Korean War: MiG-15

A MiG-15 which had been delivered to the US Air Force by a defecting North Korean pilot. US Air Force

In the immediate wake of World War II, the Soviet Union captured a wealth of German jet engine and aeronautical research. Utilizing this, they produced their first practical jet fighter, the MiG-9, in early 1946. While capable, this aircraft lacked the top speed of the standard American jets of the day, such as the P-80 Shooting Star. Though MiG-9 was operational, Russian designers continued to have issues perfecting the German HeS-011 axial-flow jet engine. As a result, airframe designs produced by Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich's design bureau began to outpace the ability to produce engines to power them.

While the Soviets struggled with developing jet engines, the British had created advanced "centrifugal flow" engines. In 1946, Soviet aviation minister Mikhail Khrunichev and aircraft designer Alexander Yakovlev approached Premier Joseph Stalin with the suggestion of buying several British jet engines. Though not believing that the British would part with such advanced technology, Stalin gave them permission to contact London.

Much to their surprise, the new Labour government of Clement Atlee, which was friendlier towards the Soviets, agreed to the sale of several Rolls-Royce Nene engines along with a licensing agreement for overseas production. Bringing the engines to the Soviet Union, engine designer Vladimir Klimov immediately began reverse-engineering the design. The result was the Klimov RD-45. With the engine issue effectively resolved, the Council of Ministers issued decree #493-192 on April 15, 1947, calling for two prototypes for a new jet fighter. Design time was limited as the decree called for test flights in December.

Due to the limited time allowed, designers at MiG elected to use the MiG-9 as a starting point. Modifying the aircraft to include swept wings and a redesigned tail, they soon produced the I-310. Possessing a clean appearance, the I-310 was capable of 650 mph and defeated the Lavochkin La-168 in trials. Re-designated the MiG-15, the first production aircraft flew December 31, 1948. Entering service in 1949, it was given the NATO reporting name "Fagot." Principally intended for intercepting American bombers, such as the B-29 Superfortress, the MiG-15 was equipped with two 23 mm cannon and one 37 mm cannon.

MiG-15 Operational History

The first upgrade to the aircraft came in 1950, with the arrival of the MiG-15bis. While the aircraft contained numerous minor improvements, it also possessed the new Klimov VK-1 engine and external hardpoints for rockets and bombs. Widely exported, the Soviet Union provided the new aircraft to the People's Republic of China. First seeing combat at the end of the Chinese Civil War, the MiG-15 was flown by Soviet pilots from the 50th IAD. The aircraft scored its first kill on April 28, 1950, when one downed a Nationalist Chinese P-38 Lightning.

With the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, the North Koreans began operations flying a variety of piston-engine fighters. These were soon swept from the sky by American jets and B-29 formations began a systematic aerial campaign against the North Koreans. With the Chinese entry into the conflict, the MiG-15 began to appear in the skies over Korea. Quickly proving superior to straight-wing American jets such as the F-80 and F-84 Thunderjet, the MiG-15 temporarily gave the Chinese the advantage in the air and ultimately forced United Nations forces to halt daylight bombing.

MiG Alley

The MiG-15's arrival compelled the US Air Force to begin deploying the new F-86 Sabre to Korea. Arriving on the scene, the Sabre restored balance to the air war. In comparison, the F-86 could out dive and out turn the MiG-15, but was inferior in rate of climb, ceiling, and acceleration. Though the Sabre was a more stable gun platform, the MiG-15's all-cannon armament was more effective than the American aircraft's six .50 cal. machine guns. In addition, the MiG benefited from the rugged construction typical of Russian aircraft which made it difficult to bring down.

The most famous engagements involving the MiG-15 and F-86 occurred over northwestern North Korea in an area known a "MiG Alley." In this area, Sabres and MiGs frequently dueled, making it the birthplace of jet vs. jet aerial combat. Throughout the conflict, many MiG-15s were covertly flown by experienced Soviet pilots. When encountering American opposition, these pilots often were evenly matched. As many of the American pilots were veterans of World War II, they tended to have the upper hand when facing MiGs flown by North Korean or Chinese pilots.

Later Years

Eager to inspect the MiG-15, the United States offered a bounty of $100,000 to any enemy pilot who defected with an aircraft. This offer was taken up by Lieutenant No Kum-Sok who defected on November 21, 1953. At the end of the war, the US Air Force claimed a kill ratio of around 10 to 1 for MiG-Sabre battles. Recent research has challenged this and suggested that the ratio was much lower. In the years after Korea, the MiG-15 equipped many of the Soviet Union's Warsaw Pact allies as well as numerous other countries around the world.

Several MiG-15s flew with the Egyptian Air Force during the 1956 Suez Crisis, though their pilots were routinely beaten by the Israelis. The MiG-15 also saw extended service with the People's Republic of China under the designation J-2. These Chinese MiGs frequently skirmished with Republic of China aircraft around the Straits of Taiwan during the 1950s. Largely replaced in Soviet service by the MiG-17, the MiG-15 remained in many countries' arsenals into the 1970s. Trainer versions of the aircraft continued to fly for another twenty to thirty years with some nations.

MiG-15bis Specifications


  • Length: 33 ft. 2 in.
  • Wingspan: 33 ft. 1 in.
  • Height: 12 ft. 2 in.
  • Wing Area: 221.74 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 7,900 lbs.
  • Crew: 1


  • Power Plant: 1 × Klimov VK-1 turbojet
  • Range: 745 miles
  • Max Speed: 668 mph
  • Ceiling: 50,850 ft.


  • 2 x NR-23 23mm cannons in lower left fuselage
  • 1 x Nudelman N-37 37 mm cannon in lower right fuselage
  • 2 x 220 lb. bombs, drop tanks, or unguided rockets on underwing hardpoints

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "Korean War: MiG-15." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/korean-war-mig-15-2361067. Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). Korean War: MiG-15. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/korean-war-mig-15-2361067 Hickman, Kennedy. "Korean War: MiG-15." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/korean-war-mig-15-2361067 (accessed March 22, 2023).

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