War Machine, Volume 6

The First Supersonic Fighters The supersonic jet fighters of the 1960s saw combat several times throughout the decade where the new tactics were outworked thoroughly. These actions spawned several classic aircraft such as the MiG-21 which can join the list of truly great fighters. Here we describe their development, their actions and how their design teams made supersonic flight a practical proposition. By the start of the 1950s the fighter designers had their sights firmly seton supersonic flight and were working rapidly towards true supersonic fighters (as opposed to transonic aircraft often only able to reach Mach 1 in a shallow dive). When the designs reached fruition the course of air warfare changed considerably with aircraft able to intercept each other at greater distances and in shorter times than had been previously possible. Dogfights however were not fought at supersonic speeds a trend that has lasted to this day. A whole new realm of military aircraft opened up rapidly with the North American F-100 and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19 leading to the classic Dassault Mirage III McDonnell F-4 Phantom II and MiG-21. These equipped the air forces of most of the major nations alongside the Lockheed F-l04 Starfighter and these types were soon finding them­selves evermore involved inaction mostly against each other The two wars in the Middle East and the long protracted air war over the spectacular jungles deltas and mountains of Vietnam forged the tactics of air combat between supersonic-capable aircraft and these tactics have lasted into the 1980s. Of course many of the aircraft described here still fly regularly as the front-line equipment of many nations yet their importance has been largely overtaken by types such as the General Dynamics F-l6 and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23. Aircraft from the pre­vious subsonic era are still flying and of course were used widely throughout the period covered by this issue. A fashion set during the later years of World War II was that of fighters being able to carryout ground attack missions as well as their traditional air-to-air role. This had been developed with the first generations of jet fighters and when the supersonic age arrived these aircraft were often One that didn 'tm ake it: the North American F-l 07. Industrial politics prevented this very fine aircraft from making it to the frontline. used more as bombers than as fighters. The Vietnam war graphically illustrates the new breed of air war with only a handful of Phantoms carrying air-to-air missiles whilst the rest of the Phantoms F-105 Thun- derchiefs and F-100 Super Sabres carried almost entirely bombs and other air-to-ground loads. Even the Lockheed F-l04 Starfighter was employed for awhile in Vietnam as a ‘mud-mover. There must have been many fighters which never even saw a Sidewinder in Vietnam let alone carried one. The air combats that took place over Vietnam and especially the Sinai Desert during the 1967 and 1973 wars were different from those of Korea, as the air-to-air missile especially short-range missiles such as Sidewin­der and its Soviet copy Atoll' replaced cannon as the main armament for fighting. Cannon were still used for extreme close-in work and several of the experienced Israeli pilots used only cannon as a show of bravado. Together with the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II these aircraft have shaped the modern fighter scene more than any other group and their influence will last for many years more. The lessons learned in all their actions not only Vietnam and the Middle East but those over the Indo-Pakistan border and over Cyprus have provided the current milit­ary strategists with all the experience of air combat needed to plan future defence Supersonic fighters were eagerly awaited by politicians airforces, schoolboys and Hollywood alike. A series of exciting designs were unveiled, especially from America where the ‘Century Series' caught the imagination of the world. First came the North American F-100 Super Sabre shown here but other classics were soon to follow.
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