The MiG-19’s first flight was in late 1953, and it first became operational in 1955.
Performance and Weapons
The Farmer had a top speed of 902 mph and a service ceiling of 65,000 feet. Power came from two Tumansky turbojets. Armament consisted of three 30 mm cannons in the nose and wing roots, and the MiG carried pylons for bombs or air-to-air missiles (some versions could carry Sidewinders).
In the first two decades of the Cold War, there were a number of shootdowns of American and NATO surveillance aircraft by Soviet interceptors. (see also: MiG-15) Two of the most famous happened within two months of each other, and both involved MiG-19s. On May 1, 1960, a U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers was detected deep inside Soviet territory, and MiG-19s were sent to intercept. The U-2 was brought down by an SA-2 surface-to-air missile, but a MiG-19 was shot down by a missile as well, the pilot being killed.
On July 1 of the same year, an RB-47 with a six-man crew was over the Barent’s Sea on an electronic intelligence mission when a MiG-19 came up. It broke off at first, then returned and started firing. The bomber returned fire, but it was too late. Two of the bomber’s six engines were destroyed in the first pass, and the plane soon became uncontrollable. Three of the crew managed to eject, but only the co-pilot and navigator survived. They were picked up by a Soviet trawler, and spent the next seven months as “guests” of the KGB at the infamous Lubyanka prison. As it usually did in such situations, the Soviet government claimed the bomber was in Russian airspace, although the location of the wreckage indicated that it was almost certainly over international waters when shot down. The American airmen were finally returned on January 25, 1961, a few days after the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. The pilot that shot them down was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
The Middle East
Syria, Egypt, and Iraq all acquired MiG-19s in the early 60s. Iraqi MiG-19s were involved in strikes against Kurdish rebels throughout 1966, and Egypt sent some of its MiG-19s to assist the Yemen Arab Republic against Royalist rebel forces around the same time. The fighter’s first confrontation with the Israelis came on November 29, 1966; two Egyptian Farmers were testing the Israeli air defenses when two Israeli Mirages intercepted them and shot both down. One of the MiGs had the dubious honor of being the first combat victim of the French-made Matra air-to-air missile, which the Israelis had acquired for their fighters; the other was downed by cannon fire.
In the initial strikes of the Six Day War, most Arab aircraft were destroyed on the ground, but Syrian MiG-19s scored some minor successes on that day. Syrian Farmers escorted a morning strike on the oil refinery at Haifa, and a MiG-19 on combat air patrol downed an Israeli Super Mystere. For the rest of the war, with Israel in control of the air, the surviving MiGs were limited to hit-and-run missions.
After the war, most Arab countries phased their MiG-19s out of frontline service. As a result, Farmers played little part in the War of Attrition or the Yom Kippur War, although an Egyptian MiG-19 pilot scored an unexpected victory on May 19, 1969, when he ran into two Israeli Mirages and managed to down one with his cannons.
In 1969, after Operation Rolling Thunder had ended, North Vietnam decided to beef up its already formidable air force by creating a new squadron equipped with Chinese-built J-6s. By the beginning of 1972, the unit had become fully integrated into the North Vietnamese defense network, just in time for a renewed American aerial offensive. The fighters had a mediocre record in Vietnamese service, scoring three victories (all F-4 Phantoms) while losing ten of their own, two to North Vietnamese SAMs.
People’s Republic of China
In the 1960s, the Chinese derivative of the MiG-19, the J-6 was the main front-line fighter of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. There were a number of fights with the Chinese Nationalist Air Force, and J-6 pilots were credited with downing two RF-101s that were on surveillance missions. In turn, Nationalist F-104 Starfighters downed two J-6s in 1967.
The Chinese fighters also came in conflict with American planes. In September 1965, Chinese J-6s bounced and shot down an American F-104 that strayed over Hainan Island, the pilot ejecting to become a prisoner. On August 21, 1967, J-6 pilots downed two US Navy A-6 Intruders under similar circumstances.
In the wake of US sanctions in the wake of the 1965 war with India, Pakistan started buying J-6 aircraft from China, and eventually took delivery of 260 of them. During the 1971 war with India, Pakistani J-6s flew 846 combat missions. While they didn’t take part in the initial airstrikes that kicked off the war, the Farmers performed admirably in the close air support role, and were also used for air defense. In spite of their age, Pakistan’s J-6s had a good air-to-air record, downing six Indian attack aircraft and probably a MiG-21 as well.
- Rolling Thunder: Jet Combat from World War II to the Gulf War, by Ivan Rendall, Dell Publishing, 1997
- Military Aircraft Visual Guide, ed. by David Donald, Amber Books, 2008
- Mig-19 Farmer
- The Price of Vigilance: Attacks on American Surveillance Flights, by Larry Tart and Robert Keefe, Ballantine Publishing, 2001
- Fact Sheets: RB-47 Shot Down
- Arab MiG-19 and MiG-21 Units in Combat, by David Nicolle and Tom Cooper, Osprey Publishing, 2004
- MiG-17 and MiG-19 Units of the Vietnam War, by Istvan Toperczer, Osprey Publishing, 2001
- PRC/Chinese Air-to-Air Victories since 1950
- The Encyclopedia of 20th Air Warfare, ed. by Chris Bishop, Amber Books, 2004
- F-104 in USAF Service
- New York Times article
- Final Salute to F-6
- Pakistani Air-to-Air Victories