Warplanes: The MiG-15 Finally Fades Away

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November 14, 2005: Albania has retired the last MiG-15 fighters still in service. A late 1940s design, partly based on work Germany had done during World War II (and using captured German engineers and plans, as well as British technology and Russian aircraft design ideas), the MiG-15 looked good on paper. The six ton MiG-15 was fast, rugged and resistant to damage. But the flight controls made it difficult to maneuver as effectively as "inferior" American aircraft. MiG-15s were usually the losers in aerial battles with aircraft like the F-86 or F-80. Recognizing those flaws, there followed the six ton MiG-17, which corrected most of the MiG-15s faults, and added a new one; difficulty maneuvering at low altitudes. In the mid 1950s, the nine ton MiG-19 showed up, further refining the original MiG-15 idea. The MiG-19 was supersonic, but as pilots discovered, it was maneuverability, not speed, that brought victory. The MiG-19; was quickly followed in the late 1950s by the 8.5 ton MiG-21, which is still serving in dozens of air forces. Most modern jet fighters weigh in at twenty tons or more, and dwarf the MiG-15 in other ways as well.

Albania got its first MiG-15s from Russia in the 1950s, but later got the Chinese version (the J-2). There are only ten J-2s left in Albanian service, and most will probably end up with collectors, or museums. There are also 24 MiG-17s and 60 MiG-19s (all Chinese copies.) Most of these aircraft have not been flown for years, as Albania was unable to afford the fuel for that after the Cold War ended in 1991, and China was no longer willing to subsidize such flights. Over half a century, 35 Albanian pilots died flying the MiG-15, which was known as a tricky aircraft for beginners. Few Albanian got enough flight hours to become really expert.

 


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