The race between the super powers led to massive increase in the development of extensive war machines and equipment. All efforts were directed to attain effective strike power from remote positions. The ‘remote’ factor is common when we review the developments in Artillery, missiles, rockets and Fighter Planes. The World Wars increase the need for more accurate and fast attacks and retaliations. The war planes proved more versatile and offered better scope of hitting enemy targets well within its borders. This sector received more attention and developed faster. The successful Fighter Planes developed in last 60 or 70 years are being reviewed limiting to the top 10. The assessment criteria differ and so does the opinion.
The Supermarine Spitfire was manufactured by the British during the 2nd World War. The Royal Air Force and the Allied forces used it extensively. The design was extremely adaptable. This fighter was designed by R. J. Mitchell at the Supermarine Aviation Works. The maximum speed achievable was 250 mph with the 600 horse power Rolls-Royce engine.
Spitfire under went many design changes. The single spar blade was changed to three blade propeller. The engines were also modified for more stable running. It was equipped with 0.303-inch two machine guns with 300 round each, besides a variety of bombs.
The single seat Spitfire was produced in great numbers at two plants to meet the air force demand. The fighter had sight edge over its main adversary the German Luftwaffe in some aspects while showed some short comings. Still the overall performance was satisfactory that helped counter attacks. Spitfire remained in service till around 1950’s.
The North American Aviation manufactured the Mustang P51. The fighter became available to the Allied forces by mid of World War II. This single seat long range fighter was mainly used as escort for the bombers over Germany. Mustang proved more economical, durable and faster aircraft. The 12 cylinder engines were built by Packard on Rolls-Royce pattern.
The P51s were armed with Browning six 0.5 inch machine guns besides bombs. The British ordered 320 NA-73 fighters and found them more suitable for reconnaissance and tactical ground attack duties. It could only fly higher than 15000 feet after modifications, which increased the horse power to1700, speed to435 mph and flight ceiling to 25000 feet. Mustang became highly acknowledged aircraft. In all about 15000 P51s were built. They destroyed 5000 enemy aircraft in Europe.
MIG 21 is a supersonic jet fighter built by Mikoyan Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. The predecessors were MIG 15, 17 and 19 were all short range interceptors. MIG 21 series was Russian first major production range that became popular among other countries too.
The initial proto types were short lived. The missiles attached failed the objective. However, many modifications improved a lot and became a formidable aircraft. The delta wing design made it dual purpose fighter and interceptor. Its speed capability of Mach 2 exceeds that of many latest fighters in the world.
MIG 21 now leads the production figures becoming the most produced combat supersonic aircraft with the longest production period. The total production of MIG 21s accedes 10000 and were adopted by about 50 countries.
Super Hornet is a supersonic fighter and attack aircraft. It is advanced and larger than the original hornet and is also carrier capable. The production began in 1995 and induced in the U.S. Navy in 1999. Super Hornet undergone many variations but main design features were maintained like the avionics, armament mission computer software and maintenance procedures.
The super version is four feet longer, has larger wing area and is capable of carrying 30% more fuel that increases its range by about one-third. The F18 takes a variety of weapons payload including the ‘smart’ weapons and air-to-air and air-to-ground rockets. It incorporates versatile radar to control delivery systems. The aerial refueling system is included. Top speed is 2145 km/h.
Sabre F86 was made by North American Aviation. The fighter was designed for day time operations. The swept wing feature provided better versatility to be used as an escort fighter for the bombers. This could also be used as a dive bomber by itself. This all weather fighter was used extensively in large numbers by America in the Korean War successfully against its superior MIG 15. Large scale production of F86 began after the World War II. The original model under went many improvements.
The engine was also modified to powerful Turbojet that increased its speed, the height ceiling and the climb rate almost doubled besides other changes. Its top speed was rated at 1100 km/h. with a range increased to 870 km. Sabre F86 could carry 16 “High Velocity Air Rockets”, besides the installed machine guns. There was an option to either carry two 782 liter fuel drop tanks or two 450 kg bombs under the wings. However, without the fuel drop tanks its range shortened from 530 km to 80 km.
Saber F86 proved the most successful fighter of the west and all the versions put together come to about 10000 units produced till 1956.
Messerschmidt ME109 – 1937
The ME109 was manufactured by the German Messerschmitt AG. This fighter is world renowned for proving the best in the World War II. The greatest fighter pilots chose to fly this, admittedly an unsafe and uncomfortable plane. The combat record of ME109 is the best through out the war. The German WWII top scorers who flew ME109 are: Erich Hartman (352 victories), Gerhard Barkhorn (301 victories) and Gunther Rall (275 victories).
The total production of this rugged fighter was 34000 units including all versions or around 60% of all German aircraft produced. This was succeeded by Focke Wulf Fw. The aircraft was planned as an interceptor but it proved its versatility and was used for every kind of service that the war demanded. It employed retractable landing gear, a feature of modern aircraft.
The Jump Jet was produced in Britain that proved very successful from other similar competitors. This fighter plane is designed for vertical and short take-off. The Harrier family is majorly extended to four main versions: Hawker Siddeley Harrier, Sea Harrier for maritime defense, Boeing/BAE Systems AV-8B Harrier II and BAE Systems/Boeing Harrier II.
The first prototype was made in 1960. The aircraft is in service in many countries including America. This has proved very versatile but reportedly it is very difficult to pilot. It is very sophisticated and needs extraordinary skill and systems understanding.
The fighter is armed with cannons and various air to air missiles. It can carry large amount of stores on its six under wing hard points. The top speed of this reconnaissance and support fighter is 1000 km/h.
Mitsubishi Zero-Sen was manufactured in Japan by Mitsubishi Jukogyo &Nakajima. This was designed as a shipboard fighter but its abilities proved far greater. The fighter outmaneuvered almost all other fighters and interceptors existing. A6M2 was used extensively in all military engagements in the pacific and proved most successful Japanese combat plane. Its long range of 1930 miles with drop-tank was a big surprise to the American forces also. The top speed was 533 km/h.
Mitsubishi Zero-Sen was installed with 20mm cannons and two 7.7mm guns besides bombs. The American pilots were warned to score the hit at first chance and avoid a turn around with A6M2. One plane was shot down over Pearl Harbor and retrieved to understand the mechanism. This helped improve American fighter designs.
Fokker DR 1 was built by Fokker Flugzeugwerke. This triple wing plane was one of the first air fight experiments and was redesigned in the prototype stages. The final design was known as the DR 1. This plane had open cockpit for one pilot only. Two machine guns were fitted that could fire through the propeller without hitting blades.
Fokker DR 1 was considered a better option to other planes during the World War I. this was better maneuverable having a smaller frame. The most famous pilot, Manfred, von Richthofen is said to make his 80 victories. Only 320 DR 1s were made with top speed of 185 km/h.
The F117 was developed by Lockheed Martin. The single seat Night Hawk stealth Fighter was designed for low fight over enemy ground. It was only used in night time missions being invisible to radar. These highly maneuverable planes totaled 59 in service before after 2008. F117 body was made of mainly aluminum and titanium. The surface and edges were shaped to reflect radar waves, while the outer surface was coated with Radar- Absorbent Material (RAM).
The F117 uses FLIR and DLIR laser designator systems for navigation instead of radar. This one seat plane is fully remote control with manual control option. It is equipped with a variety of laser-guided bombs and missiles. These are being replaced by more advanced F22 Raptor and F35 Lightening II. F117 had a top speed of 1040 km/h.