Military Wiki
First generation jet fighter
Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwable.jpg
The Me 262, one of the first jet fighters and the most well-known of WWII

Aircraft classified as first generation jet fighters[1] are the first attempts at creation of military aircraft using jet engines. A few were developed during the closing days of World War II but saw very limited combat operations. The generation can be split into two broad groups: World War II era fighters such as the Me 262 and the Meteor and mature first generation fighters such as the F-86 used in the Korean War.

The "generations" of fighter aircraft are a relatively modern concept based on claims for "Fifth Generation" . They are rough categories based on similar designs and do not correspond to a rigid definition.

World War II era[]

The Imperial Japanese Navy's 1945 Nakajima J9Y Kikka.

The initial attempts were straight-winged subsonic planes based heavily on the design concepts that had worked well in piston-powered aircraft. Some of these fighters were tested using piston engines to evaluate the airframes before the jets to power them were available or reliable enough to sustain flight.[2]

The first operational turbojet aircraft, the He 178, was a German design that first flew in 1939. It was used as the basis of the later He 280, a design passed over for the Me 262. A similar British design, the Gloster E.28/39 had provisions for some armament, but the guns were not fitted on either prototype.

The Bell P-59 Airacomet was the first American jet fighter to be put into service but it was widely seen as an inferior design and never saw combat. The piston-engined North American P-51 Mustang could reach higher top speeds and had a much greater range.

The Japanese had some experimental models, such as the Nakajima J9Y Kikka, but none saw operational use.[3]

Aircraft that entered service[]

The plans for the first operational jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe were drawn up in 1939, and the airplane first flew under jet power in 1942.[4] The Me 262 was not operational until 1944,[4] and its effectiveness was crippled by the deteriorating infrastructure of Nazi Germany; the advanced materials needed for its engines were in short supply. World War II ended before jet fighters were common. The United States and the United Kingdom also had jet fighters operational before the end of the war. The British Gloster Meteor twin-engined high speed fighter was used to intercept Germany's V-1 flying bombs missiles over the British Isles and not deployed for combat over Europe until 1945 but still kept away from occupied territory to prevent the technology being picked up by the Germans or Soviets. By 1946 16 RAF squadrons were equipped with Meteors. The American Lockheed P-80 entered service in the closing phases of the war and was deployed to Europe but arrived too late to see any combat.

The earliest jet fighters usually did not carry radar — except for the handful of Me 262B-1a/U1 jet night fighters built and deployed in 1944-45 — or other sophisticated avionics and had similar equipment to the piston-engined counterparts used during the war. Machine guns and cannon were the primary armament, though the Me 262 also used air to air rockets against Allied bomber formations and could carry unguided bombs, with many follow-on designs in development on paper or in wind tunnels as the war ended (especially in Germany), like the Focke-Wulf Ta 183.

The significant operational aircraft in this group include:

Other aircraft were built or developed during the war, did not see combat. Many entered general service in the immediate post-war years. Examples include:

The Russian aircraft were based heavily on British engines (including a reverse-engineered Rolls-Royce Nene engine) and German designs, and were developed after the end of World War II.[5] The French Ouragan was also a design of the late 1940s rather than a wartime effort.

Hybrid Propulsion[]

Early jet engines had poor acceleration, and the FR Fireball was a mixed-propulsion aircraft with a propeller in front and a jet engine in the back designed for use on an aircraft carrier. The Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich I-250 and Sukhoi Su-5 were similar concepts but used a motorjet instead of a turbojet and were not designed for carrier use.

Further experiments after the war with mixed propulsion involving at least one turboprop powerplant included the XF2R Dark Shark and the XF-84H Thunderscreech, one of the loudest aircraft ever flown.[6] The Thunderscreech, however, was a much later design, being a contemporary of the clearly second generation F-104 Starfighter. None of these hybrid-propulsion planes saw combat or major use, though the Fireball was used operationally for two years.

Korean War[]

A MiG-15 in Polish markings

After World War II, some additional aircraft were built using refinements of the ideas used in the first attempts. Some of these included a swept wing and some could break the sound barrier in a dive, but almost all of them lacked the thrust to do so in level flight. Radar was used in dedicated interceptors and night fighters but early models required a dedicated radar operator. These aircraft are mostly associated with the Korean War. Some interceptor designs, such as the F-94 used rockets such as the Mk 4/Mk 40 Folding-Fin Aerial Rocket as their primary weapon instead of guns.

Interceptors/Night fighters[]


Air superiority fighters[]

Many of these also had fighter-bomber variants.

Cancelled fighters[]

A notable post-war fighter that was never used operationally was the FMA IAe 33 Pulqui II, a prototype fighter built in Argentina. The Pulqui II was designed by a team which included former German engineers led by Kurt Tank and was based on initial designs for the Focke-Wulf Ta 183, the proposed successor to the Me 262. The Pulqui II itself was a successor to the I.Ae. 27 Pulqui I, a prototype jet fighter developed in Argentina by Emile Dewoitine in the late 1940s and the first of its type to fly in South America.

The End of the First Generation[]

By the 1950s, the next major group of fighter aircraft were planes that used air to air missiles as their primary armament and could routinely exceed the speed of sound in level flight. First generation fighters were limited to engagements in visual range, and the expected performance of new missiles, like the AIM-7 Sparrow, with semi-active radar homing, forced changes in aircraft design.

There is not a bright, clearly defined line between first- and second-generation fighters, and some early second-generation fighters, such as the F-8 Crusader, still had guns as their primary armament. Infrared-guided or so-called "heat-seeking" missiles such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder and early beam-riding missiles like the Kaliningrad K-5 were used on late first-generation aircraft.

Experimental First Generation Jet Fighters[]

Flying Ram[]

The Northrop XP-79 flying wing was an unusual aircraft that only flew once, resulting in the death of the pilot. It was originally designed as a rocket powered aircraft but later used turbojets. While the plane carried machine guns, the wings were also reinforced to allow the plane to survive ramming attacks.[7]

Parasite Fighters[]

Early jet fighters did not have the range to escort bombers all the way to the target and back, the same problem that had plagued the B-17 and its contemporaries during the bombing campaigns of World War II. Having the bomber carry a fighter as well as turrets to defend itself led to some unusual designs, none of which were implemented.

Aircraft still in use[]

A few of the aircraft from this generation are still in use by the air forces of smaller nations, typically in the ground attack role and not as fighters. A notable mention of this is the Shenyang J-5, a Chinese aircraft developed from the MiG-17, which is used by North Korea in the ground attack role and in other countries as a trainer.

See also[]


  1. | Ask Us - Fighter Generations
  2. Radinger, Will and Schick Walter. Me262 (in German). Berlin: Avantic Verlag GmbH, 1996. ISBN 3-925505-21-0, page 23
  3. # Francillon, Réne J. Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War. London: Putnam & Company Ltd., 1970 (2nd edition 1979). ISBN 0-370-30251-6.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Genesis Of the Me262
  5. Early Soviet Jet Fighter Development
  6. # Knaack, Marcelle Size. Encyclopedia of U.S. Air Force Aircraft and Missile Systems: Volume 1 Post-World War II Fighters 1945–1973. Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1978. ISBN 0-912799-59-5.
  7. Damn Interesting » Flying Rams

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).