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MiG 15 vs. F86 Sabre

Courtesy of Rowan Software

4 Energy Fight

The two aircraft were capable of delivering similar thrust (Appendix A), but because the MiG was much lighter it had a significantly higher thrust to weight ratio.

MiG Alley

The MiG could out-climb and out-accelerate the Sabre. Curiously though, the Sabre had the higher top speed up to an altitude of 30,000ft. The MiG had a higher wing thickness to chord ratio compared with the Sabre. Higher drag resulted in a lower top speed in level flight and more importantly in the dive. In fact the MiG could not go supersonic in the dive whereas the Sabre could.

The MiG service ceiling was much higher than that enjoyed by the Sabre. The MiGs were able to bypass fighter screens by flying high. MiGs chose when to fight.

5 Angles Fight

With the higher thrust to weight ratio and lower wing loading, the MiG should have demonstrated the better turn performance. In fact performance was compromised by the MiG's poor stalling characteristics. During combat, the aircraft would suddenly stall and the inexperienced pilot could not avoid the aircraft going into an uncontrollable spin.

The result of the MiG's poor stall characteristics was that pilots were uneasy about pushing the aircraft to the limit and hence the Sabre pilot had the edge in a turning contest.

The MiG armament only exacerbated the situation. As the MiG was fitted with large bore slow firing canons, the MiG pilot had to pull far more lead in a turning fight compared with the Sabre pilot. As a result the Sabre pilot found it easier to get a gun solution than did the MiG pilot.

The Sabre wing had a torsion box type structure which prevented wing flexing. The MiG's wing construction was not as stiff and the MiG suffered badly from wing flexing. In addition, the variation in MiG wing manufacturing quality was wide. These factors are likely to have contributed to the poor stalling characteristics of the MiG.

Poor roll rate on the MiG could also have been caused, in part at least, by the MiG's wing design and construction. A roll-rate of 180 degrees/sec at all speed ranges has been reported for the Sabre(4) whereas the MiG could only produce a performance that was half to two-thirds as good.

In fact the Sabre was generally more refined and controllable with no tendency to yaw. Overall, the Sabre was the better aircraft for a turning fight.

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MiG Kill
MiG Kill

6 Combat

The differences between the two aircraft determined the tactics during combat. MiGs tended to fight in the vertical. They would choose the moment of engagement and then swoop down in a slashing attack and then zoom back to a safe altitude. MiG pilots could control the separation by use of the vertical, better climb and acceleration rates.

Sabres preferred to engage in turning and diving fights. The lower the altitude, the less the performance advantage enjoyed by the MiG. However an aggressive and skilful MiG pilot could take on the Sabre. There are many reports of MiGs forcing the combat and ending with a duel at ground level.

7 Other Considerations

No Kum Sok was in no doubt about which was the better the fighter(1):

"Some of the advantages were the efficient General Electric J47 axial flow engine for long range, extra large external fuel tanks, the capability of supersonic fight, fast firing machine guns for dogfights, a radar gun-sight, better environment in the cockpit, the cockpit's large dimensions, orderly placement of gauges and controls, crystal clear canopy, an advanced hydraulic control system with a controllable horizontal stabiliser for superior manoeuvrability, stall warning system, advanced radio, rear view mirror and a better view for the pilot. It was like a Cadillac compared to the family Chevrolet."

The range advantage enjoyed by the Sabre is of interest to the strategist of the ground war. It meant that combat occurred on the MiG's doorstep rather than over the front line. The MiG did nothing to support communist ground troops. However when combat was joined over the Yalu, range advantages were largely irrelevant.

Yeager(1) added his weight to the argument: "Flying the MiG15 is the most demanding situation I have ever faced. It's a quirky airplane that's killed a lot of its pilots." In his book he writes, "Man that thing was a flying booby trap, and nobody would be surprised if I got killed."

But as General Albert Boyd said about the MiG 15, "A light plane with a big engine." In the final analysis, the MiG had the edge and for the pilot willing and capable of flying that edge, the MiG gave him the advantage.

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Last Updated August 20th, 1998

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