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Fighter and Attack aircraft represent some of the most exciting machines in the sphere of military power because of their design, speed, and weaponry. The sheer diversity of this category of aircraft, their evolution through military history, and the modern race to produce the most advanced and lethal fighter and attack aircraft yield a great deal of information and generates more interest than any other category of military aircraft.


WWI French fighter, Nieuport 17

In the early 1900s, as the airplane emerged as a vital reconaissance tool during WWI, the need to protect the skies over the battlefield was realized. The fighter aircraft emerged in 1914 as a countermeasure to aerial reconaissance, and evolved quickly as new technologies were developed to complement the fighter aircraft's mission.

It wasn't until WWII that the fighter aircraft began reaching a level of refinement recognized in today's fighter and attack aircraft - indeed beneficiaries of these developments. Integrated systems instead of disparate technologies cobbled together became the norm. Improved aerodynamics, the monoplane design, engine performance, weapons accuracy and destructive force, and survivability became design factors that worked in tandem to determine an aircraft's effectiveness.

As WWII progressed, the fighter aircraft's role varied. The roles of defending the skies from both attacking strategic bombers and bomber escorts yielded numerous epic air-to-air confrontations. The role of specifically attacking strategic ground targets and enemy infantry became prominent as well. Additionally, naval fleet attack and defense by carrier-borne aircraft proved how a country's military might could be projected globally.

During the Korean conflict and some of the other regional conflicts that occurred prior to it, jet propulsion on military aircraft began to take shape. As the Vietnam conflict progressed into its waning years, America's emphasis on technological advances, pilot training, and improved armament designed to engage multiple enemies simultaneously catapulted the world into what is perceived as the modern age of the fighter aircraft.


BK-27 cannon

Most fighter aircraft had weapons designed for eliminating airborne targets, usually in the form of machine guns and heavier caliber cannons. Some fighters were also used in the ground-attack role, utilizing bombs and rockets. In early aircraft machine guns were often mounted behind the propeller for better precision even though this could become a problem as bullets could hit the propeller. To overcome this they modified the machine gun to fire only when the propeller was not in the way, in a technique called synchronization. This was done by mounting grooves directly on to the engine's drive shaft which would allow the guns to fire only when  the propeller would not be in the way. As technology improved, weapons began to be mounted in the wings as well as the nose. Wing mounted guns sometimes had convergence issues as ranges to targets varied, however, they did not need to be synchronized to the propeller and as a result could sustain a maximum rate of fire.

Some aircraft were used in the ground-attack role as well, equipped with bombs and rockets to eliminate ground units. Rarely, some fighters were mounted with torpedos for eliminating naval targets. Although most fighters were capable of being equipped as fighter-bombers, they were only armed as such if necessary as the extra payload would increase weight and drag limiting range and other performance factors of the aircraft.

See also