Friday, August 21, 2009

Aircraft of the Week: MiG-15 "Fagot"

It wasn't the first or finest jet airplane ever, but this week's example is the first mass-produced jet fighter made anywhere in the world. It is not a pretty airplane (see the Spitfire from 2 weeks ago, which is a beautiful machine, or the Me-262, or...well, lots more), but it got the job done. In the Korean War it went up against the best that the UN force had and held its own. Revolutionary in every sense of the word:

The MiG-15 "Fagot"

I will admit it took me some time to decide on an airplane this week. I wanted to choose one that was fairly revolutionary, but one that didn't fall neatly into the "Allied Fighter" slot. I was looking at quite a few airplanes, but then I realized, why not an early jet plane? And why not the first successful jet fighter?

The MiG-15 changed the face of warfare forever when it shot down a P-51 over Korea. It wasn't the first victory of a jet airplane over an in-line engined plane, but it was the catalyst that led to the first jet-v-jet warfare. Some believed that the roll of the in-line engined fighter wasn't over, that such an airplane would be more maneuverable or reliable than jet fighters, but the pure dominance of the MiG-15 would necessitate the US bringing in their jet planes. The F9F Phantom naval fighter and the F-80 Shooting Stars would fight the MiG-15 first, but neither airplane were truly equal to the MiG=15. It was the F-86 Sabre that would successfully duel the Fagot in the skies over Korea.

Let's talk about the MiG-15 for a bit. First of all, I didn't call it the Fagot. NATO did. Since it's a fighter plane, the name starts with F. That's just how it is. Don't get mad at me.

Secondly, the MiG-15, like many early jet fighters, is a creature of simplicity. It combines the swept-wing style developed by Willy Messerschmidt when he was working on the Me-262 with a British engine (the Rolls-Royce Nene) into a package that slaps a pilot on top of the engine and sends him into battle. Equipped with three cannons and rockets, the MiG-15 could bring a large amount of power to bear on its foes.

The Fagot was placed into war for the first time in Korea. It was notably superior to the American jet fighters of the time (the aforementioned F-80s and F9Fs), and completely outclassed the propeller-driven airplanes (only two kills of a MiG-15 were recorded by a propeller-driven plane, the first by a Hawker Sea Fury and the second by an F4U Corsair) that still existed at the time.

Up against the F-86 Sabre, the Fagot met its match. The two airplanes were evenly matched and duelled to a draw over Korea. However, the MiG-15 was rather more adaptable than the F-86 - it became a dangerous night-fighter that threatened the waves of US B-29s bombing North Korea, and destroyed many of the overhead airplanes.

While the MiG-15 was retired from combat duty by the USSR by the end of the 1950s, but it lived on in many other countries for some time. Egypt used MiG-15s during the Suez Canal Crisis, and it was the mainstay of the Chinese Air Force until the 60s, and remains in service as a trainer.

The USSR used the MiG-15 UTI as a trainer as well. Famed cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin died flying a UTI, but it remained in service for some time. The entire MiG line of fighters for over 30 years were influenced by the Fagot; and as a result, it changed the way the world views fighter airplanes. It is an influential aircraft - and with over 15,000 produced, the most produced jet of all time.

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