Air & Space Airshow Spotter’s Guide

Fun facts about the airplanes you’ll see on the summer circuit.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15
(Illustrations by Harry Whitver)

How to recognize: Though sometimes mistaken for its nemesis, the F-86, the MiG has a larger vertical tail. Its tailplanes ride high; whereas a Sabrejet’s tailplanes ride low, close to the fuselage. (So close are the two fighters in appearance that F-86 pilots in Korea sometimes shot down friendly aircraft believing them to be MiGs.)

Claim to fame at airshows: MiG-15s and -17s sometimes perform mock dogfights with F-86 Sabres.

Claim to fame in service: The MiG-15 could climb faster and higher than its arch rival from the USAF, the F-86, but the American pilots often won the fight through better training in aerial combat. More than 12,000 MiG-15s were built by the Soviet Union and another 6,000 variants under license by other nations, making it the most widely produced jet aircraft in history.

Mission: The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 was designed by the Soviet Union to pick off USAF B-29 bombers at high altitude. During the Korean War, some of the most famous action in the air war were the dogfights between MiG-15s and North American F-86 Sabres escorting the B-29s.

Performance and specifications: Introduced in 1947, the MiG-15 can fly at 670 mph and at up to 51,000 ft. Its pressurized cockpit seats only one pilot. Wingspan is 33 ft and 1.5 inches. Maximum weight is 11, 270 pounds.

Main variants: The MiG-15bis (“second”) with an improved engine and more weapon hardpoint attachments. The two-seat trainer, called the MiG-15UTI.

National Air and Space Museum

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