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Most successful jet fighter of all time?


The best fighter  

147 members have voted

  1. 1. What do you think was the most successful jet fighter out of these options?

    • F-4 phantom
      55
    • Mig-15
      2
    • Mig-21
      18
    • F-15
      29
    • f-14
      4
    • f-16
      26
    • Sea Harrier FRS.1
      5
    • other (please comment)
      12


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I would say the Mirage III....

I would say the Mirage was a more successful fighter(bomber) per plane produced than the MiG-21.

I agree, the Mirage Family were more successful jets than others at the same time.

Edited by Centollaman
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neu does not think it influenced a later generation. I would point first to Burt Rutan who, having cut his teeth on his "Vari-Viggen" went on to popularise the canard in many subsequent designs. Nobody yet understood canards fully and none of the big boys had Sweden's odd requirements. Much research was needed before a canard could appear on another production machine. Meanwhile, Viggen inspired quick fixes to a generation of Mirage III derivatives. When fly-by-wire arrived, canard research still had to reach that point of sophistication where designers could take the best of both worlds to a whole new level. I recall a General Dynamic designer being asked why they had not made the F-16 a canard and he replied that the research was still too immature and they had taken enough risks as it was. Without Viggen to set the research ball rolling again, canards would not have caught up for another generation at least. You might not call that influencing a generation, but I do.

Feel free to disagree, but do take care to check your history.

I'm sorry, but this is completely and utterly incorrect.

The only way that you can claim that Saab was the main source of innovation with canards is if you ignore that there was any other company working in Aerospace. Research into forward control and lift devices were already advancing during this time, in ways that were far more influential than Saab's Viggen.

At the base of this you have NASA which was working on various aspects of forward lift configurations, including the technical research into the flight control problems relating to Canards to make them actually operable. Much of this dates back to the 1950s. This assisted manufacturers in actually employing these systems, who were already attempting their own efforts. Northrop, was quite advanced in this field, like with the development of the F-5's LERX. Grumman included glove vanes in the F-14, for supersonic trim, which achieves some of the same effects as a canard. Dassault was working on a similar system for the Mirage III in 1968, which they abandoned four years later. Dassault was not "inspired" by Saab. If anything, they were likely inspired by Grumman or the progress of something else...

So, then there is North American which was very also worked on a number of programs with canards, the most visible being the XB-70 valkriye. Its use was striking and reflected many of the same objectives that later manufacturers would employ the configuration for. It started around 1955, and ended in 1969.

North_American_XB-70_above_runway_ECN-79

Its laughable that you think Saab were the ones that made canards respectable, when North American Aviation, one of the biggest and most prestigious aerospace manufacturers in the world at that time implemented a Canard design to the US Air Forces' highest profile project in the early 1960s. They put in over 14,000 hours of wind tunnel research in order to test the design... built two successful prototypes and somehow they didn't validate the concept... it was Saab who got the ball rolling a decade later?

Right. Personally I would probably argue but for the XB-70, and the vast amount of research work undertaken for that program, that the Viggen may not have existed. Why? because if aerodynamic research was transferred as part of Annex 37, then the swedes would have received the XB-70s research and employed it for the Viggen's design. But that's a theory, which may or may not been true.

Want to know why Canards emerged in the 1970s and 80s? Its very simple. Prior to then, the potential of canards were well known, but implementation was sparse due to the technological limitations of the day. Viggen didn't really push any of that ahead, rather it was another implementation of a difficult to employ configuration. The United States, and to a lesser extent its allies, developed new technologies and scientific understandings that would allow for Canards to realize their full potential. That included fly by wire research conducted by NASA, General Dynamics and Northrop, as well as new and exotic materials like composites and titanium that provided superior strength and rigidity.

So yes this touches a nerve. It basically ignores the reality of aerospace development during this period in order to tout a largely false interpretation of history that burnishes' Saab's credentials. That's how I see it, and, yes, that is based on a broad understanding of historical development of technologies and designs.

Edited by -Neu-
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It was the 2nd afterburning Turbofan in sevice.

Possibly depends on exact definition of "in service", but TF-30 equipped F-111As first squadron operational 1968, Spey-engined F-4s 1969, Viggen 1971 (according to the most commonly quoted source).

Carlsberg is Danish. Skol ! :drink: What is far more easily solved than the question re the best jet fighter (should we have a similar thread about the worst, perhaps ?) is that Carlsberg is not the best. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Look a couple (hundred) km further south.

Edited by tempestfan
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I knew that,Probably.I couldn't think of a Swedish beer. Still can't.

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At the base of this you have NASA which was working on various aspects of forward lift configurations, including the technical research into the flight control problems relating to Canards to make them actually operable. Much of this dates back to the 1950s. This assisted manufacturers in actually employing these systems, who were already attempting their own efforts. Northrop, was quite advanced in this field, like with the development of the F-5's LERX.

BTW the canards of XB-70 (a brilliant design itself, but surely not a fighter :) ) also were unable to generate downward force, so they were just forward lift generators (like in Viggen) and not the canard elevators, like in Wright Flyer, Gripen or the Eurofighter.

Yes, I'm European and a driver of Swedish-built car, but don't reckon me being a Swedephile. And I like very much all the designs by Edgar Schmued (German-, so European-born), to list just the P-51, F-86, F-100 and F-5. But talking about LEX don't you think that the first creation of a mid-wing vortex to stabilise lift flow was the SAAB Draken double-delta layout with long intake-sleeves performing like giant LEX? :) Six years ahead of the F-5 and fifteen years ahead of the F-17...

Edited by KRK4m
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I am truly impressed by these anti-Viggen rants. One may pass by the failure to notice half of what I said and the twisting of the rest out of all recognition, the technical and historical slips, and the posting of a nice big picture under the impression it proves one's argument is nice and big. What intrigues me is, why? Was a Viggen dropped on your head when you were a baby or something? Why not go down the pub for a drink instead?

Oh, and it was Butcombe's Best Bitter - on draught. Now, that was uplifting. :drink:

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I reply because this is an area I work in and I have a strong particular interest in it. This is a discussion forum, where conversations occur and people with relevant interests and knowledge provide information and debate. In my view, and I suspect others, instead of discussing the points, you just doubled down on the same assumptions and viewpoint while questioning our grasp of history. And then you ask why people get so testy?

I don't think that anyone here is oblivious to the Viggen's innovation, but the way you're proposing it completely overstates it. Understanding context and history is very important to me. I think what irks me the most however is that your statements completely understates the staggering amount of research and work undertaken by the United States in this period, which was the key for unlocking the the true potential of Canards. My last post was intended to point out that the XB-70, an incredibly high profile project, preceded the Viggen and utilized a very similar layout.... which it is possible that Saab received technical data concerning from the US government in 1960s.

BTW the canards of XB-70 (a brilliant design itself, but surely not a fighter :) ) also were unable to generate downward force, so they were just forward lift generators (like in Viggen) and not the canard elevators, like in Wright Flyer, Gripen or the Eurofighter.

Sure, but they were used for supersonic trim and improved control in low speed regimes. I didn't want to go into the minutia of it because the last post was getting long, and I'm not a aerodynamics specialist. I discussed some of the impediments to true canards later in my previous post.

And in reality the whole "fighter/bomber" dichotomy in innovation is extremely vague and doesn't really exist. Aerospace engineers don't sit with blinders on and only look at other fighters. The history of the field has witnessed individuals open to a wide variety of information sources, including theoretical scientific studies and other technical advances, as well as specific implementations across many different fields in order to devise solutions. Two of the most prominent areas of research during this period was bomber aircraft and the space program. For example the B-58 extensively used composites (within a metal structure) to provide rigidity and weight reduction... an application that would be widely copied in the subsequent years.

Yes, I'm European and a driver of Swedish-built car, but don't reckon me being a Swedephile. And I like very much all the designs by Edgar Schmued (German-, so European-born), to list just the P-51, F-86, F-100 and F-5. But talking about LEX don't you think that the first creation of a mid-wing vortex to stabilise lift flow was the SAAB Draken double-delta layout with long intake-sleeves performing like giant LEX? :) Six years ahead of the F-5 and fifteen years ahead of the F-17...

I'm not as familiar with the Draken's development as other aircrafts' development, but from what I've read the compound delta arrangement was intended in part to provide a more compact planform arrangement in order to maintain high speed, with a secondary goal to deal with some of the low speed control problems encountered with deltas in general. I would argue that it really did not grasp the potential of this configuration. The real breakthrough came in 1955 with the Royal Aircraft Establishment's discovery of vortex lift. Subsequently NASA and several American manufacturers worked hard to exploit this area of discovery and implemented ever more advanced configurations. The F-5 was the first to put some of these theories into practice, but the F-16's strakes and the YF-17's LERX were really designed with this effect.

Edited by -Neu-
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SAAB makes very good products. Among them are airplanes and weapon systems but those cant match russian jet fighters. Draken, lansen, viggen and grippen are inferior to make mig-21, mig-29, su-27 and others.

No holding back amigo...!!!

Hehe!!! :thumbsup:

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I knew that,Probably.I couldn't think of a Swedish beer. Still can't.

Isn't Koppelberger Cider Swedish ? Seem to remember first time I saw it was at Ikea, and that place definitely has a touch of Swedish about it.

Butcombe a lovely pint of bitter.

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Koppelberger at Ikea?

From flat pack to flat on your back!

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...Understanding context and history is very important to me. I think what irks me the most however is that your statements completely understates the staggering amount of research and work undertaken by the United States...

I won't dare to neglect the amount of research and work undertaken (read: time and money spent) by the US in the field of aerodynamics. Maybe Saab just put the XB-70 forward wing idea into production and everyday use in their Viggen. Surely it was RAE, where vortex lift was discovered. But the same year Saab Draken introduced the double-delta wing that (incidentally, perhaps) generated vortex lift.

In the late 1930s NACA worked on laminar-flow wing aerofoil and several US aircraft (P-51, P-60, P-63 to list just a few) gained additional 10% of speed thanks to the new aerofoils introduced in the 1940s. We all know, that they were followed by British (Tempest, Spiteful) and Soviet (La-9/11) fighters, but the first production warplane with laminar-flow wing (IAW-743 aerofoil) was Polish PZL-37 Los twin-engined medium bomber, designed in 1935, first flown in 1936 and put into series production in 1938.

It was fortuitous, as in the 1930s there were no aerodynamics studies on the laminar flow undertaken in Poland. It was the size of Polish bombs (110 kg, roughly 240 lb) that simply forced Jerzy Dabrowski to locate them in two rows within the wing and the chordwise length of such bomb bay moved the aerofoil maximum thickness behind the 40% of chord. Thanks to that the Pegasus-powered PZL-37 was some 10% faster than German, British, French and Russian bombers of similar size and horsepower. Perhaps that was the case of Draken LEX too.

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Ikea ... Cider ... Elephants.

Pink, by any chance?

Seems almost churlish to mention that I have a pdf of a patent on the swept wing with canard foreplane - dated 1909 and... BRITISH!

Makes a nice companion to the patent on the Rogallo delta wing - same year, same brit.

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So I was wondering whether anybody would want to discuss this with me, I wanted to know what other people think was the most successful jet of all time in terms of

1) Units sold

2) Innovative technology at time of release(?)

3) Reliability

I'm afraid to say that original question asked by Sovietstar precisely outlined his meaning of "successful" as mass-produced, innovative and reliable. There was nothing about kill ratio (pilot training and ground control are decisive factors here) or number of imitators there. In my opinion (and my vote above) unquestionably No.1 is MiG-15/17 family, but let me list a dozen or so of the "most successful jet fighters of all time" using as basis just the sheer number of units sold. Analyzing these proposals you will also find the most widespread, most innovative and longest-living jet fighters too. Being a historian I put them in chronological order:

1944 - Gloster Meteor - almost 4000 built, used in 16 countries. Introduced few weeks after the Me 262, but it's forward located cockpit became standard for 99% of jet fighters till today

1945 - Lockheed P-80 - >9000 built (mostly T-33 trainers, called TP-80 initially), used in 39 countries. Operational since 1945 till (Bolivia) today, first production jet achieving 1000 km/h airspeed. Introduced detachable rear fuselage for servicing the engine.

1946 - DH Vampire/Venom - almost 6000 built, used in 33 countries. Totally unorthodox with twin boom tail and extensive use of plywood, first jet operating from aircraft carrier and first to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Most produced (Western) European jet fighter ever.

1947 - Republic F-84 - almost 8000 built (including F-84F/RF-84F swept-wing variants), used in 15 countries. First to utilize inflight refueling and first able to carry nuclear weapons - both features made (after many years) "true" jet bombers unneccesary.

1948 - NA F-86 Sabre - almost 10.000 built (including FJ Furies and F-86D/K/L "Sabre Dogs", initially called F-95), used in 34 countries. First production fighter with swept wings.

1949 - MiG-15 - almost 28.000 built (including MiG-17s, called MiG-15bis45 initially), used in 44 countries (7 of them till today). First (and one of the very few types) to utilize 37mm cannon. Introduced jet fighter era to countries like Burkina Faso or Guinea Bissau.

1955 - MiG-19 - >7000 built (including Chinese J-6 and its Q-5 derivative), used in 28 countries. Introduced 6 months after the F-100, but more widespread, faster, with higher ceiling, better climb and armed with 30mm cannon. First production jet using indigenous Russian [added on 30 January] axial-flow turbojet (actually two of them, close-coupled in rear fuselage). Still used by 6 air forces.

1958 - Su-7/9 - giant family of Mach 2+ interceptors and fighter-bombers.Consisted of single-engined tailed-delta Su-9 and Su-11 (1200 built) and similar swept-wing Su-7 (1800 built), utilizing the same fuselage, engine and tail. The latter evolved into the variable-sweep Su-17/20/22 (2800 built), while the delta wing and vertical tail of Su-11 were mated to new (twin-engined) fuselage to create the Su-15 (1300 built). Used in 25 countries, first supersonic nuke-strike aircraft of Russia and her allies.

1959 - MiG-21 - almost 14.000 built (including the Chinese J-7 variants), used by 67 air forces. Most widespread jet fighter ever, it's price made supersonic fighter available for countries like Eritrea, Mali, Namibia and Bangladesh.

1960 - F-4 Phantom - >5000 built, used in 12 countries. So sophisticated, that single pilot was unable to exploit all the advantages of design. First naval fighter accepted by the USAF. Purchased by every country (except for France) that could afford to do it.

1961 - Northrop F-5 - almost 4000 built (including "dry-winged" T-38 trainers). Introduced new aerodynamics (LEX, flat fuselage underside, coke-bottle fuselage shape and so on) and lightweight engines. Used in 36 countries (25 of them till today) with new derivatives manufactured recently in Iran.

1970 - MiG-23 - >6000 built (including MiG-27 attack variants), the only widely used swing-wing aircraft of the world, used by 32 air forces. One can argue whether variable-sweep wing was dead-end street or not, but >13.000 swing-wing aircraft were built in the USA, the USSR and Western Europe. Flogger has no direct Western equivalent, as F-111, Tomcat and Tornado being heavier, more complicated and far more expensive.

1978 - GD F-16 - >4500 built, used in 27 countries. The only mass-produced fighter of last three decades, far ahead of F/A-18, MiG-29 and F-15. Introduced fly-by-wire, sidestick and vortex-generating forebody strakes. So many people can't be wrong :)

Of course it's only my private point of view. But isn't it sheer numbers that count?

Edited by KRK4m
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Of course it's only my private point of view. But isn't it sheer numbers that count?

Except you re-state the OP's criteria at the top of your post and units sold is only one of three. :)

I'm sure also that the OP was intended as the springboard for a discussion rather than a set of concrete rules meant to shut down debate. It's unfortunate in some ways that out of the three criteria only units sold is an easily measurable thing. It's not like we can counterbalance the Phantom's 5,000 units sold against the F-15's 8,000 points of innovation. I suppose you could use some sort of MTBF or maintenance hours per flight hour metric for reliability but it's apparently much easier to find the number built of each type.

Even with the apparently clear cut units sold criteria you can argue on the interpretation. Yes, lots more MiG-15s were built than any other type, but isn't that unfair to more modern fighters, given air arms have been shrinking for decades? What percentage of fighters sold since the late '70s have been F-16s? I'm betting it's quite high, and almost certainly a higher percentage than the percentage of jet fighter sales that were Phantoms over its sales lifespan, as there are fewer designs available for sale these days. I don't know how it would stack up against the MiG-15 if sales are measured like this, especially as the Soviet Bloc gave the MiG a useful captive market, but I'd bet it looks better than the 28,000:4,500 units built ratio would at first suggest.

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but let me list a dozen or so of the "most successful jet fighters of all time" using as basis just the sheer number of units sold. Analyzing these proposals you will also find the most widespread, most innovative and longest-living jet fighters too. Being a historian I put them in chronological order:

Of course it's only my private point of view. But isn't it sheer numbers that count?

Not enough Mirages built to qualify for that listing ?

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I still think the F-86 Sabre should be included. It may not have met production quantities like the Phantom, MIGs or F-16s but they sure did well in Korea and in the India -Pakistan war where they knocked out Hunters like flies!

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Of course it's only my private point of view. But isn't it sheer numbers that count?

Numbers count but as with kill ratios it's important to put them into some perspective.

Chris has already mentioned that air forces today are musch smaller than they used to be, one thing is to reequip the VVS in 1950 with jet fighters, another thing is to re-equip the same air force in 2005. Modern types are unlikely to be sold in such numbers as seen for the Sabre and MiG-15 in their days.

There's also the matter of what has contributed to build certain numbers. The F-5 is a good case as many countries that used the F-5 did it because they could receive no other type. The US DoD was clear on this for many years, no Phantom or F-104 or other types to certain countries, want to buy american then the F-5 is all you can get. I don't want to detract from the qualities of the F-5 family (that is actually one of my favourite modelling subjects) but the fact remains that without certain political limitations its numbers would have been lower

The F-84 may have been built in huge numbers, but was it a succesful type ? Or was it rather a better than nothing that did the job ? It may have been the first type to use IFR, may have been the first single seat jet to carry a nuke but these were innovations brought on this type, not by the type. They were not part of the design but it was the first aircraft onto which these were implemented

The Meteor was sure innovative in some aspects, but can we consider succesful a type that was already obsolete during its production run ?

And bringing politics in again, would the MiG-15 and the Sabre have achieved such numbers if the US and the Soviet Union had not given them to their allies in large numbers ? Really, how many MiG-15s or Sabres were paid for by their customers ?

And speaking of innovations, was the 37mm gun of the MiG-15 really an innovation ? I mean, guns of similar calibres had already been used on prop fighters and no other jet used such big calibre weapons. Seems to me more of a dead end rather than innovation

The Mig-19: was it innovative ? It was sure advanced for its days, but what did it bring new ? The axial turbojet was nothing really new and the Soviets have already used these in a number of types, although these engines were mainly derived from German projects.

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I still think the F-86 Sabre should be included. It may not have met production quantities like the Phantom, MIGs or F-16s but they sure did well in Korea and in the India -Pakistan war where they knocked out Hunters like flies!

. . . and got knocked out themselves by the Folland Gnat! (aka. Ajeet).

Hawker Hunter (c.2000 built) must be a contender - one of the nicest jet fighters in terms of handling?

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1948 - NA F-86 Sabre - almost 10.000 built (including FJ Furies and F-86D/K/L "Sabre Dogs", initially called F-95), used in 34 countries. First production fighter with swept wings.

definitely not " first production fighter with swept wings"

maybe first post war production fighter with swept wings! The German Me 262 flew in 1942 after all!

it is hard to understand why it took so long to understand the qualities of the swept wing though!

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definitely not " first production fighter with swept wings"

maybe first post war production fighter with swept wings! The German Me 262 flew in 1942 after all!

it is hard to understand why it took so long to understand the qualities of the swept wing though!

Shock wave control,high speed drag control,less stable at low speeds and high landing speed. They didn't need it until they needed it,they go looking . Germans had the idea in the 20's and/or 30's and had nothing to take advantage of it . Not until the jet engine. The German designers snaffled by all and sundry after the war worked for which ever country had got them. Their war time designs were worked on, improved and put into production.

Edited by bzn20
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Having read almost all of the above, my vote goes to the Me-262. In it's wake we seem unable to resolve an enjoyable but probably endless mathematical, semantic and geopolitical confusion, which by itself should be enough to earn it the title :winkgrin: .

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I can agree to that above to an extent. The jet engine wasn't that good was it? The Whittle type design was a better engine and more reliable. Whatever the outcome its a vote for Joe election by enthusiasts,some bias and arguments that just don't stand up. The Mig 15 was a good front runner until something else came along which is always the way. Kurt Tank's and Me's designs were very similar. The forward looking big leap and game changers came from German WW2 designers.

Edited by bzn20
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I suppose you could use some sort of MTBF or maintenance hours per flight hour metric for reliability but it's apparently much easier to find the number built of each type.

What percentage of fighters sold since the late '70s have been F-16s? I'm betting it's quite high, and almost certainly a higher percentage than the percentage of jet fighter sales that were Phantoms over its sales lifespan, as there are fewer designs available for sale these days.

Agree - that's why I put the F-16 on my list, while there's no F-14, Su-27, Gripen and Rafale there. But talking about maintenance criteria do you know that only three jet fighters in history are able to regain full combat readiness (fuel, guns, missiles, a.s.o.) in 10 minutes serviced by 7-man ground crew? Their names? Yes, please: Draken, Viggen and Gripen :) But I'm not a Swedephile after all.

Not enough Mirages built to qualify for that listing ?

Unfortunately not - even adding all the (Nesher, Cheetah, Dagger, Kfir) derivatives the Mirage III/5 totals behind the Hunter and five US types (listed a little below). Nevertheless it's the most numerous tailless delta-winged jet ahead of F-102/106.

I still think the F-86 Sabre should be included. It may not have met production quantities like the Phantom or F-16s ....

And it IS - included as No.1 among the US-types

The F-84 ... may have been the first type to use IFR, may have been the first single seat jet to carry a nuke but these were innovations brought on this type, not by the type. They were not part of the design but it was the first aircraft onto which these were implemented

And speaking of innovations, was the 37mm gun of the MiG-15 really an innovation ? I mean, guns of similar calibres had already been used on prop fighters and no other jet used such big calibre weapons. Seems to me more of a dead end rather than innovation

The Mig-19: was it innovative ? It was sure advanced for its days, but what did it bring new ? The axial turbojet was nothing really new and the Soviets have already used these in a number of types, although these engines were mainly derived from German projects.

But in reality the F-84 was the first in these aspects - we are talking about the results and not about the intentions :)

The 37mm gun wasn't an innovation, but it was an important feature against the 0.5in MGs of F-80, F-84 and F-86.

Surely RD-10 (Jumo 004) and RD-20 (BMW 003) axial jets were used by the Russians nine years before the MiG-19. But here we have original Russian design (not the RR copy) - I forgot to put "indigenous" in my yesterday entry :)

Hawker Hunter (c.2000 built) must be a contender - one of the nicest jet fighters in terms of handling?

Surely it is, but (looking at the numbers) it is surpassed also by the F9F, A4D, F-100, F-104 and F/A-18

maybe first post war production fighter with swept wings! The German Me 262 flew in 1942 after all!

Me 262 wing sweep measured at 25% chord is just 15 degrees - thinking this way the first swept-wing fighters were Hawker Nimrod and Demon. Or maybe even Nieuport Bebe and Morane Saulnier AI, while Ilyushin Il-28 has forward-swept wings :)

Edited by KRK4m
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