Design and development
On April 20 1951, OKB-155 was given the order to develop the MiG-17 into a new fighter called “I-340”, which was to be powered by two Mikulin AM-5 non-afterburning jet engines (a scaled-down version of the Mikulin AM-3) with 4,410 lbf (19.6 kN) of thrust. The I-340 was supposed to attain 725 mph (1,160 km/h; Mach 0.97) at 6,560 ft (2,000 m), 675 mph (1,080 km/h; Mach 1.0) at 33,000 ft (10,000 m), climb to 33,000 ft (10,000 m) in 2.9 minutes, and have a service ceiling of no less than 55,000 ft (17,500 m). The new fighter, internally designated “SM-1”, was designed around the “SI-02” airframe (a MiG-17 prototype) modified to accept two engines in a side-by-side arrangement. The aircraft was completed in March 1952. The aircraft suffered from poor cockpit pressurization and the engines proved temperamental with frequent flameouts and surges with rapid throttle movements. The engines were upgraded to the AM-5A standard with 4,740 lbf (21.1 kN) of thrust each, which exceeded the power output of the Klimov VK-1F in afterburner while providing better fuel economy. The SM-1 was barely supersonic, reaching 745 mph (1,193 km/h) at 16,400 ft (5,000 m) — Mach 1.03. This performance was deemed insufficient for the new supersonic fighter and an afterburning version of the engine, the AM-5F, was proposed. While not implemented, the AM-5F served as the basis for the Tumansky RD-9 which powered production aircraft. Further development of the twin-engine concept resulted in a government request for the “I-360”, internally designated “SM-2”, which was also powered by the AM-5F engines, but featured a highly swept wing.
On August 15 1953, the Mikoyan-Gurevich OKB was given a new order to create a frontline fighter. The OKB was asked to create two designs — a single-engined version with the Klimov VK-7 and a twin-engine version with Mikulin AM-9Fs. The twin-engine fighter, internally designated “SM-9” — but also assigned the production name MiG-19 — was based on the earlier SM-2 prototype. The first airframe, “SM-9/1” flew on January 5 1954. The afterburner did not light in the first flight, but in the second flight the aircraft reached Mach 1.25 at 26,400 ft (8,050 m). This was improved to Mach 1.44 in subsequent flights. Based on this promising performance, the MiG-19 was ordered into production on February 17 1954, even though government acceptance trials did not start until September of that year. The first production aircraft rolled off the assembly line in March of 1955.
Initial enthusiasm for the aircraft was dampened by several problems. The most alarming of these was the danger of a mid-air explosion due to overheating of the fuselage fuel tanks located between the engines. Deployment of airbrakes at high speeds caused a high-g pitch-up. Elevators lacked authority at supersonic speeds. The high landing speed of 145 mph (230 km/h) (compared to 100 mph (160 km/h) in the MiG-15), combined with absence of a two-seat trainer version, slowed pilot transition to the type. Handling problems were addressed with the second prototype, “SM-9/2”, which added a third ventral airbrake and introduced all-moving tailplanes with a damper to prevent pilot-induced oscillations at subsonic speeds. It flew on September 16 1954, and entered production as the MiG-19S.
A total of approximately 8,500 MiG-19s were produced, mainly in the USSR, but also in the People’s Republic of China as the Shenyang J-6 and in Czechoslovakia as the Avia S-105. The aircraft saw service with a number of other national air forces, including those of Cuba, North Vietnam, Egypt, Pakistan, and North Korea. The aircraft saw combat during the Vietnam War, the 1967 Six Day War, and the 1971 Bangladesh War.
All Soviet-built MiG-19 variants are single-seaters only. Although the Chinese developed the JJ-6 trainer version of the Shenyang J-6, the Soviets believed that the MiG-19’s handling was easy enough that no special conversion trainer was needed (other than the MiG-15UTI).
In the USSR, the MiG-19 was superseded by the MiG-21. The Shenyang J-6 remained a staple of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force, and has also been developed into the Nanchang Q-5 (NATO reporting name “Fantan”) attack aircraft. Despite its age, the MiG-19 and its descendants exhibit good handling characteristics at low altitude and a surprisingly high rate of climb, and their heavy cannon armament — a one-second burst from 3x 30 mm NR-30 cannons had a projectile mass of 40 lb (18 kg) — makes them formidable adversaries in close combat.