31 May, 2017

Profile 128: IN-PROGRESS MiG-19 of the 925th FR (pilot named in a month or so)

Behold!  My opening sketch of the MiG-19!

Well...actually, it's a Shenyang J-6—the Chinese-built version of the mostly-forgotten, mostly-troubled Russian combat jet.  Surely, it was the Communist Bloc's first bona-fide (i.e. level-flight) supersonic fighter.   But the original Russian design was also hampered by the problems that come from rushing technology into practice.  As a result (so they tell me), ruined pilot's days with alarming frequency.

It was the 'little things' that marred the airplane's reputation— such as locating the fuel tanks between the hot engines, lack of a dual-seat trainer version and a flight-envelope made of (metaphorical) Kleenex.

Anyway, here's a joke.

Two Russian "Ministers"* are standing at an air base, inspecting their collective work when suddenly, a thundering CRACK! shatters the frozen air...

"Comrade! Did you hear the glorious and revolutionary sonic boom?!"

"Perhaps!  But I think we should order another MiG-19 just in case!"

Aurora Model's plastic MiG-19 model circa 1955.  It doesn't look much like the real MiG-19 but Aurora didn't have Google back then, either.  Photo source: unknown
You can do your own research into the MiG-19/Shenyang J-6's problems but for this post's purposes, they're not that terribly important.  To be fair, the Chinese engineers also worked out many of the MiG's bugs, making the J-6 a more serviceable machine. What is important, however, is that this particular jet will be one of the 54-ish J-6's that the North Vietnamese purchased from China in 1968.

To put things in context, both the American and North Vietnamese Air Forces were working out strategies and tactics that had been hard-learned in the previous years. The NVAF's decision to acquire the J-6 reflected the fact that the MiG-17 was simply too-slow and didn't have the tech to effectively carry the latest Russian air-to-air missiles.  In other words, the MiG-19 was seen as a logical upgrade.

In the end, however, the J-6's tactical advantages filled a need that didn't materialize.   When aerial combat got low and slow, the MiG-17 was still the better gun fighter and when things got hot and fast, the North Vietnamese's more advanced MiG-21s were in their sweet spot (and STILL remained maneuverable!)   So, only one Fighter Regiment—the 925th—was equipped with the J-6 and placed at the airfield of Yen Bai, north north-west of Ha Noi.

This is an SR-71 photo of Yen Bai airfield circa 1968.  It was released by the Freedom of Information deal
in 2009 but obviously, no one in the department was informed that slapping a photo on a photocopier is a pretty lame way of sharing (normally) high-res pictures.
Ok.  Readers of this blog know my shtick—with very few exceptions, I only draw aircraft of pilots who are alive and willing to be quizzed.  So, guess how easy it is (these days) to find pilots who flew MiG-19s/J-6s in combat... uh, NOT.

But, I found one.

However, until I'm more comfortable with the language barrier, source materials and relationships, I think it's best to ask questions that don't require fact-finding and data-wonking.  For now, I'll stick with the "subjective" and ask questions about what it was like to fly this quirky jet against the USAF and USN.

These kind of illustrations are technically accurate but practically useless.  Still,  for 'spot in time,'
and extremely specific conditions/circumstances, it's useful.  Sorta.

In other words, stay-tuned, this is just starting.

Oh.  One more thing.  This particular piece is being done for an aviation museum's future Vietnam War exhibit.   If you know of a similar venue that may benefit from having a pilot-signed print to display, let me know, asap.  There will be a modest cost and I'd prefer it accompany my MiG-17 and MiG-21 pilot-signed art.  However, the finished work will be a rare curio into the life of a former enemy and certainly add a bit of novelty to a Vietnam War display.

Oh!  And what is there to know about this ex-NVAF pilot?

Good question!  All in good time...(patience, grasshopper).

Besides. I have a lot more work just getting the basics of his airplane down...

Thanks to Dr. Toperczer István (highly published author on all-things-North-Vietnamese-Air-Force) for the help in figuring out which references to trust.  He's already pointed out a few mistakes in prior work (ugh!) and this one will be my most accurate NVAF MiG to-date.

*In 1946, the Russian masters decided to eliminate the word Commissar and replace it with Minister. I think they should have stayed with Commissar as Minister sounds too Lutheran to me (and Lutheran evokes troubling memories of pot-luck dinners with carrot/lime-jello and sun-baked potato salad).