As impressive as the later versions of the MiG-15 fighter were (detailed elsewhere on this site), the MiG-17 “Fresco” was a vastly improved development based on lessons learned in the formers design. With the MiG-15 representing the pinnacle of research garnered from captured documents of Germany after World War Two, the MiG-17 represented all that there was to recommend the MiG-15 with improvements to the handling and structure for the MiG-17 to be considered one of the best fighter designs ever constructed.
The MiG-17 Fresco was already being developed when the MiG-15 hit full operational status on the frontlines. The MiG-17 incorporated lengthened wings that featured more of a sweep to the geometry. A larger tail assembly along with increased horizontal surfaces assured this new design that it would surpass the poor high-speed handling that plagued its predecessor. The system would be fielded with a single engine, single seat cockpit and a weapon array of 1 x 37mm cannon and 2 x 23mm cannons – an ode to the original MiG-15 weapon layout. Underwing stores allowed for additional weaponry in the form of rockets and bombs to be carried.
Basically an all-new design when compared to the MiG-15 Fagot, the MiG-17 Fresco also featured a development of the “borrowed” British Nene powerplant – illegally licensed for production in the Soviet Union. The improved powerplant of the MiG-17 was a rather thirsty engine that required substantially more fuel when operating on full afterburn, even though this new airframe maintained roughly the same fuel-carrying capacity of the MiG-15. As a result, the MiG-17 was almost always fitted with two identifiable drop tanks underwing.
As soon as the MiG-17 went into production, production of the MiG-15 was halted. The MiG-17 was fielded by a majority of Soviet forces and supported satellite regimes globally, with some even taking on local production of the system. Reliable, responsive and a great addition to the MiG line of aircraft, the MiG-17 proposed a new and veriable threat to the West.
China took on the design of the MiG-17 and produced a local variant designated as the Chengdu J-5 for the single-seat version and JJ-5, a two-seat variant. The twin seat trainer versions were actually only manufactured in the Soviet Union and China as the MiG-15 was still deemed an adequate trainer for both the MiG-17 and upcoming MiG-19 models.
In flight, the MiG-17 proved to be quite stable at high speed and, at the time, had a turning radius better than most of the Western fighters available. Communist forces would utilize the MiG-17 against the United States in the Vietnam War to good effect. As the US military was beginning to steer aircraft development away from cannon and machine gun-armed systems to the “future” in the form of air-to-air missiles, the Soviet Union continued with the World War Two designs that incorporated cannons for close-range combat. As a result, the tighter-turning fighters would simply close the distance on American warplanes, rendering their short or medium range missiles ineffective at close range, and opening up with their own 37mm and 23mm cannons.
The MiG-17 often stands as a mid-level design in between the oft-thought of MiG-15 and the more powerful MiG-19 though the MiG-17 could often times stand on its own. History would show that the powers of the East were in full swing and producing quite capable aircraft to match even that of the most supersonic missile-laden warfighters of the West. In the end, the MiG-17 would go down as a classic warbird, having combat history, export numbers and longevity to show for its lo