Nazi Science Lives On | September 21, 2010
This classic design was the most successful of early Soviet jet fighters and a complete shock to the West. Its debut during the Korean War put the world on notice that Russian aircraft were among the best in the world.
At the end of World War II, the Soviets inherited a trove of advanced German technology, especially concerning jet aviation. Stalin, fearful of trailing the West in its use, demanded the creation of new jet-powered aircraft for the Red Air Force.
In 1946 engineers Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich conceived what was then a highly advanced fighter design. It was a midsize, fairly compact machine with swept midmounted wings and high tail surfaces. The MiG 15 also carried a bomber-killing three-cannon pack that lowered down on wires for ease of servicing. Up until then, Soviet attempts with jet aircraft largely failed on account of using weak German Jumo engines of insufficient thrust. However, Great Britain’s shortsighted Labor government had fatefully arranged the export of several Rolls-Royce Nene jet engines, then the world’s best. This proved a technological windfall of the first order, and the engine was quickly copied by Soviet engines as the VK- 1. Once installed in the MiG 15 prototype, the result was a world-class jet fighter that was faster and could outclimb and outturn almost any jet employed by the West. The MiG 15 entered mass production in 1949 and received the NATO designation FAGOT.
MiG 15s were an unwelcome surprise to UN forces when these fearsome new machines suddenly appeared over North Korea in November 1950. Only rapid deployment of equally advanced North American F-86 Sabres kept control of the skies from communist hands. These two adversaries were almost evenly matched, and in 1953 a defecting North Korean pilot, Ro Kim Suk, gave the West its first intact example. MiG 15s continued in production throughout the 1950s until an estimated 18,000 were made. They were employed by all Soviet allies and client states, with many two-seat trainer versions still in use.