Top Ten: May 6, 2005

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: What are the ten best fighter aircraft out there, and which of these planes are better than the others at the top of the heap? Fighters have one primary mission: seize control of the air, and enable their sides attack planes to get through while also preventing the opposing side from attacking friendly forces and bases. Many of these fighters have also proven themselves to be adept at other roles (ground attack, anti-ship) as well, but their primary purpose is to control the air.

10. The JAS.39 Gripen. This is a small single-seat fighter using the American F404 turbofan engine. This aircraft is capable of numerous missions (point-defense interceptor, ground attack fighter, and even anti-shipping). It is highly maneuverable, and is a worthy successor to the Draken and Viggen interceptors that Sweden has built. This is what the 1980s F-20 Tigershark (an early competitor of the F-16 and F-18) could have been, had it not been stillborn.

9. F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. This is the ultimate Hornet, without the range limitations of the F/A-18A/B/C/D, and with two extra weapons pylons. This fighter is based on a proven design, and has even been used as a tanker with the premature retirement of the S-3 Viking. Sheer versatility and improvement from the original make the Super Hornets place on this list a secure one.

8. F-15C Eagle. This is perhaps one of the last of the single-purpose aircraft. This plane has done one thing for 30 years (air-to-air combat), and done it well (over 100 kills to no losses). However, what is remarkable is the almost-untapped potential the airframe has as a ground-attack platform. The F-15E Strike Eagle has become a superb multi-role fighter. However, the F-15 has gotten long in the tooth for air superiority.

7. F-16C Fighting Falcon. This is a bird that has become a classic. Widely exported, and it has amassed a solid record. Still being built to special order for export customers, it not only has scored air-to-air kills in service with the United States, Israel, and Pakistan, but it is also one of the most numerous modern fighters in service today.

6. Su-27 Flanker. This was built to counter the F-15, and it has become one of the more feared aircraft out of Russia. Highly maneuverable, it is equipped and designed for a dogfight, it has been exported. The wide export market for this plane and its variants (the Su-30 in particular) is the primary reason for the F-22.

5. F-14D Tomcat. This is a plane that had aged like fine wine. Originally designed to face the Tu-22M3 Backfire bomber in protection of American carriers, it has become a carrier-launched version of the F-15E. Capable of long-range attacks using the AIM-54 Phoenix, the F-14 proved it was capable of dogfighting in two incidents with Libya (the U.S. Navy fighters scored four kills for no losses). This is a plane retiring before its time.

4. Eurofighter Typhoon. A low-observable multi-role fighter. It is fast, maneuverable, and carries a lot of air-to-air missiles. It also can be used for attack missions as well. This is a fighter that will be the backbone of at least four air forces (the UK, Spain, Germany, and Italy).

3. Dassault Rafale. Another European multi-role fighter with some stealth built in, this aircraft not only carries out the air-to-air and attack missions, it also comes in a naval version. Its first export order was recently signed to Saudi Arabia. Equipped with French air-to-air missiles, it edges out the Eurofighter since its naval version could interest other countries who have carriers (Brazil and India come to mind).

2. F-35. This plane will be the new F-16 in ten years. Not only is this replacing the F-16, the A-10, the AV-8B, and some F/A-18s in U.S. service, but it will replace aircraft in other countries as well. Like the F-16, it will be produced in numbers. When it enters service, it will outclass many aircraft.

1. F/A-22 Raptor. This is the F-15Cs replacement. Entering service this year, it renders every other air-superiority aircraft obsolete. This is a plane that can not only outfly any other plane in the world, outrun any other plane in the world, and it can do so while remaining virtually unseen. The F-22 is a true heir to the F-15, and could do so in another fashion if Lockheeds FB-22 proposal takes off. Harold C. Hutchison ([email protected])

 

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