Fighter pilot

Last updated
Ilmari Juutilainen, a Finnish WWII fighter pilot with Brewster BW-364 "Orange 4" on 26 June 1942 during the Continuation War. Ilmari Juutilainen 26.6.1942.jpg
Ilmari Juutilainen, a Finnish WWII fighter pilot with Brewster BW-364 "Orange 4" on 26 June 1942 during the Continuation War.

A fighter pilot is a military aviator trained to engage in air-to-air combat, air-to-ground combat and sometimes electronic warfare 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.


Female USAF fighter pilots heading to their jets before takeoff (2006) F-15 Eagle female pilots, 3rd Wing.jpg
Female USAF fighter pilots heading to their jets before takeoff (2006)

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 can accelerate to up to 9 G’s. 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, Flares and chaff. Missiles like the AIM-120 AMRAAM, however, can actively home in on jamming signals.[ citation needed ]

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".[ citation needed ]

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 by creating more multiple heat signatures hotter than that of the aircraft for the missile to lock onto and guide away from the defending aircraft. [2]

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 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

Some notable fighter pilots, including some for being flying aces and others who went on to non-fighter pilot notoriety (record breaking test pilots, astronauts and cosmonauts, politicians, business leaders, etc.):

Female fighter pilots

Sabiha Gokcen in front of a Breguet 19. circa 1937. Sabiha Breguet 19.jpg
Sabiha Gökçen in front of a Breguet 19. circa 1937.

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 the first female fighter pilot in history in 1936 and went on to fly fast jets well into the 1950s, [3] 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. [4] During the 1990s, a number of air forces removed the bar on women becoming fighter pilots:

See also

Related Research Articles

Fighter aircraft Military aircraft for air-to-air combat

Fighter aircraft are fixed-wing military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat. In military conflict, the role of fighter aircraft is to establish air superiority of the battlespace. Domination of the airspace above a battlefield permits bombers and attack aircraft to engage in tactical and strategic bombing of enemy targets.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 1956 Soviet fighter aircraft family

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 is a supersonic jet fighter and interceptor aircraft, designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. Its nicknames include: "balalaika", because its planform resembles the stringed musical instrument of the same name; "Ołówek", Polish for "pencil", due to the shape of its fuselage, and "Én Bạc", meaning "silver swallow", in Vietnamese.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 Fighter aircraft family

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 is a high-subsonic fighter aircraft produced in the USSR from 1952 and operated by numerous air forces in many variants. It is an advanced development of the similar-looking MiG-15 of the Korean War. The MiG-17 was license-built in China as the Shenyang J-5 and Poland as the PZL-Mielec Lim-6.


Aerobatics is the practice of flying maneuvers involving aircraft attitudes that are not used in normal flight. Aerobatics are performed in airplanes and gliders for training, recreation, entertainment, and sport. Additionally, some helicopters, such as the MBB Bo 105, are capable of limited aerobatic maneuvers. An example of a fully aerobatic helicopter, capable of performing loops and rolls, is the Westland Lynx.

Interceptor aircraft Fighter aircraft classification; tasked with defensive interception of enemy aircraft

An interceptor aircraft, or simply interceptor, is a type of fighter aircraft designed specifically for the defensive interception role against an attacking enemy aircraft, particularly bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. There are two general classes of interceptor: some Light fighters, designed for high performance over short range, and some heavy fighters, which are intended to operate over longer ranges, in contested airspace and adverse meteorological conditions. While the second type was exemplified historically by specialized night fighter and all-weather interceptor designs, the integration of mid-air refueling, satellite navigation, on-board radar and beyond visual range (BVR) missile systems since the 1960s has allowed most frontline fighter designs to fill the roles once reserved for specialised night/all-weather fighters.

Saab 35 Draken 1955 Swedish fighter aircraft

The Saab 35 Draken is a Swedish fighter aircraft developed and manufactured by Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget (SAAB) between 1955 and 1974. Development of the Saab 35 Draken started in the 1948 as the Swedish air force future replacement for the then also in development Saab 29 Tunnan dayfighter and Saab 32B Lansen night fighter. It featured an innovative but unproven double delta wing, which lead to the ceation of a sub-scale test aircraft, the Saab 210, which was produced and flown to test this previously-unexplored aerodynamic feature. Saab 35 Draken entered service with frontline squadrons of the Swedish Air Force on 8 March 1960. It received the designation J 35, the prefix J standing for Jaktflygplan (Pursuit-aircraft) – the Swedish term for fighter.

Fourth-generation fighter

The Fourth-generation fighter is a class of jet fighters in service from approximately 1980 to the present and represent design concepts of the 1970s. Fourth-generation designs are heavily influenced by lessons learned from the previous generation of combat aircraft. Long-range air-to-air missiles, originally thought to make dogfighting obsolete, proved less influential than expected, precipitating a renewed emphasis on maneuverability. Meanwhile, the growing costs of military aircraft in general and the demonstrated success of aircraft such as the F-4 Phantom II gave rise to the popularity of multirole combat aircraft in parallel with the advances marking the so-called fourth generation.

Dogfight Combat between aircraft, conducted at close range

A dogfight, or dog fight, is an aerial battle between fighter aircraft conducted at close range. Dogfighting first occurred in Mexico in 1913, shortly after the invention of the airplane. Until at least 1992, it was a component in every major war, despite beliefs after World War II that increasingly greater speeds and longer-range weapons would make dogfighting obsolete.

Flying ace Distinction given to fighter pilots

A flying ace, fighter ace or air ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The actual number of aerial victories required to officially qualify as an ace are varied, but is usually considered to be five or more.

Light fighter Class of fighter aircraft

A Light fighter or lightweight fighter is a fighter aircraft towards the low end of the practical range of weight, cost, and complexity over which fighters are fielded. The light or lightweight fighter retains carefully selected competitive features, in order to provide cost-effective design and performance.

Air combat manoeuvring

Air combat maneuvering is the tactical art of moving, turning and/or situating one's fighter aircraft in order to attain a position from which an attack can be made on another aircraft. Air combat manoeuvres rely on offensive and defensive basic fighter manoeuvring (BFM) to gain an advantage over an aerial opponent.

Cobra maneuver

In aerobatics, the Cobra maneuver, also named dynamic deceleration, among several other names, is a dramatic and demanding maneuver in which an airplane flying at a moderate speed suddenly raises the nose momentarily to the vertical position and slightly beyond vertical with an extremely high angle of attack, momentarily stalling the plane and making it a full-body air brake, before dropping it back to normal, during which the aircraft does not change effective altitude.

Richard Stephen Ritchie United States general

Brigadier General Richard Stephen "Steve" Ritchie served as an officer in the United States Air Force and the Colorado Air National Guard, and a general officer in the Air Force Reserve. Ritchie joined Navy Commander Randy Cunningham as the only two pilots among the five American aces during the Vietnam War. Ritchie is a recipient of the Air Force Cross, the second highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the United States Air Force. He is also the 30th most highly decorated individual in United States military history.

Hungarian Air Force Air warfare branch of Hungarys military

The Hungarian Air Force is the air force branch of the Hungarian Defence Forces.

MiG Alley

"MiG Alley" was the name given by United Nations (UN) pilots during the Korean War to the northwestern portion of North Korea, where the Yalu River empties into the Yellow Sea. It was the site of numerous dogfights between UN fighter pilots and their opponents from North Korea and the People's Republic of China. Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 were the aircraft used during most of the conflict, and the area's nickname was derived from them. It was the site of the first large-scale jet-vs-jet air battles, with the North American F-86 Sabre.

<i>Dogfights</i> (TV series) American TV series

Dogfights is a military aviation themed TV series depicting historical re-enactments of air-to-air combat that took place in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, as well as smaller conflicts such as the Gulf War and the Six-Day War. The program consists of former fighter pilots sharing their stories of actual dogfights in which they took part, combined with computer-generated imagery (CGI) to give the viewer a better perspective of what it is like to engage in aerial combat. Dogfights originally aired on the History Channel from November 2006 to May 2008. Repeats of the series are currently airing on the digital broadcast network Quest.

The Thanh Hóa Bridge, spanning the Song Ma river, is situated 3 miles (4.8 km) northeast of Thanh Hóa, the capital of Thanh Hóa Province in Vietnam. The Vietnamese gave it the nickname Hàm Rồng. In 1965 during the Vietnam War, it was the objective of many attacks by US Air Force and US Navy aircraft which would fail to destroy the bridge until 1972, even after hundreds of attacks. The bridge was restored in 1973. As of 2016, the bridge still stands.

Accidents and incidents involving the JAS 39 Gripen

The JAS 39 Gripen is a fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab.

Ace (<i>G.I. Joe</i>)

Ace is a fictional character from the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toyline, comic books and animated series. He is the G.I. Joe Team's original fighter pilot and debuted in 1983.

During the Gulf War of 1990–1991, Coalition air forces faced the Iraqi Air Force, the fourth largest air force in the world at the time. In the opening days of the war, many air-air engagements occurred, between Iraqi interceptors and a variety of different Coalition aircraft.


  1. Blomberg, valokuvaaja. "Lentomestari Juutilainen, Mannerheim-ristin ritari koneineen". Retrieved 2020-01-19.
  2. Stephens, Gus. "The Difference Between Chaff & Flare in a Jet". Our Pastimes.
  3. 1 2 ""First Female Combat Pilot"". Guinness World Records Official Web Site. Retrieved 15 May 2016.CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-06-20. Retrieved 2014-01-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. Научноинформационен център „Българска енциклопедия“ (2012). Голяма енциклопедия „България“. Том 6 (in Bulgarian). София: Книгоиздателска къща „Труд“. p. 2280. ISBN   9789548104289.
  6. "Leman Bozkurt Altincekic First Woman Jetpilot of Nato".
  7. "Hakima Abdessamad, la première et dernière pilote de chasse algérienne". (in French). Archived from the original on 2017-03-12.
  8. "YouTube".
  9. "Deanna Brasseur -, Women in Canadian History".
  10. BUGGE, STELLA (15 November 1992). "Norwegian Women Stake Claim in Male Bastions as Fighter Pilots, on Submarines" via LA Times.
  11. "Villafranca".
  12. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-01-11. Retrieved 2014-01-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. "BBC News - In pictures: Key moments in RAF history, 1994: Historic first".
  14. "Saab News and Press releases". Saab Corporate.
  15. "From fighter pilot to courageous mother: the story of Caroline Aigle".
  16. "Viper Pilot Flying Hours -".
  17. "Gripen first for SA woman fighter pilot". Archived from the original on 2011-06-13.
  18. Gross, Tom (7 July 2001). "Female fighter pilot joins Israel's top guns" via
  19. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-02-03. Retrieved 2014-01-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. "Las primeras aviadoras de combate de América Latina son uruguayas". 14 June 2002.
  21. "OFICINA DE GENERO Córdoba".
  22. "S'pore's first & only female fighter pilot".
  23. "First Danish female F-16 pilot takes the sky".
  24. "En seis años podrá volar el F-16 La oficial "piocha roja" es la única mujer de combate que tiene Chile y a corto plazo estará en la primera línea aérea". (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 2016-11-01.
  25. "A 4 Años del Primer Vuelo de Una Mujer en un Avión de Combate de la Fuerza Aérea".
  26. "Female pilot breaks sound barrier in Chile". MercoPress.
  27. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 3, 2014. Retrieved January 19, 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  28. "Fashion designer Andre Kim ties a red neck scarf..." 3 July 2008.
  29. "Piloto é a primeira mulher no país a lançar bomba de um caça". 14 June 2012.
  30. Cadari, Luciano. "Primeira mulher a pilotar um caça da FAB, RankBrasil - Recordes Brasileiros".
  31. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-01-28. Retrieved 2014-01-20.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  32. F_161. "PLAAF's first-batch of female fighter pilots with double bachelor degrees debuts - People's Daily Online".
  33. "Most Viewed Business News Articles, Top News Articles". The Economic Times.
  34. ISIS Fight: Mariam Al Mansouri Is First Woman Fighter Pilot for U.A.E. Erin McClam September 25, 2014 Charlene Gubash and Ayman Mohyeldin NBC News 2014
  35. "Meet country's first women fighter pilots- The Times of India".
  36. "Landmark event in IAF history: Meet India's first 3 women fighter pilots - Firstpost".
  37. Japan sees first woman qualify as fighter jet pilot August 24, 2018 Japan Times Retrieved December 12, 2018
  38. "Switzerland has its first female fighter jet pilot" (in German). Neue Zürcher Zeitung. 19 February 2019. Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  39. Kompas Retrieved November 30, 2020

Fly like a fighter: Minimum fuel

Further reading