Monday, January 06, 2014

MiGs. Think I need one.

Man, nothing gets me airplane shopping like being grounded, and with my leg and the current weather outside (snow, lots of snow) I've been looking for a replacement for my trusty Cessna 172G.

This time, my inquiries were stoked by the latest issue of Air & Space Smithsonian (January, 2014), and a nifty article about the MiG 15.

When it first appeared over the skies of Korea to savage our formations of B-29 bombers (downing six of them out of a flight on nine on it's debut attack, the West was caught completely flat-footed. If nothing else, it showed us that our "regional" fight with North Korea and it's puppetmasters in China had now expanded to include the Russians too. For the MiG 15 was a Russian fighter first and foremost, that is if you consider an airframe design ripped off from the Germans at the close of the war and a ripped-off British engine to be "Russian".

To be fair, our own F-86 Sabre jet airframe was designed using the same German research, which is why it and the MiG looked so similar.
MiG 15 leading F-86 Sabre jet.

Both were inspired by the swept-wing R&D that Focke Wulf was working on right up until war's end. The Allies captured the FW plant in Bad Eilsen, Germany and found all of the models and wind tunnel data for the TA-183 concept aircraft that they were working on but the Russians also scored a set of blueprints for the TA-183 when they took Berlin. As a result, both sides developed a jet aircraft with 35-degree swept wings and a high-T tail, although the Russians lacked a proper engine or the know-how to create one. This changed in 1946 however, when the new British Labor Government, headed by Clement Attlee, decided to make nice with the Russians and offered them the Rolls Royce Neene jet engine provided that the Russians promised to use it only for peaceful, non-military applications. The Russians agreed and sent their experts, including military aircraft designer Arten Mikoyan (The Mi in MiG), to the Rolls plant to see how they made the engines. The US State Department protested strongly to no avail, and even Stalin himself was surprised that the British could be so gullible. The Russians quickly took the test samples that the British gave them and reverse-engineered them right into the new MiG airframe. When the British objected, the Russians claimed to have made changes that rendered the engine, now called the VK1, a "Russian design".

I'd slap at the Brits more for this except that our own Bill Clinton fell for pretty much the same thing in the 1990s when, in return for bundles of campaign cash he and Al Gore gave the Red Chinese advanced computers that helped them develop advanced ICBM MIRV technology that they'd likely not have today.


The Russian MiG, while crude, still had comparable performance to the American F-86, and in the first year that it was flown over Korea by pilots whom we now know to have been seasoned Russian WW2 veterans, it was an aircraft to be respected. Indeed, it's presence put an end to US daylight bombing of North Korean targets as it knocked down one B-29 after another with almost total impunity. Finally we just stopped flying the B-29s by day.

Aviation technology continued to improve, but the Russians and their satellite countries continued to produce and fly the MiG 15 and it's upgraded version, the MiG 17, well up into the 1980s. Now the darn things are for sale all over the place, and at low, low prices, especially when compared to an F-86.

F-86A for sale. $795,000.

MiG 15 for sale. $55,000.
I'm starting to think that I may need me a Mig. Lately I've been looking at Stearmans and T-34s, but these are significantly cheaper and they fly a lot faster.

And here's a MiG 17 (an upgraded 15) for $75.000.

What I like about this 17 is that it still has the white stripe down the center of the dash panel.
Pilots were taught that when the MiG departed controlled flight and began to spin, push the control stick fully forward to the white stripe. With luck and enough altitude, the MiG usually comes out of the spin.

Seriously, I could have a genuine sub-mach jet fighter for about the cost of a ragged-out Stearman biplane and a lot cheaper than a decent Beech T-34.

And here's a cherry MiG 21 for sale for just $69,500.
Once so secretive that the US Air Force had to scour the world to obtain a few of them for study and training, (See the fantastic book Red Eagles that discusses this once-secret program in which the US Air Force obtained and flew MiGs to train American pilots.) they're now being dumped on the market all over the world for anyone to buy. According to the FAA, there are currently 44 operational MiG 21 fighters in private ownership in the US, with at least three companies importing and refurbishing them today.

This thing is supersonic and still a formidable fighter within it's own performance envelope. It was more than a match for it's contemporaries in the 60s and 70s if flown to it's own strengths, especially when guided to it's targets by ground controllers.

Damn, I could SO have fun with that, roaring eastward over the Blue Ridge in full afterburner towards Washington DC. Bet the F-16 guys at Andrews AFB'd be up in no time to admire it and maybe try a bit of mock dogfighting. (Uh, F-16 guys...remember that "mock" part, ok?)

So with all these cool MiGs floating around cheap, why am I still even looking at old prop stuff?


  1. The question to ask is how many hours on the engine. IIRC, the Mig-15 engine was only rated for 50 hours between overhauls and the Mig-21 wasn't much better.

  2. Aw, TBO on those old combloc jet engines is really more of a suggestion, isn't it, juvat?

    Actually, as I read in Red Eagles, the Russians pretty much intended the engines to be disposable at the end of their time. They didn't plan on rebuilding them like we do here.

    But other than that, so long as you're not the one in the cockpit when it quits, what fun they must be to fly!

  3. That's just too cool.

  4. Why are you still looking at prop planes? Two words: fuel burn.

  5. I think it was Ted Williams who said Sabre Jets were " like flying a blow torch" , not much glad path if it goes out!

  6. @ Daddy Hawk: Yeah, there is that. Anyone else want to smack me with a reality bat and crush my dreams of Appalachian air superiority?

  7. Get a two seater so the dogs can come with you.

  8. You asked, I answered. Don't ask questions you don't want answered. I'm not here to tell you not to do it. In fact, I want to live vicariously through your exploits. Besides you feed a pig a steady diet of 7.62. What's feeding a 375 gallon tank at $5 a gallon and a burn rate of 300 gallons an hour +/-. Oh wait, was that your soul I just crushed. My bad. You really shouldn't leave it lying around like that. If you get one, can I have a ride?

  9. Just remember, if you fly that Mig 15 or 17 it is prone to get into a flat spin that you cannot get out of!

    And spare parts will always be a pain.

  10. Daddy Hawk nailed it. It's all about the fuel.

  11. Hey Murphy,

    Juvat is correct, as an aviation mechanic, the cost per hour has to be a factor, unless you incorporate and have lots of disposable income. I did see where a lot of the combloc like the Czech trainer and others are out there cheaper cost and probably will cheaper to operate and you still get the "jet experience" and don't get mauled so bad in cost per hour. Just an idea...and besides I think Murphy and belle would have problems in the cockpit if you do barrel rolls or something.

  12. @ Daddy Hawk: Damn straight you can. If fact, you can be my GIB (Guy In Back) when I make that DC flight. Gonna need someone to yell "Oh, they come!" when the F-16s show up.

    And yeah, if fuel burn weren't an issue, I'd have bought an A-26 a few years ago...and an O-2A last year. All were affordable to buy but not to fly. MiG is the same...but I can dream, dammit.

    1. Rent your dreams. Buy your realities.

      I'll take that DC ride and proudly where my best JAFO hat.

  13. @ Paul: That's what they white line on the dash is for. When you spin it, you push the stick to that line while praying to God and begging forgiveness for everything you've ever done bad.

  14. Not trying to crush your spirit! Lord knows I've looked into buying them myself. I'm thinking the L-39 might be a better fit. Two seats for one thing, the Missus having put her foot down on that one. And a much better fuel flow for the second. Additionally, having been friends with several of the people who've flown them, they all say they were not easy to fly. Cramped, hard to see out of, heavy controls. The white line was there so you could put the stick there. It was painted so the pilot could find it with no problem while his head was banging off the canopy.
    You're right they intended to throw the engines away. So you're kinda left with a conundrum. Throw it away as the engineer intended and buy a new one. OR......
    Fly in a single engine Fighter with an engine that is older than the engineer designed it for.
    A measure of High Performance Aircraft career success is having exactly the same number of takeoffs as landings.
    But...It is fun figuring out how to spend that lottery money.

  15. You could always go the whole hog, and retrofit the MiG with a Williams or other executive jet turbofan. A modern engine would cut the fuel consumption by at least half, probably more like two-thirds, and you'd get the same overall performance with better throttle response.

    Miss D. and I will come to visit you during the rebuild. We can hold the tools and make encouraging remarks while you work . . .


  16. @ Mr. Garibaldi: The dogs will get used to it. Until then, I've cleaned dog puke out of an airplane before.

    @ juvat: Yeah, but the L-39 is back out of my price range. It's tough to have a warbird appetite on a used Cessna single budget. And one of these days, if I'm not careful I'm likely to acquire one of those "wife" creatures and then I won't be buying new toys at all unless she comes with a good job and/or a decent bank account.

  17. @ Peter: It was only about 15 years or so back that your own native South Africa was selling off their surplus F-86 fighters for a song, and a Canadian company was doing re-powers for those using a commercial engine that gave more thrust and burned a lot less fuel.

    I was near broke back then but had enough in the bank to buy one of the jets as they sat. If I could've, I'd have snagged one and stored it until I could afford the rebuild.

    But then along came the Clinton Administration with a ban on the importation of former US military hardware--a ban that many people thought was aimed specifically at those Sabres and a bunch of old ex-US tanks and tracks that Israel was offering up (Shermans and half-tracks re-powered with diesel engines, M-48 Pattons and M-113 APCs.)

    Still, you and Miss D. are welcome here any time, helpful suggestions or not.

  18. @ Peter: Also, I've seen enough of my own DIY projects to never, ever fly in a plane that I did the work on by myself.

  19. Uh, ML. You scared me when you said "wife" creature. Trust me. The MiG would be cheaper =)

  20. I've seen the MiG and the F-86 doing mock aerial combat out at the Planes of Fame museum in Chino, CA.

    Great show they put on!

  21. Just go with a different paint scheme, maybe something with a Gadsden flag.

  22. I think you're actually understating your acquisition cost by 50%. Here's how I see it. The first time you make your run on DC and the F-16s scramble and get their butts kicked by you. The next time they're gonna to say, "That's that crazy American version of Douglas Bader, we're not going to go and get whipped by him in his 60+ year old airplane, with an out of time engine, again." So they don't show up. You get bored.
    My solution? Buy two, they're cheap. I'd even volunteer, kind soul that I am, to be your wingman. Then when the F-16s chicken out, you've still got somebody to fight.

  23. They're cheap for a reason. Factor in engines probably at TBO and the corrosion that comes over time and storage, you're looking at major dollars to keep it airworthy.

    Having flown jets with the Sabre Wing though, I just have to say "Damn, I want one"

  24. Anonymous9:37 AM

    Two comments:

    A Stearman is COOL! AND

    WHY get some commie bastard technology?

    Regardless, enjoy, whatever your choice! :-)


  25. FWIW I recommend you go this route
    Sign up for a supervised/assisted build program...factory supervised if possible. These are accelerated builds where technicians help you out and check your work. Well worth the extra money.