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A fighter pilot is a military aviator trained to engage in air-to-air combat while in the cockpit of a fighter aircraft. Fighter pilots undergo specialized training in aerial warfare and dogfighting (close range aerial combat). A fighter pilot with at least five air-to-air kills becomes known as an ace.
Fighter pilots are one of the most highly regarded and desirable positions of any air force. Selection processes only accept the elite out of all the potential candidates. An individual who possesses an exceptional academic record, physical fitness, healthy well-being, and a strong mental drive will have a higher chance of being selected for pilot training. Candidates are also expected to exhibit strong leadership and teamwork abilities. As such, in nearly all air forces, fighter pilots, as are pilots of most other aircraft, are commissioned officers.
Fighter pilots must be in optimal health to handle the physical demands of modern aerial warfare. Excellent heart condition is required, as the increased "G's" a pilot experiences in a turn can cause stress on the cardiovascular system. One "G" is equal to the force of gravity experienced under normal conditions, two "G"s would be twice the force of normal gravity. Some fighter aircraft regularly accelerate to up to 9 Gs. Fighter pilots also require strong muscle tissue along the extremities and abdomen, for performing an anti-G straining maneuver (AGSM, see below) when performing tight turns and other highly accelerated maneuvers. Better-than-average visual acuity is also a highly desirable and valuable trait.
Modern medium and long range active radar homing and semi-active radar homing missiles can be fired at targets outside or beyond visual range. However, when a pilot is dogfighting at short-range, his position relative to the opponent is decidedly important. Outperformance of another pilot and that pilot's aircraft is critical to maintain the upper-hand. A common saying for dogfighting is "lose sight, lose fight".
If one pilot had a greater missile range than the other, he would choose to fire his missile first, before being in range of the enemy's missile. Normally, the facts of an enemy's weapon payload is unknown, and are revealed as the fight progresses.
Some air combat maneuvers form the basis for the sport of aerobatics:
Pilots are trained to employ specific tactics and maneuvers when they are under attack. Attacks from missiles are usually countered with electronic countermeasures and chaff. Missiles like the AIM-120 AMRAAM, however, can actively home in on jamming signals.
Dogfighting at 1 to 4 miles (1,600 to 6,400 m) is considered "close". Pilots perform stressful maneuvers to gain advantage in the dogfight. Pilots need to be in good shape in order to handle the high G-forces caused by aerial combat. A pilot flexes his legs and torso to keep blood from draining out of the head. This is known as the AGSM or the M1 or, sometimes, as the "grunt".
Defense against missiles
Many early air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles had very simple infrared homing ("heat seeking") guidance systems with a narrow field of view. These missiles could be avoided by simply turning sharply, which essentially caused the missile to lose sight of the target aircraft. Another tactic was to exploit a missile's limited range by performing evasive maneuvers until the missiles had run out of fuel.
Modern infrared missiles, like the AIM-9 Sidewinder, have a more advanced guidance system. Supercooled infrared detectors help the missile find a possible exhaust source, and software assists the missile in flying towards its target. Pilots normally drop flares to confuse or decoy these missiles.
Radar homing missiles could sometimes be confused by surface objects or geographical features causing clutter for the guidance system of either the missile or ground station guiding it. Chaff is another option in the case that the aircraft is too high up to use geographical obstructions. Pilots have to be aware of the potential threats and learn to distinguish between the two where possible. They use the RWR (radar warning receiver) to discern the types of signals hitting their aircraft.
When maneuvering fiercely during engagements, pilots are subjected to high g-force. G-Forces express the magnitude of gravity, with 1G being equivalent to Earth's normal pull of gravity. Because modern jet aircraft are highly agile and have the capacity to make very sharp turns, the pilot's physical body is often pushed to the limit.
When executing a "positive G" maneuver like turning upwards the force pushes the pilot down. The most serious consequence of this is that the blood in the pilot's body is also pulled down and into their extremities. If the forces are great enough and over a sufficient period of time this can lead to blackouts (called g-induced Loss Of Consciousness or G-LOC), because not enough blood is reaching the pilot's brain. To counteract this effect pilots are trained to tense their legs and abdominal muscles to restrict the "downward" flow of blood. This is known as the "grunt" or the "Hick maneuver", both names allude to the sounds the pilot makes, and is the primary method of resisting G-LOCs. Modern flight suits, called g-suits, are worn by pilots to contract around the extremities exerting pressure, providing about 1G of extra tolerance.
Notable fighter pilots
Notable fighter pilots include:
- Adolf Galland
- Adolph Malan (Sailor Malan)
- Alexander Pokryshkin (The second top scoring Allied ace – Soviet Air Force)
- Antonio Bautista
- Billy Bishop
- Buzz Aldrin
- Sattar Alvi
- Chuck Yeager
- Douglas Bader
- Erich Hartmann (highest scoring ace in the history of aerial warfare)
- Ernst Udet
- Brendan Finucane (Irishman who flew for the Royal Air Force who became the youngest wing commander in RAF history. Highest scoring Irish ace of World War 2.)
- Francesco Baracca
- Francis Gabreski
- Saiful Azam
- Frank Luke
- Gerhard Barkhorn
- George Beurling
- Georges Guynemer
- Giora Epstein
- Günther Rall
- Hans-Joachim Marseille
- Heinrich Bär
- Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer
- Hermann Göring
- Hiroyoshi Nishizawa
- Ivan Kozhedub (The top scoring Allied ace – Soviet Air Force)
- Jalil Zandi
- James Jabara
- Ilmari Juutilainen The top scoring non-German fighter pilot of all time
- Joaquín García Morato The top scoring Spaniard pilot of all time
- Johannes Steinhoff
- John Glenn
- John Boyd
- Karl W. Richter
- Kurt Welter
- Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Baron)
- Monath Perera
- Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon
- Nguyễn Văn Bảy
- Nguyễn Văn Cốc
- Oswald Boelcke
- Max Immelmann
- Mohommed Rayyan (Sky Falcon)
- Muhammad Mahmood Alam
- R. Stephen Ritchie
- Randy "Duke" Cunningham
- René Fonck
- Richard Bong
- Robin Olds
- Sabiha Gökçen
- Saburo Sakai
- Scott Speicher
- Shahram Rostami
- Tetsuzo Iwamoto
- Yadollah Sharifirad
- Władysław Turowicz
- Walter Nowotny
- Werner Mölders
- Rashid Minhas
- Matiur Rahman (One of the famous Bengali Pilot and awarded the highest bravery award of Bangladesh; "Bir Sreshto")
Female fighter pilots
Until the early 1990s, women were disqualified from becoming fighter pilots in most of the air forces throughout the world. The exceptions being Turkey where Sabiha Gökçen became one of the first female fighter pilot in history in 1936 and went on to fly fast jets well into the 1950s, and the USSR during the Second World War 1942–1945 where many women were trained as fighter pilots in the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment including Lilya Litvyak who became the top scoring woman ace of all time with 12 kills and Katya Budanova a close second with 11 kills, although both were killed in combat. In the last decade of the twentieth century a number of air forces have removed the bar on women becoming fighter pilots:
- Bulgaria – On 30 October 1912 Rayna Kasabova has become the world's first woman in the world who participated in a military flight on a Voisin aircraft above Edirne during the First Balkan War..
- Turkey – In 1936 Sabiha Gökçen became one of the world's first female fighter pilots.
- Somalia - Asli Hassan Abade - in 9 September 1976, is the first Somali female pilot in the (Somali Air Force - SAF). She soloed her first flight - MiG-21.
- Algeria – In 1982 Hakima Abdessamad became the first Algerian female fighter pilot in the Algerian Air Force after qualifying to fly the MiG-15, the MiG-17 and the MiG-21.
- Canada – In 1989 Dee Brasseur and Jane Foster became the first female fighter pilots in the Royal Canadian Air Force after qualifying to fly the CF-18 Hornet.
- Norway – In 1992 Mette Grøtteland became the first female fighter pilot in the Royal Norwegian Air Force after qualifying to fly the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.
- Netherlands – Between 1993 and 1997 Manja Blok the first female fighter pilot in the Royal Netherlands Air Force was active flying a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon over Bosnia enforcing the no fly zone.
- USA – In 1993 Jeannie Leavitt became the first female USAF fighter pilot, initially being assigned to a McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle squadron, and subsequently flying 300 combat hours, mostly over Afghanistan and Iraq.
- UK – In 1994 Jo Salter was declared combat ready by the Royal Air Force flying a Panavia Tornado in 617 Squadron becoming Britains first female fighter pilot.
- Sweden – In the mid 1990s Anna Dellham became Sweden's first female fighter pilot serving with a Viggen squadron, before in 2011 qualifying to fly the Gripen.
- France – In 1999 Caroline Aigle became the first woman to receive the French Air Force's coveted fighter pilot wings. She was assigned to fly the Mirage 2000-5.
- Belgium – In 1997 Anne-Marie "Mie" Jansen becomes the first Belgian female fighter pilot, flying the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.
- South Africa – Catherine Labuschagne got her wings in 2000 and flew the Impala and Hawk before in 2010 completing her maiden solo flight in the South African Air Force's Gripen Jas 39C, becoming the first woman fighter pilot ever to fly the Gripen.
- Israel – In 2001 Roni Zuckerman became the first Israeli woman to qualify as a fighter pilot.
- Finland – In 2002 Inka Niskanen became Finland's first female fighter pilot, flying F/A-18 Hornets.
- Uruguay – In 2002 María Eugenia Etcheverry, A-37B Dragonfly pilot and Carolina Arévalo, IA 58 Pucará pilot became first female fighter pilots in both Uruguayan Air Force and Latin America.
- Singapore – In 2003 Khoo Teh Lynn became Singapore's first female fighter pilot, flying General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons.
- Denmark – In 2005 Line Bonde graduated from the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, USA, as Denmark's first female fighter pilot.
- Chile – In 2006 Karina Miranda Cottenie started her flight training on Northrop F-5  and made her solo flight with F-5 Tiger III on April 29, 2010 became first female fighter pilot in Chilean Air Force.
- Germany – In 2007 Ulrike Flender graduated from Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program to become Germany's first female fighter pilot.
- South Korea – In 2008 Ha Jeong-mi became the first South Korean female fighter pilot, flying the KF-16 fighter.
- Brazil – On May 3, 2011, Carla Alexandre Borges became the first woman to fly an FAB AMX A-1 fighter aircraft.
- Poland – In 2012 it was reported that Katarzyna Tomiak had become a Mig-29 fighter pilot in the Polish Air Force.
- China – In 2013 China publicised the graduation of six of the PLAAF's first-batch of female fighter pilots.
- Pakistan – In 2013 Ayesha Farooq became Pakistan's first female fighter pilot flying the Chinese-made F-7PG fighter jet.
- United Arab Emirates – in 2014 Mariam al-Mansuri was UAEs first female fighter pilot, flying General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons in combat missions against ISIS in Syria.
- India – In June 2016 Flight cadets Avani Chaturvedi of Madhya Pradesh, Mohana Singh of Rajasthan and Bhawana Kanth of Bihar, all in their early-20s, bring in a new era for the Indian defense forces.
- Fighter aircraft
- Flying aces
- Iranian aerial victories during the Iran–Iraq war
- Iraqi aerial victories during the Iran–Iraq war
- List of aces of aces
- List of World War II aces from Finland
- Military aviation
- Operation Red Flag
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