heading for home and not engaging the American aircraft. Such competing stories, it seems, are a necessary part of warfare.
The first MiG-15 victory over a Boeing B-29 Superfortress occurred on November 9, 1950. The Superfortress (despite its impressive defensive array of heavy caliber machine guns) proved no match for the cannons of the MiG-15. The large surface areas of the Superfortresses crumpled with ease under the fire of a MiG-15's cannons. Losses were such that all B-29's were eventually forced to suspend daylight raids indefinitely, a large psychological and strategic victory most assuredly won by the presence MiG-15 alone. Other United Nations B-29 combat actions in and around the Yalu River area yielded disastrous results, even when escorted by the various fighter types available. The first confirmed kill of a MiG-15 by a UN fighter pilot in the war came that same day when 18 MiG-15 "Fagot-A" models faced off against 20 US Navy strike aircraft in the form of piston-powered Vought F4U Corsairs and Douglas AD-1 Skyraiders, these joined by jet-powered F9F-2 Panther escort aircraft. At least one MiG-15 was destroyed to the loss of six American aircraft.
Despite some success against the new Soviet fighter, losses for the UN air campaign began to mount with little answer to combat the Red aerial menace. The arrival of the MiG-15bis model only compounded that fact as these were the highly successful MiG-15 in an improved form. MiG-15's were pitted successfully against propeller-driven P-51 Mustangs, AD-1 Skyraiders and F4U Corsairs. Additionally, action against the straight-wing, jet-powered F9F Panthers, F-80 Shooting Stars and F-84 Thunderjets proved equally one-sided. This on top of losses by B-29 formations forced the speedy development of an answer - this eventually coming in the form of the North American F-86 Sabre.
Though an acceptable aircraft in its own right, the North American F-86 Sabres were still outmatched on a number of fronts. The MiG-15 proved to have a better rate-of-climb, higher ceiling limits and a better turning radius than her American adversary. The MiG-15 not only held a performance edge, but the nimble fighters also packed a greater punch with its multi-cannon armament selection as opposed to the six-machine gun armament of the Sabres - a carryover from American World War 2 aircraft design. Despite these advantages, the Sabre proved the more stable gunnery platform, an advantage taken to heart by Sabre pilots and put through its maximum paces.
So desperate were the Americans and the UN to get a full working example of a MiG-15 for evaluation that a reward of $100,000 was put forth to any North Korean pilot willing to defect. In September of 1953 - two months after the end of the war - North Korean Lieutenant Ro Kun Suk answered the call and landed his MiG-15bis in UN-controlled territory at Kimpo Air Base near Seoul. Suk actually did not know of the proposed reward but was given it anyway, leaving the Americans and the United Nations with the ultimate prize. As can be imagined, the captured MiG-15 was put through its paces (Chuck Yeager being one such test pilot along with Tom Collins) and eventually offered up for return to its rightful owner - an offer that was naturally rebuffed, leaving the United States with control of the property. The MiG-15 arrived for display at the United Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio where it remains to this day.
The F-86A arrived in Korean and the first duel of the two aircraft types took place on December 17th, 1950. Rightly so, four MiG-15's squared off against four Sabres. Combat took place at about 25,000 feet with the loss of one MiG-15, reportedly taking some 1,500 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition to do so. The kill was credited to Lieutenant Colonel Bruce H. Hinton. On December 21st, MiG-15 pilots returned the favor by destroying three Sabres to two MiG's lost. Western contact reports read differently - that being six MiG's downed to one Sabre lost.
Australia also attempted to tangle with MiG-15's by incorporating British-produced Gloster Meteor F.8 jet-powered aircraft into the mix - these replacing outclassed, prop-driven P-51 Mustangs. Like the American straight-wing early jets, Meteors did not fare well against the Soviet design, relegating them instead to the ground attack role.
The arrival of the F-84E and F-84F models in August of 1951 and March of 1952, respectively, effectively evened the playing field. By this time, whole groups of Soviet pilots were being switched off for replacement by new raw recruits. Likewise, the relatively green Chinese and North Korean pilots proved no match for the World War 2-savvy Sabre pilots. The air war over Korea had officially leaned towards the side of the United Nations and the entire conflict would end up in a draw - in fact, no armistice was ever signed so the war, technically, is still ongoing to this day.
In the end, the MiG-15 proved to have nothing specially inherent in its design. It was a solid aircraft that was very reliable and rugged. The attention paid to making an easy-to-produce aircraft made it an easy to maintain and repair one in the process. Armament was also a strong concern for the MiG-15 design and the aircraft did not falter in this category. The machine proved to be a tremendously capable premiere jet fighter produced by the Soviet Union with a little unknowing help from the Germans of World War 2 and British turbojet design. The MiG-15 proved - through production numbers and combat action - that it was indeed a special sort of aircraft when in capable hands and a war time tool of note produced by the Soviet Union. It only took some speedy development on the part of the Americans to eventually put the nimble machine in its place in Korea but the damage had already been done. Nevertheless, the MiG-15 went on to become one of the most classic post-war aircraft designs and gave even the best Sabre pilots a run for their money. The similar MiG-17 "Fresco" superseded the aircraft in most respects, though the MiG-15 was still in operational service in one form or another into the new millennium with some nations.
- Mikoyan-Gurevich utilized captured German post-World War 2 jet fighter plans (Ta 183) and a British turbojet engine (built under license in the Soviet Union) to bring the MiG-15 to fruition.
- MiG-15's proved more than a match against UN fighter jets in the Korean War, thanks to their performance, turning ability and impressive armament.
- The MiG-15 was initially designated as the "Falcon" by UN observers, this later being changed to the more derogatory "Fagot" name.
- The designation of "Fagot" refers to a bundle of branches (or sticks) bound together or similarly a bundle of iron (or steel) pieces being welded into bars.
- The MiG-15, in all forms, was produced to the tune of some 18,000+ aircraft with production undertaken by various nations under Soviet rule.