5 Best Fighter Jets of All Time, Ranked – So then, which warbirds deserve to be ranked as The 5 Best Jet Fighters of All Time? Granted, this is a slightly less daunting task than my previous assignment of determining the title of singular Best Fighter Plane Ever, but still, a highly subjective matter that’s going to stir to sit up some controversy no matter what answers I give.
That said, some sort of objective measuring stick has to be used to narrow down the list and make a well-reasoned argument along the way, so here are my two main criteria for making my Top 5 List: (1) overall kill tally and (2) air-to-air kill ratio. A
After all, the acid test of any fighter plane is to be able to reliably engage & destroy the enemy and bring its pilot (and navigator) back home.
With that in mind, let’s get on with my list of The 5 Best Fighters of All Time (drum roll):
5 Best Fighter Jets – The F-15 Eagle:
Okay, this selection shouldn’t stir up too much controversy, right?
After all, nothing, and I mean nothing else out there can hold a candle to the absolutely mind-boggling 104:0 air-to-air kill ratio of the F-15 Eagle.
Yes, three F-15E Strike Eagles have been lost to enemy ground fire, but against enemy warbirds, the Eagle jet’s losses amount to a big fat goose egg (avian pun intended). This record becomes even more amazing when you bear in mind that the F-15 has been in service, in one variant of another, since 1976.
The very first Eagle driver to score an aerial victory was Israeli Air Force (IAF) pilot Moshe Malink, who achieved this milestone back in 1979.
From there, the legend grew and grew, and will probably continue to grow thanks to the latest variant, the F-15EX.
5 Best Fighter Jets – The F-14 Tomcat:
All righty then, all you Naval Aviator/Naval Flight Officer (NFO) types and Top Gun fans out there, here’s your moment in the sun.
Though not able to claim the undefeated status that the Eagle can boast about, the F-14 Tomcat can nonetheless lay claim to a very respectable 135:4 kill ratio.
As I previously noted in my standalone article on the F-14, “Perhaps the greatest irony of the Tomcat’s kill tally is that the majority of its scores were achieved not by American pilots, nor even the pilots of a U.S. ally, but rather by the pilots of an adversary nation,” that adversary nation being Iran.
While there is some controversy about the reliability of the Iranian Air Force pilots’ claims, there’s little to no about the 5:0 kill scoreboard attained by U.S. Navy Tomcat drivers.
5 Best Fighter Jets – The F-16 Fighting Falcon:
The “Viper” as its aircrews affectionately prefer to call it, boasts a 76:1 kill ratio.
Moreover, it can be disputed whether or not even one measly loss can be counted as a true air-to-air kill for the Falcon/Viper, as it was actually a mid-air collision, and in any event, it ironically happened at the hands of another F-16, during the Aegean dispute. On 23 May 2006. Two Turkish F-16s and one reconnaissance F-4 were flying in the international airspace over the southern Aegean at 27,000 feet (8,200 m) without having submitted flight plans to the Greek FIR authorities. They were intercepted by two Greek F-16s off the coast of the Greek island of Karpathos. During the ensuing mock dog fight, a Turkish F-16 and a Greek F-16 collided midair and subsequently crashed. The pilot of the Turkish plane survived the crash, but the Greek pilot lost his life.
5 Best Fighter Jets – The F-86 Sabre:
This was the game-changer for U.S. Air Force pilots during the Korean War.
Embodying by the proverbs of “Desperate times call for desperate measures” and “Necessity is the mother of invention,” after being initially taken by surprise by the Soviet-designed MiG-15s that ravaged the USAF’s F-80 Shooting Stars and F-84 Thunderjets, U.S. R&D designed and deployed the F-86 in record time.
The Sabre jet couldn’t fly as high, climb as fast or maneuver as agilely as its Communist-made opponent, but it could dive faster, was more aerodynamically stable, and had a radar gunsight that came in handy during high-speed jet dogfights.
Admittedly, the long-accepted 10:1 kill ratio of the F-86 has had doubt cast upon it in more recent years.
But even when those raised figures as factored in, that still leaves us with 566 MiG-15s were destroyed by Sabres vs. roughly 100 F-86s shot down, which would put the U.S. kill ratio at about 5.6 to 1.
5 Best Fighter Jets – The Sea Harrier:
Whoa Nellie, this one’s sure to ruffle some feathers (yes, another avian pun), especially since I’m choosing the Harrier over the likes of the F-4 Phantom.
But as a former Air Force officer in my own right (albeit a Security Forces troop, not an aviator) and a former Federal agent, I was repeatedly encouraged by my instructors and mentors to “think outside the box,” so please hear me out here (yet another bad pun, yes I know, though at least this time it’s not bird-related).
The Sea Harrier is one of only three jet fighter aircraft that is unbeaten in air-to-air combat, the other being the aforementioned Eagle along with the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker, and in my professional opinion, the Flanker’s 6:0 score isn’t a big enough statistical sample to merit a Top 5 ranking.
The Harrier, on the other hand, is credited with 20 confirmed kills for no losses and thus played a key role in Britain’s victory over Argentina in the 1982 Falkland Islands War. And the Phantom, for all of its proud and very respectable combat history, can’t make a boast of that magnitude.
Agree or Disagree?
Okay, dear readers, your thoughts on my selections? Agree or disagree, and why or not why not? Let the tough comments begin.
Bonus: NGAD Fighter Photo Essay (Artist Renderings)
Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security.