It had serious shortcomings in handling (stall and spin in a tight circle), equipment and armament (slow rate of fire and small number of rounds), but its performance was superior to that of any Western fighter. The aircraft caught the Americans by surprise when it appeared in combat in Korea on November 1, 1950. The Americans were flying their first jet fighter, the F-80 Shooting Star, and P-51 Mustangs. The MiG-15 totally outclassed the now-antiquated P-51, the F-80, Shooting Star and the F-84 Thunderjets with superior speed, rate of climb, fire power, range and ceiling. However, WWII combat pilots in F-80s and P-51s still shot down several MiG-15s, such was their expertise. The Americans had to wait until December, 1950 for the arrival of the F-86 before a comparable jet was available. Even then the MiG-15 had a higher rate of climb, equal manoeuvrability and could dive faster. The West was shaken out of its complacent attitude toward Soviet fighter capabilities in the Korean skies. Fortunately Korean and Chinese pilots were timid and the Russian pilots reputed to be flying with them were not numerous enough to make a big difference in Korea.
The MiG-15 first saw operational flight in 1948. Most Warsaw Pact nations bought and flew the MiG-15, and its variants remained in service in the air forces of China, Egypt, North Korea and Syria until, in some cases, the 1980s.
The MiG-15 was a single-seat fighter-interceptor powered by the Klimov RD-45F (Rolls-Royce Nene copy) turbojet, with 5,005 lb thrust. In level flight it achieved Mach 0.9 and in a dive 0.92. It had a range of 885 miles (1,424 km) and a ceiling of 51,000 ft (15,500 m).
Shortly after production started the MiG-15bis was developed with an upgraded engine, the Klimov VK-1 with 5,959 lbs. of thrust. Maximum speed was 668 mph (1076 km/h), with the same range and ceiling. The long range was due to the initial incorporation of a pair of 55 igal (250 liter) slipper tanks on the wings.
The initial variants of the MiG-15 carried two 23 mm. cannons below the left side of the nose and one 37 mm. cannon below the right side. The major improvement in armament was replacing the cannons with "revolver" cannons to hold more shells. The guns were mounted in a carriage which was lowered for easy maintenance (seen below). Rockets or two 2,000 lb. bombs under each wing could also be carried instead of the slipper tanks, although in Korea they rarely did.