Fighter plane

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A fighter is primarily to fight other aircraft employed fighter aircraft . Fighter planes usually have a crew of one or two men ( fighter pilots ).

A Soviet Su-27 and an American F-16 A Fighting Falcon in August 1990

Modern types of fighter planes


An interceptor is a very fast fighter with a high climb rate . His job is to invading enemy bombers and reconnaissance aircraft to intercept. Maneuverability does not play the main role in this type.

The concept of the special interceptor did not exist in World War II . It was only “of necessity” devised towards the end of this and could no longer have a decisive influence on the fighting, but it could shape the developments of the following decades. Until then, the fighter guards accompanying the bombers and the attacking interceptors were on a technically comparable level, which regularly led to "balanced" air battles among the fighters and hardly allowed to forego maneuverability in favor of the intercepting effect against the bombers. An extreme representative of the first pure interceptor was the Messerschmitt Me 163 , which had an exceptional climb rate thanks to its rocket engine. In return, their range was very limited and the armament was designed only for a quick launch, but not for the fight against hunter. With the Messerschmitt Me 262 , another new type of aircraft was used which, thanks to jet engines, was also very fast and, in terms of range and armament, better suited to fighting a number of bombers in several approaches. However, the Me 262 was not agile enough for the then mostly inevitable clashes with enemy hunting protection. This (and some other technical peculiarities) made it necessary to develop a new deployment tactic. The Starfighter ( Lockheed F-104 ) was later afflicted with similar advantages and disadvantages due to a specialization that was very closely related to the interception purpose .

In the later phase of the Cold War, short-range interceptors with extreme climbing performance, acceleration and the additional capabilities of an air superiority fighter were required in Central Europe in order to be able to intercept opposing fighter aircraft after flying over the national border, if possible before reaching strategically important areas. The EADS Eurofighter Typhoon was developed to meet this requirement profile from 1986 .

Air superiority fighter

Air superiority fighters are fighters whose use is mainly directed against other fighters. For this type of hunter, high speed and a certain agility play an important role. You should be able to achieve air superiority if necessary deep in enemy territory. The range required for this is now often achieved through air refueling or through additional drop-off tanks. Some air superiority fighters are also interceptors.

Examples: North American P-51 Mustang , McDonnell Douglas F-15 , Grumman F-14 , Lockheed Martin F-22 , Sukhoi Su-35 , Sukhoi Su-57 , Eurofighter Typhoon .

Fighter bomber

Almost all modern fighter planes can be used as fighter bombers by attaching bomb locks. Often, aircraft that no longer achieved the required performance as a fighter aircraft were used as fighter-bombers, such as the Hawker Typhoon , Bell P-39 and Messerschmitt Bf 110 . Many fighter planes stationed on aircraft carriers were also immediately designed as fighter-bombers. This made it possible to cover many tasks without having to accommodate too many different aircraft in the limited space of an aircraft carrier.
On the German side, a distinction was made between fighter-bombers (Jabos) and attack aircraft during World War II . While the Jabos were used to destroy individual (including unarmed) targets with bombs, attack aircraft also intervened with machine guns / cannons to support their own ground forces. The Soviets also designed aircraft specifically for this purpose ( Sturmovik ).

Other examples of fighter-bombers are F-4 Phantom , Panavia Tornado , Sukhoi Su-24 or SEPECAT Jaguar .

Carrier-based fighter aircraft

A US Marines AV-8B Harrier II + landing on a helicopter carrier

These fighters are specially designed for use on aircraft carriers . Special design features include: reinforced landing gear to absorb the hard landing bumps; a hook to hook into the landing rope stretched across the shortened runway; (often) folding wing, as space is limited in an aircraft carrier hangar. Long range is also an advantage for an aircraft with a limited choice of landing sites. The British were of the opinion in the 1930s and early 1940s that a second crew member as a navigator was essential for use at sea ( Fairey Fulmar , Fairey Firefly ). With the further development of the radio and direction finder devices, the pilot was able to find his way home on his own. Since the development of vertical take-offs , the British have had special, smaller carriers for fighter planes such as the Hawker Siddeley Harrier .

Typical modern fighters of the USN (United States Navy) are the Grumman F-14 Tomcat , which has been retired since autumn 2006, as well as the F / A-18 Hornet, respectively Su-27K (Su-33) and Jak-38 for the Russian Marine.

Multipurpose fighter

A multi- role fighter can perform several tasks due to its armament, equipment and fittings.

Historic types of fighter planes

All-weather hunter

During the Second World War , conventional single-seaters became all-weather hunters thanks to improved avionics equipment ( flight instruments , radio navigation , autopilot ). After the Second World War, all-weather fighters were equipped with radar, so that this aircraft class merged with that of the night fighters, which were also equipped with radar . As long as there were pure day fighters , the term referred to day fighters with improved avionics and armament for use in bad weather. Since every fighter today has the avionics required for bad weather and night hunting, the term all-weather fighter is out of date.

Night fighter

P-61A-1 Black Widow

During World War II, the Germans first tried using their ground penetrating radar stations to bring conventional fighters like the Messerschmitt Bf 109 to the nocturnal British bomber streams and then to fight them on sight. This was only moderately successful - there were more flight accidents than combat losses. The first on- board radar devices (for example the Lichtenstein B / C ) and the antennas required were large and required a separate crew member for operation. Therefore, the first night fighters equipped with radar were mostly twin-engined machines with at least two crew members. These machines usually had the necessary greater range. First, modifications were made to existing models ( Bristol Beaufighter , De Havilland DH98 Mosquito , Messerschmitt Bf 110 , Junkers Ju 88 , Kawasaki Ki-45 ); the changes usually included the installation of an on-board radar device, flame suppressors (as a glare protection for the crew and as a privacy screen against enemy aircraft) for the engines, and mostly a modified armament. Towards the end of the war specially designed aircraft were used ( Heinkel He 219 , Northrop P-61 ).

With the advancement of radar, the line between “normal” and night fighters became blurred, as almost every combat aircraft was now able to fly and fight at night or in bad weather.

Escort hunter

Escort fighters were mainly used in World War II. The bombers needed escort machines on their missions that were able to protect them from enemy fighters along the entire route. The standard models at that time (Messerschmitt Bf 109, Focke-Wulf Fw 190 , Supermarine Spitfire ) had a normal range of less than 1,000 km. Only types like Lockheed P-38 and P-51 Mustang were able to offer effective hunting protection.

In the 1930s in the Soviet Union (Project Sweno ) and in the 1950s in the United States ( Parasite Fighter ) attempts were made to bring escort fighters "on board". However, the problems with re-docking were hardly resolved.


The destroyer aircraft category was created by the German and Dutch air forces before the Second World War and comprised fast, twin-engine, multi-purpose aircraft that were particularly suitable for fighter operations. The destroyers were characterized by their long range and high firepower and were therefore suitable as long-range escorts and as interceptors against enemy bombers. In practice, because of their relatively high weight, the destroyer types used were inferior to modern single-engine fighter aircraft in terms of performance and suffered heavy losses when they were used against such types. The destroyers proved their worth against enemy bombers until long-range escorts made their use impossible later in the war. The destroyers were then mainly used as fighter-bombers and night fighters.


First World War

The Fokker D.VII , a German fighter aircraft from 1918, which was feared by the opponents in World War I , had to be handed over to the victors after the end of the war. Many were destroyed, and some served the United States Army Air Service as training aircraft for many years. Here in 1920 a D.VII over Lower Manhattan .

The first fighter planes were used in the First World War. Your task was initially to repel enemy reconnaissance aircraft .

The first dogfights in history were fought improvised: pilots shot each other with their pistols; threw stones or hand grenades at a nearby enemy aircraft or the like. The first aircraft expressly intended to combat air targets was a French single-seater ( Morane-Saulnier L ), which was equipped with a machine gun firing through the propeller circle . The interrupter gear , which was supposed to prevent damage to its own propeller, worked so badly that it was disabled. Instead, steel deflector plates protected the propeller. With this machine, the French pilot Roland Garros destroyed several German aircraft (the first on April 1, 1915).

When it was shot down by infantry fire on April 18, 1915 and had to make an emergency landing behind the German lines, this led to the development of a functionally reliable interrupter gear by the Anton Fokkers company . The Fokker EI equipped with a Fokker interrupter gearbox became the world's first series-produced fighter aircraft . This applies at least to single-seat aircraft that have rigidly built-in weapons and aim with the whole machine.

During the war, the climbing performance and top speed of the current models developed so quickly that the hunters were often withdrawn from the fighting after a few months and only used as trainers because a new level of performance had already been reached. As an example of the short front usage time, the Sopwith Triplane and Fokker Dr. I , which were very quickly replaced by the Sopwith Camel and the Fokker D.VII . If outdated models still had to be used in combat, which was often the case in Germany and Russia due to a lack of materials, the loss rates were extraordinarily high. The standard fighter at the end of World War I was a single-engine, single-seat biplane , with welded steel pipe - Hull armed, rigid chassis and with two machine guns. The rotary engines had reached the end of their development potential; water-cooled in-line and V-engines and the newly developed radial engines with 160 to 220 hp became the standard.

Performance comparison of single-seaters in the front line at the end of the First World War :

Surname Country First flight Commissioning Engine power Max. speed Takeoff mass Armament ( MG ) Summit height number of pieces
Albatros D.III German EmpireThe German Imperium German Empire 1916-08-01 1917-01-15 170 hp 165 km / h 886 kg 2 5,500 m 1352
SE5a United Kingdom 1801United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland United Kingdom 1916-11-22 1917-03-15 200 hp 222 km / h 880 kg 2 5,185 m 5205
Sopwith Camel United Kingdom 1801United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland United Kingdom 1916-12-31 1917-06-15 130 hp 185 km / h 659 kg 2 5,791 m 5490
Sopwith Dolphin United Kingdom 1801United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland United Kingdom 1917-03-23 1918-02-15 200 hp 211 km / h 890 kg 2 6,100 m 2072
Albatros D.Va German EmpireThe German Imperium German Empire 1917-04-15 1917-07-15 185 hp 187 km / h 937 kg 2 6,250 m 2562
Palatinate D.IIIa German EmpireThe German Imperium German Empire 1917-04-15 1917-08-15 180 hp 181 km / h 834 kg 2 6,000 m 750
SPAD S.XIII Third French RepublicThird French Republic France 1917-04-30 1917-05-31 220 hp 222 km / h 820 kg 2 6,650 m 8472
Nieuport 28 Third French RepublicThird French Republic France 1917-06-14 1918-03-15 160 hp 195 km / h 740 kg 2 5,200 m 300
Fokker Dr.I German EmpireThe German Imperium German Empire 1917-07-05 1917-09-01 130 hp 160 km / h 585 kg 2 6,500 m 420
Sopwith Snipe United Kingdom 1801United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland United Kingdom 1917-10-31 1918-08-30 230 hp 195 km / h 955 kg 2 6,100 m 497
LFG Roland D.VIa German EmpireThe German Imperium German Empire 1917-11-30 1918-05-15 160 hp 190 km / h 820 kg 2 5,500 m 353
Siemens-Schuckert D.IV German EmpireThe German Imperium German Empire 1917-12-31 1918-08-15 160 hp 190 km / h 735 kg 2 8,000 m 123
Fokker D.VII German EmpireThe German Imperium German Empire 1918-01-24 1918-04-15 180 hp 189 km / h 910 kg 2 6,000 m 800
Fokker D.VIIF German EmpireThe German Imperium German Empire 1918-01-24 1918-04-15 226 hp 205 km / h 910 kg 2 7,000 m 200
Palatinate D.VIII German EmpireThe German Imperium German Empire 1918-01-24 1918-09-15 160 hp 190 km / h 740 kg 2 7,500 m 120
Palatinate D.XII German EmpireThe German Imperium German Empire 1918-03-31 1918-07-15 160 hp 180 km / h 902 kg 2 5,640 m 750
Fokker D.VIII German EmpireThe German Imperium German Empire 1918-05-31 1918-07-31 110 hp 204 km / h 605 kg 2 6,300 m 289

Between the world wars

The most popular Bf 109 fighter aircraft with over 33,000 units.

Hardly anything changed in this until the 1930s, only the engine output and the performance values ​​that depend on it were continuously increased. The Gloster Gladiator from 1934 could be regarded as a high point of this development : a single-seater double-decker with an 840 hp radial engine , rigid chassis and four 7.7 mm machine guns. Like other double-decker models , such as Fiat and Polikarpow , it was still used during World War II.

A significant further development was the Polikarpow I-16 in 1932 , which was the first mass-produced monoplane fighter with retractable landing gear. This design was later adopted and improved for practically all of the following fighter models, for example through the introduction of closed cockpits and more powerful engines.

At the same time, the transition to all-metal construction took place. The first all-metal monoplane fighter, the American Boeing P-26 , also had its maiden flight in 1932.

In the case of land-based aircraft, it was the development of high-speed monoplane bombers that led to the development of high- speed monoplane fighters that were supposed to be able to intercept modern high-speed bombers. The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was a typical fighter of this generation of all-metal monoplane. The Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) served as a "practice field" .

One of the most important developments of this time was the perfecting of the carrier-based aircraft. Landing hooks, stable landing gears and advances in avionics gave rise to a class of fighter aircraft of their own.

Second World War

P-51D Mustang during an air show

Already at the beginning of the Second World War it became clear that the fight for air superiority was being decided by the fast, single-engine, single-seat fighters of the new type. With a few exceptions, all successful fighters of the Second World War conformed to this design (see also air superiority fighters ).

Attempts with multipurpose aircraft, which still played an important role in the First World War (for example the Bristol F.2 Fighter ), had led to the development of the destroyer in Germany . The Messerschmitt Bf 110, which founded this class, turned out, like various other multi-purpose aircraft of the Second World War, to be unsuitable for the planned role as a heavy fighter because of the compromises required in the design.

The development of the first usable on- board radars led to the development of special types of night fighter. The heavy fighters provided the on-board radar and the additional crew member required to operate the radar with the necessary space and, due to their long flight times, were well suited for the lengthy intercept hunt at night. In addition to multi-purpose aircraft such as the Messerschmitt Bf 110 and the Bristol Beaufighter , aircraft developed for other roles such as the De Havilland Mosquito (originally a high-speed bomber ) were successfully used as night fighters. The German Ju 88 bomber capable of diving was also successfully used in this role.

During the Second World War, the piston engine fighters were perfected to their peak: machines with over 2,000 hp, a top speed of over 700 km / h, very heavy armament and a strategic range ( North American P-51 , Chance Vought F4U , Republic P-47 , Supermarine Spitfire , Hawker Tempest , Focke-Wulf Fw 190 , Messerschmitt Bf 109 K, Jakowlew Jak-9 ). However, all of these top models were outclassed by the new jet aircraft (now known as jet or jet aircraft ).

Jet fighter

Me 262 A-1 in the Deutsches Museum in Munich
MiG-29 of the Hungarian Air Force

The first jet-powered fighters existed as early as World War II - the Germans used the twin-engine Messerschmitt Me 262 from 1944 , the British followed with the Gloster Meteor . But it was the Korean War in which the jet fighters finally took control of the sky.

During this war, the latest single-engine aircraft developed around the same time in the United States ( North American F-86 ) and the Soviet Union ( MiG-15 ) not only replaced piston-powered fighter aircraft, but also the first-generation jet fighters - such as the Lockheed P-80 or the Republic F-84 . These could not prevail against the MiG-15 in Korea. The heavily armed fighter could soar higher and was faster than any aircraft the United States could muster. It was only through the use of the new F-86 and the better training of their pilots that the Americans were able to regain their air superiority.

The structural design of the two opponents - swept wings, engine built into the fuselage, heavy cannon armament - was exemplary for numerous aircraft in the coming years ( Hawker Hunter , North American F-100 , Fiat G.91 , Saab Lansen ).

The term jet fighter was gradually replaced by the term fighter aircraft after 1945. For further development history, see combat aircraft .

See also

Web links

Commons : Fighter aircraft  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Fighter aircraft  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations