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MiG - A Canadian Success Story!

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The beginning/WWII Era:

Born in 1905, Artem Ivanovich Mikoyan graduated from the Zukovsky Air Force Academy in 1937.  He started to work with the Polikarpov OKB.  However, in 1938 he was warned by a friend that he had been named as a traitor (partly due to his Armenian heritage) and was soon to be arrested as part of Stalin’s ongoing purges.  As a result, he quickly decided that it would be wise to leave the country.  After traveling via France and the United States of America, he eventually settled in London, Ontario, Canada.  Within 6 months of settling there, and with the assistance of a number of local business men, he started his own aircraft company – “Mikoyan Greater Ontario Aircraft”, later shortened to simply “Mikoyan Greater Aircraft” (the aircraft designed by the company used the designation “MiG”).

With the outbreak of WWII, Mikoyan, began to produce a series of fighter aircraft.  The first of these was the MiG-1, a small, inline engine powered high-altitude interceptor.  By the start of 1940, the type was already being delivered a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) test squadron (two were also shipped to Great Britain), where it was soon discovered that the high wing loading of the small aircraft produced some very nasty handling problems, including tendencies towards both stalling and spinning, and a lack of directional stability.  As reports of the handling problems came back to Mikoyan he worked to remedy them, incorporating many design changes.  He also increased the aircraft's range by increasing fuel tank capacity.  The improved plane was first flown on October 29 1940, and was soon re-designated the MiG-3 (Interestingly, all MiG aircraft were to be designated with ‘odd’ numbers as a result of a superstitious belief that Mikoyan held).

With the outbreak of war, both the British and French Governments were desperate to supplement their own aircraft production abilities.  Both purchased a number of MiGs (though only a single example of the MiG-1 made it’s way to France before capitulation).  After the initial trial aircraft had shown deficiencies, Britain changed its order of 200 to the improved MiG-3.  These first entered service with the RAF during early 1941.  Pilots preferred the Spitfire and/or Hurricane though, and the aircraft were relegated to a pair of specialised squadrons to counter potential high altitude Ju-86P attacks or in the Photo-Reconnaissance role (with armament removed).  In RAF service, the MiG-3s were designated as Mohawk Is (in the interceptor role) or Mohawk PRU.IIs (in the Photo-Reconnaissance role).  Apart from the European theatre, the Mohawk PRU.IIs also served in North Africa/the Mediterranean/Italy (with the Desert Air Force (DAF), later known as the First Tactical Air Force), and India/Burma (with the Third Tactical Air Force). 

The RCAF also purchased 150 copies of the MiG-3 (also adopting the Mohawk name) but these were kept in country for local defence.  A single copy was also purchased by the United States of America for trials with the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). 

During the war, there were several attempts to re-engine the aircraft including one example with the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-63 engine but apart from one or two test aircraft these never reached production. 

Post War:

With the advent of the jet era, Mikoyan like most other designers, made moves to develop jet aircraft.  After being briefly side-tracked by the Thermojet (i.e. a rudimentary type of jet engine consisted of a piston engine which drove a compressor in the rear fuselage) powered MiG-13 (Note: for a brief while this lingered on as a potential carrier based attack aircraft), he began design of pure all jet aircraft. 

Utilising information provided by Britain and the United States, as well as that gained from inspection of captured German jet fighters, he started to develop a number of fighters.  The first of these, the MiG-9, wasn’t that impressive, although it did gain the distinction of being the first Canadian all jet aircraft.  A number were introduced into service with the RCAF though they didn’t serve for more than a 2 years. 

In 1946 however, things changed when the British Government exported a number of the new Rolls-Royce Nene centrifugal-flow jet engine to Canada.  This was soon being manufactured under license.  Around this superb engine Mikoyan designed his next aircraft – the MiG-15!
Utilising information gained from German swept wing research, the MiG-15 first flew on 30 December 1947 and immediately exhibited exceptional performance, with a top speed of over 650 mph (1,040 km/h).  After further evaluations, the MiG design was chosen for production by the RCAF with the first production example flying on 31 December 1948.  Following in the tradition of the earlier MiG-3, the MiG-15 was originally intended to intercept bombers like the new Tupolev Tu-4, and was even evaluated in mock air-to-air combat trials with USAF B-29 bombers (the results were frightening for the USAF crews!).  To ensure the destruction of such large bombers, the MiG-15 carried a heavy cannon armament: two 20 mm cannon with 80 rounds per gun and a single massive 37 mm cannon with 40 rounds.  These weapons provided tremendous punch in the interceptor role, but their limited rate of fire and relatively low velocity made it more difficult to score hits against small and maneuverable enemy jet fighter aircraft in air-to-air combat.  As such, some versions simply carried four 20mm cannon which had a higher rate of fire, though a lower weight projectile. 

When Canada joined NATO in 1949, it was faced with the necessity of upgrading and enlarging the RCAF.  As arguably the best single seat fighter in the Western world at the time, the MiG-15 was a natural choice to be the primary day fighter of the re-equipped RCAF.  RCAF MiG-15 operations began with No 410 Squadron at Dorval, which received its first aircraft on April 10, 1949. Nos. 411 and 413 Squadrons followed in the summer of 1950.
The MiG-15s also served with the RAF for a brief time.  During the early 1950s, the MiG-15s of the RCAF were actually the only swept-wing fighters available for the defence of Western Europe.  At that time, the Royal Air Force was still flying straight-winged types such as the Gloster Meteor and the DeHavilland Vampire while they waited for the swept-wing Supermarine Swift and Hawker Hunter to reach production status.  Early in 1953 the RAF somewhat reluctantly decided to acquire the MiG-15 to fill in the gap.  United States MDAP funds helped to provide 430 MiG-15s (designated as Huron Mk.1s) for the RAF. 

The first RAF Squadron to take delivery of the Huron was No 67 Tactical Air Force Squadron, which became operational in May of 1953.  In December No. 66 Squadron became the first RAF Fighter Command Huron unit.  Soon, RAF Tactical Air Force Squadrons 3, 4, 20, 26, 67, 71, 93, 112, 130, and 234 all re-equipped with Hurons and were based in Germany.  Fighter Command Squadrons No. 66 and 92 remaining in Britain also with Hurons. 

However, the service of the Huron with the RAF was rather brief, the aircraft being seen only as an interim type.  By June of 1956, all RAF Hurons based in Germany had been replaced by Hawker Hunters.  The ex-RAF Hurons were then transferred to other European air forces, notably Italy (180 aircraft) and Yugoslavia (121 aircraft). 

MiG-15s also served with the Air Forces of a number of other countries including:

Italy:  180 ex-RAF Hurons were shipped to Italy in 1957, one machine (XB733) crashing on delivery.  First to transition to the Huron was the 4a Aerobrigata, which was based at Pratica di Mare.  Units of the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI) using the Huron included:

•   4a Aerobrigata--Gruppi 9o, 10, 12o
•   2o Stormo (later redesignated 2a Aerobrigata)--Gruppi 8o,13o 14o

Deliveries of the Huron to Italy were completed in 1957. 

The AMI Huron fighters were dedicated to the air defense role and in some cases were re-equipped with the original dual cannon (i.e. 20mm and 37mm) package.  The aircraft was also evaluated with HVAR rockets and the Italian-developed SISPRE C-7 air-to-air missile, but neither weapon entered AMI service.  Hurons also equipped the Cavallino Rampante (Rampant Horse) aerobatic team, painted with an ivory fuselage, blue and tail with white stars, a red nose, and additional red highlights. 

In 1961, the Frecce Tricolori (Tricolor Arrows) aerobatic team was also formed with six Hurons.  Initially they were painted blue with tricolor tailplane and wing under surfaces, and featuring a blue rhomboid on the nose containing a black arrow.   Later, the rhomboid was replaced by individual red, white, and green arrows, and yellow code letters were added to the fin. 

Five Italian Hurons of the 4a Aerobrigata were dispatched to the Belgian Congo in 1963 to support UN peacekeeping operations there.  A detachment of Philippine Air Force personnel operated these aircraft from February to June of 1963. 

Yugoslavia:  During 1958-59, Yugoslavia's air arm, the Jugoslovensko Ratno Vazduhoplovstvo (JRV), got 122 of the ex-RAF Huron Mk.1s.  Yugoslavia was one of the few nations with an air force that flew both Western and Soviet Bloc combat aircraft side-by-side.  During a border incident in the late 1950s, a JRV Huron shot down a Hungarian Yak-23.  Some of these Hurons remained flying into the 1990s, but they have all now either gone to the boneyard or been sold to civilian owners. 

Greece: Beginning in July 1954, Greece's Royal Hellenic Air Force received 104 ex-RCAF MiG-15s.  The first were delivered in mid-1954, and went to No. 341 Squadron of No.  112 Wing.  In 1955, two more squadrons, Nos. 342 and 343, both under No.112 Wing, were equipped with MiG-15s.  These served until the early 1960s, when they finally went out of service. 

Turkey: At the same time as Greece, Turkey's Turk Hava Kuvvetleri (THK) acquired 105 refurbished ex-RCAF MiG-15s.  It seems that every time you sell an aircraft to Greece, you also have to sell one to Turkey, and vice-versa.  These aircraft formed the core of Nos. 141, 142 and 143 Squadrons.  These aircraft were intended for the defence of Western Europe, but long-standing hostilities between Greece and Turkey occasionally flared up and these two nations sometimes would aim their aircraft at each other. 

Honduras:  Eight ex-Yugoslav (originally RAF) Huron Mk.1s were supplied to the Fuerza Aerea Hondurena (FAH), arriving there in July of 1967.  They flew some harassment missions over El Salvador following the end of the 1969 "Soccer War".  Some remained in service until well into the 1980s, when they were replaced by Super Mysteres. 

The Korean War:

On June 25, 1950 the (North) Korean People's Army attacked across the 38th Parallel in a move to reunify the peninsula under their political system.  The invasion of South Korea came as a surprise to the West.  As the one of the best western fighters available, RCAF MiG-15s were rushed to the war zone.  In some of the first jet-vs-jet air combat, RCAF MiG-15s fought against Chinese and North Korean Yak-23s and La-15s.  Over the next couple of years, MiG-15s were also used in the theatre by the South African Air Force (SAAF) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).   These aircraft were actually "loaned" to No. 2 Squadron of the SAAF and No. 77 Squadron RAAF and were returned to the RCAF when both squadrons returned home. 

New Developments and Exports:

Although the MiG-15 was an excellent aircraft, Mikoyan knew it could be improved.  Therefore in January 1950, the first of an improved version, the MiG-17 flew.  The major change was its introduction of a swept wing with a "compound sweep" configuration: a 45° angle near the fuselage, and a 42° angle for the outboard part of the wings.  Other easily visible differences to its predecessor were the three wing-fences on each wing, instead of the MiG-15s two, and the addition of a ventral fin.  The MiG-17 shared the same RR Nene engine (though this was in an improved, higher thrust form) and the rest of its construction was similar. 

Serial production started in August 1951 for the RCAF.  During production, the aircraft was improved and modified several times.  The basic MiG-17 was a general-purpose day fighter, armed with 3 or 4 cannon (depending on exact weapons package fitted).  It could also act as a fighter-bomber, but its bombload was considered light relative to other aircraft of the time, and it usually carried additional fuel tanks instead of bombs. 

Soon a number of MiG-17B all-weather fighters were produced with radar and front air intake modifications.  In the spring of 1953 the MiG-17C day fighter entered production.  Initially fitted with an afterburning version of the RR Nene, and later with a similarly equipped, locally produced Orenda 11R, it quickly became the most popular variant of the MiG-17.   

292 MiG-17s (mostly of the MiG-17C variant) were built for the RCAF.   All were delivered to RCAF Wings Nos 1, 2, 3, and 4.  The MiG-17 remained in service with the RCAF until replaced by the superlative MiG-21 in 1963.  The MiG-17 Transition Unit retired its last aircraft in November 1968, the type being officially phased out on December 9 of that year. 

MiG-17s also went to a number of overseas customers, including:

Colombia:  Six MiG-17s (although some sources insist these were in fact MiG-15s) were delivered to Colombia in 1956.  The MiG-17s were operated by 10 Escuadron de Caza-Bombardero.  4 were lost in accidents.  The survivors were all withdrawn from service in 1966. 

South Africa:  In 1955, 34 MiG-17s were ordered for the SAAF.  South Africa had actually operated a squadron of MiG-15s during the Korean War, but these were returned to RCAF service when No. 2 Squadron returned home.  The MiG-17Cs arrived in South Africa beginning in 1956.  17 of them were marked in Afrikaans and issued to No.1 Squadron, and the other 17 were marked in English and issued to No.   2 Squadron.  They remained in service with No 2 Squadron until 1964 when they were replaced by Mirage IIICZ fighters.  The others remained with No.1 Squadron until 1976, when they were replaced by Mirage F.1AZ ground attack fighters. 

West Germany:  225 MiG-17Cs were supplied to the West German Luftwaffe, and the type became the primary day fighter of the newly formed German air arm.   They had been preceded in Luftwaffe service by a small number of MiG-15s, which had served primarily in training roles in anticipation of the arrival of the MiG-17s.   The first operational unit was Jagdgeschwader 71 "Richthofen", initially commanded by Major Erich Hartmann, highest-scoring ace of all times (352 kills during World War 2).  He accepted the first of the unit's MiG-17s on June 6, 1959.   The Mig-17s also served with Jagdgeschwadern 72 and 73.  The Luftwaffe MiG-17s usually operated in the air-to-air mode, although they were occasionally equipped with underwing air-to-ground ordinance.  In service, many Luftwaffe MiG-17s were modified to become Sidewinder-capable.  JG 71 later converted to the MiG-19 (see more below) in 1964, whilst the other two wings kept the MiG-17 (in an improved ‘D’ version) becoming light attack units. 

Pakistan: The India-Pakistan war of 1965 had caused the US to embargo further arms shipments to Pakistan, at least for the time being.  In order to take up the slack, Pakistan arranged in 1966 to acquire 90 MiG-17Cs from ex-Luftwaffe stocks.   These saw action in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War.  MiG-17Cs accounted for a large portion of the PAF's 141 aerial victories during that conflict.  Kills of Indian warplanes included Folland Gnats, Yak-28s and Su-7s.  The last PAF MiG-17 was withdrawn in 1980 after a number of fatigue-related accidents. 

Argentina:  Argentina ordered 36 MiG-17Cs, but the order later had to be cancelled because President Juan Peron had run his country into the ground economically and he was unable to raise the necessary foreign exchange needed to finance the purchase. 

Israel: 24 MiG-17Cs were ordered by Israel in 1955.  At least 8 were allocated serial numbers and one was even painted in Israeli markings.  However, the upheaval caused by the 1956 Suez crisis led the Canadian government to cancel the delivery of the planes.  The Heyl Ha'Avir purchased the Dassault Mystere IV instead. 

Bangladesh:  After the December 1971 war that resulted in the transformation of East Pakistan into the independent nation of Bangladesh, the government of that new country found itself in the possession of 5 ex-Pakistani MiG-17Cs that had been abandoned by the retreating PAF.  These were operated until late 1973, when the lack of spares made it necessary to ground them. 

Australia - CAC Licensed Production: As early as 1949, the RAAF began planning a replacement jet fighter for the locally-built CAC Mustang and DHA Vampire.  Successive aircraft under consideration included the Grumman Panther, the proposed CAC large, twin-jet, all-weather CA-23 fighter, and the Hawker P.1081.  In the event MiG-15s were obtained in 1951 for service with No. 77 Sqn in the Korean War (these were only on loan though).  Then, in May of the same year, plans were finalised for CAC to build a locally redesigned version of the improved MiG-17C fighter.   

The RAAF decided to install an even more powerful engine – the afterburning RR Avon.   Other improvements called for increased fuel capacity, revised cockpit layout, and replacement of the 20mm cannon with two 30-mm Aden cannons.   The prototype CAC CA-27 Bilaarr Mk.1 (‘Bilaarr’ being an aboriginal word for ‘Spear’), A94-901, flew on 13 July 1954 and was followed by a further 21, A94-902/922, with imported Avons.  As from 1955 the next 20 Bilaarr Mk 2s, A94-923/942, were powered with the CAC Avon Mk 20, had additional fuel cells, and fitments for drop-tanks, bombs, and rockets.  The earlier Mk.1s were then modified to Mk.2 standard.  The final version of the CAC Bilaarr was the Mk.3 of which 69 were built, A94-943/990 and A94-351/371.   They carried additional drop-tanks and rockets and, as from 1960, Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.   All earlier Bilaarrs were similarly modified, and retrospectively fitted with the CAC Avon Mk 26 engine which was first installed in A94-973.   

The first production Bilaarr, A94-901, went to ARDU on 19 August, 1954.   A Bilaarr Trials Flight was established at No. 2 (F) OTU, RAAF Williamtown, on 1 November, 1954 and No.75 Sqn became the first Bilaarr squadron after it reformed on 4 April, 1955.  No.3 Sqn received its first Bilaarrs on 1 March, 1956, and No.   77 Sqn on 19 November, 1956.  In October, 1958 No. 3 deployed to RAAF Butterworth and was followed by No.77 in February, 1959.  As No.78 (F) Wing both squadrons used their Bilaarrs against the communist terrorists until 31 July 1960.   No.   76 Sqn reformed in January, 1960 and joined No.2 (F) OCU and No.75 Sqn as the Bilaarr equipped No.81 (F) Wing, RAAF Williamtown.  On 1 June, 1962 eight Bilaarrs deployed from Butterworth to Ubon, Thailand, to counter communist activity.  This detachment became No.79 Sqn until it withdrew and disbanded in August, 1968. As from 1964-5 the Mirage III began to replace the Bilaarr, and on 31 July, 1971 the RAAF officially retired the Bilaarr from service. 

Australian Bilaarr, however, still fly with two other air forces.  On 1 October, 1969, ten Bilaarrs were handed over to the Royal Malaysian Air Force, and a further six were delivered in 1971.  In February 1973 a second 16 Bilaarrs entered service with the Indonesian Air Force. 


Never one to rest on his laurels, Mikoyan started design of a replacement for the MiG-17 even before serial production had started.  The new aircraft, designated MiG-19 was initially begun as a scaled up twin engined MiG-17 but was soon developed much further.  The first MiG-19 flew on January 5 1954.  The afterburner did not light in the first flight, but in the second flight the aircraft reached Mach 1.25 at 26,400 ft (8,050 m).  This was the first time a standard combat aircraft anywhere in the world had gone supersonic in level flight!  It was improved to Mach 1.44 in subsequent flights.  Based on this promising performance, the MiG-19 was soon being evaluated by not only the RCAF but also the USAF.  The first production aircraft rolled off the assembly line in March of 1955. 

Unfortunately, initial enthusiasm for the aircraft was dampened by several problems.   The most alarming of these was the danger of a mid-air explosion due to overheating of the fuselage fuel tanks located between the engines.  Deployment of airbrakes at high speeds also caused a high-g pitch-up and the elevators were found to lack authority at supersonic speeds.  The high landing speed of 145 mph (230 km/h) (compared to 100 mph (160 km/h) in the MiG-15), combined with absence of a two-seat trainer version, also slowed pilot transition to the type.  The handling problems were addressed with the second prototype, which added a third ventral airbrake and introduced all-moving tailplanes with a damper to prevent pilot-induced oscillations at subsonic speeds.  It flew on September 16 1954, and entered production as the MiG-19B.  Armament included a 30mm Aden cannon in each wing root, plus the ability to carry air-to-air missiles (usually AIM-9 Sidewinders, but later AIM-7 Sparrows). 

In RCAF service, the MiG-19s operated under the US/Canadian North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) to protect North American airspace from Soviet intruders such as nuclear-armed bombers.  Additionally, as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), four MiG-19 squadrons were based in Europe from 1956-1962. 

Hopes for USAF purchases were dampened when the similar, but US produced F-100 was chosen instead, though at least one MiG-19B was trialled by the USAF.  Foreign users included the West German Luftwaffe (24 machines serving with JG71 in an interim role pending delivery of MiG-21Ds (refer next chapter)), Denmark (14 aircraft pending delivery of MiG-21Ds), France (68 aircraft pending development of the Mirage III), Pakistan (48 aircraft) and Taiwan (118 aircraft).  However, hopes for further exports were hampered by the lack of a two seat variant for pilot conversion and the fact that the even more capable MiG-21 was soon to be available. 

There was one further avenue of development though – the naval MiG-19C.  This was a heavily modified version designed to operate from the recently purchased Majestic class aircraft carrier, HMCS Bonaventure.  To enable the safe operation from the carrier, Mikoyan made a number of significant changes including:

•   Adding an arrestor hook;
•   Strengthening the landing gear and fuselage attachment points;
•   Replacing the nose landing gear with a telescoping one that enabled a greater angle of attack to be achieved upon take-off (a feature later copied by the Spey engined Phantom FG Mk.  1);
•   Modified foldable wing with larger flaps, leading edge slats and spoilers; and
•   Replacement of some materials with less corrosion prone ones. 

Thirty-nine of these MiG-19Cs served with the RCN with VF-870 and VF-871 until eventually replaced by the CF-116C (internal company designation - MiG-23C (refer below)) in 1968.  They were upgraded to MiG-19D standard in 1962 with the addition of more powerful engines, and improved radar which was able to guide AIM-7 Sparrow SARH BVR missiles (2 of which were able to be carried). 

Supersonic Stallion

In February 1952, Mikoyan visited Korea and talked to fighter pilots about what sort of plane they wanted.  Based on these discussions, he started the design of what would become his most produced design – the MiG-21.

Work progressed quickly, with a mock-up ready for inspection at the end of June 1954, and work starting on two prototypes (the first being fitted with a swept wing derived from the earlier MiG-19, whilst the second had an all-new delta wing) late in November 1954.  The first flight of the swept wing variant, the MiG-21A, took place 14th February 1955 whereas the more complex delta winged version, the MiG-21B, didn’t fly until 9th Jan 1956.  The MiG-21B very quickly proved to be the better of the two designs – it had greater fuel capacity, higher rate of roll, generally better turn radius, lighter structure and marginally better supersonic performance.  Further development resulted in the MiG-21C which increased the fuel capacity, had a more power engine, better radar and ability to carry 4 missiles (typically a combination of either AIM-9B (IR) or AIM-9C (SARH) Sidewinders) as well as two 30mm Aden cannon.

In the late 1950s, the Canadian government had a clear need for a supersonic replacement for the MiG-17C already in RCAF service.  Several aircraft were considered in the competition, including the McDonnell F4H Phantom II, the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, and the Grumman F11F-1F Super Tiger.  The RCAF clearly preferred the Phantom as the MiG-17 replacement, but this was rejected fairly early on, mostly due to its high cost.  As the alternative, on July 2, 1957, it was announced that MiG-21C had be chosen as the replacement for the MiG-17.  The choice was aided by the fact that the locally produced MiG offered a far better deal in terms of economics.  Production of the first of 200 aircraft for the RCAF began in late 1957.

In RCAF service, the MiG-21C was designated CF-111 (under the new designation system).  The first two CF-111s to fly were Nos. 12703 and 12704, which both took to the air on August 14, 1959.  Beginning in December of 1960, the RCAF used its CF-111s to equip eight European-based squadrons of its No. 1 Air Division.  Despite not wanting the CF-111 to begin with, the RCAF pilots quickly found the CF-111 to their liking nicknaming it the “Supersonic Stallion”. 

In 1961, after having received only 1/2 of its planned MiG-21C buy, the RCAF modified its order to the drastically improved MiG-21D configuration (see below).  The remaining aircraft were delivered in this configuration and were designated as CF-111Bs (or CF-111Cs for the two seat conversion trainer variant).  In future years, the majority of the early CF-111 models would be passed to the Air Forces of Jordan, Pakistan and Taiwan.  As this occurred, they were replaced with the improved CF-111B.

The last CF-111 wasn’t phased out of service (with No. 441 Squadron) until March 1986.


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