Tenth Greatest: Nighthawk (06:57)
The F 17 can deliver devastation before being detected with top speeds rumored at Mach 1; a diamond shape, reflective angles, and absorbent coating confuse radar. This bomber is not fuel-efficient and maneuvers like a fighter.
Ninth Greatest: Fokker Triplane (03:36)
The Red Baron made the DR I Fokker Triplane the most feared World War I fighter. Its extra wing allowed more speed and maneuverability while its innovative interrupter allowed machine guns to fire through propeller arcs.
Eighth Greatest: Mitsubishi Zero (04:15)
Pearl Harbor was attacked by Mitsubishi Zeros, outperforming and outgunning all Ally fighters with long ranges and rapid ascension rates. Testing of a captured one revealed lack of armor and other weaknesses.
Seventh Greatest: Harrier Jump Jet (05:06)
The Harrier Jump Jet uses four exhausts to hover, land, and take off from unfinished runways; it is complicated to fly, resulting in high crash rates. First used in the Falklands War, it forced Argentina's surrender.
Sixth Greatest: F 86 Sabre (05:29)
The North American F 86 Sabre was the first jet fighter, and outflew and outfought the Korean MiG 15; it went supersonic and carried various weaponry. Swept back wings made it aerodynamic and fast without breaking apart.
Fifth Greatest: Messerschmitt ME 109 (04:15)
Luftwaffe's Messerschmitt ME 109 was small, maneuverable, and well gunned with a cannon built into its strong engine. One third were destroyed during takeoff and landing, more than in combat.
Fourth Greatest: F 18 Super Hornet (06:17)
The F 18 Super Hornet is a versatile and well-armed fighter doubling as a precision bomber; it achieves supersonic speeds with two jet engines. Computer technologies built into pilot helmets allow visual target confirmation, but contribute to task saturation.
Third Greatest: MiG 21 (03:54)
Most produced jet fighter ever is the Soviet's MiG 21, serving for 40 countries and in numerous conflicts. A diffuser cone controls engine air intake and contributes to attaining Mach 2.3 speeds.
Second Greatest: Supermarine Spitfire (04:22)
The Supermarine Spitfire was easy to fly, responsive, aesthetically appealing, and drove the Luftwaffe from England with superior aerial combat capabilities. Elliptical wings increased efficiency and created space for more guns, but their distinctive shape made the plane easily recognizable.
Greatest Ever: P 51 Mustang (06:30)
North America's P 51 Mustang won World War II for the Western Allies; it was faster, more reliable, flew further, and accounted for most kills. Wing design gave additional speed, range, and maneuverability; Spitfire engine use symbolized unification of forces to defeat Nazis.
Credits: Episode IV: Fighter Planes (00:28)
Credits: Episode IV: Fighter Planes
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