The following is the result of a MilitaryFactory.com study concerning the best military fighter designs of all time. Fighters were chosen based on production numbers, combat performance and a general assessment of their effect during their particular period in aviation history. As such, the list contains mainly fighter aircraft from World War 2 with only one example emerging from World War 1 and several proven performers showcased in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.
Using the mentioned factors, the list leaves out such entries as the untested Lockheed F-22 Raptor and the late-war German Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter - these aircraft appearing with some puzzling regularity on other Top Ten Fighter lists. Others even go so far as to include the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk "stealth fighter" which is not a fighter aircraft by any measure. Our list seeks out only those performers with the historical numbers and stellar histories to reinforce their respective legacies. As will be made apparent, designs utilized during war time tend to outclass all those other "impressive" designs appearing during peacetime or in low-level conflicts. War has a habit of bringing out the best (and worst) in any weapon and helps to separate excellent designs from average ones.
The consensus achieved by this list works to showcase what makes a potent fighter aircraft design - particularly when forced through the rigors of combat, especially in wartime. A fighter must provide maximum protection for her pilot, voluminous fuel stores for needed operational ranges and feature proven critical internal systems (including weaponry) while presenting exceptional performance and combat handling that ultimately become unmatched in the aerial battlefield. Such an implement can help the pilot accomplish supremacy over his adversary in short order.
What all this amounts to is a skillful and reliable combination of engineering, construction and training - benefited by the experience a pilot brings to the fight (a fighter is really only as good as its pilot). These attributes are not wholly available to every fighter aircraft design ever made and we firmly believe that the exhibited examples found across the subsequent pages represent all of these justifiable qualities rather completely.