Monday, 5 November 2012

Fighter Aircraft Generation: Classfications

I believe the motivation for your question is terms like "fifth generation" that have been used in recent years to distinguish fighters from one another. In fact, if you search the term "generation fighter", most of the hits refer to the Russian fifth generation fighter.


The first generation of fighters probably consists of those that appeared at the beginning of the Jet Age, starting late in World War II up through the Korean War. These planes were the first to be powered by turbojet engines, but were otherwise largely similar in capability to the older piston-engined fighter they replaced. These early jet engines were limited in thrust such that the fighters could not typically operate above the speed of sound. These first generation fighters were not often equipped with radar. Their armaments also generally consisted of older technologies like conventional guns, dumb bombs, and rockets since guided missiles were still largely experimental. 

Perhaps the most representative fighters of that era are the F-86 Sabre and MiG-15, the two planes that fought most fiercely over the skies of Korea. 

First Generation Fighters 

Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe
Heinkel He 162 Salamander
Messershmitt Me 162 Komet
Gloster Meteor
de Havilland Vampire
de Havilland Venom
Hawker Siddeley/Armstrong Whitworth Sea Hawk
Supermarine Attacker
Supermarine Swift
Lockheed P-80 (F-80) Shooting Star
Republic F-84 Thunderjet / Thunderstreak
North American F-86 Sabre
Northrop F-89 Scorpion
Lockheed F-94 Starfire
McDonnell FH-1 Phantom
Vought F6U Pirate
Vought F7U Cutlass
North American FJ (F-1) Fury
McDonnell F2H (F-2) Banshee
McDonnell F3H (F-3) Demon
Douglas F4D (F-6) Skyray
Grumman F9F (F-9) Panther / Cougar
Douglas F3D (F-10) Skyknight


MIG-21 (2ND GEN.)

The factors that most epitomized fighters of the second generation were higher speed, radar, and use of the first guided air-to-air missiles. Many of these aircraft incorporated lessons learned in Korea to improve overall performance and combat effectiveness. These aircraft were the first fighters capable of maintaining supersonic speeds in level flight. Their designs also took advantage of new electronics technologies making radar small enough to be carried aboard. Similarly, advances in guided missile development allowed this new weapon to begin replacing the gun as the primary offensive weapon for the first time in fighter history. 

Second Generation Fighters 

North American F-100 Super Sabre
McDonnell F-101 Voodoo
Convair F-102 Delta Dagger
Lockheed F-104 Starfighter
Republic F-105 Thunderchief
Convair F-106 Delta Dart
Vought F8U (F-8) Crusader
Grumman F11F (F-11) Tiger
Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-19
Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21
Sukhoi Su-9 / Su-11
Yakovlev Yak-25
BAC Lightning
de Havilland Sea Vixen
Gloster Javelin
Hawker Hunter
Supermarine Scimitar
Dassault Etendard
Dassault Mirage III

Third Generation Fighters ( 1960 to 1970)

Many of the fighters of the third generation were those that served in the Vietnam War, particularly in the latter stages of the conflict. Most of these planes were the first to be designed specifically as multi-purpose fighters capable of performing both air defense and ground attack missions. 

Perhaps the best representative of this generation of fighters is the F-4 Phantom II, which entered service not only with the US Navy, Marines, and Air Force, but also with a number of foreign militaries. 


Third Generation Fighters 

McDonnell Douglas F4H (F-4) Phantom II
Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter / Tiger II
Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-23
Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-25
Sukhoi Su-15
Sukhoi Su-17/20/22
Tupolev Tu-28P
Yakovlev Yak-28
British Aerospace Harrier
Dassault Mirage F.1
Dassault Super Etendard
Shenyang J-8II 

Fourth Generation Fighters (circa 1970 to 1990)

The next generation continued the trend towards multi-role fighters equipped with increasingly sophisticated avionics and weapon systems. These fighters also began emphasizing maneuverability rather than speed to succeed in air-to-air combat. 
Fourth Generation Aircraft 

Grumman F-14 Tomcat
McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle
General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon
McDonnell Douglas F-18 Hornet
McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II
Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-29
Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-31
Sukhoi Su-27
Yakovlev Yak-38
Panavia Tornado
Dassault Mirage 2000
Saab Viggen
Mitsubishi F-2
AIDC Ching-Kuo
Chengdu J-10

4.5 Generation Fighters (circa 1990 to 2000)

The term "4.5 generation" is also sometimes seen refering to more recent fourth generation fighters. These aircraft are generally seen as retaining the same basic characteristics of fourth generation planes but with enhanced capabilities provided by more advanced technologies that might be seen in fifth generation fighters. Good examples are the F-18 Super Hornet, Eurofighter Typhoon, and Dassault Rafale. All three make use of advanced avionics to improve mission capability and limited stealth characteristics to reduce visibility when compared to older fourth generation aircraft. However, none is considered advanced enough to be classified as a fifth generation fighter (though arguments can be made for the Typhoon and perhaps the Rafale). 
SU 30 MKI (4.5 GEN)

Four and a Half Generation Aircraft 

Boeing F-18E/F Super Hornet

Sukhoi Su-30
Sukhoi Su-33
Sukhoi Su-35
Eurofighter Typhoon
Saab Gripen
Dassault Rafale

Fifth Generation Fighters (circa 2000 to ?)

The technologies that best epitomize fifth generation fighters are advanced integrated avionics systems that provide the pilot with a complete picture of the battle space and the use of low observable "stealth" techniques. The F-22 and F-35 ,J20 ,J 31 ,INDIAN AMCA ,SU-T50-PAK FA are the fifth generation developed OR UNDER DEVELOPING FIGHTERS..

F-35 (5th GEN)


The long-lived F-4 and MiG-21, for example, could fall under second, third, or fourth generation depending on which variant or upgrade is considered. Nevertheless, I feel that the above list provides a good overview of the evolution of jet-powered fighters that should be useful to those interested in combat aircraft. 

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