Design of the MiG-17 Fresco, initially an improved version of the MiG-15, began in 1949 and the aircraft flew long before the MiG-15’s guns were fired in anger over Korea. The development work was particularly focused on the MiG-15’s poor handling at high speed and the MiG-17, a completely revised design, introduced longer more swept wings and a taller tail with a greater sweep of the horizontal surfaces.
The prototype MiG-17 first flew in 1950 and production of what NATO codenamed “Fresco-A” began in August 1951. Deliveries began in 1952 but were too late to take part in the Korean War, although in reality the first MiG-17s were not much of an improvement over the MiG-15s.
The F model (NATO codename “Fresco-C”) of the MiG-17 had an afterburning engine developed from the illegally copied Rolls-Royce Nene that powered the MiG-15. This represented the first major improvement over the -15, so much so that production began in early 1953 while manufacture of the single-seat MiG-15 was stopped. The MiG-17 could carry no more fuel than the MiG-15 internally but its afterburning engine demanded rather more fuel, consequently MiG-17Fs were rarely seen without two 400 litre/88 gallon drop tanks.
Most MiG-17s produced were F models, the only other versions produced in quantity being night/all-weather fighters developed from the earlier unsuccessful MiG-17R The first was the MiG-17PF codenamed “Fresco-D” by NATO and equipped with search and ranging radar. In 1956 the MiG-17PFU
became the first missile-armed fighter in Soviet service, equipped with four ARS-212 (later known as AA-1) “Alkali” air-to-air missiles in place of guns. These missiles were “beam-riding”, in that they were guided to a target by a radar beam aimed by the launch target.
The MiG-17 was only produced for five years in the USSR but in that time over 6000 were built, of which some 5000 were MiG-17Fs. The Fresco remained one of the most numerous fighters in Soviet service well into the 1960s and many remained in service as trainers as late as 2000.
At least 9000 MiG-17s were built, the majority of them in the USSR but with production also undertaken in Poland, where around 1000 were built as the LIM-5P. A dedicated ground-attack version known as the LIM-5M was developed in Poland, equipped for bomb-carrying and rocket-assisted take-off. China also licence-produced the MiG-17, as the J-5, well into the 1970s. Two-seat versions of the MiG-17 were only built in China as the Soviet Union believed the two-seat MiG-15 to be a perfectly adequate trainer for the MiG-17 and MiG-19. The Chinese two-seat MiG-17 was made by Chengdu (1060 built between 1966 and 1986) and designated JJ-5. The export JJ-5 was known as the FT-5.
Some Warsaw Pact nations went on to use the type in the ground-attack role, armed with bombs and rockets and the type was supplied to many other nations.
MiG-17s saw action in the Congo and in the Nigerian civil war while the Syrians also made extensive use of the MiG fighter. Perhaps the best-known combat use of the MIG-17 is, however, its actions with North Vietnam from 1965 to 1973. The Soviet fighter was a major thorn in the side of the US Air Force and Navy, whose supersonic fighters were expected to rule the skies over Vietnam. The much lighter and more agile MiG-17 could out-turn any US jet fighter and its guns were more reliable and effective than missiles in close combat. The MiG-17 gave US pilots in Vietnam a kill-to-loss ratio about four times worse than in Korea and directly led to a far-reaching evaluation of US fighter aircraft design and tactics, from which the F-16 was one result.
Often eclipsed by earlier and later MiG designs, the MiG-17 was certainly one of the greatest fighters.