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Fighter Plane Generations

First generation

  • Characteristics
    • High-subsonic speeds
    • Straight wings
    • Little difference from the final generation of propeller-driven aircraft
    • Mechanical control systems
    • Optical gunsights
  • Examples:
    • F-80 Shooting Star
    • DeHaviland Vampire
    • MiG-9
    • Me-262

Second Generation

  • Characteristics
    • Transonic (can get close to the speed of sound, but generally can't exceed the speed of sound for sustained periods of time)
    • Radar gunsights
    • Swept wings
    • Adjustable horizontal stabilizers
    • Early hydraulic control systems
  • Examples:
    • F-86 Sabre
    • MiG-15
    • Hawker Hunter
    • Dassault Mystere IV

Third Generation

  • Characteristics
    • Fully supersonic – can sustain flight at supersonic speeds
    • All-moving tails
    • Introduction of air-to-air missiles
    • Early stability augmentation technology
    • Look-down/shoot-down radar
    • First "multi-role" planes (i.e. able to attack ground and air targets in the same mission)
    • Afterburning turbofan engines, with better range and durability than turbojet engines
  • Examples:
    • F-8 Crusader
    • F-4 Phantom
    • early MiG-21
    • Su-24

Fourth Generation

  • Characteristics
    • Refined supersonic designs
    • Fly-by-wire
    • Introduction of computerized/digital systems into cockpits
    • Electronic Scanned Array radars capable of tracking and scanning multiple targets at once
    • Datalink (often described as "4th generation++", as it's often a retrofit)
  • Examples
    • F-14 Tomcat
    • F-15 Eagle
    • F-16 Falcon
    • Su-27
    • MiG-29
    • Mirage 2000/Dassault Rafale
    • Eurofighter/Typhoon

Fifth Generation

  • Characteristics
    • Stealth
    • Vectored-thrust/high angle-of-attack capabilities
    • Fully computerized cockpits (glass cockpits)
    • Head-mounted displays replacing HUDs
    • "Supercruise" – able to travel at supersonic speeds without afterburner
  • Examples
    • F-22 Raptor
    • F-35 Lightning II
    • Chengdu J-20 (not yet operational)
    • Sukhoi PAK-FA (not yet operational)
  • Currently the US is the only country that has "operational" 5th generation fighters, though Russia and China have fighters that are in development. China's efforts seem to be closer to full operational capability than Russia's
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