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Flying Coffins: Meet the 4 Worst Jet Fighters Ever

F-22
F-22 Raptor. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin.

4 Worst Jet Fighters: There will always be a debate over what were the “best” jet fighter planes to head off into the wild blue yonder – but context must be considered. A German Messerschmitt Me 262 would hardly hold its own against an F-4 Phantom, while it is hard to compare, a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 is no match for a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.

However, when it comes to the “worst” jet fighters, it is a little easier to narrow the list down. Whereas an aircraft may have excelled for its time, nothing can resolve the shortcomings.

Worst Jet Fighters – Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet

Technically not a jet fighter, the Me 163 was truly a cutting-edge aircraft. As the planned jet engine meant the Komet was still years away, its designers fitted it with a Walter HWK 109 rocket motor. It was faster than anything else in the skies over Europe in the final nine months of the Second World War, yet it should be seen as a wasted effort. The aircraft didn’t save Germany from near round-the-clock bombing from the Allies, but it was also an aircraft that was difficult to fly, dangerous to land and expensive to manufacture.

Me-163 Komet

Me-163 Komet

Worst Jet Fighters – Heinkel He 162 Volksjäger

Another German aircraft developed in the latter stages of the Second World War, the He 162’s biggest issue was that it was rushed through the design stage, which resulted in a poorly conceived aircraft. Other than the engine, which was produced by skilled workers, the rest of the aircraft was designed to be built by semi-skilled and unskilled workers (and possibly even slave labor) – hence the name “Volksjäger,” which translated to “People’s Fighter.”

Heinkel He 162 Volksjäger

Heinkel He 162 Volksjäger.

It was a miracle weapon in the truest sense, as it would have required a miracle for the aircraft to turn the tide of the war. It was built mostly out of wood with parts glued together. The plan also called for gliders and trainee pilots to fly the aircraft. Only about 120 were delivered to airfields and most never flew, which is likely for the best.

Worst Jet Fighters – Yakovlev Yak-38

In 1967, the Royal Air Force first showed off its Harrier “Jump Jet.” It was a cutting-edge aircraft that was capable of vertical/short takeoff and landing operations (V/STOL), and it would go on to be one of the most revolutionary designs of the 20th century. The Soviet Union responded by rushing out a similar aircraft and the result was the Yak-38. To reduce weight, the aircraft’s designers also removed radar and reduced the fuel capacity. Though faster than the Harrier, it lacked the range and it also required an experienced pilot to operate the aircraft – and even then it wasn’t easy to fly.

Yak-38

An air to air left side view of a Soviet Yak-38U Forger trainer aircraft.

Worst Jet Fighters – Convair F-102 Delta Dagger

If looks could kill, this interceptor with its delta wing design would have been a truly deadly weapon. However, a capable and effective aircraft needs to do more than just look good, yet the F-102 Delta Dagger couldn’t accomplish its primary role of intercepting invading Soviet bombers. With its original Westinghouse J40 turbojet engine, the Delta Dagger was barely able to reach Mach 1, and attempts to refine the aircraft eventually led to the development of a new – and finally improved – Convair F-106 Delta Dart.

Let’s Talk About the F-35…

This might seem like a controversial pick to include on the worst list and many would disagree about such a choice. So, to be clear, we are not making it officially part of the list, but felt it was worth discussing it as a point of debate.

Clearly, the F-35 is arguably the best aircraft in the world today, and it will likely remain in service until the 2070s or beyond – with regular upgrades and enhancements.

However, some would argue for its inclusion in this list, despite its capabilities, because the cost per aircraft is so high that the United States Air Force made the decision to complement it with the Boeing F-15EX.

The good news is that the F-35 today would make most if not all of the best fighter lists as well, especially if we are talking about a current listing. The F-35 is certainly the aircraft the U.S. and its allies need to take on other fifth-generation aircraft, including China’s J-20 and Russia’s Su-57, but the lesson today is that no nation can afford to buy a fleet of these and then lose them in combat.

F-35 Israel

Image: Creative Commons.

America China War Taiwan

U.S. Air Force Maj. Kristin “BEO” Wolfe, F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team pilot and commander, taxis into Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., July 1, 2021. The F-35 Demo Team flew out of JBLM, headlining both the Gig Harbor Wings-and-Wheels and Tacoma Freedom Fair air shows for the 4th of July weekend, showcasing the advanced capabilities of the F-35 to the Pacific Northwest. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Kip Sumner)

U.S.-China Nuclear War

F-35A Lightning IIs from the 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard, return from training exercises during Red Flag 21-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nevada, July 27, 2021. Red Flag was created to increase interoperability, leveraging common perspectives against shared threats. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Campbell)

Whereas the arsenal of democracy was able to churn out massive numbers of P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs, it would be impossible to do the same with the F-35. During the Cold War, the fear was mutually assured destruction from nuclear weapons – but in Cold War 2.0, it would seem any potential conflict would result in mutually assured bankruptcy given the cost of advanced weapons like the F-35 and Su-57.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Terry

    April 27, 2022 at 2:44 pm

    Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet was not, technically, a jet….

    • Ivan Bear

      April 27, 2022 at 3:34 pm

      The article literally says, “Technically not a jet fighter…”

  2. Marlon A. Turner

    April 28, 2022 at 10:44 am

    F15E Strike Eagle answer to all your dilemmas. Proven. She may be vintage but she’ll still wreak havoc with the proper seasoned “conductor” at the yoke. Upgrades just makes her a force to reckon with. Look at her resume. Nothing else comes close. Yes I said it.

  3. Neal Bradleigh

    April 28, 2022 at 11:19 am

    There was no mention of two of the American “Century Series” craft. Both the North Amerivan Aviation F-100 SUPER SABRE and Lockheed’s F-104 STARFIGHTER were seen as underperformed, along with some ’50s CUTLASS jet, assigned to the US Navy.

  4. George V.

    April 28, 2022 at 2:11 pm

    Stalin said “Quantity has a Quality all its own!” F-15s, F-16s, and A-10’s should still be built and in the arsenal. A few dozen A-10’s in Ukraine would have sent the Russians packing long ago.

    • ROBERT

      April 28, 2022 at 8:12 pm

      The SAAB 29 Tunnan jet fighter of late-1940s-50s was quite notorious for killing own pilots in peace time and practice; “99 pilots were killed during military practice flights in Sweden out of 661 aircraft made.” A 1:6 self-kill ratio.

      • ROBERT

        April 28, 2022 at 8:16 pm

        Please remove this/above post; not intended as a response to another post.

  5. BATA

    April 28, 2022 at 2:51 pm

    I am here just to lave a general comment: so difficult to read, gave up after the first paragraph, so many ads, I am not coming back as it’s such a waste of time. I even dont know what are those ads for as I didnt go further so those that paid you for those ads wasted their money. I believe I am not the only one with this opinion.

  6. ROBERT

    April 28, 2022 at 8:14 pm

    The SAAB 29 Tunnan jet fighter of late-1940s-50s was quite notorious for killing own pilots in peace time and practice; “99 pilots were killed during military practice flights in Sweden out of 661 aircraft made.” A tragic 1:6 self-kill ratio I’d say.

  7. Martin

    April 28, 2022 at 8:16 pm

    The F-35 program was shutdown by the Turks not doing their share of parts manufacturing and it delayed the output of these subsonic fighters. Its going to be a mainstay jet for the US and its allies. The F-22 is a far better Mach 2 jet and thats why we sent 25 fully operational Raptors to the South China Sea area to thwart the Commies from taking to many islands from countries and militarism of these Islands. The 25 Raptors are more then those Communists are flying now like the Chinese junks as their so called stealth jet J-20 has allready been seen by India’s radars in the Himalayan battle. They cant even steal our top secrets and then they just do it all wrong. But there is 1.5 billion of tbose ants. They cant even build a decent air craft carrier. They might be able to sneak in a little closer but one Raptor can take out 9 acquisitions at once. Burn in hell China. Sincerly Uncle Sam

  8. Alex

    April 29, 2022 at 9:01 am

    Excellent comparison. F-22 can only be compared with the MiG-15 🙂

  9. Duke

    September 24, 2022 at 9:46 pm

    Sorry, Peter, but you need to do a bit more research regarding the F-102. To begin with, the Deuce was never equipped with the Westinghouse J-40 engine. It never had problems intercepting Soviet bombers, either, as dozens of photos showing the Deuce with TU-95’s will attest.

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