Behind Enemy Lines: 50 Fascinating Facts About Fighter Jets

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1 Resilient A-10 Flight Capability

Resilient A-10 Flight Capability

The A-10 Warthog can continue flying even if it loses one engine, one tail, one elevator, and half of one wing.


2. The SR-71 “Blackbird” was so fast that its standard evasive maneuver against a detected SAM missile was simple: outrun the missile. None of the 12 Blackbird losses were due to enemy fire; all resulted from accidents.


3. At least nine fatal crashes involving F-16 fighter jets and an A-10 attack jet were attributed to pilots having issues with urinating mid-flight.


4. In 1985, during Concorde’s trial test flights, British Airways offered NATO an opportunity to practice intercepting a high-flying supersonic bomber. All modern fighters, including the F-14, F-15, and F-16, failed to reach the target, except for the 1950s EE Lightning, which intercepted the Concorde with ease.


5. The Russian Su-34 fighter jet is equipped with a toilet and a kitchen.


6 F-22 Tricks Iranian F-4 Jets

F-22 Tricks Iranian F-4 Jets

In 2013, two Iranian F-4 Phantoms made an attempt to intercept a drone that two F-22 Raptors were escorting. An F-22, with its small radar cross-section, maneuvered beneath an F-4 to discreetly observe its weapons. It then flew next to the F-4 and radioed, “You really ought to go home.”


7. In 1997, the pilot of an A-10 attack jet turned off his radio and transponder for unknown reasons, flew hundreds of miles off course during a training mission, and eventually crashed into a mountainside in Colorado. Nobody ever found an explanation for the pilot’s actions.


8. The MiG-25, one of the great Soviet-era fighter jets, used vacuum tube electronics instead of microchips, enabling a more powerful radar system and immunity from EMP devices.


9. Only six common tools, readily available at commercial hardware stores, are required for standard maintenance on the F-22 Raptor’s engines.


10. On September 13, 1985, the U.S. military achieved the first successful air-space missile attack. An F-15 fighter jet launched an ASM-135 missile, which destroyed the Solwind P78-1 satellite in low Earth orbit. This event created orbital debris, prompting NASA to enhance debris shielding for its planned space station.


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11 9/11 F-16 Cockpit-Ramming Orders

9/11 F-16 Cockpit-Ramming Orders

On 9/11, two F-16 pilots received orders to take down United Flight 93 using their unarmed aircraft. One pilot was to ram the cockpit, while the other would “take the tail off.” The government intended to destroy the plane, but U.S. civilians onboard took control and crashed it before they had the chance.


12. In 1983, an Israeli F-15 landed successfully despite a mid-air collision that destroyed its right wing. After the incident, McDonnell Douglas, the F-15’s manufacturer, initially claimed such a landing was impossible but changed their stance after seeing photos of the damaged aircraft.


13. F-35 pilots must maintain their hair in the same shape as their initial haircut since a new haircut can sometimes cause their custom-made helmets to fit incorrectly.


14. On July 8, 1991, a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet shot down one of its own E-2C Hawkeyes over the eastern Mediterranean Sea after a fire forced the crew to bail out. To prevent the stricken aircraft from crashing into a populated area, the Hornet used its 20-millimeter Gatling gun to send the Hawkeye into the sea.


15. Intel did not develop the first microprocessor; instead, a classified custom chip controlled the swing wings and flight controls of the first F-14 Tomcats.


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16 F-14s Used Commercial Radar Detectors

F-14s Used Commercial Radar Detectors

In the early 1980s, F-14 Tomcat pilots on reconnaissance missions over Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley used commercial “fuzz-buster” radar detectors mounted on the pilots’ glare shields to detect surface-to-air missile radars that their aircraft’s built-in systems could not detect.


17. During the Vietnam War, a damaged American F-4 Phantom fighter pushed another damaged F-4 away from certain capture by resting the second airplane’s tail hook on its own cockpit glass and pushing it to a safer location. Both crews bailed out and were rescued the next day.


18. The A-10 Thunderbolt II has achieved more air-to-air kills than the F/A-18 Hornet.


19. On September 21, 1956, U.S. Navy test pilot Tom Attridge inadvertently shot down his own F-11 Tiger during a weapons test. After firing his 20mm cannons during a supersonic dive, the bullets slowed down due to drag, intersecting his flight path and striking his aircraft as he descended, causing a crash just short of the runway.


20. During World War II, engineers developed an ultra-long-range fighter by joining two heavily modified P-51 Mustangs into a single aircraft with a shared wing, creating the North American F-82 Twin Mustang. This aircraft holds the record for the longest flight by a piston-powered fighter, flying over 5,000 miles from Hawaii to New York.


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21 Soviet Pilot Defects with MiG-25

Soviet Pilot Defects with MiG-25

In 1976, Soviet pilot Viktor Belenko defected to the USA via Japan, taking a MiG-25 jet with him. The USA returned the jet to the Soviet Union a year later, disassembled and categorized in boxes.


22. The engine of the MiG-21 fighter jet can, in an emergency, produce 143% of its maximum thrust for two minutes before it explodes.


23. In January 2023, the F-35 fighter aircraft had 821 unresolved issues, slightly improved from the 826 problems recorded in April 2022.


24. On July 4, 1989, a Soviet MiG-23 flew on autopilot across much of Western Europe after the pilot ejected due to equipment failure during a training flight over Poland. The unmanned aircraft, shadowed by U.S. F-15s, ultimately crashed into a house in Belgium, tragically killing a 19-year-old man.


25. Capable of Mach 2, the MiG-21 is the most-produced supersonic jet in history and remains in service in many nations six decades after its first flight. It was also very cost-effective, costing significantly less than the F-4 Phantom.


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