The scientific tourist #189 — know your MiGs

This week I’ll talk a bit about two pictures from the San Diego Air and Space Museum — one you’ve seen before, and one you haven’t. First up is a MiG-17 on display in the pavilion (used to be a courtyard, now is a nice open area with glass overhead):

MiG-15 fighter

If you have a glancing appreciation of aviation (or mid-20th century) history, you may have made the same mistake I did at first and confused it with a MiG-15, like this example from an earlier post:

MiG-15

In fact, the MiG-17 is really an improved version of the MiG-15, so it’s an easy mistake to make — only three differences are easily spotted by the casual observer:

  1. The MiG-17 has three wing-fences on each wing, vs. the MiG-15’s two
  2. The MiG-17 has a dorsal fin
  3. The MiG-17 has a periscope on top of its canopy to help its pilot get a clear view to the rear, sort of a rear-view mirror

Less visible are a score of upgrades made on the basis of lessons learned in air-to-air combat during the Korean War. Most were made to increase the speed at which the aircraft could safely fly — from the MiG-15’s Mach 0.92 up to just slightly above the speed of sound for the 17. The end result was a lethal little dogfighter and interceptor that could challenge even supersonic adversary aircraft. First fielded in 1953, thousands of this fighter were built — both in the USSR and under license in various other countries. Many still fly today (quite a few in private hands, at airshows), giving the MiG-17 nearly 60 years of active history.

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