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[2.0] The Mikoyan MiG-17

v1.0.5 / chapter 2 of 3 / 01 aug 13 / greg goebel / public domain

* The Soviets felt that they had a good thing going with the MiG-15, and decided to build a considerably improved successor, the "MiG-17", to replace it in service. The MiG-17 would have a very lively career; the US would encounter the MiG-17 in combat over North Vietnam and find it a tricky adversary.

Mikoyan MiG-17F


[2.1] MIG-17 ORIGINS
[2.2] MIG-17F & MIG-17R / MIG-17AS
[2.3] MIG-17P / MIG-17PF & MIG-17PFU
[2.4] MIG-17 MODIFICATIONS & SPECIAL VARIANTS
[2.5] CHINESE & POLISH MIG-17 PRODUCTION
[2.6] MIG-17 IN SERVICE

[2.1] MIG-17 ORIGINS

* The Soviet design philosophy was generally to get something working as fast as possible, then improve it during production. If it worked well, the next step was to rethink the design to make it more effective. In 1949, the MiG OKB was ordered to design a derivative of the MiG-15 with improved performance, with the derivative aircraft to be built in both tactical fighter and all-weather interceptor versions. MiG OKB designers had been considering a new wing for the MiG-15 with a 45 degree sweep instead of the original 35 degree sweep, and proceeded to design a modified version of the MiG-15bis with the new wing. The new design was variously designated the "MiG-15bis 45" or "I-330" or, most prominently, "izdeliye SI", and two prototypes were built.

Initial flight of the first prototype was on 14 January 1950, with test pilot I.T. Ivaschchenko at the controls. From the side, the SI looked much like a MiG-15bis, with the same cockpit layout, landing gear arrangement, armament, and avionics. The rear fuselage was actually stretched 90 centimeters (2 feet 11 inches) and though the tailfin had the same configuration as that of the MiG-15bis, it was larger. The increase in length and bigger tailfin were not very noticeable, but a ventral fin with a ground bumper at the rear was fitted that provided a distinctive recognition feature.

From the top, the difference from the MiG-15bis was much more noticeable. The new wing was of "scimitar" configuration, with a sweep of 49 degrees on the inboard half and 45.5 degrees on the outboard half. This dual-sweep scheme was adopted to allow the new wing to be fitted without structural modifications to the MiG-15 fuselage. The new wing had 10% more area and an anhedral droop of 3 degrees, not 2 degrees as with the MiG-15, though the incidence remained at 1 degree. The new wing also had rounded wingtips and three fences on each wing instead of two, to prevent airflow "defections" over the wingtip. The tailplane sweep was 45 degrees, not 40 degrees. The wing arrangement was highly distinctive, unlike any other main-production fighter, and gave the aircraft something of an exotic or, to some tastes, sinister appearance.

* The first prototype demonstrated incrementally improved performance relative to the MiG-15bis, though it had slightly less range. It also handled better and was more agile than the MiG-15bis, but its controls were a bit heavier. There were some bugs to work out: the prototype went into an uncontrolled dive on 17 March 1950 and cratered into the ground at high speed, killing Ivaschchenko, who never had time to get out. Despite this tragedy, by that time the second prototype was ready and trials continued without a lapse.

Two preproduction aircraft, fitted out to the tactical fighter configuration, were built and flown in 1951, the same year the type was assigned the service designation of "MiG-17". It was ordered into production before trials were complete, with the first production machines rolled out in 1952. They featured larger airbrakes, an updated avionics suite, and an electrical engine self-starting system, though this last may have been featured on the prototypes as well.

The MiG-17 soon entered formal VVS service, and was given the NATO codename of "Fresco". Once later variants were introduced, the NATO codename for the initial variant retroactively became "Fresco-A".

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[2.2] MIG-17F & MIG-17R / MIG-17AS

* Of course, the MiG-17 "Fresco-A" received continuous upgrades in service, such as modernized avionics and an improved VK-1A engine, with the same thrust as the VK-1 but greater reliability. Machines with the VK-1A engine were sometimes referred to with the designation of "MiG-17A". A new ejection seat was introduced into production in 1953, providing a face screen, leg restraints, and stabilizers to keep the seat from tumbling. A rear-view mirror was also added, fitted on top of the canopy. Work had been done on such an item for the MiG-15, but it proved trickier than it sounds, suffering problems such as icing up at high altitude, and no production MiG-15 ever had such an item. Further enlarged airbrakes were introduced as well.

* More work on the VK-1 had led to its ultimate production development, the afterburning "VK-1F", providing an afterburning thrust of 33.16 kN (3,380 kgp / 7,450 lbf). A prototype of a MiG-17 with the VK-1F -- this aircraft being an odd hybrid of a MiG-15bis forward fuselage; wings and tail taken from an early MiG-17 prototype; and a new rear fuselage with the VK-1F engine -- was first flown on 29 September 1951, with test pilot A.N. Chernoborov at the controls.

The afterburning MiG-17 was very similar to the "Fresco-A", the only major external differences being a variable exhaust that was not hidden in the fuselage, and (once again) modified airbrakes. While level speed showed little improvement in afterburner, climb rate and top ceiling were greatly improved. The type was ordered into production as the "MiG-17F" in 1952 and entered operational service in 1953. It was assigned the NATO codename of "Fresco-C" -- the "Fresco-B" is discussed below.

Mikoyan MiG-17F Fresco-C

Improvements were added to the MiG-17F during the course of production, such as an SRD-1 radar gunsight -- identifiable by a small strakelike antenna on top of the nose -- plus changes in engine and fuel systems. Late in the type's service life, some would be fitted with the "R-3S / K-13A" heat-seeking AAM, which had the NATO codename of "AA-2 Atoll" and was a copy of an early-model US Sidewinder AAM.

   MIKOYAN MIG-17F:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
 
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                9.63 meters         31 feet 7 inches
   wing area               22.6 sq_meters      243 sq_feet   
   length                  11.09 meters        36 feet 5 inches
   height                  3.8 meters          12 feet 6 inches

   empty weight            3,930 kilograms     8,665 pounds
   MTO weight              6,075 kilograms     13,395 pounds

   max speed at altitude   1,145 KPH           710 MPH / 620 KT
   service ceiling         16,600 meters       54,460 feet
   range with tanks        1,470 kilometers    915 MI / 795 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

A tactical reconnaissance variant of the MiG-17F was built in small numbers, with the designation of "MiG-17R". The 37 millimeter cannon was deleted, though the two 23 millimeter cannon were retained. After first-line service life, MiG-17Fs were used in the close-support role, being fitted with an extra pylon inboard on each wing to carry an unguided rocket pod. Such conversions were given the designation of "MiG-17AS". As with MiG-15bis fighter-bomber conversions, they were really only an interim solution.

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[2.3] MIG-17P / MIG-17PF & MIG-17PFU

* As mentioned, the development plan for the MiG-17 included design of a radar-equipped all-weather interceptor variant. A single "SP-2" prototype was flown in 1951 with the single-antenna "Korshoon (Kite Hawk)" radar, which was an improved version of the Toriy radar tested in the MiG-15bis.

Mikoyan SP-2 prototype with Toriy radar

The radar arrangement was much the same as it had been for the MiG-15bis, though instead of retaining the 37 millimeter cannon and dumping the 23 millimeter cannon, the MiG-17 testbed retained the 23 millimeter cannon and dumped the 37 millimeter cannon. The results of this entire exercise were much the same as they had been for the Toriy-equipped MiG-15bis: the Korshoon radar was too complicated to operate and it didn't work worth a damn. This particular aircraft was retained for further trials use.

However, as mentioned, trials of the Izumrud RP-1 radar with the MiG-15bis had gone well, and five prototypes of a MiG-17 interceptor with the RP-1 radar were built and flown in 1952. The installation was much like that for the MiG-15bis, with the search radar antenna in a "fat lip" installation at the top of the intake, and the tracking radar antenna in a radome on the intake splitter. The cockpit and canopy were modified to accommodate the radar scope, and the 37 millimeter cannon was replaced with an NR-23 cannon, giving a total armament of three 23 millimeter cannon, with 100 rounds per gun.

Trials also going well, the interceptor variant was ordered into production as the "MiG-17P". Once in service it was given the NATO codename of "Fresco-B", although the MiG-17F "Fresco-C" had actually preceded it into production. Incidentally, the RP-1 radar was given the NATO codename of "Scan Odd", following the inclination to assign quirky names to Soviet radars. In service, a MiG-17P was guided to a target under strict ground control, with the pilot performing the terminal attack using the RP-1 system; it didn't have the range or sophistication to allow the pilot to hunt a target on his own. Apparently the reliability of the Izumrud radar in service was poor, though that was generally true everywhere in that period for complicated aircraft systems such as radar.

Production machines featured variation in armament fit, with some aircraft having only two 23 millimeter cannon, while some others had the standard MiG-17 "Fresco-A" armament of one 37 millimeter and two 23 millimeter cannon. The MiG-17P was the first Soviet radar-equipped single-seat fighter to go into full service. It was flown by the Soviet national air-defense organization, the Protivo-Vozdushnoy Oborony (PVO) -- a separate service from the VVS -- and, oddly, the Red Navy air arm. It doesn't appear to have been used by the VVS in any numbers, if at all.

Incidentally, a MiG-17 "Fresco-A" was fitted with the ASP-4N Sneg (Snow) radar gunsight, which was a copy of the US AN/APG-30 used on the F-86 Sabre. A sample was obtained from an F-86A that crash-landed behind Red lines in Korea in 1951. This machine looked like a MiG-17 with a Sabre nose. There was lobbying to actually produce a Soviet F-86, but it didn't really make sense and the idea went nowhere. The USSR had succeeded in catching up with Western aircraft designs, and the most the Sabre could do for the Soviets was provide some interesting ideas.

* The plan had been to produce the MiG-17P with the VK-1F afterburning engine. However, there were difficulties in building the VK-1F in adequate quantity, so at the outset production deliveries were allocated to the MiG-17F fighter, while the MiG-17P was produced with the non-afterburning VK-1/1A engine.

Mikoyan MiG-17PF Fresco-D

The production issues were worked out, leading to the construction of a prototype of a MiG-17P with a VK-1F afterburning engine, this machine performing its first flight on 8 August 1952 with Georghiy A. Sedov at the controls. The prototype demonstrated improved climb rate and top speed, though since it was heavier and the VK-1F had slightly lower dry thrust than the VK-1/1A, range and cruise speed suffered slightly. On the whole, however, the modifications were regarded as satisfactory, and the variant went into production in 1953 as the "MiG-17PF". It was given the NATO codename of "Fresco-D".

Mikoyan MiG-17PF Fresco-D

The MiG-17PF also featured the modified airbrakes of the MiG-17F, as well as cockpit changes and a Sirena-2 RWR. Late production MiG-17PFs had the improved RP-5 Izumrud 2 radar, with greater range and a larger radome on the centerline intake bulkhead. In the mid-1950s, some MiG-17PFs were fitted with a Gorizont-1 (Horizon-1) radio command link for directing ground-controlled intercepts. These machines were given the new designation of "MiG-17PFG".

* In the mid-1950s, as new aircraft with radar-guided AAMs were introduced, there was a desire to keep the older MiG-17s useful by equipping some of them with the new armament. The result was the "MiG-17PFU", which was a MiG-17PF "Fresco-D" armed with four K-5M / RS-2 (NATO AA-1 Alkali) radar beam-riding AAMs on underwing pylons, and fitted with the appropriate guidance and fire-control electronics. The cannon were removed.

Mikoyan MiG-17PFU Fresco-E

There were about 40 conversions from "Fresco-Ds", with the type given the NATO codename of "Fresco-E". The AA-1 Alkali AAM was very primitive, with limited range, poor performance, and apparently low reliability. It amounted to little more than a stepping-stone to better AAMs. The "Fresco-E" was used mostly for training pilots to fly more advanced interceptors.

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[2.4] MIG-17 MODIFICATIONS & SPECIAL VARIANTS

* There was a series of trials modifications of the MiG-17 to test various types of ordnance, airframe modifications, and avionics. Many were trivial, but some were fairly drastic. The most unarguably drastic modification was the "izdeliye SN" prototype. Following the encouraging experiments with the SU MiG-15 fitted with pivoting armament, a MiG-17 "Fresco-A" was fitted with a "solid" nose containing three pivoting AM-23 23 millimeter cannon and an engine intake forward of each wingroot. The cannon could pivot up about 27.5 degrees and down about 9.5 degrees. There was one cannon on a pivot on the right side of the nose and two cannon mounted top-bottom on a common pivot on the left side of the nose. The pivoting cannon could be used for both strafing and air combat, under control of a special gunsight.

Mikoyan izdeliye SN

The SN was tested in 1953 and ran into a problem: When the cannon were fired upward, the nose pitched down, and when they were fired downward, the nose pitched up. Accuracy of the weapons was poor. This shouldn't have been a surprise in hindsight, but apparently the good results obtained with the trials on the MiG-15, where the two cannon weren't mounted so far from the center of gravity, bred a degree of complacency. The greater weight of the SN also degraded performance, and the intake arrangement led to engine surge. Although some of the test pilots liked the concept and thought it deserved further development, their views didn't carry the day, and the SN was abandoned.

* Another particularly interesting modification laid the groundwork for the next generation of MiG fighters. By the early 1950s, Soviet jet engine design had progressed beyond the era of leveraging off of foreign technology. The engine design bureau under Alexander Mikulin had developed new axial-flow engines with improved power-to-weight ratios and greater fuel economy, and the Mikoyan OKB was considering their application to new fighters with higher performance. As an experiment, a MiG-17 "Fresco-A" prototype was fitted with twin AM-5 axial-flow turbojets, mounted side-by-side in a new "fat" rear fuselage; it was otherwise hard to tell from a stock MiG-17. The compact engines permitted a greater internal fuel capacity. The machine was also fitted with a brake parachute. The aircraft was mainly intended as an engine demonstrator and was designated "izdeliye SM-1" or "I-340", with first flight in the spring of 1952.

The AM-5 was a non-afterburning engine, providing 19.6 kN (2,000 kgp / 4,400 lbf) thrust, with the two AM-5s providing greater thrust than a VK-1F in afterburner. The AM-5 engines were later swapped with lighter and more powerful, but still non-afterburning, "AM-5A" engines, providing 21.1 kN (2,150 kgp / 4,740 lbf) thrust each. An afterburning "AM-5F" engine was developed, but it was never fitted to the I-340.

The I-340 had better range and performance than a standard MiG-17F; it was capable of breaking Mach 1 in level flight. The engines were unreliable -- with engine failures abruptly cutting off cabin pressurization and causing the pilot's nose to start pouring out blood -- but the engines represented a new generation of technology and some difficulties were not surprising. The I-340 didn't go into production, but the concept wasn't discarded by any means, as discussed later.

MiG-17 modifications

* There was a number of other interesting modifications and special variants:

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[2.5] CHINESE & POLISH MIG-17 PRODUCTION

* The MiG-17 was license-built in both China and Poland. In the early 1950s, the PLAAF obtained a number of Soviet-built MiG-17 "Fresco-A" day fighters, designated "J-4" or, when passed on to other countries, "F-4". The Chinese obtained plans for the MiG-17F "Fresco-C" day fighter in 1955, along with two completed pattern aircraft, 15 knockdown kits, and parts for ten aircraft. The first Chinese-built MiG-17F, produced by the Shenyang factory, performed its initial flight on 19 July 1956 with test pilot Wu Keming at the controls. The MiG-17F was known as the "J-5" in Chinese service, or "F-5" when it was exported. One was actually trialed as a torpedo bomber, but not surprisingly the concept never made it into formal service.

The Chinese then went on to produce the MiG-17PF interceptor as the "J-5A (F-5A)". Plans were obtained in 1961, but the country was in turmoil in the early 1960s and the first Chinese-built MiG-17PF, produced at the Chengdu factory, didn't fly until 1964, when the type was basically obsolete. It was given the designation of "J-5A (F-5A)". A total of 767 J-5s and J-5As was built to end of production in 1969.

Somewhat more practically, the Chinese built a two-seat trainer version of the MiG-17, designated the "JJ-5 (FT-5)". It was something of a hybrid, featuring the cockpit scheme of the MiG-15UTI / JJ-2, the non-afterburning VK-1A engine of the MiG-17 "Fresco-A", and the larger airbrakes of the MiG-17F. It also had a protruding upper intake lip resembling that of the MiG-17PF, but the JJ-5 wasn't fitted with radar. All the nose armament was deleted, with the aircraft carrying a single NR-23 cannon in a belly pack. First flight was in 1968, with the type built at the Chengdu factory.

Shenyang JJ-5

About 1,061 JJ-5s were built to end of production in 1986, with the type exported to a number of countries. Some sources have referred to it as a "MiG-17UTI", but formally speaking there never was an aircraft with that designation.

* The Polish WSK-PZL organization initiated license production of the MiG-17F "Fresco-C" and the VK-1F engine in the mid-1950s, with the first example aircraft rolled out in late November 1956, MiG-15 / LIM-2 production being terminated to make way for the new machine. The MiG-17F fighter, which was built at the Mielec plant, was designated "LIM-5" and the VK-1F engine, which was built at the Rzeszow plant, was designated "LIS-5". Oddly, there doesn't appear to have been any "LIM-3 / LIS-3" or "LIM-4 / LIS-4". The first four aircraft were assembled from Soviet-supplied knockdown kits, with full production following in 1957.

The Mielec plant built a total of 477 LIM-5s. Unlike the LIM-2, which was limited to Polish service, the LIM-5 was exported in some numbers, particularly to East Germany, which obtained at least 120.

Although the Polish Air Force did obtain a dozen MiG-17PF "Fresco-D" interceptors from the USSR in 1955, the service needed more, and so a license was obtained for production of that variant as well. The first "LIM-5P", as it was designated, was rolled out in 1959, and a total of 130 were built in all. They were equivalent to late-production Soviet MiG-17PFs, with the better RP-5 Izumrud-2 radar and other improvements. Some were exported, with 40 sent to East Germany and much smaller batches sent elsewhere.

* WSK-PZL built their own dedicated close-support variant of the MiG-17F, the "LIM-5M", which featured large conformal fuel tanks under the wings near the wing roots; twin-wheel main gear with low-pressure tires to handle high loads and permit operation from rough forward airstrips, with the larger gear assemblies accommodated by bulged landing gear doors; and RATO capability to permit takeoffs at high loads, plus a brake parachute to reduce landing roll. It could carry twin rocket pods in addition to its standard MiG-17F built-in cannon armament. Production began in 1960, with about 60 built into 1961.

The LIM-5M wasn't very popular since the tweaks and higher weight degraded handling. There was some consideration given to a "LIM-5RM" tactical reconnaissance variant, but it never got to prototype stage. Work was performed on an improved variant of the LIM-5M, the "LIM-6", featuring a "blown flaps" scheme improve takeoffs and landings, and a number of other tweaks. The LIM-6 turned out to be something of a step backward: the enhancements didn't improve matters all that much and the blown flaps scheme was mechanically unreliable. Although 40 LIM-6 aircraft were built, they were never accepted into service.

After all this screwing around, WSK-PZL essentially backtracked and quit trying to outsmart themselves, giving up on the twin-wheel main gear and the conformal tanks, resulting in a close-support variant designated the "LIM-6bis". It didn't look that much different from a stock LIM-5 except for the fact that it had a fairing in the base of the tailfin for a brake parachute and an extra stores pylon not far from the wing root, like that of the MiG-17AS -- though the aircraft had a number of reinforcements and tweaks compared to the LIM-5. The LIM-6bis did have RATO capability, but that feature was rarely used and the fittings were eventually removed from aircraft in service.

LIM-6bis

The LIM-6bis began production in 1963, with about 70 built into 1964. Surviving LIM-5M and LIM-6 machines were converted to the LIM-6bis standard. A number of reconnaissance machines, known as "LIM-6M", were built, featuring a camera either in the rear fuselage just behind the wing, or in the nose just behind the cannon.

* The Poles also performed a range of modifications of their MiG-17s, including:

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[2.6] MIG-17 IN SERVICE

* By the mid-1950s, the MiG-17 and MiG-17F had replaced the MiG-15 in first-line service with the VVS, while the MiG-17P and MiG-17PF had become the standard interceptors of the PVO national air defense organization. At the time, the Americans were very bold in performing reconnaissance intrusions over the USSR, and the Soviets were keen to take on the intruders.

Two MiG-17s scored "first blood" on 29 July 1953, when a Boeing RB-50 Superfortress entered Soviet airspace near Vladivostok; the RB-50 was shot down and the crew all apparently killed -- though there were rumors that some might have survived , put through the interrogation mill, and were then executed. The two pilots of the MiG-17s were decorated for the action. There were occasional encounters between MiG-17s and foreign intruders through much of the rest of the decade. Beginning in 1956, MiG-17 pilots had the frustrating experience of trying to intercept US Lockheed U-2 spyplanes overflying the USSR. A U-2 cruised at such high altitude that a MiG-17 couldn't get close to it.

The VVS Red Five display team upgraded to the MiG-17F in the mid-1950s, though since they flew nine aircraft the "Five" designation wasn't all that appropriate any longer. By 1960, the MiG-17 was in second-line VVS service, with MiG-17AS conversions being used in the attack role, with the type used in declining numbers in the target-tug and drone roles though the 1960s and beyond. Some MiG-17s remained in service with the DOSAAF organization through the 1980s.

* Like the MiG-15, the MiG-17 was widely exported to Soviet satellites and client states. Red Chinese MiG-17s / J-5s had running battles with a wide range of Taiwanese aircraft from the late 1950s into the early 1960s, with kills and losses for both sides. However, the real combat action for the MiG-17 was in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The Egyptians were flying MiG-17Fs during the 1956 Anglo-French-Israeli seizure of the Suez Canal, with the primary adversary of the MiG-17F being Israeli Dassault Mystere IVs. Both sides claimed kills and suffered losses, but though the claims and denials of both sides are impossible to sort out, it seems the Egyptians, with less experienced pilots than the Israelis, took the worst of it even though the MiG-17F and Mystere IV were reasonably comparable. It is known that on 31 October 1956, Israeli Air Force Captain Yakov Nevo and his wingman in Mystere IVAs took on three Egyptian MiG-17Fs, shooting down one of them. It was the first MiG-17 to be shot down.

After the 1956 war, both Egypt and Syria acquired more MiG-17s. Within a few years the two nations began to acquire more advanced Soviet fighters, but the MiG-17 still remained in first-line service, engaging in occasional clashes with Israeli fighters. The MiG-17 was increasingly outclassed by more advanced Israeli fighters and suffered accordingly, though MiG-17s did claim some kills on the Israelis. Egyptian MiG-17s also fought in the "proxy war" between Egypt and Saudi Arabia over Yemen in 1962, focusing on the ground support role but occasionally encountering British Royal Air Force Hawker Hunters.

The MiG-17 played a role in the 1967 Six-Day War, but mostly as a "target", the bulk of them being destroyed in the initial Israeli blitz, and survivors not having much chance of survival when they took to the air. The MiG-17 remained in service with Arab air arms into the 1970s, but it was no longer very combat-effective. The Israelis completely had the measure of the "Fresco", having captured two in 1970 when a pair of Syrian pilots got confused and landed on an Israeli airstrip. Apparently they were deceived into doing so by bogus beacon signals and Arabic-speaking Israeli "ground controllers".

MiG-17s did serve with distinction in the 1973 Ramadan War, acting in the ground support role. Syrian aircraft suffered heavily, but the Egyptians had negated Israeli air superiority over the Sinai battleground by setting up a thick umbrella of surface to air missile (SAM) sites that allowed Egyptian strike aircraft to operate with considerable success. Egyptian MiG-17s featured underwing rails for eight unguided rockets, and two stores pylons under the forward fuselage for light bombs.

* The zenith of the MiG-17's combat career was Southeast Asia, however. When the US began the air war against North Vietnam in 1964, ramping it up considerably in 1965, the North Vietnamese had an integrated air defense system that they continuously refined and improved. The backbone of the defense system were SA-2 SAMs and a range of anti-aircraft artillery (AAA), ranging from light weapons to heavy guns, directed by a radar network. The network also employed interceptors, with the North Vietnamese heavily relying on the MiG-17 and, later, the MiG-21. As per Soviet doctrine, the fighters were tightly integrated into the air defense network, remaining under very strict ground control. They were not allowed to enter air-defense zones covered by SAM and AAA sites, being engaged without hesitation if they did.

Mikoyan MiG-17 at USAF Museum

Although the Americans never found North Vietnamese fighters to be as big a threat as SAMs and AAA, at first the US suffered startlingly large losses to all elements of the air defense system. US tactics and procedures were poor, and air combat training had been neglected. In time, matters were improved, and American pilots got "MiG fever", the urge to score air combat kills. However, the Americans never had it easy because the North Vietnamese were learning, too.

A subsonic MiG-17 might not seem like much of a match for a supersonic F-105 or F-4 Phantom, but few aircraft fly at supersonic speeds when they are loaded down with bombs or other external stores, and though American fighters were as a rule much more powerful than the MiG-17, they lacked its agility, the F-105 in particular being regarded as a "lead sled". While the North Vietnamese had the advantage of planning attacks as they pleased, in compensation the American aircraft had the speed to make or break contact at will; any American pilot dumb enough to get suckered into a turning fight with a MiG-17 was likely to learn about the little Red fighter's heavy cannon armament the hard way. Many US pilots regarded the MiG-17 as a much more dangerous foe than the less-maneuverable supersonic MiG-21.

The easy way or the hard way, the Americans learned and gradually got the best of toe-to-toe fights, but the North Vietnamese had plenty of tricks up their sleeve. They like "ambush" tactics, loitering at low altitude, hidden against the jungle canopy by their disruptive camouflage colors, and then dashing up into an American strike package, making a single firing pass, and then running away again. Even if the MiGs didn't score a kill, they forced the intruders to dump their bombs, frustrating the air strike. To screen out the MiGs, strike packages were protected by "combat air patrols (CAPs)", including escorting "barrier CAPS (BARCAPs)" and free-ranging "MIGCAPs". Another trick was to fly a natural-metal MiG at low altitude, where it was likely to be "bounced" by American fighters -- which would then be led into a trap in the form or other MiGs, SAM or AAA sites, or both.

Early in the war, due to US President Lyndon Johnson's fear of escalating the conflict, North Vietnamese air bases were off-limits for attacks. Of course this was not very sensible, and eventually the air bases were put on the target list. The North Vietnamese had been expecting them to be attacked sooner or later, and came up with an ingenious means of aircraft dispersal, using Mil Mi-6 "Hook" heavy-lift helicopters to simply carry the camouflage-painted aircraft on a sling to a dispersal site in the jungle vegetation. They would be transferred back to an airfield when needed.

In the end, most of the losses inflicted on American aircraft were from SAMs and particularly AAA; the air combat war was always something of a sideshow. Not surprisingly, the number of kills claimed by the two sides differ widely, with American sources insisting the kill ratio was in their favor, and North Vietnamese sources insisting exactly the reverse. Most North Vietnamese pilots were not "hot dogs", being trained Soviet-style to follow orders and display little initiative, but there were a few stars among them. Oddly, the most famous North Vietnamese pilot, Colonel Tomb, exists in a state between fact and legend. No details are known about him, and though he does seem to have been based on one or more MiG pilots, he appears to have either been a propaganda fabrication of the North Vietnamese or an "urban legend" created by American pilots.

One of the interesting footnotes of the MiG-17's service in Southeast Asia was the fact that Cambodia operated the type, and when the Cambodians took a more active combat role against the Communists in 1970, some of the MiG-17s operated out of bases in South Vietnam.

* Africa was a battleground for the MiG-17, beginning with the Nigerian Civil War in 1969. Various Arab nations passed on MiG-17s and other Soviet to the generally Islamic Nigerian government, which used them against the generally Christian breakaway region of Biafra. The Biafrans didn't have any jet fighters of their own, but they did have some AAA and shot up at least one government MiG-17 so badly that it never flew again.

They also had the support of a Swedish soldier of fortune, Count Carl Gustav von Rosen, who led a small force of Swedish MFI-9B piston light utility aircraft on daring raids against government forces using unguided rocket armament. The MFI-9Bs destroyed at least one MiG-17F on the ground in their attacks, as well as other government aircraft. However, most of the MiG losses were due to accidents, government pilots being usually poorly trained. The government finally crushed the uprising in 1970.

The MiG-17 participated in clashes between Ethiopia and the Sudan in the late 1970s, with both sides flying the type and both claiming kills. MiG-17s may have also played a role in revolutions in other African countries. "Frescos" were used as well in the close-support role by the Soviet-backed Afghan government in the war against the Mujahedin insurgents in the 1980s. The regime was not popular and pilots occasionally defected to Pakistan in their aircraft, with at least one MiG-17 joining the exodus.

JJ-5 warbird

* It does not appear that the MiG-17 remains in service with any air arm, but like the MiG-15 before it, the "Fresco" was sturdy, reliable, and built in large numbers. Many MiG-17s are now in private hands as expensive toys and exciting airshow demonstrators.

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