The MiG-15 was one of the first successful jet fighters to use a swept-wing to achieve transonic speeds. Joseph Stalin, furious that the United States was ahead of the Soviet Union technologically, pushed for its development. By studying captured German Messerschmitt 262s (Me-262 – the first jet to enter combat successfully) the Soviets managed to put a swept-wing jet into service before the United States.
Mission: Close Air Support, Armed Reconnaissance, Air Defense, Nuclear Bomber
Model Service Dates: 1949-Present (in limited service in North Korea)
Manufacturer: Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau
Length: 33 ft, 1 in
Wing Span: 33 ft, 1 in
Height: 12 ft, 2 in
Max Speed: 572 kts (658 mph)
Initial rate of climb: 6,850 ft/min
Ceiling: 50,853 ft
Range: 670 nm (771 mi)
Powerplant: 1 Klimov VK-1 Turbojet
Thrust: 6000 lbs static thrust
Guns: 1 × Nudelman N-37 37mm cannon with 40 rounds; 2 × Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 23 mm cannon with 80 rounds each
Bombs: 2 × 50 kg (110 lb) bomb; 2 × 100 kg (220 lb) bomb
Crew: Pilot only
First flown in 1947, the MiG-15 was built to intercept high flying enemy bombers in the event of a conflict between the superpowers. The initial aircraft had an under-powered engine until the British Government supplied the Soviet Union with 25 Rolls Royce Nene turbojet engines. Introduced into combat during the Korean War, the MiG-15 proved superior to Allied aircraft in the skies over Korea including the F9F Panther and F-80 Shooting Star. In response, the United States rushed into combat the North American F-86 Sabre. The well-built Sabre, together with far better trained pilots, proved more than a match for the MiG-15. While the MIG had more powerful guns and was faster and more agile, the Sabre was more stable and had a superior rate of climb. Additionally, Sabre pilots were better trained than Chinese and North Korean pilots; the Soviet Union feared that World War III would break out if their pilots were more involved. The MiG-15 was unforgiving for inexperienced pilots because it tended to stall and was difficult to control at speeds greater than Mach 1, problems that a skilled pilot can overcome.
During the Korean War, the MiG-15 was flown by North Korean, Chinese and Soviet pilots. It is characterized by its light weight, extreme maneuverability, and rapid rate of climb. Over 12,000 were produced by communist bloc nations and up to an additional 6,000 under license by other countries. Variants of the MiG-15 were flown by more than 44 different countries with many still in use today.
The MiG-15 was originally intended to intercept American bombers like the B-29. It was 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 autocannons: 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.
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. Later MiGs incorporated all-flying tails.
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. Visible differences were a headlight in the air intake separator, and larger, single piece rectangular speed brakes. The NS-23 KM cannon was replaced by the NR-23 with short fairings and blistered shell ejection ports. The two-piece gun blast panel was replaced by a single piece panel.
The MiG-15bis on display is an originally Soviet built and was damaged in combat during the Korean War. It was repaired in China and re-designated a J-1. It was acquired from the Chinese Aviation Museum near Beijing in 1988 and stored at Chino Airport until 1992 It is currently on loan from the National Museum of the Marine Corps.