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MiG-1 and MiG-3: Russia’s Truly OG Warplanes

MiG-3. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
MiG-3. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

With all due respect to Sukhoi and Ilyushin, MiG (Mikoyan and Gurevich, named for Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail I. Gurevich) is without a doubt the most famous name in Soviet/Russian warplanes. 

Chances are, when one thinks of the MiG moniker, one thinks of the firm’s jet fighters from the Cold War era to the present day: from the then-revolutionary MiG-15 “Fagot” of the Korean War that shocked the hell out of American aviators and forced the F-86 Sabre into existence, to the MiG-17 “Fresco” and MiG-21 “Fishbed” that squared off against American F-4 Phantom and F-105 drivers in the skies over Vietnam, to the MiG-29

“Fulcrum” that underperformed in Iraq and Kosovo but is now bravely holding the line for Ukrainians in the country’s fight against Putin’s invasion. 

What’s not as well-known to those who aren’t hardcore military aviation history buffs is that MiG’s history actually dates back to WWII – or as the Russkies still prefer to call it, “The Great Patriotic War” – and propeller-driven piston-engine warbirds such as the MiG-1 and MiG-3.

MiG-1 Early History and Specifications

The MiG-1 made her maiden flight on April 5, 1940, and went into official operational service with the Soviet Air Forces (Военно-Воздушные Силы/Voenno-Vozdushnye Sily/VVS) in December of that year. 

Specs included a fuselage length of 26 feet 9 inches, a wingspan of 33 feet 6 inches, a height of 8 feet 7 inches, an empty weight of 5,736 pounds, and a maximum takeoff weight of 7,317 lb. Max airspeed was 408 miles per hour. Armament consisted of a single 12.7mm Berezin UB machine gun and two 7.62mm ShKAS machine guns, all mounted in the upper nose cowling.  

MiG-3 Early History and Specifications

For whatever reason, perhaps communist logic, the manufacturer skipped the “MiG-2” alphanumeric designation and went next with the MiG-3. This successor warbird made her maiden flight on October 29, 1940, and officially entered into service with the VVS and Soviet Naval Aviation the following year. As noted by Robert Guttman in a September 2022 article for HistoryNet:

“The most important issue effecting MiG-3 production was its Mikulin engine, which was in demand for use in the Ilyushin Il-2 ‘Shturmovik’ armored ground-attack aircraft … The Red Army needs the Il-2 as it needs air or bread,’ Stalin himself declared. ‘I demand more!’ … As a result, production of the MiG-3 was terminated in 1942, after 3,422 were built.”

Specs included a fuselage length of 27 feet 1 inch, a wingspan of 33 feet 6 inches, a height of 10 feet 10 inches, an empty weight of 5,950 pounds, and a gross weight of 7,397 lbs. Speed and armament specifications are provided in the following section. 

Combat Performance  

To say that the MiG-1’s combat performance was inauspicious would be overly generous, as it was more like virtually non-existent, as almost all of the airframes were destroyed on the ground in the opening days of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. There was a sole survivor on the roster as late as 1944, but it was withdrawn from frontline service with no evident combat service to its credit. 

As far as the MiG-3’s combat performance is concerned, we at least have a little bit more actual combat history to work with, thanks to British journalist Russell Miller’s highly informative 1983 book “The Soviet Air Force at War,” part of Time-Life Books’ excellent Epic of Flight series that also includes “Fighting Jets.” Mr. Miller had this to say: 

“The MiG-3 was a more modern design; but it was lightly armed and slow at low altitudes … A flawed design, the MiG-3 was too unstable and poorly armed (one 12.-mm. and two 7.62-mm. machine guns) to compete successfully in the swirling wrenching dogfights over the front. But it was extremely fast in a straight line (398 mph) and was capable of climbing to almost 40,000 feet; it eventually found its niche as a reconnaissance plane.” 

As with the MiG-1, the guns were cowling-mounted.

A whopping 1,432 were shot down, equating to a grievous loss rate of 41.8 percent, with a goodly number of these losses taking place during the defense of Moscow.

Despite the flaws, the MiG-3 was still used with some degree of success by Soviet Air Forces pilots like Alexander Ivanovich Pokryshkin, three-time awardee of Hero of the Soviet Union and eventual Marshal of Aviation. Tovarish (“Comrade”) Pokryshkin was the third-leading Soviet, and Allied, ace of the war, officially credited with 53 solo air-to-air kills (plus six shared kill credits); the majority of those victories were obtained in an American-made Bell P-39 Airacobra, but he did score 10 of the shootdowns in a MiG-3, and those 10 victories were sufficient in and of themselves to qualify for double-ace status. In his own words:

“The excellent fighting qualities of the MiG-3 were, as it were, hidden behind some of its shortcomings. The advantages of this machine became apparent only to those pilots who possessed the ability to find and use them.”

Where Are They Now?

Out of 100 MiG-1s built, there are no known surviving specimens today. A truly ignominious start for the most famous aircraft maker in the Rodina (“Motherland”)! 

As for the MiG-3, the survival tale is slightly better: the Russian company Aviarestoration managed to rebuild three of them, using Allison V-12 engines. One actually made its way stateside, specifically to the Military Aviation Museum in Pungo, Virginia, near Virginia Beach. The other two remain in Russia, including one at the Central Air Force Museum in the Monino section of the Moscow Oblast.  

Christian D. Orr is a former U.S. 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).