In the nasty, grimy, and generally unglamorous business of war, there is one type of combat that retains to this day the challenge, excitement and thrill of the ancient duels of feudal Europe and the legendary combats of Hector and Achilles, Aeneas and Turnus, and of the Horatii and Curiatii. Like the knights of old, the modern fighter pilot sets out to engage the enemy in “hand-to-hand” combat. Unlike the knights of old, his arena is the clear blue skies far above the battlefield.
The combat is both personal and impersonal. “Personal” because it deeply involves the individual skill and daring of the combatants. “Impersonal” because the duelists fight at long range and seldom get close enough to see the face of their opponent. Air-to-air combat has the character and glamor of a boxing or wrestling match—but in a detached scenario without personal contact.
The author is deeply indebted to VADM W. A. Schoech, USN (Ret.), RADM A. B. Metsger, USN (Ret.), Captain Walter S. Diehl, USN (Ret.), Mr. F. M. Gloeckler, Mr. G. A. Spangenberg, Mr. Lee M. Pearson and Mr. Fred Locke, Jr., for their kind advice and counsel in the preparation of this article.
1. XF7U-2 was proposed but it was never designed or built.
2. The “area rule” fuselage has been used in most subsequent high speed fighter designs.
3. The Navy and Air Force have different mission requirements for fighters and must necessarily operate in different environments. The Navy operates fighters from carriers against land targets and must protect the carrier from attack. Air Force fighters operate from land bases in strikes against close and distant targets. The varying missions and environments dictate different design requirements for fighters for the two services.