Monday, July 9, 2007

First-generation jet fighters (1944-1953)

First-generation jet fighters (1944-1953)
The first generation represents the first attempts at using turbojets for propulsion, providing greatly increased speed (the efficiency of piston-driven propellers drops off considerably at transsonic speeds). Many of these early jets resembled their piston-driven counterparts in several ways. Many were straight-winged aircraft armed primarily with cannon; radar was not yet in common usage except on specialized night fighters.
The first jets were developed during World War II and saw combat in its last year. Messerschmitt developed the first operational jet fighter, the Me 262. It was considerably faster than piston-driven aircraft, and in the hands of a competent pilot, was practically untouchable. Due to German fuel shortages, however, it saw little use. Nevertheless the plane indicated the obsolescence of piston-driven aircraft. Spurred by reports of the German jets, Britain's Gloster Meteor entered production soon after and the two entered service around the same time in 1944. By the end of the war almost all work on piston powered fighters had ended. Mixed-propulsion designs such as the Ryan FR Fireball saw brief use, but by the end of the 1940s virtually all new combat aircraft were jet-powered.
Despite the advantages, the early jet fighters were far from perfect. Their operational lifespans could be measured primarily in hours; the engines themselves were fragile and bulky, and power could be adjusted only slowly. Innovations such as swept wings, ejector seats, and all-moving tailplanes were introduced in this period.

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