Throughout the history of aviation considerable effort, time and money has been devoted to building fighter aircraft. The war planes have developed and evolved through the history of aviation from monoplanes with machine guns to pilotless drones that can fire missiles without getting the pilot in the harm’s way. To choose the best fighter out of these would be a nightmare. I have chosen 10 of the best ever, however, I would not want to rank these in any order as each aircraft needs to be evaluated in its period.
1. Morane-Saulnier L is on the list as this was actually the first aircraft that was modified and used as a fighter. The aircraft was actually a sports aircraft that was fitted with a front mounted machine gun that fired through the propellers. The propellers were fitted with armored plates and deflectors to prevent them being damaged. The aircraft was an immediate success and the era of fighter planes began. The aircraft was used by the French Aviation Militaire.
2. Fokker E.I. was really the first aircraft that was modified as a fighter. This aircraft and its successors established air superiority for the Germans. The aircraft used machine guns along with interrupter gears to sychronise the firing of the front mounted machine guns. This mechanism protected the propellers and was used in most of the subsequent fighter with propellers.
3. A6M Zero was inducted into the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1940 and remained in service almost throughout the war. This aircraft was manufactured by Mitsubishi and came with folding wings so that maximum could be accommodated on the carriers. It combined excellent handling with long range and a decent complement of weapon systems. For the initial years of the war this aircraft terrorized the allied forces. Towards the end of the war the aircraft was also used for Kamikaze missions.
4. Messerschmitt BF 109 still holds the record for being the most produced fighter in history. This aircraft and its later versions were based on light construction designs and incorporated guns in the fuselage and within the wings. The top scoring fighter wing of the Luftwaffe JG 52 exclusively flew this aircraft. The wing has a claim of over 10,000 victories. This is undoubtedly one of the greats of the Second World War.
5. Supermarine Spitfire was the only allied aircraft that really gave any competition to the Messerschmitt BF 109. Through its powerful engine and the new wig design this aircraft was fast and maneuverable. The spitfire was used by the Royal Air Force and other allied countries throughout the second world war and till as late as the 1950’s.
6. MIG 21 is a supersonic fighter built by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. First introduced in 1959 has been used by over 50 countries and still continues to be in service in various parts of the world. This aircraft has proven to be extremely adaptable and has been produced in several variants making its production line the longest running.
7. BAE Sea Harrier Now the reason that I have put this aircraft on this list is its technology. This aircraft features V/STOL (Vertical Short Take Off And Landing). The original Sea Harrier version was mainly used by the Royal Navy (Britain) and Indian Navy. This still continues to be in service in the Indian Navy but its variants and derivatives are now serving in various countries worldwide.
8. F/A-18 HORNET is a supersonic fighter. This is a multirole aircraft that may be land or ship based. The aircraft can be used for ground or air attacks. The first flight was in 1978 and still remains in service with forces around the world. This aircraft and its derivatives have lasted as long as they have due to the adaptability to accommodate the widest range of weapons and technology suites.
9. B-2 SPIRIT better known as the stealth bomber is again a technological breakthrough both in design and in technology. Due to its low radar signature this has proven to be extremely successful in operating bombing missions in conflict areas. The size allows it to carry missiles in stealth configuration. This is only in use by the US air force.
10. MQ-9 Reaper is the unmanned aerial vehicle derived from the Predator. This aircraft has the potential to change the way future conflicts are handled without putting the crew in the harm’s way, thus, allowing the operations to be more accurate and effective. These aircraft can be used for both search and destroy using the onboard cameras and the ordinance mounted.