Flying a multi-million dollar aircraft is not as easy as most people think. A person cannot just walk into a hanger, go fly around, and then go to lunch; there is more to the job. Everything from Day 1 of flight school to their final mission is vital to the pilot and to the others in his/her squadron.
The use of planes during war first started back in World War I. During this time it was rare because bombing operations had been limited; the planes at this time couldn’t reach a high altitude, and were vulnerable to enemy fire. Most missions were to take photos of enemy troops and supplies. To keep the plane in one piece, planes where built for two people; the pilot was seated up front and the machine gunner in the back. But this tactic wasn’t as effective as people thought. In 1915 came the development of synchronized gear. When the pilot fired his ammunition came out the front of the plane through the propeller. It was designed for the ammo to fire in between the propeller blades. This was a huge success for the Allied, and with this the war soon came to an end in 1918. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker stated this after shooting down a German plane: “There is a peculiar gratification on receiving congratulations from one's squadron for a victory in the air. It is worth more to a pilot than the applause of the whole outside world. It means that one has won the confidence of men who share the misgivings, the aspirations, the trials and the dangers of aeroplane fighting.” Rickenbacker held the record for most kills from a plane with 26 up until World War II.
With the outbreak of another world war, planes really shaped the outcome\in Europe were mainly taking place in the air. One of the most notable and early accomplishments during the early years of World War II was the Battle of Britain in 1940. This was one of the largest campaigns ever fought in the air between the British and Germans. Francesco Baracca, an Italian pilot, stated “To the aircraft I aim, not the man.” Meaning this isn’t like fighting on the ground where people shoot at other people, he’s just doing only what he was trained to do, and that is shoot at the plane that’s flying in front of him. With an Allied victory this was a key turning point in the war. The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, sparked the United States to declare war on Germany and Japan. The first air attack over Japan took place on April 18th, 1942. Many remember it as the Doolittle Raid. Although this raid didn’t hurt Japan much, it gave the U.S. some confidence that the Allied Forces have a good chance at winning this war. By far the most important air battle of World War II was the Battle of Midway. American code breakers were able to determine when the Japanese were going to execute their next strike. Over the course of four days the Japanese lost four aircraft carriers and a heavy cruiser, on the other hand the U.S. only lost one carrier and one destroyer. Finally the war was ended after bombers dropped atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Unlike World War I, World War II was heavily fought in the air; battles’ occurring in the air was a huge impact on the outcome of the war.
Through time technology became better, the same with planes. Unlike the P-51 used in World War II, the P-80 and F-86 was faster and more maneuverable. The Communist side didn’t have a problem matching the United Nations. They had developed the MiG-19, which was their first supersonic fighter. From time to time there were battles in the air, but nothing that changed the outcome of the war. The Korean War unofficially ended in July of 1953.
When war broke out in Vietnam the U.S. came to support South Vietnam. Throughout their time there were many air campaigns, many were bombing missions and the use of herbicides. One of the most well-known air battles was Operation Bolo that occurred on January 2, 1967 between the new American F-4 and the Soviet MiG-21. The outcome went in favor of the Americans having not losing a single aircraft and taking out nine Soviet fighters. The Anti-Communist side completed many bombing missions but it wasn’t enough, on April 30th, 1975 the Communist overtook Saigon and the Vietnam War came to an end.
In the mid-1970s the military developed many different fighter jets that are still used today. A few are the F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Strike Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet; these made a huge impact on our military back then and now. These jets were made well known during the Gulf War. Although no plane on plane battles took place, there were many bombing missions. The U.S. fired over 60 tons of bombs over areas vital to the Iraqi Army, within a month and a half the Gulf War ended.
Today the jets used in Desert Storm excluding the F-14 Tomcat are currently being operated in Iraq, Afghanistan, and on the home front. The F-14 was retired because the F/A-18 proved to have better performance. Again with new technology comes better aircraft. Today the most advanced fighter jet in use today by the U.S. Air Force is the F-22 Raptor. With the price tag being close to $200 million and the advancement of the aircraft, the United States refuses to sell this jet to any friendly country.
During World War I the United States first choice of aircraft used to battle was the SPAD S. XIII [Figure 1]. However when the war ended the aircraft was then scrapped due to lack of being maneuverable and easiness to stall when making a steep accent.
When World War II came around the most trusted plane to dogfight (combat between two or more planes in the air) with was the F-4 Wildcat [Figure 2].Although the Japanese Zero [Figure 3] outclassed the F-4, but the F-4 was built to sustain a lot of damage and the well trained pilots proved that the F-4 was capable of taking on the Zero. The choice of aircraft in Europe for the American’s and the British was the P-51 Mustang [Figure 4]. This plane was very effective fighting the Axis Powers in Europe; it was used mostly to protect U.S. bombers operating missions. But by far the most dangerous plane that was used by the Americans during World War II was the F-6 Hellcat [Figure 5]. A Zero crashed on the Akutan Island in Alaska and the United States Military recovered the aircraft. This is how the U.S. was able to figure out how the Zero was very effective.
During the Korean War the jet that operated more than any other plane was the F-80 Shooting Star [Figure 6]. The F-80 was involved in the first dogfight during the war when the F-80 shot down a MiG-15 [Figure 7]. But later in the war the U.S. came out with the F-86 Sabre [Figure 8], and the F-80 was then used for bombing missions rather than air-to-air combat. The F-86 proved to be the greatest fighter jet during this time, having shot down 792 MiGs compared to the 76 F-86 lost. With a ratio close to 10-to-1 the F-86 was obviously the better of the two fighter jets flown.
The main fighter jet used against the Communist during the Vietnam War was the F-4 Phantom [Figure 9]. What was unusual about this plane was that it wasn’t built with a machine gun. The thought at the time was that missiles were the new era of weapons for planes. Being able to conduct attack and air-to-air campaigns the F-4 was very well-rounded, having successfully fighting off MiGs and destroying 32 enemy aircraft. Another favorite was the F-105 Thunderchief [Figure 10]; capable of re-fueling in the air and high-speed, low altitude entry and exit from enemy territory. The pilots flying the F-105 had a 75% chance of surviving their 100-hour mission tour due to the danger involved in their missions. However the F-4 soon replaced the F-105 because the F-4 proved to be more successful during missions.
Aircraft that operated during the Gulf War are still being used today. Probably the most well-known fighter used in the U.S. Navy was the F-14 Tomcat [Figure 11]. One of the key aspects to this jet is its wing. When flying at a high speed the wings will automatically be swept back, and during a dogfight they swing forward making it more it very maneuverable. The F-14 was made world famous in its appearance in the movie Top Gun. Fighter Jets such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon [Figure 12] have a big impact in today’s military. The F-16 is capable of operating attack missions, air-to-air battles, and easy control while under high g-forces (force acting on the body as a result of acceleration or gravity). Another favorite fighter jet used today is the F/A-18 Hornet [Figure 13]. The F/A-18 replaced the F-14 since 2006 and is well used because of its capability to travel a long range, ability to do both air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack missions, and maneuverability. The air superiority F-15 Eagle [Figure 14] is designed to out fly and outperform any current enemy aircraft. The electronic systems are so advanced it can detect, monitor, and engage enemy aircraft while in either friendly or hostile territory. But by far the most advanced fighter jet in use today is the F-22 Raptor [Figure 15]. The F-22 is built to the highest standards of stealth, speed, agility, precision, situation awareness, air-to-air and air-to-ground combat capabilities. With these traits no other aircraft in the world can match the F-22, as said by Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston of the Australian Defense Force: “The F-22 will be the most outstanding fighter jet ever built.”
Before anyone can even think about starting their job, they have to be taught what to do and what to know. If anyone want to become a pilot this is where flight school comes in. It is required that all candidates have completed a ROTC, Officer Training School, or Service Academy and are commissioned in the military; have at least 20/20 vision or better (if a person where’s corrective lenses PRK and LASIK surgery may be an option), good moral character, stay in top physical shape, and intelligence in the high school and college classroom. Fighter pilots must stay in shape physically because the g-force they encounter while in the air takes a toll on the human body. Any person who’s accepted into the US Navy flight training reports to Pensacola, Florida where they have their 6 week Pre-Flight Instruction. Major John T. Godfrey who fought in World War II once said “To be a good fighter pilot, there is one prime requisite – think fast, and act faster.” This consists of about 177.5 hours of academic and survival instruction. The subjects that are covered academically are aerodynamic, aircraft systems and engines, weather, air navigation, rules and regulations, aerospace physiology. Once the 6 week instruction is over with pilots then either stay in Pensacola, depending on the aircraft training chosen, or move to another base for more training. To get a better shot at the type of aircraft the candidate wants to fly its best that they rank at the top of their class. The people at the top have the first choice of aircraft.
Equipment the pilots where and take with them is all very important on each mission they perform. The jump suit they wear is fire resistant, in case a fire breaks out on the plane this suit comes in handy. If the worse ever happens, a pilot gets shot down they are equipped with a survival kit. Each kit contains small rations of food and water, a radio, night-vision, an infrared signal that attaches to the uniform, knife, matches, flash light, mirror, and many other small gadgets that come very useful. Of course they are all equipped with a parachute; when the pilot ejects from the plane, the canopy busts off and after a set amount of time (depending on the altitude and speed where the ejection took place) the seat fires off from the aircraft and the parachute automatically fans out. At times the downed pilot may get stuck in a tree during his/her descent from the air, the backpack they are carrying contains 150 feet of rope. If the pilot doesn’t need to use the rope it comes very handy in a survival situation.
When a pilot show’s up on base they get right to work. A lot of their time is spent inside a briefing (conference) room discussing the upcoming missions. Pilots can be doing this several times a day. They don’t just meet with a bunch of other pilots at the same time to discuss their mission; some briefings may be with more two or more squads, just one squad, or some may be a one-on-one briefing. Briefings are nothing new to pilots; this is where they get their order of business. When it comes time for takeoff typically pilots will get ready an hour and a half before hand. This gives them enough time to put on their gear, walk to the jet, inspect the jet, communicate with the people in the tower, taxi out onto the runway, and then take off. After the mission is completed and the jet is taxied back to the hanger then it’s off to debrief. During this session the pilots discuss what they did while flying, explain what good things happen and what bad things happen, what they could have done better. There are times where the entire mission was filmed inside the cockpit, so when they get back to base they can see what it looked like under the circumstances that were at hand.
It takes more than brains and motivation to fly an expensive jet. The person needs a strong sense of patriotism, fearless, and the natural ability to lead. Above all they need to love their country, because their country is the one that’s employing them. Training will get tough; there will be days that the person may wonder why they chose this job. But when the day is over that person can look at them proudly and know that they have a huge purpose with their job, and that’s defending others and keeping them safe from enemies foreign and domestic.
Fight on and fly on to the last drop of blood and the last drop of fuel, to the last beat of the heart