The MiG-15 wasn't the first operational Soviet jet fighter (the MiG-9 and Yak-15 hold that distinction, I think). It was, however, one of the first successful Soviet fighter jets - the first one that its opponents (at the time, the USAF and UN Forces Korea) feared. It was designed in response to a 1947 decree from the Soviet government. This decree called for a new jet fighter, but gave a deadline of approximately 8 months for its first flight. As a result, the Mikoyan design bureau based the design on a prior airframe, the MiG-9, rather than starting from scratch.

The two major differences between the MiG-9 and the resulting prototype were the engine (the MiG-9 used the BMW 003, a captured German axial-flow turbojet design from World War II) and the wings. The new design, in order to ensure better handling at high speeds, utilized a swept wing design. To cope with problems with the design and production of the German engines used in the MiG-9, it was equipped with an engine whose design had been purchased directly from the pro-Soviet British Government of the late 1940s1 - a variant of the Rolls-Royce Nene engine. It flew well, and a year later, it was selected for production over other designs. The first production aircraft designated MiG-15 flew December 31, 1948. A minor upgrade, dubbed MiG-15bis, followed and became the predominant variant.

Over 12,000 MiG-15s were eventually made in the USSR, with thousands more produced by licensed foreign factories. This makes it one of the most successful jet fighter designs of all time. It first saw combat in the Chinese Civil War, and then flew against UN forces (with Soviet Air Force pilots 'disguised' as Koreans) in the Korean War. Code-named Fagot by NATO, it quickly demonstrated its equality to, and in some areas superiority over the predominant American fighters of that war, the F-80 Shooting Star and F-86 Sabre. A MiG-15 is reputed to have scored the first jet air-to-air kill, against an American F-80, during that war (WikiP notes that the US claims that the victim in question was in fact downed by AAA). F-86s and MiG-15s went on to become famous opponents in the skies over North Korea, one of the last times that American forces would be unable to generally secure air superiority over an actual battlefield due to an air-to-air threat.

The MiG-15 design was iterated into the also highly-successful MiG-17. Despite sharing the same engine and basic airframe, the original MiG-17 was both more maneuverable and approximately 50 km/h faster. Later variants of the MiG-17 received Soviet jet 'firsts' such as afterburners and radar. The MiG-17, and hence the basic MiG-15 airframe design, was in production through 1958.

Although no MiG-15s remain in active service today, several survive as private aircraft, and excellent examples can be seen in numerous aviation and war museums. The MiG-15 of North Korean Lieutenant No Kum-Sok, who defected to the South in 19532, is on display in the USAF Museum in Ohio. According to the USAF, the US offered to return the aircraft to its 'owners' - the USSR - after flight testing, and the offer was ignored.


  • Crew: 1 (2 in the MiG-15UTI trainer variant)
  • Wingspan: 10.08 meters
  • Length: 10.11 meters
  • Weight: Loaded - 4,960 kg; Max. takeoff - 6,105 kg
  • Speed: Max. 1,075 km/h (automatic airbrakes prevented overspeed in dives); Cruise 840 km/h
  • Service ceiling: 15,500 meters (higher than the F-86)
  • Armament: 2 x 23mm cannon, 1 x 37mm cannon (both in lower fuselage) with 80/40 rounds per gun.

1 Joan Beaumont: Trade, Strategy, and Foreign Policy in Conflict: The Rolls-Royce Affair 1946-1947. The International History Review, Vol 2, No 4 (Oct. 1980), pp. 602-618. (Citation available on JSTOR)

2 Lt. No Kum-Sok chronicled his experiences, culminating with his defection, in the book A MiG-15 to Freedom, published in the United States in 1996.