History has seen amazing leaps from the 12-HP Wright Flyer to the awe-inspiring F-22. Ranking these machines would hardly justify the plethora of man’s versatility in the field. Yet still, one cannot deny how one’s heart misses a beat at the passing of a fighter jet. Based on their undeniable prowess of the air and captivating feats over time, the following is a humble attempt in rating these tamed beasts.
1. F-22 Raptor and F-16 Fighting Falcon
The top slot. Everyone has their own demands and their preconceived notions of things, but when it comes to fighter planes; it would be hard to name the best fighter of all time. What marvel man brings in the future is only a mystery, but come they will and much faster at greater succession. The top slot is thus an ode to the achievements of mankind, both in the past as well as the future. Another tie bequeaths the most coveted slot. It would be unfair to let the Fighting Falcon take all the laurels with its immense production and demand, as the F-22 poses the heights of technology not tested by any other aircraft in history. The F-22 is the only aircraft that blends super-cruise speed (speed of sound without after-burners), super-agility, stealth and sensor fusion into a single air dominance platform. The Fighting Falcon has the honor of serving with more than sixty two nations all at the same time. With more variants in the market than a Porsche 911, the fighting falcon is an untamed gift to mankind.The US Air Force claims that the Raptor cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter types, which is yet to be challenged. With such unmatched capabilities these two fighters will remain a marvel in technological advancements for many years to come, hence deserve sharing the top slot.
2. Supermarine Spitfire Year 1938
The Supermarine Spitfire was a British single-seat fighter aircraft, used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries during the Second World War. This aircraft was designed to meet an ad-hoc Air Ministry demand to build an aircraft capable of flying at 250 MPH. For its day, the Spitfire was admired with utmost reverence and in an effort to develop the Spitfire further, two principal modifications were made, these included the introduction of a pressurized cabin and the use of an engine suitably rated for higher altitude. These changes were incorporated in the Spitfire Mark IV. The most advanced technological leaps in its time. Much loved by its pilots, the Spitfire saw service throughout the whole of the Second World War, continuing to serve as a front line fighter for several air forces well into the 1950s. The Spitfire will always be compared to its main adversary, the Messerschmitt ME-109: both were among the finest fighters of their day and followed similar design philosophies of marrying a small, streamlined airframe to a powerful liquid-cooled inline engine.
3. Su30 Flanker
The SU-30 is a long range multi-role air-superiority fighter. Due to the in-flight-refueling capability it can either remain on station for long periods or cover a large area on patrol. The Russian designed plane once again baffled millions of aviation enthusiasts around the world with its unthinkable range of maneuverability as well as agility. It depicted how effortlessly an aircraft can stand still in the air without flaming out or stalling, most renowned for its Cobra maneuver, this Russian technological behemoth commands the respect of many and surely the fear of more. With technological advancements like Infrared Search and Track System, full on thrust vectoring, and unmatched agility throughout the entire flight envelope, this aircraft was and is a marvel of Russian prowess on air technology and advancement. A modified prototype of the Su30 was the first aircraft in the world to accelerate through the speed of sound vertically (up not down!). While other aircraft have been able to travel supersonic vertically none had previously been able to accelerate to that extent (at least not reportedly).
4. MIG 21 (F-13 / Fishbed C) Year 1959
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 (“Fishbed”) is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft, designed and built by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. It was popularly nicknamed balalaika, from the aircraft’s platform-view resemblance to the Russian Stringed instrument Balalaika by Polish pilots due to the shape of its fuselage. Some 50 countries over four continents have flown the MiG-21, and it still serves many nations a half-century after its maiden flight. The fighter made aviation records. At least by name, it is the most produced supersonic jet aircraft in aviation history; and it had the longest production run of a combat aircraft (1959 to 1985 over all variants). The fighter holds a number of aviation records, including the most produced supersonic jet aircraft in aviation history, the most produced combat aircraft since World War II, and the longest production run of a combat aircraft.
5. F 18 Super Hornet Year 1983
The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a supersonic carrier-capable fighter/attack aircraft. The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a combat-proven strike fighter with built-in versatility. The Super Hornet’s suite of integrated and networked systems provides enhanced interoperability, total force support for the combatant commander and for the troops on the ground. The Super Hornet has the ability to carry approximately 17,750 pounds (8,032 kg) of external load on eleven stations. It has all-weather air-to-air radar and a control system for accurate delivery of conventional or guided weapons. An internal 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon is mounted in the nose. The versatility of the F-18 Super Hornet has led the aircraft to be used in such missions including; day/night strikes with precision-guided weapons, anti-air warfare, fighter escort, close air support, suppression of enemy air defense, maritime strikes, reconnaissance, forward air control (Airborne) (FAC(A)), air-to-air refueling as well as leaflet drops with payload delivery unit 5 (PDU-5) containers. Its agility an versatility are unparalleled in today’s day and age.
6. Messerschmidt ME109 Year 1937
It may be argued that this bird was never quite in the zone during WW II, and the pilots would even call it a widow maker for its undeniable unsafe testimony. The trait which made it stand out though, was its monumental combat record. The most sought after airplane of its time, the ME-109 was also one of the most feared. They were in production right up till the fall of Normandy and a staggering 34,000 aircraft were produced. The ME 109 became the backbone of the Luftwaffe fighter force in World War II and without doubt was one of the most successful fighter aircraft of the war. It was flown by the three top-scoring fighter aces of World War II: Erich Hartmann, the top scoring fighter pilot of all time with 352 victories, Gerhard Barkhorn with 301 victories, and Gunther Rall with 275 victories.
7. F 86 Sabre Year 1949 and MIG -15
The seventh spot is a tie between the U-Mig-15 and the infamous F86 sabre. These two jets created some of the greatest air battles of our time in the Korean War. The Mig was a very heavily armed fighter and much more robust compared to the Sabre. Veteran American pilots would be baffled by the fact that their bullets would hit this agile aircraft and it wouldn’t even flinch, on the other hand, one hit from its 37mm cannon would render a Sabre inactive. It was the superior training and experience of the USAF pilots that gave them an advantage, yet not one can claim the he didn’t get a run for his money. The F-86 and the Mig were like arch rivals in the newly discovered age of jet fighter combat and they helped in the evolution of modern air combat to what it is today. These two aircraft were undoubtedly works of art and deserve a place in the annals of history, but surely side by side.
8. Harrier Jump Jet (AV-8B Harrier II) Year 1985
This extremely amazing machine was again a first of its kind. A cross between a conventional fighter jet and a helicopter gives you a Harrier Jump jet. This remarkable aircraft is still in active service and can vertically take off from a stand still. This aircraft is a British brain child and over the years has seen much active combat on at least four continents. While the Harrier is one of the most flexible aircraft ever made, the level of understanding and skill needed to pilot it is considerable. This was the first aircraft to effectively use thrust vectoring, a capability through which the exhaust nozzles tilt and vector the thrust. Thanks to thrust vector and reaction control system, the Harrier is capable of forward flight as well as VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) and STOL (short take off and landing) maneuvers; however this requires the skills and understanding associated with helicopters. It has four engine nozzle thrust vectors which can be set between zero degrees (horizontal) and 98 degrees (down and slightly forwards viewed from the side), this allows the aircraft to take off and land vertically. Not many would contest it sliding into eighth place on the list.
9. DR 1 Fokker Triplane Year 1917
Without a doubt, one of the most famous airplanes of World War One was the Fokker Dr.1 Tri-plane. The Dr 1 came ready with two machine guns which had an intercepting gear that was calculated to fire bullets through the propeller arc without hitting the blades. This was unheard of in a time where pilots would use wing-mounted machine guns and even hand held pistols. This little red devil was much smaller than many of its adversaries but where it lost in weight, it made up for in the one thing that ensures survivability in air combat, and that is agility. This was the very plane that the made “The Red Baron” (Manfred von Richthofen) one of the most feared fighter ace of his time. Surely, a fighter which commanded such respect in its time cannot be forgotten and hence secures itself at No. 9 in the top ten fighters of history.
10. F117 Stealth Fighter Year 1983
The F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter was a single seat, dual engine aircraft developed by Lockheed Martin. This extremely weird looking jet was designed at the height of the cold war with an aim to fly undetected. It was a gargantuan leap in the science of “stealth” and created ripples in the aviation world from the day it was perceived. Almost the entire outer surface of the aircraft was coated with a Radar-Absorbent Material (RAM), even the rectangular air intakes on both sides of the fuselage were covered by gratings coated with RAM. Not only could this mean machine fly undetected but could employ a vast array of armament on enemy targets. For being the first of its kind and packing a knockout punch in terms of stealth, this marvel of man deserves to be a part of the top ten fighter aircraft ever.