The first jet MiG

by Dr. Marshall Michel
86th Airlift Wing historian

The term “MiG” was virtually synonymous with Soviet jet fighters throughout the Cold War. The MiG-15 Fagot fought American aircraft, notably F-86s in the Korean skies, and the main conflict area around the Yalu River was known as “MiG Alley.”

In the skies over North Vietnam it was MiG-17 Frescos, MiG-19 Farmers and MiG-21 Fishbeds that battled U.S. Air Force F-105s and F-4s, and in the skies over the Middle East it was MiG-23 Floggers, MiG-25 Foxbats and MiG-29 Fulcrums that engaged U.S. F-15s and F-16s.

Interestingly, the MiG (Mikoyan and Gurevich) design bureau did not have a distinguished pedigree. Their main piston engine fighter in World War II, the MiG-3 was a mediocre performer that was little used compared to the excellent fighters from the Yakovlev (Yak) and Lavochkin (La) design bureaus that were the mainstays of the Soviet fighter force.

The idea for the MiG-9 came when the Soviets became aware of German jet engine developments in 1944 when a German Me 262 jet fighter crash landed in Soviet territory. The aircraft was repaired and test flown in August and there was considerable sentiment to direlyct copy the fighter like the Soviets were doing with the American B-29.

In December 1945, however, the decision was made not to copy the Me 262; some sources say it was because the jet engines were too complex for the Soviet industry, others say it was because Stalin simply refused to copy a German aircraft.

In the event, the Soviet design bureaus were ordered to design their own jet fighters using German jet engines.

The MiG design bureau’s design was a new aircraft powered by two small BMW 003 jet engines while the main competitor, from the Yakovlev bureau, used a single large Jumo 004 with almost twice the thrust.

At first, the MiG designers considered mounting the two engines in pods under the wing, but after some consideration, they decided to mount the narrow engines side-by-side in the fuselage and use tricycle landing gear to keep the engines clear of the runway. Meanwhile, Yakovlev had simply removed the piston engine from a Yak-9 fighter, installed the jet engine with the exhaust below the wing and left the standard “tail dragger” configuration.

The MiG aircraft, now dubbed the MiG-9, had problems with the heat from the jet exhaust burning the underside of the fuselage, so steel plates were added just behind the engine exhaust.

While this worked fairly well, it moved the aircraft’s center of gravity back and threatened to have it sit on its tail. To solve this problem, the MiG bureau installed heavy armaments that were heavy, both weight wise and punch wise – one 37 millimeter cannon above the intake and two 23 millimeter Nudelman NS cannons below. The cannons’ barrels extended well in front of the aircraft.

The two new jet fighters – the MiG and the Yaakov Yak-15 – arrived at the Tchkalovskiy test center in the spring of 1946. Legend says a coin was flipped to decide which would be the first Soviet jet fighter to fly, and the MiG won.

The first flight was April 24, 1946, and the Yak-15 flew a few minutes later. The MiG-9 was primitive by early jet fighter standards. It did not have a pressurized cockpit and did not have an ejection seat. It was also very small with a limited amount of fuel – too little to make it an effective fighter. Another problem was with gun gas ingestion, which was unique to new jet fighters.

When the cannons were fired at high altitude, the smoke was sucked into the engine, which caused a compressor stall. With the large cannon on the MiG-9, what was a special problem, and a variety of fixes were tried.

One was fitting a large rectangular sheet, called the “butterfly,” on the protruding 37 millimeter cannon barrel to scatter the gases, but this was a failure and the problem was never really solved. While both the MiG-9 and Yak-15 were placed in production, they were never really anything more than a stop gap, and fortunately for the Soviets, the MiG design bureau, using German swept wing technology, developed a superb swept wing fighter – the MiG-15. The MiG-9s were sent in 1949 to the new Communist Chinese government, who at first were happy to get any jet fighters in their inventory.

This satisfaction only lasted a short time until the Korean War began. A few months into the war, when the Chinese entered the conflict, the Soviets sent MiG-15s to protect them, and the Chinese realized they had been short changed. They insisted on being given the new MiG-15s and eventually the Soviets relented. The Chinese flew their new mounts against well flown American F-86 Sabres that slaughtered them at a rate of about 40:1.

The MiG-9s, meanwhile, languished and were soon discarded, but left their mark on history. They were the first Soviet fighter to fly and, almost certainly, the only MiG jet fighter never to fire its guns in combat.

For questions or comments, contact Dr. Michel at