Fighter aircraft

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A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for attacking other aircraft. Compare with bomber. Fighters are comparatively small, fast, and highly manoeuverable, and have been fitted with increasingly sophisticated tracking and weapons systems to find and shoot down other aircraft. Fighters, sometimes with some modification, can also be used for attacking ground targets, but because of their smaller size cannot carry the heavy weapon loads of strategic bombers.

Alternative names are pursuit aircraft or interceptors, as they are often used to pursue or intercept incoming bombers and missiles. The P in P-51 comes from "pursuit". In naval use, sometimes the term "attack" aircraft is used.

Fighter aircraft developed during World War I, and by the time of World War II fighter aircraft were all-important, with the superior manoeuverability and flight characteristics of the Spitfire over the Messerschmitt Me109 crucial in the Battle Of Britain.

Messerschmitt developed the first operational jet-engined planes late in World War II, but they were little used, partly due to german fuel shortages. In the 1950's, jet-engined fighter planes capable of supersonic flight were developed, and throughout the 1960's these designed gradually became faster and more manoeuverable. Throughout the 1970's and 1980's, however, airframe development slowed down dramatically as most attention was paid to improved avionics and missile design. Current developments include reducing the radar visibility of fighters, as well as increased range at supersonic speeds and better manoeuverability.

Historical overview


  • French aviator Roland Garros becomes the first flying "ace" (a pilot who shoots down five or more enemy aircraft) when he affixes machine guns to his aircraft (Morane-Saulnier? Not sure) which fire through the propellor.
  • Dutch aircraft designer Anthony Fokker develops an interruptor for the machine gun, which prevents bullets from hitting the propellor of the aircraft. (Garros had simply used metal deflector plates; the bullets hit the propellor but were deflected aside. This was risky.)
  • Significant aircraft:
    • Nieuport
    • Fokker: Eindecker, Dreidecker
    • S.P.A.D., or "Spad"
    • Sopwith Camel
    • Albatros



  • Many of these fighters would do over 400 m.p.h. in level flight, and were fast enough in a dive that they started encountering the effects of getting too close to the speed of sound, occasionally even to the point of breaking up in flight. Dive brakes were developed late in WW II to minimize these problems and restore control to the pilots.


  • The first generation of production jet fighter planes had performance problems near sonic speed (similar to that of the latest piston engined fighters) until aeronautical engineer Richard Whitcomb discovered the area rule in 19__. (explain here) Subsequent designs featured a "bottle-shaped" fuselage that improved performance. This would be an important distinction between early jet fighters (F-86, etc.) and later ones, like the F-5.


Recently Introduced, Experimental and Proposed Future Designs

    • U.S.
      • F-22
      • Joint Strike Fighter (is that what it's called)?
    • Europe
      • Eurofighter