“I liked it at once. It could be compared with a frisky, fiery, horse — in experienced hands it was to run like an arrow, but if you lost control you finished beneath its hooves.”
– Aleksandra Pokryshkin, MiG_3 pilot
High Altitude Performance – Designed to fit the role, the MiG-3 is superior to most contemporary fighters above 20,000 feet.
Maneuverability – Many pilots claimed the MiG turned like an I-15 biplane. In flight tests at low altitude, the MiG was able to outmaneuver the Yak-1.
Stability – The MiG is a handful and needs an experienced pilot to get the most out of it.
Early Soviet air combat theory was centered around the concept of using fast monoplanes to catch up with and engage enemy aircraft, so that the slower and more maneuverable biplane fighters were able to catch up and finish them off. The speed half of this theory was provided by the Polikarpov I-16 with the maneuver half being composed of the Polikarpov I-15 and I-153 fighters.
Late in 1939 Nikolai Polikarpov proposed the idea of making a new “maneuver” plane designed around the Klimov M-105P in-line engine with a 20mm ShVAK cannon firing through the propeller hub. However, upon evaluation of combat trends in Europe, including the disappointing results of the Soviet philosophy in Spain, the goal of the design was changed to that of a high-speed, high-altitude fighter using the new AM-37 engine then being developed by the Alexander Mikuln Design Bureau.
The task of designing and building a prototype for the new fighter, designated the I-200, was given to a Special Design Department under the leadership of Artyom Mikoyan. Included among Mikoyan’s deputies was a young engineer named Mikhail Gurevich. The fledgling design team made good use of being situated in the Soviet Union’s most advanced aircraft factory and soon produced a prototype of composite construction (mixed wood and metal), built around the AM-35A engine as the AM-37 was not available. Because the ShVAK 20mm cannon would not fit between the cylinder heads of the new engine, the armament was downgraded to a single Beresin 12.7mm and two ShKAS 7.62mm synchronized machine guns in the cowl.
The new fighter, now dubbed the MiG-1, had more than its share of teething problems. The first problems to surface were related to engine cooling, which was so bad that full engine power could not be used. However, the most serious problems were due to a lack of longitudinal and lateral stability. Experienced test pilots continually commented on how often they came close to disaster.
After initial trials, a list of 112 required improvements was submitted. In October 1940, while in the process of implementing these improvements, a batch of 25 MiG-1s was completed and sent to the 146th Fighter Air Regiment for operational trials. In February 1941, the first MiG-3s, as the improved version was known, were delivered to training units. After further crashes, it was suggested that biplane flight techniques were not suited to the new high-speed fighters and after several trials, it was proved that over-correction during loops would result in a spin.
By April 1941, MiG-3s were coming off the production line at a rate of nine per day. Despite this, improvements continued to be made, including the addition of a Beresin 12.7mm machine gun in a pod under each wing.
Although over 900 MiG-3s were distributed along the western front in June 1941, only a few squadrons had managed to master the aircraft. When the Germans attacked on June 22, 1941, the Luftwaffe paid particular attention to destroying any MiG-3s they found. Just days before the attack the 9th Mixed Air Division had received 233 new MiG-3s, but they lost 347 of 409 operational aircraft on the first day of the war with almost all of the MiG-3s destroyed on the ground by bombs.
However, reinforcements were soon forthcoming and new MiG units began to arrive on the front almost every day. In combat with the Luftwaffe, the MiG proved it could hold its own at low altitudes while at higher altitudes the MiG-3 completely outclassed the Bf-109E.
The MiG’s greatest success came in the defense of the capitol from 1941 through 1943. Of 8,278 sorties directed against Moscow, only 207 bombers managed to get through. The MiG also proved to be the only Soviet fighter capable of operating at extreme altitudes as was proven on September 28, 1941 when a MiG-3 of the 124th Fighter Air Regiment downed a German reconnaissance plane at over 32,000 feet.
But with more promising designs on the drawing board and the need the use the new AM-38 engine on the Stormovik, the decision was made to cease production of the MiG fighter. The MiG’s record didn’t help matters and neither did the fact that it was being made by the Soviet Union’s most prestigious aircraft factory.
Gordon, Yefim, and Khazanov, Dmitri; Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War Volume One: Single Engined Fighters; Midland Publishing, Leicester, England, 1998.
Morgan, Hugh: Soviet Aces of World War II; Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 1997.