Fighter aircraft of World War II

Index page

Military aircraft had come a long way since the canvas and wood planes of World War I.

Speed, operational range and fire power had developed in leaps and bounds.

For example the fastest planes of World War I were the Spad S.XIII and SE5a. Both had a top speed of 222 kp/h.

Compare this to the American P-51 Mustang with a top speed of 708 km/h.

Before the end of the war the first jet-powered fighter, the German Messerschmitt Me 262, was introduced into combat.

The Me 262 had a top speed of 900 km/h. Although it only became operational late in the war, Me 262 pilots claimed to have shot down a total of 542 Allied aircraft.

The primary role of the fighter was air-to-air combat against other aircraft. Its purpose was to establish air superiority over a battlefield, which is considered essential for victory in conventional warfare.

Fighters were also used to escort bombers and provide cover against enemy fighters.

British Fighter Aircraft

Hawker Hurricane

Although overshadowed by the Supermarine Spitfire, the Hurricane became renowned during the Battle of Britain, accounting for 60 percent of the RAF air victories in the battle, and served in all the major theatres of the Second World War.

Hurricane Mk.IIC

Crew: 1

Length: 9.84 metres

Wingspan: 12.19 metres

Height: 4.0 metres

Loaded weight: 3,480 kg

Engine: 1 × Rolls-Royce Merlin XX liquid-cooled V-12

Performance

Maximum speed: 547 km/h

Range: 965 km

Service ceiling: 10,970 metres

Rate of climb: 14.1 metres per second

Armament

Guns: 4 x 20 mm Hispano Mk II cannon

Bombs: 2 x 110 km or 230 kg bombs.

Supermarine Spitfire

After the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire superseded the Hurricane to become the backbone of RAF Fighter Command, and saw action in the European, Mediterranean, Pacific, and South-East Asian theatres. The Spitfire served in several roles, including interceptor, photo-reconnaissance, fighter-bomber and trainer.

Spitefire Mk VB

Crew: 1

Length: 9.12 metres

Wingspan: 11.23 metres

Height: 3.86 metres

Loaded weight: 3,000 kg

Engine: 1 × Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 supercharged V12 engine

Performance

Maximum speed: 595 km/h

Range: 756 km

Service ceiling: 11,125 metres

Rate of climb: 13.2 metres per second

Armament

Guns: 8 x .303 Browning Mk II machine guns or 4 x 20 mm Hispano Mk II cannon

German Fighter Aircraft

Messerschmitt Bf 109

The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was the backbone of the Luftwaffe’s fighter force. It first saw combat in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. It was commonly called the Me 109.

Bf 109 G-6

Crew: 1

Length: 8.95 metres

Wingspan: 9.925 metres

Height: 2.60 metres

Loaded weight: 3,148 kg

Engine:  1 × Daimler-Benz DB 605A-1 liquid-cooled inverted V12

Performance

Maximum speed: 640 km/h

Range: 850 km

Service ceiling: 12,000 metres

Rate of climb: 17.0 metres per second

Armament

Guns: 2 × 13 mm synchronized MG 131 machine guns

1 × 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon

Focke-WulfF 190 Würger

The Fw 190 proved superior in all but turn radius to the Royal Air Force’s main front-line fighter, the Spitfire Mk. V, especially at low and medium altitudes. The 190 maintained superiority over Allied fighters until the introduction of the improved Spitfire Mk. IX.

Fw 190 A-8

Crew: 1

Length: 9.00 metres

Wingspan: 10.51 metres

Height: 3.95 metres

Loaded weight: 4,417 kg

Engine: 1 × BMW 801 D-2 radial engine, 1,250 kW

Performance

Maximum speed: 656 km/h

Range: 800 km

Service ceiling: 11,410 metres

Rate of climb: 15 metres per second

Armament

Guns: 2 × 13 mm synchronized MG 131 machine guns

4 × 20 mm MG 151/20 E cannon

Russian Fighter Aircraft

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3

The MiG-3 was difficult to fly in peacetime and much more so in combat. It had been designed for high-altitude combat, but combat over the Eastern Front was generally at lower altitudes, where it was inferior to the German Messerschmitt Bf 109 as well as most of its Soviet contemporaries.

MiG-3

Crew: 1

Length: 8.25 metres

Wingspan: 10.20 metres

Height: 3.30 metres

Loaded weight: 3,355 kg

Engine: 1 × Mikulin AM-35A liquid-cooled V12 engine, 993 kW

Performance

Maximum speed: 640 km/h

Range: 820 km

Service ceiling: 12,000 metres

Rate of climb: 10,28 metres per second

Armament

Guns: 1 × 12.7 mm Berezin UB machine gun

2 × 7.62 mm ShKAS machine guns in the cowl

6 × RS-82 rockets

2 × 100 kg bombs

Yakovlev Yak-1

The Yak-1 was manoeuvrable, reliable, fast and well armed. It was easy to maintain and formed an excellent basis for subsequent models. Designer Alexander Yakovlev was awarded the Order of Lenin - the highest decoration bestowed by the Soviet Union.

Yak-1

Crew: 1

Length: 8.5 metres

Wingspan: 10.0 metres

Height: 2.64 metres

Loaded weight: 2,883 kg

Engine: 1 × Klimov M-105PF V-12 liquid-cooled engine, 880 kW

Performance

Maximum speed: 592 km/h

Range: 700 km

Service ceiling: 10,050 metres

Rate of climb: 15.4 metres per second

Armament

Guns: 1 × 20 mm (0.8 in) ShVAK cannon

1 × 12.7 mm (0.5 in) Berezin UBS machine gun

Yakovlev Yak-9

The Yak-9 had a lowered rear fuselage decking and all-around vision canopy. Its lighter airframe gave the new fighter a flexibility that previous models had lacked. The Yak-9 was the most mass-produced Soviet fighter of all time.

Yak-1

Crew: 1

Length: 8.55 metres

Wingspan: 9.74 metres

Height: 3.00 metres

Loaded weight: 3,117 kg

Engine: 1 × Klimov M-105 PF V-12 liquid-cooled piston engine, 880 kW

Performance

Maximum speed: 597 km/h

Range: 1,360 km

Service ceiling: 9,100 metres

Rate of climb: 13.7 metres per second

Armament

Guns: 1 × 20 mm ShVAK cannon

1 × 12.7 mm UBS machine gun

American Fighter Aircraft

Gruman F4F Wildcat

The Grumman F4F Wildcat was an American carrier-based fighter aircraft that began service with both the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy (as the Martlet) in 1940. With a top speed of 512 km/h, the Wildcat was outperformed by the faster 533 km/h, more maneuverable, and longer-ranged Mitsubishi A6M Zero.

Grumman F4F-3

Crew: 1

Length: 8.76 metres

Wingspan: 11.58 metres

Height: 3.60 metres

Loaded weight: 3,367 kg

Engine: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-76 double-row radial engine, 1,200 hp

Performance

Maximum speed: 531 km/h

Range: 1,360 km

Service ceiling: 12,000 metres

Rate of climb: 11.7 metres per second

Armament

Guns: 4 × 12.7 mm AN/M2 Browning machine guns

Bombs: 2 × 45 kg bombs and/or 2 × 220 litre drop tanks

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was both a fighter and a ground-attack aircraft. The P-40’s lack of a two-speed supercharger made it inferior to Luftwaffe fighters in high-altitude combat and it was rarely used in operations in Northwest Europe. However, between 1941 and 1944, the P-40 played a critical role with Allied air forces in three major theatres: North Africa, the Southwest Pacific, and China.

P-40E

Crew: 1

Length: 9.68 metres

Wingspan: 11.38 metres

Height: 3.76 metres

Loaded weight: 3,760 kg

Engine: 1 × Allison V-1710-39 liquid-cooled V12 engine, 1,150 hp

Performance

Maximum speed: 580 km/h

Range: 1,100 km

Service ceiling: 8,800 metres

Rate of climb: 11 metres per second

Armament

Guns: 6 × 12.7 mm M2 Browning machine guns

Lockheed P-38 Lightning

With its distinctive twin booms and central nacelle containing the cockpit and armament the Lockheed P-38 Lightning was nicknamed Gabelschwanz-Teufel (fork-tailed devil) by the German Luftwaffe and Ni hikōki, ippairotto (two planes, one pilot) by the Japanese. The P-38 was unusually quiet for a fighter, with the exhaust muffled by the turbo-superchargers.

Lightning P-38L

Crew: 1

Length: 11.53 metres

Wingspan: 15.85 metres

Height: 3.91 metres

Loaded weight: 7,940 kg

Engine: 2 × Allison V-1710-111/113 V-12 piston engine, 1,600 hp

Performance

Maximum speed: 667 km/h

Range: 2,100 km

Service ceiling: 13,000 metres

Rate of climb: 24.1 metres per second

Armament

Guns: 1× Hispano M2(C) 20 mm cannon

4× M2 Browning machine gun 12.7 mm  machine guns

4× M10 three-tube 112 mm rocket launchers

Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was effective as a short-to-medium range escort fighter in high-altitude air-to-air combat and ground attack in both the World War II European and Pacific theatres. With a weight of up to eight tonnes it was one of the heaviest fighters of the war.

P-47D-30 Thunderbolt

Crew: 1

Length: 11.00 metres

Wingspan: 12.42 metres

Height: 4.47 metres

Loaded weight: 5,774 kg

Engine: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-2800-59B twin-row radial engine, 2,600 hp

Performance

Maximum speed: 697 km/h

Range: 2,900 km

Service ceiling: 13,100 metres

Rate of climb: 16.15 metres per second

Armament

Guns: 8 × 12.7 mm M2 Browning machine guns

Up to 1,134 kg of bombs

10 × 127 mm unguided rockets

North American Aviation P-51 Mustang

The P-51 Mustang was regarded by many as one of the best fighter aircraft of World War II. From late 1943, P-51Bs and Cs (supplemented by
P-51Ds from mid-1944) were used by the USAAF’s Eighth Air Force to escort bombers in raids over Germany.

P-51D Mustang

Crew: 1

Length: 9.83 metres

Wingspan: 11.28 metres

Height: 4.08 metres

Loaded weight: 4,175 kg

Engine: 1 × Packard V-1650-7 liquid-cooled V-12, with a 2 stage intercooled supercharger, 1,490 hp

Performance

Maximum speed: 708 km/h

Range: 2,755 km

Service ceiling: 12,800 metres

Rate of climb: 16.3 metres per second

Armament

Guns: 6 × 12.7mm AN/M2 Browning machine guns

Japanese Fighter Aircraft

Mitsubishi A6M “Zero”

When it was introduced early in World War II, the Mitsubishi A6M “Zero”  was considered the most capable carrier-based fighter in the world, combining excellent maneuverability and very long range.The Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service (IJNAS) also frequently used it as a land-based fighter.

Mitsubishi A6M

Crew: 1

Length: 9.06 metres

Wingspan: 12.0 metres

Height: 3.05 metres

Loaded weight: 2,796 kg

Engine: 1 × Nakajima Sakae 12 engine, 700 kW

Performance

Maximum speed: 534 km/h

Range: 3,104 km

Service ceiling: 10,000 metres

Rate of climb: 15.7 metres per second

Armament

Guns: 2× 7.7 mm Type 97 aircraft machine guns in the engine cowling

2× 20 mm Type 99-1 cannon in the wings

Top of page