Airborne Awesomosity

Imitation or Innovation: The Mig-15

File:MiG-15 being hit over Korea c1953.jpg

Mig-15 about to meet its end

Yesterday we looked at how the Russians had copied the B-29 Superfortress bolt for bolt. Today we look at the Russians being innovative.



This Mig-15 is done prowling the skies


In the immediate post war years all the major nations of the world were working on their new jet fighters.  The Americans and British were working to improve on the technology they had learned during the war as well as the vindicated German documents we received at the end of the war. The Russians were doing the same and managed to come up with a surprise of their own. Powered initially by British Nene turbojets but later on by exact copies of the engine the Mig-15 could be found prowling the skies over North Korea.




The Kurt Tank designed Ta183 of 1945



The Mig-15 has been accused of being a copy of a German design by Kurt Tank known as the Ta183. It isn’t hard to look at that wind tunnel model above and say that the Mig-15 is a direct relative. Upon closer inspection you can see many glaring differences between the two and you will see the comparison is merely superficial. From the length of the design to the height of the tail the differences are as common as the similarities.   It was far easier for us, in the west, to want to believe the Russians were incapable of creating their own aircraft then to combat what they had made.



Mig-15 frontal view



When the US encountered the Mig-15 in Korea we were still flying fighters from World War Two and some very early jet designs. We had tested the swept wing but never incorporated it into any of our production aircraft. Until the introduction of the North American F-86 the Mig-15 had no real rival in the skies in the late 40s and early 50s. The influence of American combat  in Korea with the Mig-15 had  delayed the F-86’s development. The prototype had straight wings and was found to be deficient.  The aircraft was sent back to have swept wings designed and implemented before being deployed.  The Russians had led the way and we were following in its wake. The advantage would be short lived but more importantly the Russians would never have this lead again for the rest of the Cold War. The Americans had learned their lessons and wouldn’t rely on older designs until the end of the Cold War.




Discovery’s “Wings of the Red Star” about the Mig-15 and the F-86 Sabre.


The Mikoyan Mig-15 was not a perfect aircraft. It was built crudely and quickly as was the Russian custom. One of its primary advantages was in its armament. The guns would make up for some of this crudeness consisting of two 23mm and 1 37mm cannon.  Not very many aircraft would be able to take hits from that combination for long before falling out of the sky. Still its time was short lived and it would be replaced by more indigenous pure Russian designs. It did demonstrate the Russians were more then capable of innovating on their own if they were allowed to.

[all images from]

  • The Professor

    The German documents were vindicated? What were they accused of? It sounds interesting.

    • fodder650

      I'm looking forward to you finding the errors I wrote between 3 and 4 am on the final article of this feature tomorrow 🙂

      Normally I send all my articles through a couple editors. I will admit that this was not only written in the middle of the night, middle of the morning really, but wasn't shifted through my editors. Still I am happy with how it came out. Also I really can't think of the word I meant. I am trying to say that the documents were freed from the captive bonds of the Germans and placed in the loving hands of the Americans and Russians.

      • The Professor

        I believe that the word you wanted was 'liberated'.
        I hope you realize that I'm not trying to pick on you (well, not very much) in particular. Things like that just kinda jump out at me when I try to parse the things that I've just read, and if they're funny I just can't leave them alone.
        We all make goofs like that, especially when we're in a hurry and don't have time to read what we just wrote. You'll get a shot at me before too long.

        • fodder650

          Actually it forces me to get better. Liberated was the correct word. I have no idea why I couldn't remember that.

          So go ahead and correct me. You caught me on two things I missed.

        • guest


  • I thought that footage might have been of one of the 16 Mig-15s shot down by B-29 gunners over Korea.

    The first Mig-15 in US hands, flown by a defecting North Korean pilot, is still on display at the US Air Force Museum.

  • Number_Six

    At the end of WWII, both Russia and the US carted off German engineers en masse. Therefore it's no surprise that German swept-wing designs showed up so quickly – it wasn't imitation, it was designed by the actual people who did the original work. In addition, the British government, in a fit of extreme WTF, allowed Rolls Royce to sell the Nene to the Russians. Overall it was an amazing and crafty effort by a bankrupt and decimated post-war nation.

  • Deartháir

    There's a simplicity and a purpose to the design of these early MiG's that I just find appealing. I know they're shoddy vehicles, built by men with large hammers and bushy beards in factories from the early Victorian era, but there's a purity of design that most of the equivalent Western jets just didn't have.

  • The early MiG-15s suffered some major stall issues. They found that due to the wing sweep and location of the tip of the wing in relation to the aerodynamic center of the aircraft the wing root would start stalling early forcing air to flow along the span of the wing. As the airspeed dropped further the wing would progressively stall, but the wing tips would still provide lift. Once it had progressed far enough, the nose would pitch down fairly suddenly and the plane became a lawn dart.

    The fix was simple: the wing fence. It prevents the air from flowing along the span of the wing and gives the aircraft more predictable stall characteristics.

    • Number_Six

      Is there a Russian aircraft before the 1990s without a giant wing fence?

      • Probably not. It became a standard practice at all of the Soviet aircraft design bureaus.