What is a Fighter?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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A fighter is an aircraft which is designed to be used in aerial combat, rather than to attack targets on the ground. Fighters are a crucial part of a national air force, helping ensure aerial superiority, and fighter pilots are often figures of great public interest, because they are perceived as especially bold, daring, and talented pilots. In some militaries, women are not permitted to become fighter pilots, due to rules which prohibit women from serving in combat roles.

Several characteristics distinguish a fighter from other types of military aircraft. Fighters tend to be much smaller than other planes, with seating for only one person, and they are fast, very easy to maneuver, and often stealthy as well. Modern fighters are made with jet engines, while older fighters used props and propellers. A fighter is designed to perform in a wide variety of conditions and situations, ensuring that the plane will be able to endure the varied conditions which can emerge in aerial combat.

Well through the 1920s, fighters were known as “scouts” by most militaries, and they were mounted with what were essentially giant guns, allowing them to strafe the ground as well as other aircraft. To aim the gun, pilots actually aimed the plane; the guns were fixed in position. Because early fighters were powered with props, they posed an interesting engineering challenge, as the gun had to be designed to fire bullets through the propeller without interrupting it, in a very synchronized dance.


By the Second World War, the importance of the fighter had been realized, and a variety of scrappy little planes helped to hold the airspace over strategic locations. Fighters would be used to escort bombers, ensuring that the bombers could not be attacked by enemy aircraft, and they also accompanied convoys of ships and trucks. Fighters were also dispatched to acquire and secure the airspace over key areas like ports and airfields. Today, fighters may also escort special flights; Air Force One, for example, is typically accompanied by fighters, and fighters are used to escort foreign planes flying over controlled airspace.

Modern fighters have missiles for long-range targets along with cannon for closer engagements, and they are equipped with jet engines which make them fast and versatile. These planes are often on display at military air shows, since they can be quite exciting to see in action, and museums dedicated to the history of military aviation sometimes have decommissioned modern fighters on display beside older versions, so that visitors can trace the evolution of the fighter from the early 1900s to today.


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