Design began in 1948 for a high-performance jet, initially called the I-310. The lack of a suitable engine was solved when the British licensed Rolls-Royce to export their reliable Nene turbojet, which the Russians immediately copied as the Klimov RD-45. The aircraft design was built on research and replaced conventional straight wings with ones swept back at 35° and gave the fuselage very clean lines.
It was delivered to the Soviet airforce in 1949 and allied countries were provided with the aircraft from 1950. It took part in the first jet vs. jet combats over North Korea and proved to be a better performing aircraft than the American F-80 or F-86 Sabre. Desperate to get hold of an intact MiG for testing the United States offered $100,000 and asylum to any pilot who would defect with their aircraft. No-one came forward, but eventually, a North Korean pilot unaware of the proferred reward landed at Kimpo Air Base in September 1953.