The Achilles heel of both the MiG-15 and MiG-17 that preceded the 19 was their inability to maintain high speeds in level flight. Meanwhile, the North American F-100 Super Sabre a supersonic interceptor prepared to deploy across the globe, was a menace. The Soviets knew something drastic and new had to be done. The end result was a twin-engined, often radar-equipped, all-weather interceptor capable of supersonic speeds in level flight.
This was thanks to the state-of-the-art Turmansky RD-9B afterburning turbojet engines good for 25.5 kN (5,700 lbs) of thrust each and 31.8 kN (7,100 lbs) with afterburner. The package was rated to as high as Mach 1.3 in a dive. The MiG-19's wings were remarkably more streamlined and swept-back than any MiG before it, as were the large parallel spoilers on each wing. It's as if the MiG-19 was designed via bio-mechanical natural selection that pronounced prominent features on previous MiG aircraft to their natural apex.
The MiG-19 made its operational debut in March of 1955. Soon after, the Chinese began to clandestinely develop their own reverse-engineered copy of the MiG-19, the Shenyang J-6. This in tune would be developed into the Nanchang Q-5 ground attack aircraft. The last of these would retire as recently as 2017. But the MiG-19 itself would need to wait before it could see combat. Far too late to make a difference in the skies over Korea, the 19 would need to wait for the next major war.
Vietnam was a crucible for some of the most iconic jet fighters ever to fly. So it was this when the MiG-19 could finally flex its muscles against American Air Force. It was thought that the long-awaited meeting between the F-100 Super Saber and the MiG-19 Fargo had come at last. But instead, North Vietnamese forces found the Super Saber had been relegated to ground attack duties.
The mainline American fighters of the period were different beasts entirely. The McDonnell-Douglas F4E Phantom II and the Republic F-105 Thunderchief are aircraft that aviation's top engineers could have never dreamed of only a decade previously. Both were Mach two-capable fighter-bombers ready to devastate ground targets and hold their own in a dogfight. As cumbersome as they may have been, especially in the case of the Thunderchief, they performed admirably in the air to air combat.
Against these more powerful adversaries, it was ultimately up to the skills of the individual pilot to determine the winner in a dogfight. Safe to say, it wasn't the downright thrashing the Fargo's designers had hoped for in the case the Korean War had extended a few more years. Russian and Chinese Fargo variants downed five American aircraft according to the data we could collect. This included three Phantom IIs, two Grumman A-6 Intruders, and one Lockheed F-104 Starfighter.
The MiG-21 relegated the 19 to training and other lesser duties, until the variant's general retirement in the late 1990s and 2000s. Today, you can marvel at the dark sheep of the MiG family at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Check out pictures from our visit in the gallery above.