First-generation jet fighter

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The Me 262, the first jet fighter and the most well-known of WWII

Aircraft classified as first generation jet fighters[1] are the first attempts at creation of military aircraft using jet engines. A few were developed during the closing days of World War II but saw very limited combat operations. The generation can be split into two broad groups, slower jets with straight wings common to World War II era fighters such as the Me 262 and the Meteor, and mature swept-wing first-generation fighters such as the F-86 used in the Korean War which are controllable at near sonic, and controllable in a dive at supersonic speeds.

The "generations" of fighter aircraft are a relatively modern concept based on claims for "Fifth Generation". They are rough categories based on similar designs and do not correspond to a rigid definition. While most of the first-generation fighters were developed during World War II and the postwar period, both straight-winged attack low-subsonic jets such as the A-10 Warthog and swept-wing high-subsonic speed jets such as the A-7 Corsair II continued to be designed mostly in trainer and attack fighter roles with secondary air-air combat capabilities.

World War II era[edit]

The initial attempts were straight-winged subsonic planes based heavily on the design concepts that had worked well in piston-powered aircraft. Some of these fighters were tested using piston engines to evaluate the airframes before the jets to power them were available or reliable enough to sustain flight.[2]

The first operational turbojet aircraft, the He 178, was a German design that first flew in 1939. It was used as the basis of the later He 280, a design passed over for the Me 262. A similar British design, the Gloster E.28/39 had provisions for some armament, but the guns were not fitted on either prototype.

The Bell P-59 Airacomet was the first American jet fighter to be put into service. It was never used in combat, as was mainly useful as an experimental fighter as its performance was inferior to the piston-engined North American P-51 Mustang which could reach higher top speeds and had a much greater range.

The Japanese had some experimental models, such as the Nakajima J9Y Kikka, but none saw operational use.[3]

Aircraft that entered service[edit]

The plans for the first operational jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe were drawn up in 1939, and the airplane first flew under jet power in 1942.[4] The Me 262 was not operational until 1944,[4] and its effectiveness was crippled by the deteriorating infrastructure of Nazi Germany; the advanced materials needed for its engines were in short supply. Although the Me 262 is often classified as an early straight-wing design, it actually incorporates some features of a slightly "swept wing" design, as it had a leading edge sweep of only 18.5°, too slight to achieve any significant advantage in increasing the critical Mach number, the speed at which it can fly without encountering control problems due to compressibility.[5] Sweep was added after the initial design of the aircraft for balance reasons, when the engines proved heavier than originally expected, primarily to position the center of lift properly relative to the center of mass. There was originally a 35° sweep, proposed by Adolph Busemann, which was not adopted.[6]

World War II ended before jet fighters were common. The United States and the United Kingdom also had jet fighters operational before the end of the war. The British Gloster Meteor twin-engined high speed fighter was used to intercept Germany's V-1 flying bombs missiles over the British Isles and not deployed for combat over Europe until 1945 but still kept away from occupied territory to prevent the technology being picked up by the Germans or Soviets. By 1946 16 RAF squadrons were equipped with Meteors. The American Lockheed P-80 entered service in the closing phases of the war and was deployed to Europe but arrived too late to see any combat.

The earliest jet fighters usually did not carry radar — except for the handful of Me 262B-1a/U1 jet night fighters built and deployed in 1944-45 — or other sophisticated avionics and had similar equipment to the piston-engined counterparts used during the war. Machine guns and cannon were the primary armament, though the Me 262 also used air-to-air rockets against Allied bomber formations and could carry unguided bombs, with many follow-on designs in development on paper or in wind tunnels as the war ended (especially in Germany), like the Focke-Wulf Ta 183.

The significant operational aircraft in this group include:

Aircraft Primary
Builder
Number
built
First
flight
Service
life
Length
m
Wingspan
m
Wing area
sq. m
Empty
weight
Max takeoff
weight
Max Speed
km/h
Range
km
Celling
m
Engines
×
Thrust
Me 262  Nazi Germany 1,430 1941 1944-1951 10.60 12.60 21.70 3,795 kg 7,130 kg 900 1,050 11,450 2 × 8.8 kN
He 162  Nazi Germany ~320 1944 1945 9.05 7.20 11.16 1,660 kg 2,800 kg 905 975 12,000 1 × 7.85 kN
Gloster Meteor  United Kingdom 3,947 1943 1944-1980s 13.59 11.32 32.52 4,846 kg ~7,121 kg 965 965 13,100 2 × 15.6 kN

Other aircraft were built or developed during the war, did not see combat. Many entered general service in the immediate post-war years. Examples include:

Aircraft Primary
Builder
Number
built
First
flight
Service
life
Length
m
Wingspan
m
Wing area
sq. m
Empty
weight
Max takeoff
weight
Max Speed
km/h
Range
km
Celling
m
Engines
×
Thrust
Dassault Ouragan  France Unknown 1949 1952-1980s 10.73 13.16 23.80 4,142 kg 7,900 kg 940 920 13,000 1 × 22.2 kN
DH.100 Vampire  United Kingdom 3,268 1943 1945-1979 9.37 11.58 24.34 3,304 kg 5,620 kg 882 1,960 13,045 1 × 14.90 kN
Sea Hawk  United Kingdom 542 1947 1953-1983 12.09 11.89 25.83 4,208 kg 7,325 kg 965 770 13,564 1 × 23.1 kN
Supermarine Attacker  United Kingdom 185 1946 1951-1964 11.43 11.25 21.0 3,826 kg ~5,539 kg 950 950 13,716 1 × 22.0 kN
Supermarine Swift  United Kingdom 197 1948 1952-1970s 12.88 9.85 30.50 6,094 kg 9,381 kg 1,148 1,014 13,960 1 × 31.9 kN/42.0 kN
P-59B  United States 66 1944 1944-1945 11.84 13.87 35.86 3,704 kg 6,214 kg 665 604 14,080 2 × 8.9 kN
P-80  United States 1,715 1944 1944-1970s 10.49 11.81 22.07 3,819 kg 7,646 kg 965 1,930 14,000 1 × 24.0 kN
FH Phantom  United States 62 1945 1947-1954 11.35 12.42 25.60 3,031 kg 5,459 kg 771 1,120 12,525 2 × 7.1 kN
FR-1  United States 71 1944 1945-1947 12.19 12.19 25.60 3,488 kg ~5,285 kg 444/650 2,610 13,137 1 × 7.1 kN and
1 × 1,350 hp piston
MiG-9 'Fargo'  Soviet Union 610 1946 1948-? 9.75 10.00 18.20 3,350 kg ~5,000 kg 915 800 13,500 2 × 7.8 kN
Yak-15 'Feather'  Soviet Union 280 1946 1947-? 8.70 9.20 14.85 1,852 kg ~2,638 kg 786 510+ 12,000 1 × 8.8 kN
Yak-17 'Feather'  Soviet Union 430 1947 1948-1960s 8.70 9.20 14.90 2,890 kg 3,240 kg 748 395 12,750 1 × 8.9 kN

Note:

The Russian aircraft were based heavily on British engines (including a reverse-engineered Rolls-Royce Nene engine) and German designs, and were developed after the end of World War II.[7] The French Ouragan was also a design of the late 1940s rather than a wartime effort.

Hybrid[edit]

Early jet engines had poor acceleration, and the FR Fireball was a mixed-propulsion aircraft with a propeller in front and a jet engine in the back designed for use on an aircraft carrier. The Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich I-250 and Sukhoi Su-5 were similar concepts but used a motorjet instead of a turbojet and were not designed for carrier use.

Further experiments after the war with mixed propulsion involving at least one turboprop powerplant included the XF2R Dark Shark and the XF-84H Thunderscreech, one of the loudest aircraft ever flown.[8] The Thunderscreech, however, was a much later design, being a contemporary of the clearly second generation F-104 Starfighter. None of these hybrid-propulsion planes saw combat or major use, though the Fireball was used operationally for two years.

Post-World War II[edit]

A MiG-15 in Polish markings

After World War II, some additional aircraft were built using refinements of the ideas used in the first attempts. Some of these included a swept wing and some could break the sound barrier in a dive, but almost all of them lacked the thrust to do so in level flight. Radar was used in dedicated interceptors and night fighters but early models required a dedicated radar operator. These aircraft are mostly associated with the Korean War. Some interceptor designs, such as the F-94 used rockets such as the Mk 4/Mk 40 Folding-Fin Aerial Rocket as their primary weapon instead of guns.

Interceptors/Night fighters[edit]

Aircraft Primary
Builder
Number
built
First
flight
Service
life
Length
m
Wingspan
m
Wing area
sq. m
Empty
weight
Max takeoff
weight
Max Speed
km/h
Range
km
Celling
m
Engines
×
Thrust
Avro CF-100  Canada 692 1950 1952-1981 16.50 17.40 54.9 10,500 kg 16,329 kg 888 3,200 13,700 2 × 32.5 kN
DH 112 Venom  United Kingdom 1,431 1949 1952-1983 9.70 12.70 25.9 4,202 kg ~7,000 kg 1,030 1,730 12,000 1 × 21.6 kN
DH Sea Venom  United Kingdom 419 1951 195?-1970 11.15 13.06 25.9 7,167 kg 927 1,135 12,040 1 × 23.6 kN
Yak-25 'Flashlight'  Soviet Union 638 1952 1955-1967 15.67 10.94 28.94 5,675 kg 9,450 kg 1,090 2,700 15,200 2 × 23.0 kN
F-86D Sabre  United States 2,847 1949 195?-1974 12.27 11.31 6,132 kg 9,060 kg 1,115 531+ 15,163 1 × 24.1 kN/33.4 kN
F-89 Scorpion  United States 1,052 1948 1950-1969 16.40 18.20 56.30 11,428 kg 19,161 kg 1,022 2,200 15,000 2 × 24.26 kN/32.11 kN
F-94 Starfire  United States 885 1949 1950-1960 13.60 12.90 21.63 5,764 kg 10,970 kg 1,030 2,050 15,670 1 × 28.2 kN/38.9 kN
F3D Skyknight  United States 265 1948 1951-1970 13.84 15.25 37.16 8,237 kg 12,180 kg 909 1,931 11,645 2 × 15.98 kN

Note: Thrust: Dry/Afterburner

Fighter-bombers[edit]

Aircraft Primary
Builder
Number
built
First
flight
Service
life
Length
m
Wingspan
m
Wing area
sq. m
Empty
weight
Max takeoff
weight
Max Speed
km/h
Range
km
Celling
m
Engines
×
Thrust
F9F Panther  United States 1,382 1947 1949-1969 11.30 11.60 23.00 4,220 kg 16,450 kg 925 2,100 13,600 1 × 26.5 kN
F-84 Thunderjet  United States 7,524 1946 1947-1991 11.60 11.107 24.00 5,200 kg 8,200 kg 1,000 1,600 12,350 1 × 24.7 kN
F-84F Thunderstreak  United States 3,428 1950 1954-1991 13.23 10.25 30 5,200 kg 12,701 kg 1,119 1,304 14,000 1 × 32.2 kN
Gloster Javelin  United Kingdom 436 1951 1956-1968 17.15 15.85 86.00 10,886 kg 19,580 kg 1,140 1,530 15,865 2 × 54 kN
MD.452 Mystère  France 171 1951 1954-1963 11.70 13.10 30.3 5,225 kg 7,475 kg 1,060 885 15,250 1 × 29.4 kN
MD.454 Mystère IV  France 411 1952 1953-1980s 12.89 11.12 32.06 5,860 kg 9,500 kg 1,110 915 15,000 1 × 34.32 kN
Saab 21R  Sweden 64 1947 1950-1956 10.45 11.37 3,200 kg 5,000 kg 800 720 12,000 1 × 13.8 kN

Note: Thrust: Dry/Afterburner

Air superiority fighters[edit]

Many of these also had fighter-bomber variants.

Aircraft Primary
Builder
Number
built
First
flight
Service
life
Length
m
Wingspan
m
Wing area
sq. m
Empty
weight
Max takeoff
weight
Max Speed
km/h
Range
km
Celling
m
Engines
×
Thrust
F-86 Sabre  United States 9,860 1947 1949-1994 11.40 11.30 29.11 5,046 kg 8,234 kg 1,106 2,454 15,100 1 × 26.3 kN
FJ-1 Fury  United States 31 1946 1947-1953 10.48 11.63 20.50 8,843 kg ~15,118 kg 880 2,407 9,753 1 × 17.8 kN
FJ-2/3 Fury  United States 741 1951 1954-1962 11.45 11.31 26.70 5,353 kg 8,523 kg 1,088 1,593 14,300 1 × 26.7 kN
FJ-4 Fury  United States 374 1954 1954-1960s 11.10 11.90 31.46 6,000 kg 10,750 kg 1,090 3,250 14,300 1 × 34.0 kN
F2H Banshee  United States 895 1947 1948-1962 14.68 12.73 27.30 5,980 kg 11,437 kg 933 2,760 14,205 2 × 14.5 kN
F3H Demon  United States 519 1951 1956-1964 17.98 10.76 48.21 10,040 kg ~15,377 kg 1,152 1,899 10,683 1 × 43.25 kN/65.77 kN
F6U Pirate  United States 33 1946 1946-1950 11.46 10.00 18.9 3,320 kg 5,850 kg 959 1,880 14,100 1 × 14.0 kN/18.78 kN
F-9 Cougar  United States 1,392 1948 1951-1959 12.85 10.51 31.30 5,382 kg 11,232 kg 1,041 1,690 12,800 1 × 38.0 kN
F7U Cutlass  United States 320 1951 1956-1964 12.59 12.10 46.10 8,260 kg 14,353 kg 1,122 1,482 12,375 2 × 20 kN/27 kN
DH.100 Vampire  United Kingdom 3,268 1943 1945-1979 9.37 11.58 24.34 3,304 kg 5,620 kg 882 1,960 13,045 1 × 14.90 kN
DH 112 Venom  United Kingdom 1,431 1949 1952-1983 9.70 12.70 25.9 4,202 kg ~7,000 kg 1,030 1,730 12,000 1 × 21.6 kN
Sea Vixen  United Kingdom 145 1951 1959-1972 16.94 15.54 60.20 12,680 kg 18,860 kg 1,110 1,270 14,600 2 × 50.0 kN
Hawker Hunter  United Kingdom 1,972 1951 1956–Present 14.00 10.26 32.42 6,405 kg 24,600 kg 1,150 3,060 15,240 1 × 45.13 kN
CAC Sabre  Australia 112 1953 1954-1982 11.43 11.30 28.1 5,443 kg 9,256 kg 1,100 1,850 15,850 1 × 33.4 kN
Canadair Sabre  Canada 1,815 1950 1950-1980 11.43 11.32 4,816 kg 7,965 kg 1,142 2,044 16,460 1 × 32.36 kN
Saab 29 Tunnan  Sweden 661 1948 1950-1976 11.00 11.23 24.15 4,845 kg 8,375 kg 1,060 1,100 15,500 1 × 27.0 kN
Saab 32 Lansen  Sweden 450 1952 1956-1997 14.94 13.00 37.4 7,500 kg 13,500 kg 1,200 2,000 15,000 1 × 47.0 kN/65.3 kN
La-15 'Fantail'  Soviet Union 235 1948 1949-1953 9.55 8.83 2,575 kg ~3,850 kg 1,007 1,145 13,500 1 × 15.59 kN
MiG-15 'Fagot'  Soviet Union 18,000 1947 1949–Present 10.08 10.08 20.60 3,630 kg 6,105 kg 1,059 1,240 15,500 1 × 26.5 kN
MiG-17 'Fresco'  Soviet Union 11,060 1950 1952–Present 11.26 9.63 22.6 3,919 kg 6,069 kg 1,145 2,060 16,600 1 × 22.5 kN/33.8 kN
Yak-23 'Flora'  Soviet Union 310 1947 1949-1956 8.12 8.73 13.50 1,980 kg 923 1,400 14,800 1 × 15.6 kN
Shenyang J-5  People's Republic of China 1,820 1956 1956-1992 11.09 9.63 22.60 4,151 kg 1,130 1,424 16,600 1 × 22.5 kN/33.8 kN

Cancelled fighters[edit]

A notable post-war fighter that was never used operationally was the FMA IAe 33 Pulqui II, a prototype fighter built in Argentina. The Pulqui II was designed by a team which included former German engineers led by Kurt Tank and was based on initial designs for the Focke-Wulf Ta 183, the proposed successor to the Me 262. The Pulqui II itself was a successor to the I.Ae. 27 Pulqui I, a prototype jet fighter developed in Argentina by Emile Dewoitine in the late 1940s and the first of its type to fly in South America.

The End of the First Generation[edit]

By the 1950s, the next major group of fighter aircraft were planes that used air-to-air missiles as their primary armament and could routinely exceed the speed of sound in level flight. First-generation fighters were limited to engagements in visual range, and the expected performance of new missiles, like the AIM-7 Sparrow, with semi-active radar homing, forced changes in aircraft design.

There is not a bright, clearly defined line between first- and second-generation fighters, and some early second-generation fighters, such as the F-8 Crusader, still had guns as their primary armament. Infrared-guided or so-called "heat-seeking" missiles such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder and early beam-riding missiles like the Kaliningrad K-5 were used on late first-generation aircraft.

Experimental first-generation jet fighters[edit]

Northrop XP-79[edit]

The Northrop XP-79 flying wing was an unusual aircraft that only flew once, resulting in the death of the pilot. It was originally designed as a rocket powered aircraft but later used turbojets. The pilot was given a prone flying position.

Parasite Fighters[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Parasite aircraft.

Early jet fighters did not have the range to escort bombers all the way to the target and back, the same problem that had beset the USAAF during the early part of the daylight bombing campaigns of World War II. Having the bomber carry a fighter as well as turrets to defend itself led to some unusual designs, none of which were implemented.

Aircraft still in use[edit]

A few of the aircraft from this generation are still in use by the air forces of smaller nations, typically in the ground attack role and not as fighters. A notable mention of this is the Shenyang J-5, a Chinese aircraft developed from the MiG-17, which is used by North Korea in the ground attack role and in other countries as a trainer.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Aerospaceweb.org | Ask Us - Fighter Generations
  2. ^ Radinger, Will and Schick Walter. Me262 (in German). Berlin: Avantic Verlag GmbH, 1996. ISBN 3-925505-21-0, page 23
  3. ^ # Francillon, Réne J. Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War. London: Putnam & Company Ltd., 1970 (2nd edition 1979). ISBN 0-370-30251-6.
  4. ^ a b Genesis Of the Me262
  5. ^ Loftin, L.K. Jr. Quest for Performance: The Evolution of Modern Aircraft. NASA SP-468. Retrieved: 22 April 2006.
  6. ^ Christopher, John. The Race for Hitler's X-Planes (History Press, The Mill, Gloucestershire, 2013, p.48.
  7. ^ Early Soviet Jet Fighter Development
  8. ^ # Knaack, Marcelle Size. Encyclopedia of U.S. Air Force Aircraft and Missile Systems: Volume 1 Post-World War II Fighters 1945–1973. Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1978. ISBN 0-912799-59-5.