A Brief History
On January 14, 1950, the MiG-17 Soviet jet fighter made its first flight, a plane that would go on to become the 3rd most produced jet fighter in aviation history. (With 11,060 built, only the MiG-15 and MiG-21 outnumbered it.)
A single engine high subsonic fighter, the MiG-17 was known by its NATO designation Fresco. It was basically an upgraded MiG-15, simple, rugged, reliable, and packing a punch of 2 X 23 mm cannons and 1 X 37 mm cannon, heavier armament than the 6 X .50 caliber machine guns typically found on early US jet fighters.
Operational in 1952, the MiG-17 was built to intercept US propeller powered bombers (B-29, B-50, B-36) and to exceed the performance of Korean War vintage US fighter jets. Capable of Mach .98 (711 mph), the MiG-17 was not supersonic, and therefore became obsolete as an interceptor with the advent of supersonic bombers. Introduced too late to fight in Korea, the MiG-17 first saw combat against Taiwanese F-86 Sabres in 1958.
The MiG-17 made its reputation as an effective fighter over the skies of Vietnam fighting against supersonic American jet fighters laden with bombs, thus rendered subsonic. Escorting American fighters had to remain subsonic to stay with the bomb laden planes, making the apparently obsolete MiG-17 a viable contender in combat. US rules requiring visual identification of enemy planes before launching missiles took away the long range and medium range missile technological advantage of the US fighters, for by the time such visual ID was made, ranges were so short that dogfights became gun battles, with the MiG-17 well armed with cannon and the US F-4 Phantom not even equipped with a gun! The much larger, faster, and more powerful F-4 struggled to dogfight the nimble little MiG-17, and US losses were distressingly high. Three North Vietnamese pilots became aerial aces flying the MiG-17, with 7, 6, and 6 kills of US planes each. Despite 71 US aircraft claimed as destroyed by MiG-17s from 1965 to 1972, the US acknowledges 28 US planes lost to the obsolete fighter. (Some MiG-17s flown in combat against American planes were piloted by Chinese.) These battles led to a revised US fighter jet philosophy that any fighter has to have an effective gun.
The MiG-17 was also equipped with short range air to air missiles, and could be used as a fighter bomber, armed with 2 X 250 kg bombs. When loaded with drop tanks, the MiG-17 had a range of 1100 miles.
Used by the Soviet Union and most communist bloc countries during the Cold War, the MiG-17 also found extensive use in third world countries and some may be in limited use today. This jet just plain old worked, and worked well, nothing fancy and not pretty, but one of history’s great fighter planes. Question for students (and subscribers): Where would you place it in the pantheon of great fighter planes? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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The featured image in this article, a photograph by Stuart Seeger from College Station, Texas, USA of a restored MiG-17 in the markings of the Polish Air Force, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. This image was originally posted to Flickr by StuSeeger at https://www.flickr.com/photos/50203533@N00/193769824. It was reviewed on by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.
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