MiG-15 : The Cold War Killer

MiG-15 : The Cold War Killer

The MiG-15 was a sight no B-29 pilot wanted to see in the Korean War. Though these aircraft would have North Korean or Chinese markings they were flown by experienced Soviet pilots who had honed their skills against the Luftwaffe. 

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighters curving in to attack U.S. Air Force Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers over Korea, c. 1951 : MiG-15 : The Cold War Killer

The MiG-15 featured the first production swept wing, pressurized cockpit, and ejection seat on a Soviet aircraft. Although Mikoyan and Gurevich had access to German turbojets, swept-wing work and captured German WWII jet fighter plans (Notably the Ta 183) this design could be considered Russian.

Cannons were selected as the primary armament and came in the form of a Nudelman N-37 37mm cannon and 2 x Nudelman/Rikhter NR-23 23mm cannons. To facilitate access, engineer N I Volkov invented a simple and ingenious solution: all three cannons and their ammunition boxes were neatly mounted on a single tray under the cockpit, the N-37 to starboard and the two staggered NS-23KMs to port. 

This tray could be winched down quickly by means of a hand crank and four pulleys for reloading and maintenance, decreasing turnaround time dramatically. 

A photo-reconnaissance B-29 that crash-landed at Iruma Air Base, Japan after being severely damaged by MiG-15 fighters over the Yalu River; the B-29’s tail gunner shot down one of the attackers (9 November 1950) MiG-15 : The Cold War Killer

Ammunition for the 37mm (1.45 caliber) Nudelman N-37 cannon on the starboard side was 40 rounds and for the two staggered 23mm (.90 caliber) Nudelman/Rikhter NR-23 cannons on the port side, 80 rounds per gun. 

Both models utilized recharging by recoil action, which allowed the heavy-caliber cannons to have a high rate of fire and be relatively lightweight. The N-37 weighs 103kg (227Ib) and fires 750-gram (26.475-oz.) projectiles; rate of fire is 400 rounds per minute and muzzle velocity 690m/sec (2 ,263ft/sec). The NR-23 weighs 39kg (86Ib) and fires 200-gram (7.06- oz.) projectiles; rate of fire is 800 to 950rpm and muzzle velocity 680m/sec (207.2ft/sec).

The secret to the incredible performance of the MiG-15 was the most powerful turbojet engine yet created. Sir Stanley Hooker’s Rolls Royce Nene.

Sir Stanley recalled –
MiG-15 delivered by the defecting North Korean pilot No Kum-Sok to the US Air Force

“With Sir Stafford Cripps at the Board of Trade, the British Government appeared perfectly happy to sell our latest engine to the Russians, and in September 1946 clinched a deal for 25 Nenes and 30 Derwents, the first few of which the team took back to the Soviet Union and copied exactly in double-quick time. 

They were produced in colossal numbers for the MiG-15 and -17, Il-28, Tu-14 and many other aircraft. These aircraft were also supplied to the Soviet satellite countries, and North Korea! Over 20 years later I saw VK-ls (Soviet Nenes) being overhauled in Romania.

On my first visit to China in 1972 I was taken to the Peking Aeronautical Institute where they have a display of aero engines. Right in the fore-front was a sectioned Nene engine of which, of course, the Chinese knew I was the Chief Engineer. I inspected the engine carefully and said, ‘Yes, the Russians made a very good copy. They even copied the mistakes!’ 

My hosts were much amused at this, and later, when we visited the engine factory in Xian, I found that the Nene was still in large-scale production there in 1975”.

The Derwents supplied to the Soviet Union were the B.37 Series V or Derwent V at 3,500 lb thrust with a diameter of 44 in and a weight of 1,250 lb. The engine was a photographic copy of the Nene, scaled down by a factor of 0.855. This engine in the Meteor raised the World Speed Record to 606 mph in October 1945 and to 616 mph in the following year. It was produced in the post-war years at Derby.

Early runs with the Soviet RD-45, this engine the first copy of the Nene, yielded excellent performance results yet the engines proved quite thirsty and sported a short service reported at some 100 hours of operation. 

An improved turbojet engine by Klimov emerged in 1949 as the VK-1 and featured a rating of 5,952lbs. This new powerplant (based on the RD-45F – Nene II) became the mainstay force in the equally-improved MiG-15bis model series. 

In essence, the VK-1 were highly-modified Rolls-Royce Nene II engines which were extensively upgraded. The VK-1 had slightly larger dimensions than the RD-45F and an extension jetpipe of larger diameter, necessitating changes to the internal contours of fuselage frames 21 to 28 and a 60- liter (13.2 Imperial gallon) reduction in the capacity of the aft fuel tank.

The tail cone above the engine nozzle was enlarged and the aft end of the fuselage adjacent to the nozzle was redesigned.

With a kinked edge in side view instead of a straight one. A GS-3000 starter- generator and a modified oil filler incorporating a wire mesh filter were introduced. 

It was felt by the Soviets that these engines were re-engineered to such an extent that they were now wholly an indigenous Soviet design. The reality was these VK-1 turbojets were nothing more than illegal enlarged copies with little Soviet engineering thrown into the mix.

The first MiG-15 victory over a Boeing B-29 Superfortress occurred on November 9th, 1950. The Superfortress despite its impressive defensive array of heavy caliber machine guns proved no match for the cannons of the MiG 15. It was realised, with shock, the imperious bomber of WWII was now obsolete. The outclassed straight wing American Republic XP-84 Thunderjets were unable to protect the bombers. 

The large surface areas of the Superfortresses crumpled with ease under the fire of MiG-15’s cannons. Losses were such that all B-29’s were eventually forced to suspend daylight raids indefinitely, a large psychological and strategic victory most assuredly won by the presence of the MiG-15 alone.

Lt Col Aleksander Smorchkov of 18th GvIAP recalls :

These B-29 missions were the most difficult I flew in Korea. We took off in poor weather, and some of my pilots had little experience of flying in such conditions. We looked for breaks in the clouds, but by the time we reached 10,000 m (32,500 ft) the sky had become overcast. Then we received the order to follow a course that would take us to the “big ones”. We had to lose 5000 m (16,000 ft) of altitude and fly under clouds. But how could we find them through the overcast? I could do it on my own, but I had the whole regiment with me. I couldn’t ask my base because they would expect me to be able to manage, and I might even be reprimanded for asking such a question.

‘I looked behind me and saw the whole regiment there, holding formation well. I ordered them all to put their noses down, to pay attention and not to close up in the clouds. I could see my wingman but nothing in front of me. I didn’t want any collisions! I was their commander, and therefore had responsibility for all my pilots. If just one pair collided it would be my fault. But we began to break out of the clouds, and the overcast was above us. And there they were Superfortresses, just three kilometers (two miles) from us. Our command post estimated there were 12 bombers — I’d already counted them — and up to 120 escorting fighters.

‘What about my regiment? I looked around and there they were! All of them were with me, and I felt better at once. I ordered them to go for the big boys, but not to forget the small ones. So we went into the attack. The speed of our targets was 500 kmh (312 mph) and ours was 1100 km h (688 mph). The escorting pilots appeared to be cowards. If we forced them into a pair or a group of four aircraft, they flew apart, right and left and left us a clear path to the bombers. “Good”, I thought. “These guys are working for us”.

‘I fired a burst at one bomber and saw my tracer rounds miss the target. As I got closer I fired again at its right-hand engines and fuel tank. Red flames came from them and the Superfortress started to go down. As it began to break up, I saw six parachutes opening, but there was no time for me to watch, as the escorts seemed to have woken up.

‘I had always taught my pilots that an aircraft like a B-29 was worth all their ammunition. If each of us could shoot down a Superfortress, then that would be great. But I still had some ammunition left after downing my bomber, so I used it to destroy an F-84. I said to my wingman, Vladimir Voistinnyh, “Go ahead and I’ll cover you”, as he went after a Thunderjet, but the battle was fading away by then and we were ordered home.’

A drawback of the plane was the cockpit.
Photograph of a wrecked Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter that was analyzed by United Nations’ forces in the Korean War.

We spoke with a retired Israeli Defense Force F-16 pilot who told us that the Mig had limited side and above views. Moreover, the Russian pilot was limited in his front and side views whereas the F-16 allowed you to look underneath and had full visibility with its bubble cockpit.

Written by Bass Moog

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MiG-15 : The Cold War Killer