MiG 19 Farmer – Agricultural Design
Soviet post-war fighter production had introduced two superlative subsonic fighters; the MiG 15 ‘Fagot’ and the MiG 17 ‘Fresco’. While the latter aircraft could operate at transonic speeds, the Soviet general staff envisaged the need for a supersonic fighter to counter emerging American designs of combat aircraft.
The resultant acquisition program saw the emergence of the MiG 19 (NATO reporting name ‘Farmer’), which became the first supersonic fighter to achieve mass production.
Fast and heavily armed, the Farmer saw extensive service with many nations and inspired a Chinese copy, the Shenyang J-6.
The MiG 19 had a reasonably good service record, providing the Soviet Union with a swift interceptor for border protection duties for many years, and seeing combat service in the Middle East and over Vietnam.
Small numbers of the MiG 19 or the J-6 still see service today in some small air forces and operate in larger numbers with North Korea.
Design and Development
The design program for the MiG 19 had started in 1950 when the Soviet authorities had started to look for a fighter that was longer ranged than the Fresco and was capable of supersonic speeds in level flight.
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The first prototype was a heavily modified MiG 17 fitted with two non-afterburning engines, known as the SM-1. Purpose-built prototypes were constructed as the SM-2 and SM-2B, but the performance results were unsatisfactory, so new after-burning Tumansky turbojets were installed instead.
Now labelled as the SM-9, this version impressed Soviet authorities and was ordered for manufacture in February 1954.
The consequences of not fully completing the testing sequence before service introduction became immediately apparent during the early employment of the MiG 19, with many crashes causing fatalities after the type entered service in March 1955.
This rushed service entry led to poor quality control during manufacture, and failed insulation between the fuel tanks and the engines led to several spectacular explosions in flight.
While the MiG 19 was produced in a large variety of models and had small production runs of specialised versions for reconnaissance and high-altitude interception duties, it was mostly produced in 3 main variants.
The MiG 19 base model entered service in March 1955 and was the version that experienced most of the teething problems prevalent when a platform is rushed into service.
These problems were made worse by no two-seater version for training available, which made transition into the type particularly difficult and dangerous. The original version had a very high landing speed, which led to many crashes by inexperienced pilots training to fly the MiG 19.
Overflights of the Soviet Union by American reconnaissance balloons and Canberra jet aircraft, and also learning of the imminent U-2 spy plane program led the Soviet general staff to authorise an all-weather interceptor version of the MiG 19.
This variant, known as the MiG 19P (Farmer ‘B’) had a revised armament fit and introduced the RP-1 Izumrud radar for target detection.
Towards the end of its service life, this variant would also be equipped with the AA-2 ‘Atoll’ air-to-air missile, and could also carry rocket pods.
The later MiG 19 PM (Farmer ‘E’) was a development of this variant, stripped of all cannon armament and mounting beam-riding missiles and entering service in 1957.
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The other major variant was the MiG 19S (Farmer ‘C’), which was an improved day fighter with light surface attack capabilities entering service in 1956. This version was the major export model to other countries and was the template for licenced production in the People’s Republic of China and Czechoslovakia.
The ‘C’ introduced new navigation equipment and revised armament, and with improved engines giving it an excellent climb rate was often used for interception duties. The MiG 19S also spawned the MiG 19SF and MiG 19SU versions, which were specialised high-altitude interceptors manufactured in small numbers.
The MiG 19 was also manufactured by Czechoslovakia as the Avia S-105 and China which licenced the type as the Shenyang J-6. While the manufacture of these foreign variants continued into the 1960s and beyond, the MiG 19 ceased to be made in the Soviet Union from 1960, as production of the MiG 21 was ramping up. Total numbers manufactured of the MiG 19 was 2,172 units, while nearly 3,000 models of the J-6 and S-105 have been reported.
The MiG 19 had the following dimensions: a height of 3.8 metres (12 feet 9 inches), a length of 12.5 metres (41 feet) and a wingspan of 9 metres (29 feet 6 inches). Empty, the Farmer weighed in at 5,170 kg (11,400 lbs) and had a gross weight of 7,560 kg (16,660 lbs).
The MiG 19 had a Maximum Take-Off weight (MTOW) of 8,830 kg (19,470 lbs). The Farmer had internal tankage to carry 1,800 litres (400 Imp. gallons) of fuel.
The MiG 19 was equipped with two Tumansky RD-9B afterburning turbojets, which could produce 5,700 lbs of thrust dry, and 7,100 lbs of thrust when augmented. These engines gave the Farmer a top speed of 1,450 km/h (900 mph, Mach 1.35).
The combat range of the MiG 19 was 1,390 kilometres (860 miles), and the ferry range of the aircraft was 2,200 km (1,400 miles) when fitted with two 760 litres (170 Imp. gallons) drop tanks.
The Farmer had a service ceiling of 17,500 metres (57,400 feet) but later specialised high-altitude interceptor variants would reach up to 70,000 feet in attempts to intercept the American U-2 surveillance aircraft.
Most versions of the MiG 19 were equipped with three 30mm Nudelman-Rikhter NR-30 autocannons, with two of these fitted in the wing roots and the third residing in the fuselage.
This placement of the weapons was a result of operational experience in the Fagot and Fresco, which found that nose-mounted cannons caused surging problems of the turbojet of these models when gun gasses were ingested into the engine. 75 rounds were supplied in each wing gun, along with 50 rounds for the fuselage-mounted weapon.
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The MiG 19 was equipped with four hard points under the wings, but the inner two were permanently plumbed for the employment of drop tanks to increase operational range, and thus could not be used for the carriage of weapons.
The Farmer could carry external ordnance up to the weight of 500 kg (1,100 lbs), and this consisted of rocket pods and bombs for ground attacks, or air-to-air missiles for aerial interception duties.
The MiG 19 has a varied service record, with some dismal results balanced by modest success when properly supported and utilised. The type has served with many air arms since the 1950s and continues to be operated in small numbers to this day.
The aircraft is not as well known in history as other combat aircraft of the same period, and this can be attributed to following the superb MiG 15 and 17 into service, and then being replaced with the popular and widely-used MiG 21 ‘Fishbed’.
The Soviet Union employed the MiG 19 as an interceptor until the 1960s when newer types of fighters were entering the Soviet inventory. The Farmer was heavily used in patrol and interception duties and was involved in two shoot-downs, in 1960 and again in 1964.
The type first intercepted the U-2 in 1957 but was unable to properly engage the target due to the height difference, and the U-2 was only ever successfully engaged with the SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missile.
The North Vietnamese Air Force (NVAF) began to operate the type for air defence in 1968, after American bombing raids began to increase in severity. Entering service in limited numbers, the MiG 19 claimed seven aerial victories over American forces, including several against the F-4 Phantom.
In a similar story to that of the MiG 17 in NVAF service, the Farmer was able to make good use of its heavy gun armament to down US opponents, after emerging unscathed when American missiles malfunctioned or missed, as often happened during this conflict.
However, the MiG 19 was generally disliked by the North Vietnamese because of its short range and the high maintenance requirements of the two Tumansky turbojets and were quick to re-equip with the MiG 21 when able to do so.
China has used the J-6 copy in aerial incidents multiple times, including the downing of US aircraft that strayed in PRC airspace on several occasions during the Vietnam War. Pakistan employed the Shenyang J-6 copy of the Farmer during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, and Tanzanian MiG 19s were used in combat against Uganda in the late 1970s, and in the same period Somalia flew the Farmer in combat against Ethiopia.
The MiG 19 was extensively employed in the Middle East, mainly by Egypt but Iraq and Syria also had the Farmer in their inventories.
Egyptian MiG 19s fared poorly in the Six Day War of 1967, with half of the Egyptian fleet being destroyed on the ground by surprise Israeli air attacks, but those that were encountered in the air by IAF pilots were considered formidable adversaries on account of their manoeuvrability and heavy cannon armament.
After the end of this conflict the MiG 19 force was reorganised, and during Yom Kippur (1973) was mainly used in surface attacks in support of ground forces, but also recorded an aerial victory over an IAF Mirage III.
Limited numbers of MiG 19s and J-6s remain in service with small air forces to this day, but reports of aircraft serviceability rates mean limited flying hours for these now-relics. The North Korean regime operates about a hundred J-6s/MiG 19s in both one and two-seater versions, but serviceability rates are not currently known.
The MiG 19 ‘Farmer’ was the first supersonic combat aircraft to be manufactured in large numbers, and is a prime example of a second-generation jet fighter whose closest American contemporary was the F-100 Super Sabre.
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While an agile and deadly air-to-air opponent with heavy armament, the MiG 19 was partially handicapped in service because of its relatively short range, and the high maintenance requirements of its twin power plants.
As such, the type only had a limited service life with its parent air force, however, the Farmer did have a longer career with other air forces in the Middle East and South-East Asia.
Overshadowed by earlier models, and quickly replaced in many inventories with the MiG 21 ‘Fishbed’, the Farmer was still a capable design that provided valiant service around the world, and still operates in small numbers to this day.
Only fate ensures that this aircraft is not more widely known in this current day, but by any standards is a competent design for its time, and it did achieve modest success in operational use for many years in the past.
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- Crew: 1
- Length: 12.54 m (41 ft 2 in) with pitot probe retracted; 14.64 m (48.0 ft) with pitot probe extended
- Wingspan: 9 m (29 ft 6 in)
- Height: 3.88 m (12 ft 9 in)
- Empty weight: 5,172 kg (11,402 lb)
- Max takeoff weight: 8,832 kg (19,471 lb) with 2 × 760 L (170 imp gal; 200 US gal) drop tanks and two rocket pods
- Powerplant: 2 × Tumansky RD-9B afterburning turbojet engines, 25.5 kN (5,700 lbf) thrust each dry, 31.8 kN (7,100 lbf) with afterburner
- Maximum speed: 1,452 km/h (902 mph, 784 kn) at 10,000 m (33,000 ft)
- Range: 1,390 km (860 mi, 750 nmi)
- Service ceiling: 17,500 m (57,400 ft)
- Rate of climb: 177.8 m/s (35,000 ft/min)