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The first generation of turbojet-powered fighters was introduced late in WWII, although only Germany’s Messerschmitt Me-262 actually participated in combat starting in the second half of 1944. The planes, which were at least 150 knots faster than the fastest British and American piston-engine fighters, performed well against lumbering Allied bomber formations, but their engines were chronically unreliable resulting in numerous compressor stalls and flameouts.

Soon after, the British Gloster Meteor F8 became the second jet fighter to become operational, to be closely followed by the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, the first American jet fighter to go into service.

The advent of the Cold War, and the start of the Korean War, saw the start of a technological of fighter designs, with the introduction of the Soviet MiG-15 and the USAF’s North American F-86 Sabre jets, both of which used captured German research on swept-wing designs to achieve previously unheard-of speeds, rates of climb and high-altitude maneuverability. The designs also featured pressurized and air-conditioned cockpits and ejection seats. But engagements were still limited to visual ranges.

The 1950s and the Vietnam WarIn the aftermath of the Korean War, both NATO and the Warsaw Pact geared up for a possible all-out war on the European continent. At the same time, advances in all branches of aeronautics enabled unprecedented advances as fighter speeds increased to supersonic in level flight, and by the start of the 1960s to over Mach 2. Cannons and unguided rockets were replaced by guided, air-to-air missiles as the main armament of the new fighters, which now routinely carried radars and automated fire control systems.

Although some fighters, such as the F-8 Crusader, retained guns as their principal armament, most were now equipped with homing missiles such as the heat-seeking AIM-9 Sidewinder and early beam-riding AIM-7 Sparrow.

The best-known representatives of this class are the U.S. “Century Series” (F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104), the Soviet MiG-19 and MiG-21, and the French Dassault Mirage III.

These were followed by the mid-1960s by Third Generation fighters, many of them multi-purpose jets such as the ubiquitous F-4 Phantom II -- which served with the U.S. Navy, Marines and USAF and many allied nations. The tandem two-seat, twin-engine Phantom made its reputation in the latter part of the Vietnam War, when it became America’s premier warplane. Nearly 5,200 Phantoms were built during its 22-year production run, making it America’s most numerous jet fighter. It currently soldiers on with the Iranian air force which has used it for attacks on Islamic State targets in Iraq.

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