The Mig-19 was the Soviet Union's first serial production supersonic jet fighter. Initially conceived as a day fighter with limited all-weather capability, the Mig-19 evolved into a formidable aircraft. Rushed design and production gave the Mig-19 many problems in operational use and safety. This deterement was so much, that air arms operating the Mig-19 quickly replaced their examples with the later Mig-21 or Western designs.
Despite it's shortcomings, the Mig-19 and it's derivatives saw combat in the Vietnam War, the Arab-Israeli conflicts, the Ogaden War (between Somaila and Ethiopia), the Iran-Iraq war of the ninteen eighties, Indo-Pakistani wars of the nineteen seventies and in various Cold War skirmishes. Mig-19's were built under license in Czechoslovakia as the S-105 and in China as the J-6. Chinese production improved upon the design into variants not produced by the Soviet Union. Notably, a two-seat trainer, the JJ-6, was produced in China along with a significantly-modified variant, called the Q-5. Until only a few years ago, the J-6 was in squadron service with the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and in allied countries. The 2012 Zhuhai air show, in China, saw a J-6 take part in the static display.
The Mig-19's design started with an aircraft called the I-360, or SM-9. The idea was to create an escort fighter for Soviet bombers which could achieve supersonic speed in level flight. The Mig-17, Mig-19's predecessor, could go supersonic in a dive, often with fatal results. Starting point for the SM-9 was the Mig-17. The Mig-17's fuselage was stretched by five feet, a T-tail was added over the mid-set horizontal stabilizer. A stretched canopy was added to the raised cockpit for better visibility. The SM-9 and resulting Mig-19 would feature a new, highly-swept wing which would become the design's trademark.
Two Mikulin AM-5 engines were used over the Mig-17's single VK-1F turbojet. The AM-5 was a significant change in Soviet engine design for two reasons. The first reason being the AM-5 was an axial-flow turbojet over the VK-1 which was a centrifugal-flow turbojet. This allowed two engines to be nestled side-by-side without making the fuselage cross section very large. Secondly, the AM-5 was the first Soviet turbojet, not based on another nation's design.
Soviet Mig-19's had limited opportunities for action against real targets during the Cold War. Among the first targets were balloons sent from Western Europe into Soviet air space to spread anti-communist leaflets. Despite their docile presence and lack of armament, the balloons did pose a threat to low-flying aircraft and to those without RADAR (many in the USSR, then). One Il-14 airliner crashed after a collision with a balloon resulting in the loss of all on board. Dispatching the balloons was not easy task for the fast Mig-19 pilots. A series of low-speed passes had to be made at the slow balloons with a quick departure to avoid collision. Often after several hits from the Mig-19's 23mm and 30mm canons, the ballons would not go down immediately as the air slowly leaked out instead of bursting.
On numerous occaisions, Soviet Mig-19's were used to try and shoot-down American U-2 spyplanes, flying over Soviet territory. Each time the U-2's were flying too high, sometimes more than ten thousand feet above the Mig's service ceiling. The Mig pilots could see the U-2, but do nothing but observe. On describing the cruciform shape of a U-2 to a superior officer, a Soviet pilot was rebuked by the officer with the claim of the Americans not having anything capable of flying that high. One Mig-19 was lost during the May 1, 1960 shoot-down of Francis Gary Powers. Soviet RADAR operators took the two Mig-19's, sent to intercept Powers, as additional enemy aircraft. IFF for Soviet RADAR had yet to be put into use. The Soviets did prove their S-75 (SA-2) missile system worked against any type of aircraft targeted. U-2 flights over the Soviet Union stopped after May 1, 1960. Chinese officials claimed four U-2's shot-down during the nineteen sixties, but proof has never been put forward to substantiate any of those claims. The last Soviet unit to fly the Mig-19 traded in their aircraft for newer Mig-23's in 1979.
In Europe, three USAF RB-47 reconaissance aircraft, a RB-66 bomber and a T-39 trainer were lost to Mig-19's during the Cold War. On all occaisions, the downed aircraft strayed into Soviet or Warsaw Pact territory before being dispatched. GPS did not exist during the nineteen fifties and navigational error were not uncommon, especially in the crowded European skies. Czech Air Force Mig-19's forced-down USAF F-100's on two separate occaisions. A curious circumstance it is around how a fighter pilot decides to surrender and land his aircraft on foreign soil. Soviet and Hungarian Mig-19's were mobilized to support invading Soviet forces during the nineteen sixty-eight, "Prague Spring" uprising in Czechoslovakia. Along with Mig-21's, the Mig-19's were there to deter any potential action by NATO aircraft. One Bulgarian Air Force pilot managed to score seven air to air victories against Greek and Turkish intruders.
The Chinese government negotiated the rights to produce the Mig-19 under license, as the J-6, from the Soviet Union in the early nineteen sixties. Initial tooling and manufacturing were set up with Russian assistance shortly thereafter. The breakdown in relations between Beijing and Moscow cut-short the completion of the Mig-19 production line in China. Further political events in China, surrounding the Cultural Revolution set progress back even further. Chinese engineers took it upon themselves to fill in the gaps and complete the J-6 production facility in lieu of the Russian support. The initial batch of J-6's from Chinese production were substandard and not accepted by the People's Liberation Army Air Force. Many of the defective aircraft sat discarded outside at the factory for years after. When relations between the Chinese and the Russians cooled, the technicians returned to China and properly completed the J-6 production facility in 1961. Eventual production of the J-6 produced thousands of examples across several variants. Some versions of the J-6 were specific to China and never operated by the Soviet Union. A famous example surrounds the matter of a fictional aircraft called the Mig-19UTI. The suffix UTI or UM, when applied to an aircraft of Soviet design, denotes a two-place trainer variant of a single-seat fighter aircraft. A retouched photo of the aircraft bearing Soviet VVS marking surfaced in the military aviation press, but was soon proven to be a fake. The Soviet Union or the air forces of the Warsaw Pact never operated a two seat version of the Mig-19. The Mig design bureau never produced such a version of the Mig-19. A two-seat J-6 was developed in China as a supersonic trainer and was designated JJ-6. Pilots transitioning from the two-seat JJ-2 (Mig-15UTI) found the J-6 a significant change. This pattern was not unique to the J-6. A two-seat version of the J-5 (Mig-17) was developed in China for the same purposes. JJ-5 and JJ-6 aircraft continue to serve in China to this day, albeit in very small numbers. All nations that took delivery of Chinese-built J-6's received one or two examples of the JJ-6 with their examples.
The most radical Chinese departure from the original J-6 design was the Q-5. A newer, dedicated fighter-bomber was needed to provide the PLAAF with a more competitive design. At this time the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II was being developed in the U.S. The Ye-166, which would evolve into the Mig-25, started flying in Russia and France was starting to receive the Mirage III in substantial quantities. China needed something new. The limited numbers of Mig-21 derivatives, built as the J-7, were not arriving in substantial quantities to bolster PLAAF strength. A long, on-again, off-again project to produce the Q-5, starting with the J-6, was pursued by the designers and the engineers over the course of a decade. The Q-5 kept the J-6's twin engine, empennage, and that is about it. For all intents, the Q-5 was a new design. The biggest change was the bifurcated air intakes and pointed nose. A small internal weapons bay was capable of carrying a single nuclear bomb or similar conventional munitions.The wings were similar to the J-6's but at a less-steep sweep angle on the leading edge, with a kinked trailing edge at the root. The Q-5 was heavier than the J-6 and presented a wider cross-section to the relative wind, thus increasing drag and significantly decreasing the overall Mach number. Combat radius also suffered from the Q-5's increased size. Despite these shortcomings, the Q-5 was produced in several variants, including a two-seater and at present serves in China, Burma, Sudan, Tanzania and North Korea.
Where can one see a Mig-19 fly today?
The Mig-19 is no longer considered a front-line combat aircraft. Even the most optimistic of military commanders would realize the Mig-19/J-6 stands no chance against modern types like the F-16, the Mig-29 and the Mirage 2000. Not mention the latest crop of fifth generation fighters in service with the U.S. It would be foolish for a Mig-19/J-6 pilot to engage any fighter aircraft produced after nineteen seventy. Even if the pilot flew the Mig-19/J-6 on it's tactical strengths, the chances of an air-to-air victory against a modern type are very slim. None of the original Soviet Mig-19 production series still fly with any air arm. Only the Chinese-built J-6 and it's variants still fly today, albeit in very small numbers. Egypt was a large customer for the J-6 and eventually replaced their fleet with the American F-16 and Dassault Mirage 2000. Pakistan was another large customer for the J-6. Some PAF examples were retrofitted with American ejection seats and AIM-9 'Sidewinder' missiles. The same fate followed Pakistan's J-6 fleet, replacement by the F-16 and upgraded ex-RAAF Mirage IIIO aircraft. Of the nations that still do fly the J-6, none of them are remotely friendly to the U.S. or the International community. Traveling to any of these destinations and trying to get a glimpse of a J-6 in operation will surely be construed as espionage and be accompanied by a lengthy stay in one of the country's free hotels.
Burma is one of the most isolated nations in the World, second only to North Korea, another J-6 operator. Information regarding the state of the Burmese Air Force is very small. Despite the occaisional photo of a type visiting Rangoon International Airport, details are sketchy. About a dozen J-6's are thought to remain in service in the ground-attack role. These aircraft fly alongside a larger number of Q-5's in the same roles. Burma signed a multi-million dollar arms package with Russia in 2009. On the order, were a number of Mig-29SMT aircraft which will supplement the existing small number of Mig-29's already in service. The future cannot be long for the Burmese J-6 fleet.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) took delivery of a small number of J-6's from North Korea during the late Eighties. These aircraft flew against other J-6's and aircraft of the Iraqi Air Force. During the Islamic Revolution, the J-6's were assigned to the Ayatollah's Revolutionary Guard. Eighteen J-6's were delivered to the IRIAF, of which a few are still in use today. After the Revolution, Iran was in a difficult place as far as obtaining modern combat aircraft. J-6's were at a good price and training was readily available from Pakistan and North Korea. A larger amount of J-7's were purchased from China and continue to serve today alongside a larger number of Mig-29's and aircraft of mixed origin. Iran is a prime customer for China's J-10 advanced fighter.
China is North Korea's largest supplier of military hardware. After that, the Soviet Union and it's former republics have been known to provide hardware in small amaounts. Mig-19 fighters from Russia, followed by J-6's and Q-5's from China gave the North Korean Air Force close to one hundred examples. During the early nineteen eighties, North Korea transferred the Mig-19's to Iraq for use in the war with Iran. Unconfirmed reports claim close to one-hundred F-6's and Q-5's still in operation by North Korea. Any accurate information or pictures of North Korean Air Force aircraft are extremely rare, especially in their native country. Searches on Google Earth do not show many J-6's or Q-5's on any of the major North Korean airfields.
The Tanzanian Air Force operated the MiG-19S or F-6 against Somalia in the late 1970's. Some examples were seen in operation in 2009 at Dar Es Salaam airport. These example would most-certainly be F-6's and would offer little more than fast-jet training. Ben Wilhelmi's weblog has some excellent photos of Tanzanian F-6's being put through their paces.