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MiG-19 “Farmer”: Russia’s Forgotten Fighter?

MiG-19 computer generated image.

Pity the poor MiG-19 “Farmer.” Here in the (virtual) pages of 19FortyFive as well as myriads of other sources on military aviation history, plenty has been written about other early Cold War MiG (Mikoyan-Gurevich) jet fighters, such as the vaunted MiG-15 as well as the MiG-17 “Fresco” and the ubiquitous MiG-21 “Fishbed.”

But as the Pickled Wings vintage aircraft preservation website notes in an article subtitled The Forgotten MiG: “The MiG-19…had the misfortune of falling between the MiG-17, the offspring of the MiG-15, and the MiG-21. Preceded by the descendant of a legend and followed by the aircraft that defined the term ‘MiG’ for decades, it’s hardly surprising that the MiG-19 sometimes gets overlooked when talking about Mikoyan-Gurevich aircraft.”

Which is too gosh darn bad from an aviation history buff’s standpoint, as the MiG-19 was in several ways a historically significant warbird in her own right.

Let’s now give the MiG-19 Farmer her due.

MiG-19 Origins and Specifications

The Farmer made her maiden flight on 24 May 1952 and officially entered into operation service with the Soviet Air Forces in March 1955.

A total of 2,172 MiG-19 airframes were produced between 1954 and 1968, and foreign customers of the plane including: China, Afghanistan, Albania, Bulgaria, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Syria, North Korea, and North Vietnam.

The plane was conceived to fulfill a Soviet military requirement for a heavily armed, supersonic fighter capable of reaching the altitudes needed to intercept Western strategic bombers. As hinted at above, the MiG-19 made aviation history in several ways.

For starters, the first Soviet-designed aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight, as well as the first aircraft in the world approved for series production which were capable of doing so. The Pickled Wing article adds:

“For clarity, it should be noted that while the North American F-100 Super Sabre was the world’s first aircraft in military service to exceed the speed of sound in level flight, the MiG-19 received its approval for series production before its American counterpart did. While the F-100 beat the MiG-19 into service, it came at the cost of a high number of accidents due to stability problems in the early years of the American aircraft’s service.”

Specifications included a fuselage length of 40 feet 3 inches, a wingspan of 30 feet 2 inches, a height of 12 feet, with a maximum takeoff weight of 19,096 pounds. Armament consisted of three Nudelman-Rikhter NR-30 30mm cannon. Two Tumansky RD-9 turbojets with 7,165 pounds’ worth of thrust apiece powered the MiG-19 through the air as a maximum airspeed of 903 miles per hour (Mach 1.17).

Real-World Performance?

Soon enough, American military aviators would run afoul of the ferocious Farmer. The first documented encounter between a Warsaw Pact aircraft and America’s then-super-secret “Dragon Lady,” i.e., the U-2 spy plane, transpired in 1957 when a MiG-19 pilot visually acquired a U-2 but could not get close enough to engage it.

Farmer drivers had better luck against NATO aircraft in July of 1960, wherein a British based RB-47 Stratojet reconnaissance aircraft was splashed into the Barents Sea, and in January of 1964, when a Soviet-piloted MiG-19 killed an unarmed T-39 Sabreliner training aircraft which had strayed into East German airspace.

The best documented combat performance of the MiG-19 took place during the Vietnam War. Vietnamese People’s Air Force (VPAF), i.e., North Vietnamese Air Force, official sources claim that between 1965 and 1972, MiG-19 pilots shot down 13 enemy fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters in exchanged for five MiG-19s down and one pilot KIA.

American sources acknowledge a total of six air-to-air losses against MiG-19s during that same timespan – one F-104G starfighter, two A-6 Intruders (in a single engagement), and three F-4 Phantom IIs – in exchange for 10 Farmers killed.

Indeed, the MiG-19 would make aviation history again, but in a manner that wouldn’t inspire Commie pride: on 2 June 1972, USAF Col. (Ret.) Phil Handley was credited with the highest speed air-to-air gun kill in the history of aerial combat when he shot down a MiG-19 with a 3-second burst from his 20mm M-61 Gatling gun whilst traveling at a speed of Mach 1.2.

Where Are They Now?

Though the bona fide MiG-19 Farmer is no longer in active service with any nation’s military, in a manner of speaking the plane lives on in the form of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force (PLANAF) Shenyang J-6, which made its own maiden flight in 196, PLAAF and PLANAF had 36 and 14 J-6s in service as of 2019.

As of that same year, Tanzanian Air Force Command had four J-6s in its fleet

As far as bona fide surviving MiG-19s are concerned, there are three – all static displays as opposed to airworthy planes – that I’m aware of. These include one at the National Museum of Military History in Sofia, Bulgaria (though I haven’t been to that museum, I *have* been to Sofia, and can definitely recommend it as a tourism-worthy city); the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in the vicinity of Dayton, Ohio; and the March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California.

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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS)

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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).